Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words.
Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions.
Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits.
Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character.
Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.
— Chinese proverb
In recent years, we’ve learned to be selective about what we put into our bodies. After all, “we are what we eat”, and the food we consume forms the building blocks of our bodies and health. But how many of us ever stop to think about what we put into our minds every day?
Like the Chinese proverb above explains, we are shaped by our thoughts, feelings and beliefs. When you’re scared, angry, excited or in love, those thoughts and emotions trigger the release of specific neurotransmitters. These chemical messengers tell your body how to respond to the situation at hand – freeze, fight, flight, make love.
Much of the time, your thoughts cause temporary physiological changes, like that rush of dopamine you feel when you score a goal. But when something becomes a mental habit – like constant worrying or practicing gratitude every day – the patterns of neural activity sculpt your brain in more permanent ways. Busy regions in your brain will form new connections, which makes those neurological pathways stronger and more receptive to that specific mix of neurochemicals.
What’s more, what you repeatedly think shapes your deepest beliefs about yourself and the world. Your beliefs steer your actions, and regular actions become the habits that mold your daily life and (in part) your health.
That’s why a thought isn’t just a thought – it has the power to transform your life.
But your thoughts usually don’t appear out of nowhere. They don’t exist in a vacuum either. Your ideas, intentions, opinions, feelings and worries are sparked by the available input around you. The magazines you’re reading, the articles you’re browsing online and the TV shows you watch every week – they all have an impact on your thought patterns, mood, brain chemistry and corresponding physiological reactions.
And now that we’re bombarded with more information than ever before in history, it’s become even more important to mind your mental diet. But in a world filled with both chocolate bars and brain candy, what does a healthy mental diet look like? How can you nourish your mind with ‘nutrient-rich input’ and consume less ‘empty mental calories’?