Stop Listening!


Chances are, everything you hear, read, watch, observe today is total garbage. There’s great advice (heck, I’ve given it) that you need to be quiet and listen and learn. I agree with the “be quiet” but not with the listen. If it’s good advice to shut up then that also means everyone else is also spewing the mental garbage they ate out of their vomit mouths. So why listen to them?

It’s like eating food. Most people eat junk food, and along the way the food barely gets chewed, it pushes its way down your throat, into your digestive system, it throws your kidneys and liver slightly out of balance, and three things happen: you get some energy from the food (very little, judging on the energy levels of most people), you excrete some of the food (always disgusting) and you amass some fat that sticks around for years and years. What a gross thing it all is. To eat. To excrete. To hunger for more. To live. That’s why there are so many diet books and so many books about food cleansing.

But it gets worse I’m afraid. Because you also eat thoughts. Someone does something to you. Your father beats you. Your spouse cheats. Or you hear something. Or you read something. And that’s a thought or an emotion you “eat”. And the same thing happens! Some becomes energy, inspiration, positive, inside of you. Some sticks around and becomes fat, bloated, negative, slows you down, and finally some gets excreted in the most disgusting of ways: out of your mouth at a cocktail party, or a dinner, or a talk, or to your innocent kids.

(you also have a Mental Digestive System that looks just like this)

Example: your dad hits you, it takes you years to digest it, maybe generations,  you get no good energy from that act, you talk shit to everyone (god forbid, you become a troll on the Internet – with a lonely existence of haunting message boards and spewing anonymous filth), and it weighs you down until you die.

All day long, to lesser or more extents, you are eating thoughts and emotions and beginning the digestion process on them. And it’s usually not good.

We become a society of thought-obese laggards with nothing but shit to say all day long, while billions of other thoughts are trying to work their way through our mental kidneys, our mental livers, clogging up the system, little mental fat particles sticking like glue to all of your insides, turning you into a living nightmare but you don’t even realize it.

So just like many people need a physical diet, or at least a fast, to cleanse the system, you need a listening diet. Stop listening to people. Just for a day. Or two. Or seven.

–          No news. I wrote about this before, but I was visiting the set of one news show and I was very excited, news from every part of the world streaming in, guests every five minutes being coordinated, fade ins, cues, etc. The executive producer leans over to me and tells me, “our job is to make sure we fill up the five minutes between commercials.” He knew it was mental garbage and he was feeding it to the masses.

–          No gossip. As much as I am addicted to ANY news about the Kardashians, just like I love my Pringles (and as an aside, the giant chip company of Pringles has yet to fulfill the request I personally made to them in a meeting in 1995 that they make plantain-flavored Pringles), all Kardashian news is junk food for the mind and soul.

–          No gossip, part II. You’re at work. Lisa and Billy have taken the day off, coincidentally on the same day? Are they fooling around this second?! Gossip! Everyone meet at the water cooler, shower off afterwards because we got a lot to talk about. Or let’s talk about the boss and how bad he is. Again. For the 8000th time. Stop listening.

–          Pop culture. It’s hard for me.  But I finally caved in to the “no TV” people. There is no TV on after 8pm that isn’t filled with the worst distortions of reality. In order for someone to make a good prime-time TV show people have to get divorced, kill each other, lie to each other, have intrigue  with each other. This is all very hard to digest. It’s like eating a stale bagel and thinking that’s going to be a pleasant experience when you finally have to shit it out.  No pop culture is worth listening to. No prime time TV.

–          Internet. We all go through “the loop”. My loop takes me twenty minutes now: Facebook, twitter, twitter mentions of me, my blog stats, my Gmail, my blog, my blog comments, looking up stock futures, checking the Amazon rank on my books. Heck, I have to confess, LOOKING UP MY KLOUT SCORE! (I have 4 new notifications today!) What the hell am I doing? I’m becoming a bloated tool, filled with fat hairy thoughts my Washington Post social app news reader has filled me with. I can’t digest this! I’m still dealing with the bullies who hit me.

–          Phone. For the love of god, I cannot hear anyone on the phone anymore. I don’t know what it is. Maybe I’m getting older or going deaf or I have too much wax in my ears from those “buds” that became common after the ipod was released. But the patent on the protocol that dictates how sounds are transmitted through phone lines was issued in 1958! So you never really hear anyone on the phone. You just hear the mutated garbage that is making its way across electronic lines. It’s hard enough to hear the mutation, let alone the garbage. No phone! And here’s my phone number.

