When we were in Chiang Mai, we were happier than we are when we’re back in London. 35-degree weather and an abundance of mango smoothies probably has something to do with it, but it was also because we were hanging out with ambitious, positive people, and were totally disconnected from the mainstream media.
Even in Chiang Mai though, we made ourselves unhappy quite a lot of the time by worrying about things beyond our control, or focusing on the downside of things that happened to us.
We talk a lot about the importance of changing your inputs if you want to achieve a life of doing the work you love on your own terms. Being on the move naturally changed our inputs for the better, but we’ve still got a long way to go when it comes to the inputs we give ourselves.
So I decided to round up some of my favourite suggestions from people around the web about quick’n’easy ways to start changing your inputs – both external and self-generated.
According to Jim Rohn, we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Their values, worldviews and biases rub off on us, meaning that negative or unambitious people can quickly drag us down.
Not only that, but hanging out with people who share your beliefs and goals will give you inspiration and information that’ll get you to where you need to be more quickly. We’ve written before about how isolation could be holding you back, and we’ve made building a stronger network one of our three goals for 2013.
Quit Facebook for Google Plus. Honestly, I’m not just saying this because I started using Google Plus and I really want friends (or “circlers”, or whatever the heck it is). Guy Kawasaki sums it up in his book: Facebook is for people you went to school with to show off to each other; Google Plus is a place to meet new people based on your interests.
You’ll still get the cat videos and Buzzfeed links on either platform, so give it a try. To be guaranteed to meet some awesome new people, join our Anywhereist community on G+.
Join a mastermind or a members-only forum. We all know what happens when you make something anonymous and open to everyone (hi, YouTube comments), and it follows that all the best conversation happens between small groups in private. Private forums, Facebook groups and mastermind groups seem to have mushroomed recently – and, as James Schramko says on the Think Act Get podcast, the quality of discussion is unbelievable.
Our brains have to be selective about what they process, filtering out everything that doesn’t seem to be relevant. Chet Holmes claims in The Ultimate Sales Machine that the brain system responsible for selective attention – the Reticular Activating System (RAS) – can be trained, and that’s why you suddenly start noticing people’s footwear if you’re planning to buy some new shoes soon. It might also be the reason for the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.
The implication is that even if your environment is identical, you can change your inputs by training your brain to focus on positive things, and ignore everything else.
Spend a week finding something good about every situation. Shakespeare said that “nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”, so it’s just a case of training your brain to focus on the positives. Tynan suggests spending a month consciously finding something good about everything that happens to you. Even though it feels forced at first (“I’m so glad I sliced my hand open because now I get to read this excellent May 1998 edition of Good Housekeeping in the surgery”), after a while it becomes automatic and your brain’s filters have been set for good.
It’s no secret that the media concentrates on bad news. If you’re paying attention to bad news all the time, it’s possible that your RAS will start seeking out bad news and filtering out the good – essentially self-selecting inputs that make it harder for you to move forward and take risks.
Not to mention that it’s bloody depressing.
Go on a media diet. This one goes back to Tim Ferriss in The 4-Hour Work Week, who suggests totally ignoring the news for a while – trusting that anything really important will reach you anyway.
Filter your news through positive people. If you still want to know what’s going on in the world, focus on getting your news from Twitter. People tend to share positive rather than negative links on Twitter anyway, and you can amplify that by carefully picking who you follow. You just need to be aware that you’ll end up with a skewed idea of what’s important in the world (like we did), so you’ll need to make the odd trip to BBC News to find out what else is happening without getting bogged down in opinion and (too much) bias.
The inputs you give yourself
Much of the data we process every day is generated by ourselves – worrying about possible future events, and obsessing over what happened in the past.
This “self-talk” means that much of the time we’re ignoring the inputs that are right in front of us, because we’re busy processing a self-generated scenario that might not even happen. And the basis for books like Think And Grow Rich is that our brains can’t distinguish between reality and imagination – meaning that by thinking about possible failure, you’re giving your brain the exact same input that it would have if you really had failed.
Mark negative thoughts as “not helpful”. I suppose the real answer is “meditate”, because that’s a way of controlling the thoughts that pass through your head. But I like James Altucher‘s version: every time you notice yourself worrying about something, label that thought “not helpful” and move on. Just being aware of your thoughts and consciously rejecting them is often enough to get them out of your head, and stop them from coming back so often.
What do you think?
Do you find that changing your environment makes it easier to change the way you think and the work you do? Do you give yourself negative inputs that make your life harder? Let us know in the comments how you deal with it!