You are not what you read

Now more than ever we need to stop listening to everyone else. We need to stop reading articles and books, watching videos, and listening to interviews where other people tell us what to do and what to think.

If you want to be a writer, stop reading about writing and start writing. If you want to build a business, stop looking for business advice and start failing. If you want to get in shape, stop saying you want to get in shape and start pushing your body beyond comfort.

If you want to change your life, stop reading about other life's and start taking the steps necessary to begin changing yours.

Do you think anyone could've changed themselves, or the world, if they had spent their lives snacking on social media, devouring stories of how other people changed the world, and thinking about all the things they could do?

We should all aspire to be great, not to imitate others but rather to discover what greatness exists within each of us. We should develop an insatiable appetite for empowering ourselves and exploring that vast source of untapped potential we all carry within us.

So consider this a plea from me to stop reading and start tinkering; stop talking and start being; stop dreaming and start doing; stop listening and start exploring. Yes, that includes not listening to me.

It includes ignoring people who constantly seek your attention. It includes disconnecting from being always-on and available. It includes prioritizing your life based on what is important instead of what is urgent.

Lots of stuff is urgent, but the important stuff is what makes us who we are.Β You must remember to do the important things first, because you are not what you read, or think, or say: you are what you do.

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  1. Wow. Very powerful post. It’s hard to find balance though when you are going through a bit of a tough time, trying to work yourself out of it. I don’t want to stop reading you, because you actually write things that add value and make me think.

    • Thank you, Holly. πŸ™‚

      I think it’s important to keep the things that add value to your life, in your life. My message here was simply that we need to figure out what those things are, instead of being on reactionary auto-pilot consuming and accepting everything that comes into our lives.

      Figuring out what’s important and giving ourselves permission to let go of everything else (all the ‘urgent’ stuff… there’s always plenty of stuff that’s ‘urgent’), that will give us the clarity and strength we need to find the balance we seek.

      There are several writers who I read regularly for inspiration, ideas, and knowledge. But I’ve recognized that I could find a thousand more like them if I allowed myself to search them out. Instead, I recognize how much time I have available to me, prioritize my time and my activities, and then let go of everything else. (For example I found that my time-to-value ratio reading posts on Twitter was way too low for me to invest my time there, so I rarely spend more than a minute or two a day on Twitter.)

      As my available time increases, I’m able to focus more on what’s important to me, whether that be taking long walks in the forest or writing comments like this one. The point is, if I had not narrowed down what’s important to me and let go of everything else, I might not have the mental capacity to respond thoughtfully here. Since I value these comment discussions, I choose to invest my time here instead of trolling on Twitter for something interesting. πŸ™‚

  2. I understand your wish that we live, experience, create. I agree fully.
    I gently disagree with the rest. In your own life, you have written that you read stories of travelers and that inspired you to change your entire life—leave your cubicle behind to embrace your current lifestyle.
    In my life, I love and experience and create to a depth and range beyond many *because* I read and listen to stories and ideas and thoughts that expand my view and ultimately my world. Other’s words inspire me to reach beyond what I know, allow me to consider new and different, often affirm my own unconventional choices, and bolster my knowledge with answers to “how” to do something.
    In my work, reading and listening allows me to feel the pulse of the community and to relate at a transparent level because I am able to understand diversity far more than what I have been personally exposed to.
    I am very aware of what I choose to invest in, so I do not blindly follow others, I filter what I am exposed to, but I know my being is well rounded and my life is greatly enriched by my exposure to others work (including yours).

    • Hi Joy,

      I have indeed written that stories of other travelers inspired me. My point here isn’t to stop reading.

      If I had not decided that changing my life was important, I might not have even found the stories of other travelers to read. And, if I had just read story after story and not actually done anything with those stories — if I had not decided that changing my life was more important than reading about others who changed their lives — then I would still be sitting in a cubicle, reading stories.

      There is absolutely a need for reading and learning and sharing experiences, but there is also a need to self-determine when our cup is overflowing and when we need to stop consuming and start creating, when the time we’re spending consuming is actually holding us back from creating and experiencing. I’d wager our cup is overflowing far more often than it needs to, as technology has essentially opened the floodgates of the world to us.

      How many stories is enough? How much inspiration is enough? How much exposure to others work is enough? And more importantly, how can we increase the quality while decreasing the quantity of all that consumption?