–         People. Anybody who hasn’t gone on the “listening fast” is filled with the same mental and emotional fat particles and excretions you are. For god’s sake, stop listening  to them. Once you listen to them, then now YOU have to start digesting that crap. It’s filthy and gross. If you are going to go on a mental cleanse you have to at least stop listening to any of the negative  people around you. Only people who inspire you or uplift you. Nobody who makes you feel bad. Nobody who brings you down. I know I keep making analogies to the digestive system but its TRUE. You are what you eat. And mental and emotional crap takes a 1000x longer to digest than physical food. Save yourself a lot of hours of therapy and medication. You need to take a mental diet from the creepy people. Maybe forever.

Please help me out below. What other sources of junk listening are there out there?

And I’m not saying, “never listen to anyone again.” We have to work. We can’t live in caves. We can’t disappear from our friends and loved ones. We’re householders with responsibilities.

Nor am I saying, sit on a pillow and meditate. That’s too hard for a lot of people. Meditation as it’s presented in the mass media is a scam. That’s like taking you away from your TV set, putting you on a track and saying, “ok, run a marathon right now. GO!”

You need to diet first. You need the cleansing. You need to get all the junk that’s been building up in your mental digestive system, (you know, the stuff you’ve been calling thoughts, worries, anxieties, memories, questions, answers, intrigues, obsessions) and clean it out before you can truly be silent.

You have 2-5 decades of garbage in your head you are still trying to digest. Your mental kidney is filled with mental kidney stones. Your digestive tract is filled with the worst form of concrete irritable mental bowel syndrome. Meditation is a mild mental stool softener. But it can’t handle the kind of crap and mental fat you and I are neck deep in.

It makes sense: you eat, you hold on to some things, you digest some things, some thoughts and emotions become energy, some become fat, and some are shat out through your open mouth and aimed right at the faces of other people.

But if you stop listening, and if you shut up, then what’s left?

You. You’re left.


  • Andrew_Ferri

    *Star your brilliance Mr. Altucher. You are a blessing.

  • I suppose Alzheimers might then be rationalized as a blessing, as it helps to excrete all of those thoughts and memories, but that’s probably a small price to pay.

    My father-in-law used to talk of “eating memories”. Trying to relive things from the past and then discovering that they’re not quite as good as you had remembered. For him, the process of eating memories then helped to push those memories out of the mental bank once the realization hit that they were no longer worth holding.

    In general, he was, as we might have called him in NY, “a putz” but he had it right in that regard.

    Listening is a fascinating activity. Spouses are always accused of selective hearing by their mate. There’s probably no better place to exercise the listening aspect of your life than at home and maybe busy intersections.

    The rest? It’s mostly background noise trying to break into the front of the pack

  • Nfamous365

    Brilliant post!!  I might also add that you need to monitor the music you listen to as well as that is also a source of mental garbage. You don’t realize how much of an impact it has on you until you stop listening to the broken hearted negative music & focus on the happy fun music.

    • Rob Hunsicker

      Good point. I have to be careful what kind of music I listen to or it can drag me down  fast. 
      Even happy and fun music can be a problem, though. If it gets stuck in my head it can be really distracting (i.e. para-para-paradise, para-para-paradise, ad infinitum). If I can’t focus, I get anxious, then angry…it’s just bad. 
      I usually deal with it by avoiding music entirely for a while or listening to something complex like Bach. Bach is actually great for clearing out all kinds of mental crap. 

  • “and it ways you down” should read “and it weighs you down”. 

  • Dude, one master piece after another, aren’t you sick of it yet? My ex used to say that I don’t ever listen, instead of feeling bad about it I should have told her I was on my mental diet.

  • you’re forgetting a major source of noise

    the stuff you tell yourself. doubts, fears, anxiety, etc etc

  • Yep, You is the additional voice to stop listening to. That little voice in my head saying you can’t do it, you are stupid or a loser, or you are not xyz enough. I took on a practice from Sean Stephenson’s “Get Off Your But”, and when I hear that negative talk, I apologize to myself. Anything I wouldn’t say to someone else’s face, I apologize if I tell myself that thing. Stop listening to that voice inside you that says you’re a loser or a jerk. I

  • Got to love a guy who writes a piece on shutting up and more importantly not listening the day he’s giving a speech. Glad I got tickets, looking forward to meeting you. I’ll either listen to your post today and ignore you or ignore this and listen to your speech. I think I see your trick.

  • Jim Steele

     Other sources of junk? How about religion? I was raised Catholic and went to church almost every week growing up. To use your analogy I was being force fed stale ideas that were unworkable several centuries ago. I haven’t been to church in years but I’m still dealing with the backlog of crap. I’ve looked at other religions but I can’t find any that are better.

