“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” - Jim Rohn
The quote from the late author and motivational speaker is often applied in context of workplace culture and social groups. I can relate to how accurate that the observation is: when I’m part of an amazing and transformative culture—and adding to the goodness—it’s exhilarating feeling an elevated sense of purpose. On the flip side, when I’m thrust in an environment where crab effect, schadenfreude, and toxicity define the cultural norms, it’s sometimes tempting to get sucked into that convention, which often leads to mental exhaustion at end of the day. Being a part of a great culture is like eating a delightfully healthy meal, whereas membership in a subpar environment is akin to snacking on unhealthy junk food.
But can “the average of the five people” concept apply to my information consumption as well? Would spending more time being exposed to media which dovetail into my goal of lifelong learning and less time with low- or non-value added sources result in greater satisfaction and/or enlightenment? I decided to take on an experiment to change my media consumption habits. It’s a work in progress so far, but the results seem promising.
I’ve decided to indulge less of low-value/low-reward (in my opinion) consumption. For years, my default go-to web surfing destination was mostly sports sites. I suspect that the mental energy needed to process mundane news about scores, rumors, speculations, and latest exploits of prima donna athletes were minimal compared to reading substantial essays on productivity blogs and thought leaders’ websites. Mindless web consumption can be useful when I need a very short distraction, but when brief indulgences extend into hours-long rabbit hole of low-value “Internet research,” it’s no different than initially deciding to eat a single stick of French fry and ultimately gorging on several orders of super-sized fries. It also didn’t help that I often indulged in clicking the sponsored links on those sports articles, which inevitably led to TMZ-esque gossip and sensationalist media sites.
I’ve started to add to my weekly goals to absorb more media that align with my learning and enlightenment goals, as well as expand my body of general knowledge. I’ve set a goal to watch a TED talk every day, and listen to at least three thoughtful podcasts a week. Watching mentally stimulating presentations fit more closely with my goals of becoming a better speaker (and an eventual TED talk presenter) than repeatedly viewing a replay of crushing football tackle (lesson learned: watching the same replay twenty times didn’t change the outcome, and it didn’t add value to my leisure time). Listening to productivity podcasts and interviews with extraordinary people align with my desire to lead a 10xer life. I’ve intentionally started to spend more time with magazines that I subscribe to (but don’t always read completely): reading a human interest article in New Yorker magazine would likely offer more value to me than reading ten different news articles on the latest controversy in the sporting or entertainment world.
I have many friends who immerse themselves with intelligent media as part of their habits. Some folks I know spend weekend mornings listening to National Public Radio. Others listen to podcasts, thoughtful news, or audio books while they commute. What I’m doing isn’t revolutionary—there are precedents and inspirations. I have nothing against mainstream media, but I want to increase my awareness about what I intentionally choose to consume. Being exposed to fluffy media is like eating a bucketful of heavily-buttered popcorn, while spending time around media which integrate with my greater interests is savoring a truly healthy and beneficial dish.