With all the toxins in our world nowadays, it’s no wonder that the detox industry is a multi-billion dollar per year business. We have chemical toxins, we have food toxins, we have skin toxins. All of which come with a big warnings and flashing lights to avoid them. But if you do suffer from them, then you might need to detox. What about mental toxins? Imagine a host of sneaky little foes that infiltrate our minds and toxify our thoughts, which crater our attitudes, and lead to life-devastating behavior.
The Dirt: My family would never steer me wrong.
What’s worse is that these things are very self-sufficient, much like a virus. They multiply and thrive unless positive action is taken to eliminate them. The craziest part is that not only do we never consider such a detox, we actually retox. We add fuel to the fire, bats to the belfry, and ultimately more nails to our coffin. What if we could stop retoxing and start detoxing our minds?
Let’s take a closer examination of some typical mental toxins. This is nowhere near an exhaustive list, but it should give us an idea of some of the top things to watch for and target for detox.
We love our family (mostly) and they love us (mostly). There is often a strong emotional bond that ties a family together through thick and thin. Even when we’re at odds with them, we’re there for them in a pinch. It’s an important safety net and I would never suggest that it should be any other way. Yet, what does that have to do with helping us do what’s necessary for success in life?
Without touching the debate between family and biological relatives, let’s assume they truly do have our best interests at heart. Wanting to help us and being able to help us are quite different things. A mom may want to cure her son of cancer with all her mighty soul, but that doesn’t equate to her competence to do so. Our desire to help others we care about is noble. Sometimes our friends and family cannot handle the fact that they just aren’t able, so they’ll give our best advice they can. If this were about what color car to buy, their potentially bad advice would be rather innocuous. Worst case, we repaint or buy another car, neither of which is life threatening. When their advice is about something more important, such as career, money, legal issues, or life, the result of bad advice can be devastating.
If innocent love isn’t enough to derail us, we can always look towards the know-it-all relative. You know, broke Uncle Larry who always has a nugget of wisdom about money and business. He’s only been temporarily unemployed and sleeping on our couch for six years, but he sure knows his stuff about what to do with money and how to build a great business or get a safe and secure job, right? These dear folks have been burned in the past and often in a big enough way that they’re a bit jaded. The only thing they usually have to cling to is the past and holding others back with them is their main source of solace. You can take their advice if you wish, just don’t be surprised when it once again leads you to devastation.
The toughest part for us may be separating the love from the facts. It’s okay to be loved without confusing the warm feelings with competent advice. A dentist giving you advice on tooth maintenance is probably a good source of advice whether or not they’re related to you. A dentist giving you advice on fixing your transmission may not be such a great source of advice whether or not they’re related to you. Let’s keep our loved ones in the love and our advice in the know and promise ourselves never to confuse the two.
If we can escape the lovely poor advice from those around us, we can always look towards the loud and famous. You read that correctly. There are many folks out there that confuse not love, but fame for competence. They have a following, a microphone or twitter account, and feel that gives them the authority and credibility to share their view of the world. Which it absolutely does. By being loyal followers, we’ve given them the right to speak out and many do so in a good way.
What it doesn’t do is make them right or worth a listen. Again, if they’re marketing a line of makeup or energy drink and you buy one that turns out to be worthless, no harm, no foul. When we make career, life, and business choices on this advice, it may not as easy to recover. It’s worth remembering that they are still human and have been similarly influenced by those around them. Like us, they are often just vessels passing on information (good or bad) to others. If we can remember that louder doesn’t mean righter, then we may have a chance to choose our advice wisely.
If others’ bad advice doesn’t toxify us enough, we can always take our own bad advice. It sounds crazy that we would tell ourselves bad information and create poor results, yet it’s been well-studied. It’s called our habits and beliefs and while we didn’t necessarily create all of them, we are their slave until we consciously decide otherwise.
