My Brain Diet

While the brain is impacted like all other parts of your body by the food you eat, it is also impacted by the information you feed it.

I consider there are two types of brain food: nutrition, and junk. Nutrition is anything that opens my mind and makes me think. Junk is anything that consumes my mental cycles, feel good, but has no value. I try to consume more of the former, less of the later.

My diet is simple. I don’t have Facebook nor Instagram. Those consume a lot of brain activity for no added benefit. They clog the mind with unavoidable thoughts about others which cause anxiety that lead to other addictions and lack of focus.

I also don’t read news. News outlets are motivated by inciting fear. My algorithm is simple: if it is important enough, I will know about it. I was recently telling a friend this is one of the blesses of not understanding German. I don’t get caught in the news cycle.

Apart from this, my brain diet is comprised of few components: information about the world and humans, tech related nutrition, and discussions with smart people (you can think of this as cuisines).

Those components are served through multiple channels like books, podcasts, newsletters, and twitter (you can think of those as restaurants serving one or more of the cuisines).

I don’t read as much as I like to do, but in general my approach is reading multiple books at the same time. I only read Kindle books and no hard copies. I read one hour before I sleep. I also resubscribed to audible since we moved to an office almost one hour away from where I live. My books selection is broad and can be about any topic, although there is some gravity towards tech, psychology, and economics/statistics.

I used to follow a long list of podcasts until it became overwhelming, so I cleaned it up and now follow a handful: a16z, Invest Like the Best, Kalam Falsafa (the only Arabic one), The Joe Rogan Experience, The knowledge project (the only one I don’t miss a single episode or newsletter), Tim Ferris, This week in startups, and Y Combinator. I also follow Dave Rubin on YouTube.

Now let’s talk about twitter, my guilty pleasure. One underappreciated element of twitter is its openness. I get to find and follow many smart people who I wouldn’t have access to if it weren’t for twitter. It takes a lot of effort to have a good timeline though.

I don’t follow brands, I follow people. I’m interested in tech, but I don’t follow news outlets, I follow journalists instead. Journalists don’t have a social media strategy and they don’t post everything twice to cover the timeline at different times. They also act as a filter for what’s newsworthy. Same applies to VCs, I don’t follow the accounts of the company, I follow the partners themselves. I don’t follow celebrities or people that professionally manage their accounts like CEOs of big companies.

The people I am following are within few clusters: VC, Tech Journalism, Product Management, Cloud Infrastructure (due to my current job), and other intellectuals (yet not idiots) that tweet things I am interested in. You can see who I am following, and you can check the product management list I have.

One good thing I starting doing is following someone for few days after I see an interesting tweet from them to see what they are talking about, if they start sharing things I am not interested in I unfollow immediately. That’s why my following count goes up and down quickly because I always try to discover new interesting people, and most times don’t succeed.

On top of twitter I use Nuzzel. It is an application that groups links by the number of people I am following who shared it. This helps me stay on top of what my network is talking about without having to open twitter itself. The only downside of Nuzzel is it doesn’t keep me on top of interesting tweetstorms like those by Andrew Chen or Sinofsky. I also don’t get to see interesting debates like those Keith Rabois engages in.

This brings me to the last and most important component of my brain diet: The people I talk to. I am vigilant about who I spend my time with. I don’t spend long times with negative people or those who don’t add to me intellectually. As a friend recently described it “I feel my IQ drops when I sit with those people”. Same here.

As with any diet, it is not all healthy. I also watch a lot of junk. I waste a lot of time filtering between things. And I spend a lot of time entertaining myself. Entertainment is crucial to keep you going, unless you are a cyborg.