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A strict mental diet might be the secret to unparalleled creativity.

We think a lot about our physical diets. Less so about what we are consuming mentally.

I know. I know. The term mental diet sounds snooty.

I imagine it garners similar looks your cousin Tiffany gets when she orders a turkey patty wrapped in lettuce at the dinner table as everyone around her wolfs down their thick cheese-blanketed burgers and crispy perfectly salted French fries at a pace that would make Joey Chestnut gawk.

(He’s a professional speed eater if you were wondering).

But, while Tiffany is a buzz-kill on everyone’s night out, she’s onto something. And, perhaps I am too with this mental diet nonsense I’m about to chuck at you. Or, so I hope.

Now, what the hell is a mental diet?

There is quite a good chance you’ve probably never heard of a mental diet. It’s not because you’re an idiot nor because I am the first one to coin the term, but because like so many of our fellow humans, we’re a bit overly-obsessed with how we look physically.

While we can see and feel and flex our bodies, we can’t see and feel and flex our brains and naturally we direct our focus to the aspects of ourselves that are more tangible.

I’m not spewing out bullshit here. The proof is in the numbers… the weight loss industry did about $70 billion last year.

Ramit Sethi, the financial guru and mastermind behind I Will Teach You To Be Rich, once said something along the lines of… show me where you’re spending your money and I will show you your priorities.

I butchered that quote. But, you get the gist.

While folks aren’t always successful at losing weight, they definitely care a lot about looking good physically and that’s why trunk loads of cash are spent on diet programs and plans and supplements each year.

While we are obviously lacking execution around our physical diets, we certainly aren’t lacking awareness.

Ask anyone how they feel about themselves from a health standpoint and I guarantee you will get responses like…

"I'm about 20 lbs away from my fighting weight" or… "I could stand to lose 10-15" or… “I’m really trying to cut back on my late-night snacking”.

But, rarely (if ever), do we hear folks say... "I've been eating like shit mentally lately and I am sick of it" or "I'm trying to watch less Netflix and read more Hemingway".

That’s interesting. Or, at least it is to me. It’s the very reason I’m writing today…

My idea is…

If we can thoughtfully diet our way to a flat stomach or sculpted six-pack, could we mentally diet our way to higher intelligence or even unparalleled creativity?

I think so. But, let’s consult a King.

How an aggressive mental diet gave birth to the King of Horror.

I’m a marketer and writer that runs a creative writing shop and a tiny but mighty marketing newsletter called Sticky Notes.

I make my living writing.

And, while I wouldn’t have it any other way, I’d be fibbing if I said getting paid to write didn’t come without a fair amount of pressure.

There is a part of me that has always been terrified that one day I am going to wake up and run out of words.

A good while back, I came across a quote by Stephen King that eased my mind (some)…

“It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but “didn’t have time to read,” I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner. Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

While King certainly wasn’t telling me (or anyone) that I had the chops to be a “good writer” or even a “decent writer”, what I pulled from the excerpt was the following…

If I read voraciously enough I could, at the very least, avoid being a completely bad writer.

And, that was good enough for me.

So, I began reading and reading and reading. This year, I actually started documenting everything I’ve been reading in an ongoing article of sorts where I sum up each book into a single sentence.

(If you are looking for a book recommendation, touch here, I highly recommend… 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12 and 13… I suppose the whole goddamn list).

Anyway, King’s advice is perhaps a micro look at this much broader idea of a mental diet.

The brilliant writer is 71 years old and still reads between 75-100 books a year. He has read at this prolific pace throughout his entire career and I don’t think it is a coincidence that he has written and published 52 novels (and has sold over 350 million of them).

He published his first novel, Carrie, back in 1974. If he read 75 books a year since the year of his first publishing, he has read 3,375 books to date.

Divide that number by 52 and for every novel he has written, he has read 65-ish.

Now, I’m not insinuating that King is a prolific writer because he is a voracious reader –– folks who write fifty some odd books in their lifetime where born with a very specific set of skills the rest of us weren’t born with.

But, I am saying that I think his obsessive reading (or mental diet rather) helped him make the most of these God-given or Universe-given skills.

King, of course, isn’t the only one to be wildly prolific at his craft and also follow an aggressive mental diet…

Mark Cuban, a business magnate worth 4 billion, apparently reads more than 3 hours a day.

Phil Knight, the mastermind behind Nike, supposedly has a library in his home that guests must “remove their shoes” before entering.

Oprah Winfrey, everyone knows who Oprah is, claims that books were her pass to personal freedom and today she runs a book club along with the dozens of other projects she has her hands in.

But, enough about these giants. How does this idea apply to you and me?

Is there such a thing as mental obesity?

I think for anyone making a living perfecting a craft –– be it accounting, writing, marketing, blacksmithing, selling, painting, podcasting, designing or even managing people –– monitoring one's mental consumption is imperative in achieving mastery.

Rupi Kaur, the brilliant poet behind Milk & Honey, shared in a podcast with Sophia Amoruso that she guards much of her mental intake in the mornings because she finds it has a huge impact on her creativity throughout the course of the day.

If Keeping up with the Kardashians and mindlessly scrolling through Instagram are Cheetos and French fries –– it's okay to partake on occasion but overconsumption can lead to an "unhealthy brain" or perhaps “mental obesity”.

The latter is something I’ve struggled with greatly over the past couples years as I’ve gone about “building my brand” (I hate that fucking phrase) on Instagram.

While the platform could be a huge marketing channel for me down the road, it doesn’t do anything to enhance my creativity.

I’ve since deleted the application entirely from my phone and re-download it a couple times a week to partake in a heaping load of French fries.

I think establishing a mental diet isn’t unlike establishing a physical diet. You consume good nutritious creative material the vast majority of the time and some of the time you consume the delicious fried, sugary, chocolatey shit.

And, I don’t think this has to be done through reading alone.

If you are a graphic designer, you should be setting aside time each week to study other graphic designers work...

If you are a podcaster, you should be listening to the best podcasters in the game…

If you are a musician, you shouldn’t just be listening to music you should be dissecting it…

I think if we aspire to not just be creatives but to be great or even prolific creatives we must be thoughtful about our mental diets, we must be constantly monitoring our consumption, mentally.

But, I digress.

By Cole Schafer.


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Cole Schafer