About 40% of what we do on a daily basis is habit. A habit is something that requires little to no active thought. It’s like us on autopilot. We develop these habits over time, sometimes from following orders, sometimes from old beliefs. The point is that we do them and we don’t have to know why. For example, you probably wash the same body parts in the shower in the same order every time. This is actually a good thing as this habit makes showering more efficient than if you had to think about each part of your body. It’s when we become habitual about things that matter when we can miss the boat. It’s when we get habitual about getting a cup of coffee, checking personal email, and chatting at the water cooler that we kill the first two hours of the workday and likely our chance for a promotion.
The longer habits go unnoticed and unchecked, the stronger they become. Like a toxic virus, they strengthen and multiply. We become habitual about more things and end up in a laissez-faire approach to almost everything in our life. We plod along in our comfort zone until life gives us the dreaded wake-up call. This toxic shock, if it doesn’t kill us, give us the chance to eliminate a few bad habits and replace them with new ones.
Backing up our habits are our beliefs. Most beliefs are borrowed from our upbringing. They are usually based in our initial conditioning as children. Our beliefs may be full of falsities, biases, or just simply outdated information. It could be we were told something was true when we were young and impressionable and we just believed it to be so. If we never got around to verifying it as we got older, we could still believe it. Or perhaps similarly we heard an opinion and took it as fact, again never questioning the veracity. Often, we are just given information from an older generation that worked for them, but that may not work today. Times change but people usually don’t.
For example, the idea that you could go to school, get a degree without being debt-ladened, and you were guaranteed a safe and secure job was very plausible only 30 years ago. Nowadays, if you still believe this to be true, please talk to a few recent graduates and do the math on the return on investment (don’t forget to include loan interest if applicable). I’m not suggesting to not go to college, just run the real numbers and determine if it is worth it based on what you plan to do with the education. Following the outdated belief of “college is the way to succeed” without a solid justification for doing so is just another source of future devastation.
Beyond our personal and interpersonal interactions, we have an outside toxin that is designed to influence and distract us. It’s competence in these areas is beyond question and it’s subversion is impressive. It’s called Marketing and it’s the real reason we do the vast majority of what we do. Oh, I know you believe you are choosing this or that, but against the power of social suggestion, there’s not much of a choice left.
Marketing will tell you that it’s all about awareness. They say they’re just trying to build a brand name so that people know what they do. If that were the case, why do airline commercials show a tropical island with bikini-clad people having fun on the beach drinking Margaritas when the actual experience of the airline is sitting in an aluminum tube with 300 other germ-ridden folks and 18 crying babies being fed pretzels and soda after being strip-searched by TSA? It’s called selling the dream. Again, this is a very innocuous example. The airline is focusing on the results of flying to vacation and not on the transportation (their only reason for existence).
Take this to a more serious level and it the toxic effects can be devastating. Imagine investing your life savings with the company that has the best TV commercials, or nicest office (shouldn’t this itself be a hint?), or just because “he was such a nice kid”. At the end of the day, if the advice isn’t right, none of the commercials, office, or even the nice kid won’t be able to step in a fix it when you can’t retire. Nor are they obligated to do so, but this is a lesson for another time.
Marketing is also the master of distraction. While they’re selling the dream, the details of acquiring the dream are glossed over and we end up living the nightmare. It’s the gorgeous timeshare, that fancy new car, the “get rich quick” investment. If they can get you to forget the fact that rent is due, you have other obligations, or that you simply cannot afford it, then success is theirs and the devastation is our. I’m not suggesting that such folks are bad people, just that the #1 goal of marketing is to get you to acquire their product. If you believe it to be anything else, don’t be surprised if you start losing sleep.
The good news is that we don’t have to move out of our hometown, we don’t have upend our entire life and habits, and we don’t have to turn off the TV, radio, and social media every time a commercial comes on. We just have to be aware of the mental toxins around us and handle them with care. Just like the apple we buy that may have a pesticide on it, we just have to give it a quick wash and reveal the truth underneath.
For relatives with poor advice, use the nod and smile. Appreciate them, just don’t listen to them. For our old habits, stop every now and then and ask yourself, “What am I doing?”. Slow down on important things and think them through. For marketing, well, yeah, shut off the TV – permanently.
“A good man giving bad advice is more dangerous than a nasty man giving bad advice.”
Meet you at the top, ‘cause the bottom’s way too crowded!