    • Helenmx5

      Dalai Lama has a new book out on secular ethics. i thought it sounds interesting. maybe it would interest you??

      • Jim Steele

         Sounds interesting I’ll check it out. Thanks for the tip.

  • Plantain Pringles are an excellent idea.

  • Jim


  • Time Shifter

    Great stuff. A couple counterpoints.

    1) You describe eating as disgusting and gross

    Everyone knows when they eat a bacon double cheeseburger, some of it will be excreted, while some will be stored as fat. But the pleasure gained from the consumption outweighs the negative components of eating.

    2) TV

    I never watch live TV unless it is sports. No news. No prime time shows. I use the OnDemand system and my DVR to watch the show I want when I want to watch it. No commercials. A 1-hour show can be consumed in about 40-45 minutes.

    Sometimes I even DVR a football game while doing other things, such as yard work, family activities, etc. and start watching the continuous recording an hour or so after the game has started. I fast forward through the commercials, official’s reviews, timeouts, long huddles, halftime, etc. My goal is to be caught up as close as possible to the live broadcast at the end of the game. There’s something worthwhile about seeing the conclusion as it is happening, but I can’t quite explain it. I want to be watching when the victor is confirmed. If I catch up to the live event 15 minutes before the game ends, I’ll live with the live delays. I shaved about an hour off the time it took to watch the game, and got something else done with the time saved.

  • One of the biggest sources of junk listening in my world is, paradoxically, the same RSS reader that lets me read this blog in the mornings.  You already kind of cover this with “internet loop” and “news” as sources, but left unchecked I’d argue Google Reader can be just as toxic a source of crap as leaving the TV on.  RSS is a great way to coordinate a ton of information to keep up with, but it’s also a huge time trap if you don’t watch out.  

  • Helenmx5

    interesting! i discuss this exact topic with my clients (i’m a clinical psychologist) although slightly less graphically :-) and recommend that they are very careful in what they choose to take in mentally and emotionally not just physically as food. I also often suggest that people dont watch tv while they are working on becoming emotionally fit as many report that the news and other programmes stress them horribly. nice to see these ideas published here and maybe reach a wider audience

  • Lila

    Pure, pure genius.  This is one of the best, ever.

  • I’m 22 and I stopped watching TV this year almost entirely. I like a couple of shows, and I watch them on vacation using netflix or On Demand. I agree that a lot of TV is garbage, but the real problem for me (and the motivation) came from how easy it is to waste time on with TV. You sit there, you’re not actually doing anything so you’re bored, so you eat bad things. In one fell swoop you waste several hours, and gain nothing, except for fat. 

    Its the mindless “watching” instead of doing that needs to go. 

    • benj

      22 year old as well. When I was 16-17, I was obsessed with video games (tony hawk series). I played them 4-6 hours a day. I was also obsessed with drawing and printing t-shirts. I told myself at 17, its either video games or printing shirts. I took the 32 inch TV and dragged it off to the shed, and later donated it to a thrift store. Now I draw 4-6 hours a day and haven’t played a video game obsessively for 5 years.
      As far as television goes I use Hulu, and Netflix.


  • “spewing the mental garbage they ate out of their vomit mouths”

    I’ve only read that far, I had to stop reading to tell you I love that line.  (back to read)

  • Anonymous

    1. I am becoming one of those people who doesn’t watch tv and doesn’t know who anybody is. I’m not sure how it happened, but I don’t even miss it.
    2. I would also like plantain pringles. Sprinkle a little powdered sugar on them…yummy. Sweet potato pringles would be good too.

  • Anonymous

    I second this, I can’t hear my phone ringtone anymore.

    For Internet diet, I suggest no newsletters, twitter shortlists, fb shortlists or no fb at all..

    As always, great post!

  • My post today is title alone, similar to we are all left with ourselves, like as in “what’s left? You.”

    Love this post, and I am making the effort to rid myself of so much garbage. Everyday it is a challenge, but everyday I make a little progress, that’s all I can do.

    Thanks for writing.

  • Colleen

    Right-on accurate.  You are what you eat, both mentally, spiritually and physically.  I haven’t had a TV in my home for over 27 years.  I’ve read thousands of non-fiction books and have provided myself with a true education.  I also live my own real life enthusiastically, not vicariously via entertainment.  All media is a product and producers have to manufacture 100% fill every day regardless, even if there’s only 2 or 6 or 12% real content happening.  It’s a game.  They pump it out, you eat it, become weaker, crave more.  EVERYTHING in life is habit-forming, so be careful what you start.  Also, anything can be excommunicated from your life.  The more junk you refuse, the more you will crave nourishing things and then you’ll find it and grow stronger IF you just say noooooo to the trash.  You can do it.  Your life is valuable.  Your time on earth is short.  Stop “experiencing” life second hand though entertainment and do real things.  You’ll be much happier and more fulfilled.

