We Are What We Consume

We have often heard “you are what you eat.” This is literally true. Our bones, muscles, tendons, and organs are made up of atoms that we have ingested. Breathe in dirty, polluted air, and that pollution literally becomes a part of our body. The same idea applies to the information we consume; our thoughts are shaped by the information we take in. Our perspective on the world is shaped by the media we watch. What we notice, the things that jump out at us, the way we view people and places and things, where we direct our attention, it is driven by what we have been thinking about, listening to, watching and reading.

The information we consume shapes how we view the world. Read a romance novel, and you’ll wonder more about relationships and love. Read a spy thriller, and you’ll have a different set of ideas that will be running just beneath your consciousness– you’ll wonder which building would be a good safehouse, is this person who she says she is? Watch YouTube videos about how people are jerks and you’ll be primed to notice… people being jerks. Listen to podcasts about human generosity and you will find more human generosity in your day-to-day life.

When we are trying to cultivate something (say, being more kind), there might be value in just trying to consume content about kindness. Read books about it, listen to podcasts about it, search it up online. The more it’s on the brain, the more we see it and think about it and are reminded of it. The fact that our perspective is shaped by the content we consume is not good or bad, it’s just an observation. The question is how to harness this observation to work for us. If we are interested in making more money, spend time reading about money. If our interest is in having more friendships, spend your time learning about relationships.

There are an almost infinite number of interesting, worthwhile pursuits to which we can devote our time and energy and attention. The challenge arises is that we have a finite amount of time, and a limited capacity for new information. We cannot read or watch or listen about everything– we have to choose. Do I read a book about business or about family? Do I spend my time thinking about art or about war? There is not a right answer– recognizing the finite nature of things can allow us to make a deliberate choice.

Unfortunately, a large amount of the information that we consume is not really something we select, but rather is selected for us. Our News Feed, YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook Feed– it’s all targeted specifically to you, chosen not to optimize happiness but because it keeps us engaged. So here’s the question: is that information helping us become the person we want to be, or is it influencing our thinking and shaping our views in ways that are not really consistent with our values? If we are consuming content (and we are), we are making it a part of us just like the food we eat and the air we breathe.

We find ourselves thinking about something too much (obsessing about retirement, preoccupied with appearance), we might benefit from a change in what information we consume; we can seek out sources that promote counterbalancing messages. Just like we strive to maintain balanced diets, perhaps we should also strive for balance in the information we take in. And just like many things we eat are ok in moderation but harmful in large amounts, so too with media consumption. There’s a role for portion size reduction– 15 minutes on social media is probably enough.

As you read this, this content is shaping your view– hopefully, it’s helping you live a good life, challenging your assumptions, and helping you make thoughtful decisions that are a benefit to you. It is a good thing that the content we consume influences us– we want to remain open to new ideas.

Let me know what you think. Leave a comment below.


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