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September 30, 2011

Mental Diet: Cut out the junk

Kaspa writes: I first wrote about ‘mental diet’ nearly a year ago, after finding this quote from Alain de Botton. But the process of  looking at the things we feed our minds, and throwing out what’s not useful, is an ongoing one. It’s all too easy to slip back into old compulsive habits. My life has moved on loads since I last wrote about this – but I still fall into mentally eating ‘junk’…

The need to diet, which we know so well in relation to food, and which runs so contrary to our natural impulses, should be brought to bear on what we now have to relearn in relation to knowledge, people, and ideas. Our minds, no less than our bodies, require periods of fasting.
Alain de Botton

The quote is from de Botton’s only blog post. He writes about the overwhelming amount of information now available to us, and how we become obsessed with learning and collecting knowledge only to have it fade away the next day. In choosing only to have a single blog post de Botton is consciously not adding to that overwhelming heap of words which makes up the internet.  Ironically, in writing this I’m throwing more words on the heap.

Mental indigestion

A little of what you like is good for you.  It’s as true with information as it is with food.  There’s nothing wrong with checking Facebook, Twitter or G+. I have lots of great contacts saying lots of interesting and thought provoking things. It’s stuffing our brains with information that’s the issue. Click, click, click… like devouring a whole box of chocolates and not noticing the difference between the pralines and the truffles.

Why space is important

It gives us time to consider what is really important.

When we turn off the computer, the radio, the mobile phone, and sit quietly, it gives what is really important a chance to float into our conscious minds.

de Botton is not writing about creating space in our mental diets for its own sake, but to give us the space to concentrate, to allow what we are giving our attention to “…assume a weight in our minds.”

Slowing down and interrupting my compulsive behaviour has given me the space to remember what’s really important. When I stopped, and gave myself space, those things most deserving of my attention came to mind, and I was able to allow them to assume their correct weight.

In Buddhist psychology, compulsive behaviour is seen as a distraction against the reality of the world, particularly the bits of reality that challenge our sense of self. When I was able to restrict my mental diet I was able to see my reality more clearly.

de Botton writes that “To sit still and think, without succumbing to an anxious reach for a machine, has become almost impossible.” He’s right. Being plugged in and online makes it easy for us to consume information, one thing after another, hiding from what’s really important.

Turn off the laptop and the mobile phone. Reduce your mental intake for a while. Let the important things in your life take on the weight they deserve.

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