“[The writer] is careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write. He is careful of what he learns, because that is what he will know”
This quote by Annie Dillard reminds me of the adage: you are the average of the five people you most associate with.
I agree with Annie Dillard’s quote, but I think there’s more to it. Lately I’ve been focusing on this idea instead: you are the product of whatever you allow into your consciousness. In today’s society our attention is pulled in every which way by television shows, movies, books, music, podcasts, friendships, relationships, activities, and more, not to mention work obligations. These things battle for our attention, all day, every day. There are only so many hours in a day, and how you prioritize those things is up to you.
“People get the mind and quality of brain that they deserve through their actions in life”
– Robert Greene.
Neuroscientists have begun to learn that the brain is actually quite plastic – that our own thoughts can determine our mental landscape. People who are passive about what consume on a daily basis create a mental landscape that is barren. Due to a lack of experiences and action, they stagnate and all kinds of connections in the brain die off from lack of use. It’s only through action that you can cut through the passive trend and work to cultivate the mind you want, and in turn, become the person you want to be.
Think about it.
Eleanor Roosevelt famously said: “great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”
What do you talk about in your immediate network of friends?
These are hypothetical questions, sure, but the underlying conceptual basis is sound: you are what you eat.
Today, we are a society encumbered with a plethora of choice. And while it is the ability to choose that makes us human, as the American novelist Madeleine L’engle said, we should choose carefully.
But how do you know what to choose?
As a rule of thumb, when taking an active approach to managing your daily consumption, go first class. Go first class for everything you do. Go to the best sources. Read the best books by the brightest minds, eat healthy food, surround yourself with things that reflect success, knowledge and wisdom. Going first class means surrounding yourself with the best that has been written and said by minds far greater than your own.
In Essentialism, Greg McKeown argues that in becoming an essentialist, “you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, [so you] can make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.” This principle of essentialism can be applied to your own life too. it is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at your highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.
In this way, the crux of essentialism can be distilled down to one simple question that you must repeatedly ask yourself: Am I investing in the right activities?
You know that you are inevitably a product of your environment, and the ecosystem you construct for yourself will, in some way, permeate your consciousness and bleed into your work; everything you do. Going back to the Annie Dillard quote from the beginning, you should be selective of what you allow into your consciousness because that is what you will learn, and what you will know, and therefore, who you will be.
“Whatever I’m going to create will be a reflection of how these things have shaped my life, and how I’ve learned to channel my experiences into them” – Twyla Tharp
Twyla Tharp is a world-renowned dance choreographer, a true creative genius. She starts every new project with an empty box. Over time, the box gets filled with tangible items that remain true to the fundamental theme of the project. Twyla actively ‘scratches’ for ideas, and when she stumbles across something that rings true to the spirit of the project, it goes in the box. Once the box is full, the project is complete. With all of the raw materials in the box, all she has to do is make them play nice together. The box is not a catch-all for ideas, but a deliberate receptacle for only the most cogent, productive ideas that collectively spawn the creation of a single cohesive piece of art.
What if that box was your brain?
Imagine for a minute that one day’s worth of your stimuli – thoughts, messages, and knowledge gleaned from that which you watched, listened to, read, or thought – could be placed inside the box.
What’s in your box right now, as you’re reading this?
Twyla has a box for every one of her projects. She has over 130 of them. That’s 130 boxes, each with a singular theme and vision. You? You only get one box for one project – your life. You can put just about anything in your box — in your mind — but if you’re selective about it, if you pick only what is essential and first class, you set yourself up for success. Your mind is fertile soil; sow it with respect.
“Read books that remind you of who you are, in truth. Spend time with people who inspire and reflect the source to you. Meditate, contemplate… steep yourself in the source”. — David Deida.
If you want to be ‘the hero of your story’, and you should, start doing the things that the best version of yourself would do. Watch the movies and documentaries the best, most action-oriented version of you would watch. Read what they would read, or what those who you aspire to be like read. Listen to music that inspires and motivates you. Listen to podcasts that inform you or change your perspective and challenge preconceived notions. Stretch your mind and spend time with people with different occupational and social interests, who can help you think of new ideas, and new ways of doing things. Collectively, these things will push you to the next level.
Ultimately, you cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything; “these influences are acting on you, consciously and otherwise. Guiding your decisions, winnowing your worldview, eating up your life”