What You’re Allowing In

I recently re-read the book “Where Will You Be 5 Years From Today”.  It’s an encouraging book that makes you think of the trajectory you are setting for your life that will lead you to where you want to be in 5 years.  This is one of those books that should be required reading every couple of years.

As I read, I was reminded how much my attitude and outlook is impacted when I actively fill my mind with positive, though-provoking content.  My mind feels sharper, opportunities seem more abundant, and good ideas and positive thoughts are in no short supply.  I just feel better when I’m feeding my mind with good content.

The thoughts we have are a function of what we’ve already allowed into our mind.  Therefore, it seems reasonable that if we want to have good thoughts, we should be sure our minds are filled with good content.  Think of it like priming a pump or fertilizing the “soil of our mind” that produces our thoughts.

Good thoughts don’t happen by accident.  It’s the intentional behavior of not only allowing good content in, but also guarding our minds against the avalanche of negative content that is so pervasive.  While guarding our minds requires work on our end, it is work that will enrich our lives in the form of better thinking.

Guard your mind, for it will produce and abundant return of whatever you allow in.  Make sure that what you’re allowing in is what you’d like to get out later.

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I Love It… But Not Always

“I don’t know.”

I both love and despise this response as an answer to questions.

I love this answer for its honesty.  When someone is asked a question that they do not have the knowledge to answer, this is a superb response, versus simply making something up or faking it in an effort to look bad in front of others.  In this scenario, “I don’t know” shows humility as well as the ability to be comfortable with the fact that you don’t have all the answers.  It also shows a willingness to receive input and ideas from others who have more knowledge in an area that you do.  It also shows that you’re teachable and eager to grow.

I despise “I don’t know” when it’s quickly thrown out as a default response simply because someone doesn’t want to expend the effort to give thought to a questions they have been asked.  Using “I don’t know” as the go to response is a great way to kill a conversation.  Imagine you’re having a conversation with someone you just met and, an effort to get to know them you ask them what they like to do if they had a free day to themselves.  If they immediately respond with, “I don’t know”, and that it, where do you go from there?  These 3 simple words can quickly slam shut the door of conversation.

Here’s the worst part about the default response of, “I don’t know.  When someone asks for our thoughts or opinion about a topic as input for a decision and we respond with “I don’t know”, we are willingly handing over our ability to make or influence a decision to other people.  For me, the thought of willingly allowing other people to always think and make decisions for me is not appealing.  As such, when asked for my opinion or input, I always want to at least have a thought that I can respond with, whether complete or not yet formed.  This keeps me active in the decision making process, versus allowing other people to do my thinking for me.

Like most things in life, responding with “I don’t know” requires discernment.   There are times when this is the right answer, and other times when this response is best avoided.  One way to help discern your use of this response is to ask yourself, “Am I replying with ‘I don’t know’ because I don’t want to think, or am I responding with it because I honestly don’t know?”

If your answer to this question is the latter, then congratulations!  You’re putting yourself on the path to increase your understanding of the topic.  If however, your answer to this question is the former, consider a different response.

Collecting and Applying New Ideas

For the last few years I’ve struggled with how I can remember all the great knowledge, insight, and wisdom I read in books.  Sure, I make notes and mark up the pages I read, but isn’t there a better system for cataloging all the great information I read in the course of a year?  Lately, I’ve come to realize that I’ve been asking the wrong question.

Instead of focusing on how I can recall the information I read, what would happen if instead I continued to fill my mind with good ideas, thoughts, and perspectives, and let them influence my thinking?

When I think about it, I really don’t need to get better at recalling information.  That’s Google’s job!  Instead, I should be focusing on how I can improve my thinking a little bit every day.  To do that, I’ve started to approach reading as a treasure hunt for good thoughts and ideas.  It’s pretty easy to identify them, as they often leap off the page.  The question then becomes what do I do with these good ideas once I’ve identified them?

Once I’ve been exposed to a new thought or idea, the best way I know to make use of it is to immediately start thinking where in my life I can apply it.  Underlining or highlighting it in the book and then moving on with the reading doesn’t really help solidify it.  You have to allow time to think or journal about the idea and its application in specific areas of your life.  This will cause the idea to take root and become part of your thought process; a new tool in your “thinking tool belt” that will influence how you think in the future.