  3. Great one, Raam! I understand what you are saying: not to NOT read, but to not have one’s life or aspects of one’s life be dependent on someone else’s idea of our course(s). Go into one of the main book retailers and see how large the “self-help” or diet section of books is! As well, when I became vegan, there was so, so much information and opinions available, some of it contradictory to others. It boils down to one’s own “gut” and heart (though I did learn from reading some basic nutritional information to insure that my venture would succeed, and it has). I have run three half marathons. There are “plans” available to get one ready to run such a race: nutrition, training plans laid out for each week up to a couple of months before the race. I figured that when one participates in a running race, one runs. So, I did that. I just stacked-up the miles and when race day came did fine. Namaste!

    • Ricky, that’s exactly what I’m saying! πŸ™‚

      We can beat around the bush all day, but until we actually step up and do something, nothing will happen. We can read and read, become inspired day after day, soak ourselves in all the advice being offered by everyone who appears to know what we want to know, but all of it is useless until we actually start doing something with it.

      Your marathon example is excellent: There is so much advice out there, so many tips and tools and tricks that attempt to help make the process easier. But the easiest and most valuable thing you can do is to simply get out there and start running. The other stuff is a great supplement, but without action all the supplements are just distractions. The same can be said for everything else in life.

  4. Raam, your post this morning is so right on. We all tend to find excuses for delaying the work we need to do by thinking “I don’t know how.” Some times the only way to learn how is to begin–and if we fail the first time, to try again.
    People who have really accomplished things in this world seldom asked for advice. They just saw a need and filled it to the best of their ability. You are such a good leader, and I look forward to more of your wisdom.

    • Thank you, Carol.

      You make an interesting point about people who have accomplished things seldom asking for advice: I think they’ve certainly asked for advice, but only after getting out there and getting their hands dirty. Once we start failing and making mistakes, it becomes a lot easier to ask for the right advice. Until we actually experience what we don’t know, how can we know what we should be looking for?

      I think that’s why failing is so important: it teaches us something that no book or teacher can teach us. It teaches us from within, helping us actually learn and progress through experience rather than from imagination (which rarely leads to action).

    • Thank you, Alexander.

      I think ‘you are what you watch’ is even more true than ‘you are what you read’, because what we watch is visual, it’s something we can easily relate to and envision ourselves doing. The trouble is, it also makes it easy to feel like we’re living when we’re really not. Sitting in front of a television for hours upon hours isn’t living: it’s dying.

  5. “Do you think anyone could’ve changed themselves, or the world, if they had spent their lives snacking on social media, devouring stories of how other people changed the world, and thinking about all the things they could do?” I removed my Facebook page, stopped blogging, pretty much withdrew from watching and reading what passes (lamely) for news and commentary, pretty much passed on “celebrating” Christmas and tuned out all the ludicrous “culture wars” that now erupt every Christmas over “holidays” and “Merry Christmas” and all that nonsense, and committed to cultivating my spirituality during the month of Advent with Bible reading, journaling, meditating/reflecting. Also signed up for a first time half-marathon with training and diet that enabled me to LOSE 4 pounds, rather than gain 4, during the holidays. Announced this planned withdrawal from the world on my blawg and Facebook and when I plugged back in, people told me they don’t know how I could do that. Church ministers told me they must be addicted to Facebook because they could not live without it for more than the month I was off. (I’m a minister serving as a chaplain at a hospital, not a church). These are ministers, for God’s sake, who are supposed to be of the world but not in it, liberated from the same attachments and addictions that keep the minds and bodies and spirits of those they serve churning. So anyway, thanks for this blurb Raam, and for stimulating the sort of serious thought that is hard to come by in an ever noisier and more shallow world.

    • Thank you, Rev. Paul.

      I took a similar ‘sabbatical’ from the Christmas holiday and from New Years and I was inspired by how free I felt from the sense of anticipation, the culmination of something ending and something starting. I was able to embrace today for today.

      The ability to be always-on and always connected comes with a responsibility to self-moderate, to use self-control and make conscious decisions about what we choose to invest and include in our lives. Nobody is safe from this responsibility, but it’s up to each individual to accept it, otherwise the entire world will enter.

      It was once enough to isolate ourselves to a temple, a monastery, or just a small village where nobody will know who we are. Then came radio and television and suddenly strangers began entering our homes. Then came the mobile phone and the Internet and suddenly the entire world is in front of our face, no matter how private or remote a space we choose to reside.

