You are what you eat. If you eat pizza, hamburgers, cake, and drink soda all day, you will feel terrible.
I say you are what you consume.
Information, whether digital or physical, is food for the brain. It's no accident we call new ideas "food for thought." Your brain needs good quality information to function optimally, like your body craves a healthy mix of protein, fat, carbohydrates, and all of the different micronutrients and macronutrients.
Now comes the million-dollar question: are you eating the information equivalent of junk food? If you only look at current news, Tik Toks, and Instagram stories for six hours every day, you won't be capable of forming intelligent and coherent thoughts.
Capturing and consuming quality information is about valuing your attention as much as your health. A couple of years ago, I found out I was consuming the information equivalent of a starvation diet. I stuck mostly to fitness content, food reviews, and obscure documentaries on the history of peanut butter (that last one might be made up).
Now I treat my information diet like I handle my real diet. Firstly, the information I consume must now pass two of three golden rules.
- It's interesting and captivates my attention
- It's unique and has something original to say
- It helps address the problems I'm facing
Ingrain these three rules and you are well on the path to remodeling your information diet. But there are a few more tips and tricks I have learned along the way which will help you create the best diet possible.
🪄Your diet is unique
Like there are different food diets, many information diets could work for you. People's taste buds for information are different because of their life experiences, education, place of residence, and relationships. Because of this, take recommendations with a grain of salt.
Right now, I stick to mostly a combination of Kindle highlights, article/blog highlights, Twitter, podcasts, audible books, and my thoughts/ideas for my information diet.
Just because your diet is different doesn't mean it can't be healthy. You might love using Pinterest to find images for art you create. You might create audible highlights. Maybe you use Instagram. As long as you stick to the three golden rules of information consumption, you can make any mix work for you.
❌Avoid current news and most social media
Social media is the informational equivalent of junk food. It tastes good in the moment, but as soon as you finish a two-hour Instagram binge, you never feel good about yourself. Similarly, current news is easy to binge because humans have evolved to prioritize negative information.
However, you can get all you need from the news by reading the headlines or talking with a friend. The Russian Ukraine crisis is awful, but consuming one more war story isn’t going to make it any better. You could spend the time fighting world issues rather than sulking over them.
But these mediums can be part of a quality information diet if you consume them mindfully.
My favorite method is to find thought leaders in your industry. Thought leaders are the informational equivalent of master chefs. They scour the internet for information and repackage them in the most digestible and insightful way possible, often for free.
I'm fascinated by reading, building a second brain, and writing. In total, I am following around 38 people on Twitter; every one of them is world-class in my interests. When I go on Twitter, I stick exclusively to these people.
🛕Consume like a Monk
The body's caloric needs are minimal, but most people overeat because of the overabundance of food in most of the world. Similarly, the brain doesn't need much quality information to keep it healthy.
Monks in a monastery will often fast or eat only the simplest, most plain foods. I'm not saying you have to become a monk to remodel your information diet (unless you want to be bald), but you should consider implementing their eating philosophies.
Summaries are like restaurant menus; they indicate what you can get and often allude to the restaurant's quality before you eat. I don't consume longer-form information until I know it's good.
If possible, I listen to podcasts with authors and read book summaries to get a rough idea of what I am getting into before starting. Only if the longer form article or book passes my three rules do I consider consuming it.
👴Consume old and forgotten information.
Bestsellers are like the dessert of the information world. Most love consuming them, but they often don't have much substance. This isn't to say there aren't great bestsellers, but they are often tainted to adhere to the likes of mass society.
Old forgotten books are like Licorice of the food world. Most don’t enjoy them at first. But when they become older and wiser they realize the depth of flavor inside.
📖Consume Great Books
Great books like Crime and Punishment, Pride and Prejudice, and the Illiad, are the vegetables of the food world. Most people know they should consume them, but they don't. I suggest you read great books the same way you should eat vegetables. Don’t force yourself to eat an entire plate full of them.
Taste buds take time to change. Instead, start out with easier-to-digest books, blog posts, and other sources of information that excite you, and then slowly up your portion intake of great books.
Eating predominantly one macronutrient in a meal is a recipe for disaster. For nutrition science reasons it spikes your blood sugar and leads to the dreaded food coma around 30 minutes after eating.
Consuming one genre repeatedly is like eating only fruit or only chicken for every meal. It’s a great way to fall into a literary indulgence.
To stop this, switch what genre you read every time you finish a book. For example, if you read a book on neuroscience, consider trying one on anthropology.
🦥I let information digest.
Like food, information needs time to get turned into energy or insight. When you chew food slowly, fully absorbing its flavors and textures, you are more attuned to the information it carries. I don't consume information if I'm stuffed.
I follow the four pillars of an effective reading habit: I think, write, converse, and create. I switch between these constantly.
If you want to see the long-form version of this post, check out my video How to Create a Better Information Diet. You can also read the blog post here:
Thanks to Astrid Helfant and Abe Moss for the conversations that helped form this post.