Controlling Influences

Anyone who isn’t living under a rock has probably read, heard, or watched something about the importance of eating healthy. It’s no longer a secret that what we put into our bodies can drastically affect the quality of our lives. The expression “you are what you eat” is most certainly true.

What if we were to apply that same logic to our minds?

Just like how crappy foods can hurt our physical health, I’ve come to believe that crappy influences can be just as damaging to our mental health.

Unconscious Influences vs. Conscious Influences

What makes an influence crappy?

This is obviously subjective, but I think of a crappy influence as something that encourages negativity or unconsciousness. This could range from negative self-talk to mindless reality television. The more we consume these kinds of influences, the less happy and fulfilled we feel.

I would even go so far as to say that they make us a little bit dumber over time, though “less-engaged” is probably a more accurate term. This is because these types of influences rarely require us to use our minds.

Think about it. How do you feel after watching TV for an hour versus reading for that same hour? In my experience (and I have plenty of experience as both a couch potato and a book worm), the first leaves you feeling lethargic and groggy, while the latter makes you feel energetic and clear-minded. The first involves being a spectator, while the second requires you to engage with the material.

I’ve heard this contrast between influences described as unconscious versus conscious. Without going into too much detail, unconscious influences keep us in an almost sleep-like state; we are awake but our minds aren’t really engaged. Conscious influences fully engage our minds, leaving us feeling alive and full of energy.

If you’ve ever experience what’s commonly referred to as “brain fog,” you know what I’m talking about. This state is unconsciousness personified. In fact, it was my own frustration with brain fog that inspired me to write this post.

The further I’ve gotten into self-development, the more aware I’ve become of the different states of mind I tend to be in, and I can see that most of my life has been spent in the hazy hell that is brain fog. Looking at the kinds of influences I’ve typically take in, it makes sense.

In an effort to be a little more concrete, here are some of the common unconscious influences that I find myself indulging in:

  • Complaining
  • Negativity
  • Watching TV every day
  • Listening to/participating in gossip
  • Browsing Reddit for hours
  • Those incredibly persistent Snapchat stories about the Kardashians and their butts (I just can’t help but click on them)

While some of these things are perfectly fine in moderation (this doesn’t include complaining, negativity, or gossip), I’ve noticed that they usually leave me feeling groggy. For example, I find it very difficult to concentrate on writing or reading after watching TV for an hour.

But when I’m taking in conscious influences like good literature or positivity, that fog starts to clear up. It’s like awakening from a dream. Now I’m on a quest to make that clarity a permanent state.

Reality Isn’t an Excuse

Cutting out crappy influences can seem like an impossible task at times. It could even be argued that, outside of being secluded on a mountain, we can never truly be free of unconscious influences.

This is probably true. Every day we are bombarded with a ton of stimuli, a lot of which we can’t control. Billboards line the freeways on our commute, there are advertisements almost everywhere we look, and all we have to do is listen to our coworkers’ conversations to know what this or that celebrity is up to. Even watching sports, as enjoyable as it is, encourages us to be unconscious spectators.

But instead of using this reality as an excuse to not make any effort, I like to think of it as an even more powerful reason to take control over what we allow into our minds. Because a lack of active choice will automatically lead us to the default state of unconsciousness.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been trying replace most of the crappy influences I’m consuming with positive ones. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Books
  • Podcasts/Audiobooks
  • Educational/Self-improvement videos on Youtube
  • Positive conversations

This is an ongoing process that will never end, but as I’ve gained momentum I’ve noticed a few awesome effects:

  • I experience brain fog less and less
  • It’s becoming more difficult to indulge in unconscious influences for more than a few minutes at a time
  • I’m more motivated to take in conscious influences on a daily basis
  • My overall motivation and productivity in life has increased

Of course, I still like to take in some of those unconscious influences from time to time. But my whole mindset towards them has shifted. I’m starting to view them as small moments of indulgence, like eating a piece of cake. A piece of cake is fine every now and then, but should never make up the bulk of my diet.

What are some influences you would like to limit in your life? What could you replace them with?


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