      Now more than ever we need to take responsibility to be the caretakers of our character, our integrity, and our willingness to seek meaning and clarity and mindfulness in life.

  6. Had to laugh about all the marathon training programs out there. I did all this researching and was sort of overwhelmed by all the 12 week plans and the 10 week plans, but finally discerned that it’s enough to give my body ample rest between long or harder runs, culled a little advise hear and there on what to eat and when and then jsut starting go to Whole Foods and what the hell–I’ve lost 10 pounds and have no doubt I’ll be ready to accomplish my goal of finishing my first half marathon March 25. There is such a thing as information overload, like the sensory overload and other overloads.

    • Absolutely. And I’d wager that running a few miles and eating a few healthy meals will take you much, much further along than reading a dozen books about running a marathon. πŸ™‚

      I think that’s actually a huge problem with education in general: we do all the reading and learning, we access all the knowledge, but we don’t actually do enough of putting all that knowledge to use, experimenting and failing and learning by trial and error.

  7. Love this so much, Raam. Particularly the urgent/important distinction. So much of what comes down the information stream is designed to appear urgent to us. We are admonished to “act now!” and “Click here!” and “Read this!” One of the foundational tenets of marketing is to ‘create a sense of urgency’. We have to (for the sake of, as you state, actually DOING anything, to say nothing of our own sanity and sense of place and purpose) cultivate a resistance to this false urgency.

    When we are in need of information, certainly, we can seek it out. It would be poor thinking to say that we should not take advantage of the wealth of quality information available to us. And once we have the information, we can take the next step and implement it.

    It is important, too – I think, in building community and growing meaningful online relationships – to keep up (more or less) with a few select people. Follow their journeys, learn from their growth, share the experience of being alive in a profound and meaningful way… but not, by any means, to become slaves to reading/commenting on/ obsessing over their every post the moment it pops up.

    Lastly, as Ricky commented above, this isn’t about NOT reading. I may be the biggest advocate of reading and autodidactic learning on the planet. But this kind of reading is a discipline of its own. A prescribed course of study, a determined end, a set purpose and a list of quality texts and teachers is vastly different from ingesting streams of endless disparate information. We humans are not computers. Information needs time to sit with us. To germinate. We have to mull and consider and weigh and process. The urgency of everything makes it almost impossible to take things at a pace that is consistent with real change and growth, let alone that leaves space for original creation and production.

    By all means, let us read. Let there be learning and thinking and discussion. Only let it be authentic, slow, and intentional.

    • Shawnacy, you defined what I meant by ‘urgency’ so eloquently here (thank you!). I have studied almost nothing about marketing, so I didn’t realize that “creating a sense of urgency” was so fundamental, but that makes perfect sense to me (along with creating a sense of scarcity, which fuels the sense of urgency). And yes, that is exactly the urgency we need to learn how to ignore, because at its root, it’s false. It has little to no meaning. It’s not ‘important’ (except to those who are trying to get something, which is probably not the same thing we’re trying to get).

      You also pinpointed the problem that I see we have with reading: Information overload (and the feeling that we can gain more through simply being exposed to more) has created an environment where we no longer value the germination, as you put it, of information and knowledge. Certainly, absorption is vital, as without it all this stuff we’re reading and learning is simply washing over us, adding very little if anything of value to our lives.

  8. Do you ever get the feeling that you are not being received by the world as you see yourself? I feel this way often..that my words & intentions are misread, thus hindering a sense of connection. Sometimes I speak more clearly through words than body language and other times, the added stimuli allow me to reflect the other person more easily.

    We are not our thoughts..our emotions…our reading habits…the information contained in our food & DNA…we are not the electricity and chemicals powering our cellular activity…our culture…our activities….

    What are we, Raam? If we are what we do, then why the continual exhortation to “just be?”
    I tend to think we are greater than the sum of our parts, that reductionistic thinking will lead us backwards.

    I get the sense that you write these articles as a stern form of public accountability for yourself. πŸ™‚ The fact that most people reading agree with you simply means that we’re on the same level of the “spiral,” as Catherine Caine would put it.

    Is it not our gift by a virtue of struggle to guide those lower on the spiral by our words & deeds, instead of ignoring them in search of self?

    I suppose it all comes down to balance. I understand you’re preparing for immense changes spiritually…and this may be your way of warning us that you won’t be available for inspiration for eons in Internet time. πŸ™‚

    • Hi Jeanie, Thank you for sharing your thoughts here.

