Time for a new diet? – by Rain Creative’s Samir Shanbhag

2023 is here and as happens every year, conversations about new year’s resolutions abound. Surely the most popular among those is the resolution to eating healthy, to feeding your body the right nutrition to function optimally. But the focus of this piece is not this diet. I want to shift the focus to what we are feeding our minds.

There are a lot of similarities between social media and junk food consumption. We love junk food because it contains a list of feel-good ingredients. Sugars, calories, transfats and saturated fats. Not a lot of vitamins, minerals or fibre. Junk foods release the neurotransmitters dopamine and oxytocin, which induce relaxation, pleasure and enjoyment. But having too much on a regular basis affects your body adversely because it is high in calories and low in nutrients. Consumption of social media is the same: a lot of pleasure and enjoyment; but low in nutrients for the mind.

Today social media is integrated into every aspect of our life including the workplace. Using social media in the workplace is commonplace in our kind of organisation. And though it can improve job performance by building social connections and enhanced knowledge sharing, we are all guilty of aimlessly browsing to fill the blank spaces in our day. We are mindlessly snacking on content on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and the like.

Thanks to our digital-first world, in the UAE we spend 8 hours 36 minutes every day on the internet.  

Most of the content that we are consuming is like the empty calories of junk food. It gives us momentary pleasure but probably causes much long-term harm. Besides wasting time, we end up making comparisons with others on social media platforms, which not only can induce negative emotions such as anxiety and depression but also may affect our job performance. More importantly, it is eating into time that could be dedicated to the pursuit of real knowledge: the nourishment our mind needs, to make meaningful contributions in our workplace and enjoy fulfilling careers.

So, this new year, along with a healthy food diet let us make a resolution to give our mind a healthy diet too. We need to make it a habit to consume information and knowledge that enriches our minds, no matter how boring it seems at first. We need to train our minds to focus and pay attention to long-format reading.

Reading is an exercise for the brain. Reading involves a complex network of circuits and signals in the brain. As you make reading a habit and your reading ability matures, the brain becomes stronger. I am a fan of printed material and prefer physical books over any form of digital printing. Studies have shown that people who read printed books have a better comprehension of what they are reading.

People who read regularly build a large vocabulary. Having a bigger vocabulary helps you present your ideas and arguments in a more lucid and evocative manner, leading to increased success at work. In the advertising business, probably more than in any business, success depends on our ability to communicate effectively and confidently with our clients and colleagues. 

Being well-read helps you stay ahead in the game. In our business, we need to come up with insights and ideas that move our consumers. The best way to fuel these insights and ideas are books: fiction, non-fiction, biographies, and commentaries. Reading helps you develop the ability to examine challenges from more angles. The ability to view situations from different perspectives also keeps your insights and idea generator brain refreshed, always in active mode. 

The biggest barriers to reading are ‘lack of time’ and ‘too much stress’. Here’s the good news. Studies have shown that reading for only 30 minutes reduces blood pressure and heart rate, helping combat stress just as effectively as doing yoga. Surely, we can find 30 minutes in a day to do something that helps us in so many ways.

I’m not against social media snacking. But it needs to be an occasional treat for your mind and not the main source of intellectual stimulation. This new year let’s pledge to feed our minds with something more nutritive than just social media.