I love the quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes that states,

The human mind, once stretched to a new idea, never goes back to its original dimensions.

Instead of reading to simply acquire more knowledge, let’s start focusing on collecting and applying ideas that will improve our thought process and mindset over the long term.

And think about this:  How much would your thinking improve in 1 year if you read just one book a month and from each book gleaned and applied 2 good ideas?

Let’s find out!

Filling Up Your Mind

Have you ever considered how what we allow into your mind directly impacts our thinking and outlook on life?  Similar to how the types of food we allow into our bodies directly impacts our physical health, the material we watch, read, and listen to have a direct impact on our thinking and how we view our current situations and overall view of life.  Therefore, it is imperative that we are not only aware of what we are filling up our minds with, but that we are also taking an active role to ensure the content we consume is positive, useful, and improves our thinking, rather than polluting it.

For example, I’m currently conducting a job search to find work closer to where I live.  This can be a challenging process with no shortage of opportunities to engage in negative thinking.

In Scripture we’re told…

“[…] whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  — Phil 4:8

Therefore, before I started the job search process, I found some positive words to use daily to keep me focused and to thwart of negative thinking when it would begin to show itself.  Some of those positive words I use include:

  • The greatest cure for anxiety is action.
  • Show me the right path, O Lord; point out the road for me to follow. – Psalms 25:4
  • Do what others aren’t willing to do.
  • Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. – Phil 4:6-7
  • Take action every day.

These words are certainly not the only positive choices and may not be for everyone, but they work very well for me in my situation.  The important point is for each of us to find our own encouraging words that we can use to positively influence our thinking.

What about you?  What are you filling your mind with?  Could you benefit some renewed and positive thinking?  If so, begin collecting quotes, phrases, gems from religious text, or just kind words from others and put them in a place that will cause you it intersect with them several times a day.  As you see them, spend a moment to read them, think about them, and apply into your daily life.  This habit will not only cause your thinking to change for the positive, but your life will follow as well.

Great Idea! Now What?

In a previous post I wrote how your head was a great place for having ideas, but a lousy place for keeping them.  This is because it’s so easy to lose ideas in the constant clutter of thoughts going on in our heads.  This week, I’d like share some actions we can take when we come up with a good idea, to ensure they are not forgotten.

First, create a system for capturing ideas.  With the digital revolution in full swing, there are several electronic options to quickly capture the idea written down.  These can include:

  • An audio recording
  • An email or text to yourself
  • An electronic list
  • A smartphone app designed for taking notes
  • Pictures taken with smartphone

Since most folks have a smartphone on or near them at all times, it makes sense that this would be a good tool to use to capture ideas.  However, we shouldn’t discount “old-school” mediums such:

  • Notebooks
  • Whiteboards
  • Sticky notes
  • Journals

What I have found is that I usually rely on a couple different methods for capturing ideas.  I think it’s important to settle on 2-3 preferred methods that work for you, because having too many ways of capturing ideas can lead to clutter and cause ideas that get lost.

Next, after you’ve developed a system for capturing your ideas, create a system to consolidate all your ideas.  By this, I mean taking all the ideas you had and placing them in a consistent location so they are easy to locate in the future.  Again, this collection could be a digital or an old-school method.  Just pick a one that works for you and make sure consolidating the ideas you’ve captured becomes part of your daily routine.

Finally, the most important step you can take after capturing and consolidating your ideas is to develop a plan to take action on your highest priority ideas.  If you’re like me, most of your ideas won’t be any good.  However, when you do have an idea that is good and you want to implement, do something that reminds you to put your idea into action.  For me, that often looks like setting a reminder in my smart phone to alert me at a certain date and time when I will be in a position to take action on my idea.

There are several methods that can be used to capture, consolidate, and act on your ideas.  The important point is to have specific methods at each step so you’ll be able to put your ideas into actions.  Actions that could potentially change your life.

Without a plan to do something with the ideas we have, they are often relegated to being just ghosts of ideas that disappear soon after we have them.  It’s time to start collecting and acting on the treasure of ideas our minds so often provide

Cultivating Good Ideas

I started this blog 153 weeks ago with the goal of consistently posting one entry per week.  So far, I haven’t missed a week yet!  What’s amazed me most about this journey is how every week I find a new idea to write about.