      No, I do not get the feeling of not being received by the world in a particular way because I don’t have such expectations. I share from my heart, speaking what feels true to me and explaining it as plainly and clearly as possible. Misunderstandings are only natural. They’re part of life. What I feel is important is that we’re comfortable enough with who we are that such misunderstandings do not become cause for drama.

      You asked, “If we are what we do, then why the continual exhortation to ‘just be’?”. My reply: Is ‘being’ not doing something? πŸ™‚ I feel that ‘being’ is exactly what we should be doing. Reductionist thinking requires having some collection of ‘things’ from which to reduce from. If we just are, then there is nothing to increase and nothing to reduce.

      I write these articles become a part of my being compels me to share them. Many times I will write things that are entirely irrelevant to my life at present, things that have nothing to do with what I’m dealing with or where I’m at in life. But I share them because they came to me, because I experienced them and they needed to be given wings from which to continue moving.

      Also, I do not ‘prepare for spiritual changes’ and I’m not ‘warning’ anyone of anything. I have no plans to be unavailable for ‘eons in Internet time’. I will continue experimenting, evolving, experiencing, exploring, and sharing. If I had to give up all forms of communication — email, phone, my own physical voice, Skype, instant messenger, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ — all of it… if I had to give up everything and pick just one single outlet for sharing, I would pick sharing here on this site and through these comments. πŸ™‚

  9. Hey Raam
    This has happened with me , I love writing ….and earlier i used to waste lots of time in searching stuffs like ” how to write effectively” etc etc on internet ! But after so much wasting of energy i realized that “My focus should be on writing in my style ” !
    Thanks Raam for a wonderful message ! πŸ™‚

    • Hi Amrita,

      I think the best way to improve writing is to write frequently while always aiming for improvement.

      Whenever I’m writing and I come across something that I’m not sure is correct, I immediately stop and look it up. If there’s a word that I misspell over and over, I stop and take the time to learn it, forcing myself to spell it correctly and not allowing myself to use the autocorrect on the computer.

      Also, if I’m not sure where an apostrophe should go (such as “it’s” vs “its”), I immediately research to learn the difference and then commit myself to remembering the differences. πŸ™‚

      As you said, we can read all the articles about “how to write effectively”, but unless we’re actually writing, making mistakes, and then correcting them, we’re not going to get very far!

  10. I get this. It is the mark, the curse and can be the greatest asset of the daydreamer, which I am. The futility of never actually bringing what you have to offer to the table. Blogging has helped me immensely with this because it has enabled me to live out loud. I had to scramble through the muck of always being in prepare mode. Now I am at another juncture and as you say I need to be willing to fail.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts here, Nicole. πŸ™‚

      The willingness to fail is definitely something we need to ‘renew’ on a regular basis. I find that as I learn and grow through failing, I’m more likely to ‘get comfortable’ and stop failing. And I think that’s natural: failing feels inherently unsafe to us and I think we’re naturally inclined to seek the safest route.

  11. Hi Raam,

    really nice one, but a bit hypocritcal, eh?
    I totally get your point, and youΒ΄re right about it. but what you do right now is nothing else than being part of what you said people should change πŸ˜‰

    no criticism from me, as I know what you mean. just pointing out the obvious πŸ˜›

    thanks for the read

    • Hi Robert,

      Thank you for the comment. πŸ™‚ As I explained in several of my comment responses above, I wasn’t saying that we should stop reading; I believe we need to recognize what’s important and release the rest. It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling that we’re changing simply by reading stuff when in fact nothing is really changing. Change requires risk and failure.

  12. Hi Raam,

    I am not an avid reader or blog follower…but one day just wondering about life (seeking 4 a change or transition)..came across this of course made my day..hope it would help me to change the current phase of mine as well..but sometimes I feel dejected for what i dont have..probably i needed to do well in my early phase/..but still i belive i can change and make my life smooth…

    ur words are welcomed..plz

    All luv from India.. πŸ™‚

    • Hi Vikash,

      You can certainly change anything in your life that you put your mind to changing. Life is fluid, not rigid like a rock, and it’s up to us to shape it into whatever we seek.

  13. Hello Raam,
    I read this blog – before and i keep coming back.
    The difference is – your blog inspires some action.
    I like the way you write about topics in simple yet effective style.
    I read the post – loved it – a really well written article.
    Thanks and Best Wishes from Bangalore, India.


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