Before Pasteur discovered that dirty hands may transmit diseases, mortality rates had been much higher. It is simply because when we are aware of a potential threat and know how to easily avoid it, e.g. by washing our hands, many of us will change our habits. We still have a choice, but at least we know what risk we are taking.

Unnoticed threats

How about the poisons that are absorbed unconsciously? There is a number of behaviors I found self-destructive although they may seem pretty harmless at first sight. I have eliminated most of them to a large extent and found it rewarding. Have a glance and check for yourself if you see the factors below as dangerous and want to take a break from some of them.

Toxic people

We become who we surround ourselves with. As the proverb goes, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”. It is not easy to observe the influence of others in the short run, but after a while, we may hear ourselves bringing up topics, phrases and ideas that we subconsciously adopted from a friend or colleague. Below are the red flags that I look for while spending time with others:

  1. Overwhelming issues — As much love as they can bring, other people often bring challenges and issues with them. To some extent it is normal and may feel fulfilling to be able to give a helping hand to a friend. Life is not all cookies and cream, and it is great to share the good and the bad moments. But some people find issues everywhere and use you as a drain to pour them all into. This red flag is worth noticing when you spend your energy on other people’s problems to the extent that you don’t have any energy left for yourself. The rule of thumb would be to think about a certain person while being alone and listen to your gut feeling.

  2. Emotional blackmail — Do you like it when someone is saying one thing, but trying to tell you something else between the lines? I have noticed there are some people who make me feel as if I was constantly under delivering on my duties towards them or failing to understand their feelings. And they do it in a passive-aggressive way. Once I dated a girl who kept building her self-esteem on making me look weak and miserable. Noticing that was not easy at first sight, but getting rid of her from my life felt like dropping a heavy stone off my back. Openness and candor can be difficult but they build a true bond.

  3. Linguistic influence — what and how we talk about life defines it. Language is a powerful tool as it creates the image of the reality we live in. Looking at the dark side of life, mentioned before, is just one piece of the verbal puzzle. Topics that others focus our attention towards become our reality. If we spend our time with colleagues talking about fashion, politics or our boss, these topics and emotions associated with them become our reality. I try to not get involved in conversations that are not interesting, even if someone else can perceive me as withdrawn or rude.
  4. Other people are the greatest source of inspiration, happiness and knowledge to me. I’m aware of the above risks and know how little time we have on earth so I love being very selective and understand others who decide not to continue being around me. I believe that a good relationship is rooted in freedom of choice and mutual positive influence.

Degenerative contexts

Absorbing thoughts and behaviors through what we read or where we spent our time empowers our beliefs created by repetitive exposure to certain ideas. If we are not selective we may “accidentally” start believing in ideas that do not empower us.

I have found the contexts below poisonous at times. I am curious what you would add to the list.

  1. Media pulp —the fear of missing out on “important issues” may have many roots. Inspired by a book by Tim Ferriss – “The 4 hour work week”I haven’t read the news or watched TV in the last 10 years. To what extent would the data I had missed served me? I end up knowing more than I would like to just by interacting with other people. In the meantime I have saved so much time and energy by not digging into issues I can’t control anyway. This gives a lot of mental space for ideas and information that I can actually use.

  2. Absorbing gossip — I may be far from being objective as I am allergic to gossip and celebritism. I believe that to an extent they are just drivers of greed along with envy, and feed on materialistic and shallow beliefs. How boring one’s life must be to have an interest in marriages or cars of random people. Thinking about shallow matters subconsciously erode our level of thinking. There are multiple better way of using priceless mental and emotional resources that I can think of. For example, sit on a bench and watch the clouds or talk to someone you know and really care about.

  3. Determinant places – if I go to a shopping mall for whatever reason, I increase the probability of buying something that I don’t need. If I meet with friends in a bar I will probably drink more than necessary. If I go to the gym I will more likely work out harder than if I trained at home. Taking care of where I do or do not go has become a very beneficial way of habit formation. Where you are makes who you are, so you may want to review your schedule. Go for walk with your client instead of sitting at a cafe. I have tried and enjoyed it.

Removing the sting

How to put this inspiration into practice? You could do it the Pasteur way. First, mindfully observe your behaviors, notice habits, and assess if they bring you growth or drag you down.

Binging on gossip? Talking to an old friend because she has always been around? Talking about your boss’s socks because you want to feel part of the team?

Imagine becoming a clear slate. Ask yourself about the true value each activity brings. It will help you redesign your habits and get rid of poisons.

Afraid of missing out on something cool by being more selective? No worries – you can always come back to your old habits; it is easier than one wished it to be.

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