How Filtering Your Life Can Make You Happier (and thinner and stronger and smarter)
The problem with stuff is that there’s just so much of it. Even the good stuff; the stuff we really want to pull into our lives. If we actually took the time to follow every whim, every trend, every inspiration, every recommendation from every peer, well meaning colleague or ‘expert’ then we’d hardly find the time to actually USE any of it because we’d be too ‘busy’ trying to GET it all!
I’m guilty of finding too many things interesting; everything from health and fitness trends and fads, the brain and how it does (or often doesn’t) work, tech, outdoors sports, meditation and food and paddle boarding and learning new languages and instruments and parenting and learning, and learning to learn and oh lordy. I’m tired just thinking about it. But there it is.
I’m 41 right now (chronologically, hopefully not physically) and if I can circumnavigate disease, serial killers, stupid accidents and my ex mother in law then I may get 30 to 40 more summers. Let’s split the difference and say 35 summers of a typical UK average summer temperature of 14.8 degrees (yes, that low) half of which will probably not include sunshine or dryness and we’re looking at a conservative 1.5 months per summer of warm sunshine. That’s just over 52 weeks. That means, roughly one year of summer left. Holy crap.
Being mindful of that I’m sure you’ll understand why my focus tends to be towards the outside, the positive, the happy; because time may well be long enough if you know how to use it (according to my favourite philosopher, Seneca), but not an awful lot of it will be in the sun.
I know the maths are dodgy and the assumptions massive, but the metaphor holds true: You are a tiny blip in a universe that will rush on by despite you; might as well drink it in while you can.
So what on Earth does this have to do with filtering?
In the last ten years or so I’ve dedicated my life to living in a way that means I can suck the marrow out of life’s bones so that I can identify and focus on the stuff that makes me happy. Cheesy, elusive old happiness.
Happy covers so many bases it’s unreal. It’s the one answer to a question that permeates all the variables that make one man’s treasure another man’s poison:
Are you happy?
An unequivocal YES despite the chemo you’re going through, the loss you’ve suffered, the bills you can’t pay and the impending divorce is still a YES.
A resounding NO even though you live by the sea in your five bedroom house with a Landrover parked in your drive all of which you own outright thanks to your lottery win is still a NO.
Happy cuts through health, wealth, possessions, love and loss and sits calmly in the lap of those who have learned to live in the moment and truly appreciate what they have.
Filtering is a fast track to happy.
Now you know what a filter is because it’s the glorious device that allows coffee to get from the bean to your cup. It’s also the general term to describe the broader refining processes; separating wheat from chaff (and then discarding it all because of the gluten), refining substances and systems to leave you with the important, often critical, elements; the life blood.
In the real world filtering, in all it’s guises, is used to remove poison, retain healthful properties and flavour, save time and save money. It’s generally a positive gig.
For our purposes it’s very much about doing the same thing for you.
Defining your filters
I define my filters as passionate experts who validate my views on a given topic, write regularly, evolve their knowledge publicly and can be reached.
A great example of a filter for me is Tim Ferriss. Having read most of his books, I’ve come to rely on his tendency towards self experimentation to filter out what does and doesn’t work in areas such as lifestyle design, weight loss, sustainable body hacks and so on. He’s passionate, writes a lot and I can follow him on Twitter, his blog, his podcast and various other channels. I don’t have to wade through endless amounts of self help books, weight loss advice or read a gazillion ebooks by self appointed lifestyle gurus to keep myself at the top of these topics because I’m confident that Tim filters all that for me, so he is one of my defined filters.
Now Tim is not my only health related filter. If I want to dig deeper there are folks I turn to for advice on the microbiota in my gut, cancer research, meditation or movement and preventing back injuries – All areas I’m interested in, help me in my everyday life and would otherwise force me to spend countless hours HOPING I’m reading the right stuff and listening to the right advice. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out you could spend your whole life learning about all the various ‘weight loss diets’ out there when in fact you only need follow this advice:
Identifying your filters
Whatever my interests I discovered pretty quickly that there was a pattern that formed for identifying filters over time in almost every case.
I’m a ‘minimum effective dose’ kind of guy; I look for the least I need to do in order to get the maximum effect. The less time I spend ‘doing’ something, the more time I have to enjoy the effects of the thing or move on to the next thing (always being mindful in any task though).
A typical process might look like this:
Inspired to find out more about your ‘thing’
Wisdom of The Masses
Look on Amazon for a book (kindle, paper but preferably audio) that seems to be a solid starting place to learn about your ‘thing’
Walk the basics of your ‘thing’ into your brain
Dig a Little Deeper
Explore the topic, again using the wisdom of the masses and find a few more filters
Find Your three to Five filters
Follow your filters (Twitter, Youtube, email lists etc) so you know you’re only getting the information you need
Target your ‘thing’ related questions at the expert filters you’ve collated
Let’s look at those in a bit more detail:
This can come from anywhere; a tweet, a friend’s mouth, whilst staring at a tree, simply anywhere, this is a marvelous thing. But holding onto inspiration and hauling whatever potential it might be carrying meaningfully into your path is another matter.