I like to post my entries on Saturday, but on Sunday, 6 days prior to posting, I usually have no idea what I’m going to write about.  It isn’t until I start going through my weekly routines of reading, having conversations with people, and listening to positive content that an idea for a topic pops into my mind.  These ideas burst onto the stage of my mind without any warning.  It’s an amazing process that I’ve really enjoyed over the past 153 weeks.

Ideas don’t just happen.  Whether it’s ideas for writing, planning, or myriad other forms of creation, I think there are certain disciplines we can practice to greatly increase our likelihood of coming up with good ideas.  Those disciplines include the following:

Expect that you can and will come up with good ideas

Henry Ford stated it well when he said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”  Pay attention how you talk to yourself regarding your ability to come up with ideas.  Instead of telling yourself you’re not good at coming up with ideas, change the internal dialog and state how capable you are of coming up with not just one, but several good ideas.

Consume positive content

Positive content, in the form of conversations, reading, podcasts, or any other method, is the fertilizer that helps grow new thoughts and ideas.  Your ideas will come out of whatever you have been putting into your mind, so be mindful of what you’re allowing in.

Set a deadline to come up with good ideas

For me, I imposed an artificial deadline of generating a blog post every week.  This created a sense of urgency that forced me to generate an idea.  So far it’s worked out well.

Practice cultivating good ideas

Every day, write down 10 good ideas on any topic.  It can be anything from ideas for generating extra money to titles for a make-believe TV show.  The objet here is to just get in the practice of generating ideas.  The more we do it, the better we can become at coming up with ideas.  James Altucher says that this is how you stretch your “idea muscle” and become and “idea machine”.

Set yourself up to be a generator of good ideas by following the steps above, or share some of your own ideas for generating ideas in the comments below.

Ideas are the starting point of all new adventures.  If you want to have a more adventurous life, you only need to start having more ideas.

What Are You Allowing In

I’ve been thinking this week about how what we fill our minds with today influences our thoughts in the future.  I’m also surprised at how quickly our mind comes up with thoughts that are influenced by what we’re allowing into our minds.

This can be a great thing if we’re filling our minds with good content that reinforces good thinking.  The other side is that a lack of discernment over what content we allow into our minds can lead to a polluted thought life that will manifest itself in equally polluted speech, attitude and behavior.

Earl Nightingale gave a great illustration of this by comparing our minds to a plot of land for a garden.  If we plant corn seeds in this pot of land, the only crop that we can expect the land to produce is corn.  It will not produce carrots, peas, beets, or potatoes.  We’ve sown seeds of corn.  The only thing the land will produce in return is corn.

Our minds are like that plot of land, and the content we’re allowing into our mind today are the seeds of our future thoughts, beliefs and attitudes.  Like the plot of land, our minds will only return a harvest based on the seeds we sow in it.  If we’re filling our mind with the seeds of positive input, our thoughts will be positive.  Likewise, seeds of negativity will yield and equally negative harvest.

So what are these “seeds” that we plant in our mind?  What do they look like and where do we get them?

These seeds come in many forms, such as:

  • Books we read
  • People we interact with
  • Games we play
  • Movies we watch
  • Music we listen to
  • Media we consume
  • Environments we spend time in
  • Communities we are a part of

Since they have such a significant impact on our thinking, it is so important to be aware of the content we allow into our mind.  We would never intentionally put sand or water into the gas tank of our car, because that would have a damaging impact on the car’s engine.  Our minds should be treated likewise, because the wrong input, which leads to wrong thinking, can have an equally damaging impact.

There are 2 things we can do today to start having better, more positive thoughts:

  1. Be aware of the input we’re allowing into our minds. Pay attention to the content we’re taking in and the conversations we’re having.  If they’re negative, change them.
  1. Be aware of the thoughts you’re having. When you notice they’re negative, replace them with a positive thought.  Left unchecked, we will go where our thoughts take us.  I’d prefer to be taken somewhere positive.

Become aware of the content you’re allowing into your mind and begin sowing the seeds of good thoughts in your mind today.  A harvest of good thinking in the future awaits.