6 quick fixes to give yourself better inputs

Hanging out with entrepreneurial German/Austrian beekeepers: one of the best types of input.

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.

People

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.

Quick fixes:

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.

Environmental inputs

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.

Quick fix:

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.

News sources

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.

Quick fixes:

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.

Quick fix:

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!

  • It’s amazing how inputs can affect your subconscious, which then manifests itself into behaviors and habits. A lot of people try to change the external behavior (which CAN work, but not always) and never pause to consider the inputs that help cause/influence the behavior.

    Some of the best input changes that result from life in Brazil are:

    – Brazilians in general are more positive/optimistic people (especially in my area of the country). Less complaining & cynicism, more “Ehh, so alegria!” (“Yeah… it’s all good!”) Also, Brazilians tend to be the type to work to solve or get around a problem creatively, not sitting around and whining about how unfair it is.

    – Weaker consumeristic culture. Although this IS increasing in Brazil, particularly with the growing middle class and their new disposable income, it doesn’t come close to the States yet. There’s less advertising, less “keep up with the Joneses” attitude… and also buying stuff is so freaking inconvenient (no 2-day delivery from Amazon… actually, I can’t order anything online with my American credit card) that I end up just not buying much except what I need. Excellent for the bootstrapping stage. (Coconut water does count as a necessity, but it’s only $1 per coconut :-p)

    – More neutral news. Although, yes, it does tend to have a negative slant (coverage of tragedies and violence, etc.) it’s nowhere near as… how can I put this… sensationalistic as reporting in the U.S. Every time I go to the States, I’m amazed at how much of a BIG DEAL everything is (and how vitriolic the commentators get – makes me wonder if anyone’s really interested in dialog and finding a solution to problems, or just in making the most “shocking” comments to rile up the other side)

    I’ve still gotta work more on the self-talk inputs, but one tactic that sometimes works is, “how can I make this into a [funny] story/blog post?” After all, most things can be looked at in a humorous light after the fact.

    • Awesome comment Shayna! I suppose it’s not a quick fix, but “move to a part of the world that lends itself to better inputs” is probably the ultimate brain hack.

      Your experience in Brazil sounds a lot like ours in Thailand – upbeat people, much less consumerism (outside Bangkok), and…well, we didn’t understand the news, but it didn’t seem as shouty and dramatic as CNN.

      The self-talk is harder to fix, but I like your angle on it. I’ve found that consciously asking myself “will this matter in a year’s time?” or forcing myself to find a positive angle is good for training my brain out of automatically rushing to the worst interpretation and obsessing over it.

      • Another thing I just thought of – the amount of exposure to advertising. I’ve never thought ads really influenced me directly… however, I seem to feel the “urge” to buy things more frequently in the States… find myself saying, “I could use a new __________” more often. That “I could use” phrase is deadly :-p

        “Will this matter in a year’s time?” is a good one, I’ll have to adopt that! I was just reading my entrepreneurial journal from about a year ago, and it’s amazing the things that I was worrying about or spending way too much thought on, which ended up being non-issues for my business. (Of course, there was no way to know that at the time!)

        • I’m the same – I always thought I was immune to adverts, but then I realised that EVERYONE thinks that and it can’t possibly be true!

          These days though we literally weigh up our purchasing options – the money is less important than what it’ll do for our baggage allowance!

          Another tip for keeping a lid on worries: use idonethis.com or askmeevery.com as a journalling tool. Every day you get an email asking you what you’ve done, and it also tells you what you were doing a week ago. So if you use it to record what you’re worried about, every day you get a reminder of last week’s worries…and you can see how irrelevant they all turned out to be just a week later!

  • Rob thanks for the mention. I totally agree an environment change creates a new perspective. That can often be good even just because of the change. Even difficult new environments teach us a lot about ourselves.

    James

    • James, sorry that I’ve only just approved your comment – our spam filter blocked this but allows through all the cheap trainers and discount pillows. Go figure…

      But yup, we change our environment in a pretty extreme way on a regular basis, and even when we have a shitty time we still benefit from being shaken up.

      You can probably achieve a similar effect without even changing physical location, just by finding new places and communities to hang out online.