You should log your inspirations. On a phone, in a notepad or on the back of your hand. Anywhere you can refer to it later and start your journey. Things strike chords because they are right for you – listen to them. If you weren’t interested, you probably wouldn’t have had the thought.
Wisdom of The Masses.
I rely on Amazon maybe more than is commercially sustainable. I’m sure there are smaller retailers out there who could offer me a tighter, more personalised service and my patronage would be helping support small, maybe even local businesses. But for our purposes (fast, effective information gathering) Amazon does a lot of things right.
Firstly it allows me to quickly adopt herd mentality and bleat my way through lots of reviews. Bottom line is I can quickly identify the current ‘authorities’ on a given subject based on some basic facts such as review scores, stars, general popularity and sales figures. There’s some guesswork here but certainly far less than arbitrary (subjective) blog searching or book shelf browsing.
I can also cross reference with similar authors (people who bought this also bought…. or went on to buy… etc) and generally get a feel for who ‘owns’ this topic and cherry pick an edition to suit my needs.
This is where you do a little pre-filtering of your own. It sounded fascinating, you’re pretty sure you’ve got the right ‘guide’ to embark on your journey. But have you got time to sit down and read all this stuff. How is it going to get from the pages and into your brain? You don’t even know if you’re into this stuff yet – how is this efficient filtering exactly?
The other thing Amazon did was acquire Audible. This is audiobook central as far as I’m concerned and a very useful asset in your knowledge armoury. BA (before Audible) I tried my best to get through the myriad of books piling up by my bedside and touching the ceiling. I can’t get through them all and I don’t want to. Reading takes a long time and I’m a self employed father of two boys – it ain’t gonna happen.
But I walk the dog sometimes twice a day, I walk at lunchtime to clear the head, I cycle to places, I walk to various offices and shops and I drive 30 mile school runs 3 times a week. I have plenty of information gathering time, just not to stare at pages or screens. Hello audiobooks. I get through one a week easy – I’ve never in my life achieved this before and it’s ace. I highly recommend this as a strategy for anybody who wants to start filtering their life.
You can take this a step further and grab a little app called Blinkest for your phone. They collate a library of well regarded non fiction books on various popular topics and extract their core meanings from them into a series (maybe 10 or so) of what they call ‘blinks’. You get all the takeaways without all the fluff and filler. Many a time I’ve found something fascinating on Blinkest, gone on to get the full book on Audible and then reached out to Authors via Twitter. It’s a seamless and logical transition that makes efficient learning or self improvement a pleasure.
Dig a little deeper
Wash, rinse and repeat. You may have nailed the best filter for your topic right away. But more than likely there will be more than one that you can utilise. Typically I find that my filters often align themselves with one another. They may actually even know each other personally. Smart folks in specialist fields tend to find each other, and when they do, they tend to stick together, support each other and feed off each other’s knowledge. You find there’s less ‘crossover’ and more complementary information that you can use. So explore their connections, do some Googling, unearth the influencers that influence your filters!
Find your 3 – 5 filters
I find that usually somewhere between 3 to 5 filters will usually cover a topic for me. There’s no magic number, it’s different for each subject and for your needs. In some topics like strength training, weight loss or nutrition you’ll find 1000s of potential filters of which only a handful are going to keep you on point. Whereas there aren’t so many microbiota specialists who are available filters (looking at you Allana Collen) or meditation experts who can avoid all the spiritual mumbo-jumbo (Sam Harris) so you don’t have to look quite so hard.
Ideally you’ll find just one REALLY good filter per interest or topic, that’s the holy grail. These Super Filters will often cover a few areas of your life and will earn your trust over time by consistently giving you solid content and information that you can use. If you apply stuff to your life and it works over and over again then you’re going to be building a relationship with your filter that you can rely on. These are like gold as they mean less time searching and more time in the sunshine for you.
Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask your filter! We live in a connected world and if your filter is on Twitter then they are there to be connected with. I often find that I have questions that I could quite easily ask a community, or my GP or my friends or that I could Google to my heart’s content. How much time would that take? How do I know if I’m getting the right answer? What if everybody says something different? Because people will all have their own filters (whether they know it or not) only their filters are not cultivated like yours will be, they are simply acquired over time. Their answers will be born of the course they took, the book or newspaper they read or the TV show they watched. So all of their answers will be different because their knowledge will often be unfiltered.
Ask someone who you trust, somebody who is an authority, someone who you already know is more likely to have the right answer to your question – reach out to your filters. They won’t always have time to get back to you right away, or at all depending on their situation, but in my experience, I very rarely go unanswered. Most of my filters are not celebrities or mass marketed ‘experts’, they are passionate folks who are really ‘into’ their subject and are generally very happy to field smart, relevant questions from their inquisitive audience. Go for it.
This just scratching the surface of filtering really, it plays a big part in my life. Everything from health, fitness and injury prevention, having great relationships, keeping peace of mind even when things are difficult and spending most of my time doing things that make me happy. It’s a big deal. There’s a book coming, obviously, but bare with me because I want to make sure it’s really useful with lots of how-to’s rather than just a lot of what works for me! Watch this space. And then go nurture some filters!
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