    • Exactly Collen, I too feel like I have just experienced a paradigm shift of sorts here, I have never really thought of being what I “eat” in mind!! I stopped watching news, it’s usually distorted, can you imagine the other day a local daily had this headline “It’s A Black Christmas” the easiest way to get depressed is to watch news I guess!!

      • Colleen

        Thank you, Veeh.  You are so right about the news being distorted.  

        Have a great day.  = )


  • DizzyGreen

    Nice post. Though, I would really like to know how to get rid of the two decades of garbage in my head. Recently I started meditating, but still I’m no master here and as you say it may be a too soft tool for that. How do I unlearn all the bad things I have listened to in twenty years.

    • Colleen

      Romans 12:2 says to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  The truth will set you free.  When you read or hear what is true and right, it has the power to displace the accumulated lies, half-truths and nonsense that has been programmed in before.  Look for the truth and you’ll eventually find it.  John 8:23 says, “Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”  

  • How do the talking heads on CNBC sleep at night? 

    Talk about people “spewing the mental garbage they ate out of their vomit mouths.”

  • Penny

    Stop listening to yourself when you play those old tapes that tell you you’re a loser, a fool, a coward, an idiot, a dolt, a dud, a bore, a sucker.

  • Related reading (book isn’t out yet but looks promising)

  • ReportingLife

    How do you find people to emulate and learn from, yet shield yourself from crap hitting you in the face?
    You’re bound to be exposed to mental poison while searching for some inspiring people or stories.  You try to be inspiring yourself in your own life, but you also want to find other people you admire that you want to relate to and emulate.

  • ReportingLife

    …also, some of us are anonymous on our blogs for legal reasons.   I work with lawyers.  I’m not trying to kill my career.

  • James,
    This is brilliant!  Thanks!

    -Elizabeth Skewis

  • Love this post!  It’s got me thinking…

  • Anonymous

    I stopped after the first paragraph. Thanks for the advice! :)

  • Anonymous

    For the internet one have a look at and their chrome plugin, knowledge is power ;)

  • Ruben

    Shirky popularized the concept of cognitive surplus, the time freed from watching television which can be enormously productive when applied to other social endeavors. He also notes that we are experiencing an era where people like to produce and share just as much, if not more than they like to consume. Since technology has made the producing and sharing possible, he argues that we will see a new era of participation that will lead to big change.

    • Thank you for bringing this up. I just watched a short TED talk of his, we are in interesting times, and the civic participation he speaks of is most definitely leading to huge change.

  • Travis Fields

    I used to be a news junkie. I can still get in that mode once in a while.

    In a similar vein (maybe) I’ve noticed most addicts can’t shut up once they start talking.
    I wonder if “Shut it!” therapy is part of most addiction treatment programs — if not, it should be.

  • Adam

    Needed that, might be my fav post yet. Thanks

  • Anonymous

    But we should still listen to your blog posts right?

  • Parvaze

    James – Don’t leave me hanging :-) sent you a couple of follow ups

  • Rodrigo Galvão

    Stop feeding children with “religious mental food” and we will have a better world.

  • DubSack

    Stop listening to the radio.  It is pop-crap pushed on you by the powers that be.

  • this is why a show like “The Soup” on E! network is useful, it provides a concentrated 1/2 hour dose of the worst most delicious garbage of the week, so we can get it out of our system.  that way you can get your Kardashian fix James, with minimal damage (PS. big news today is “Teen Mom in Twitter War with Kourtney Kardashian” can you believe it?)

  • This is incredible, I love the way you related the junk we shove down our faces with the junk we fill in our minds, and that getting fit and healthy does not happen overnight, it like baby steps and the first step is to let go of that that messes the system up!!

    Choose to eat right food for a healthy body!! Stop listening to junk and find yourself!!

  • Jamespark232323

    Video Games = mental crap

  • I’m more of the opinion that you can do all of these things (and you NEED to be really successful) but you need to have a PURPOSE for everything you do. 

    For example, you watch the news because tomorrow you’re meeting the president of the Washington Post or whatever. You listen to the gossip because you know that’s what girls like to talk about and you are single. You use the phone because, even though you know that most of what you say is unnecessary garbage (how are you, how are your kids doing even though you don’t care at all, blah blah blah), you want to close a deal with some CEO who is not web-savvy and is too busy for coffee.

    -Phil from Montreal

  • When I was a kid and went to camp, I didn’t hear any radio for eight weeks. It wasn’t because of any kind of weird philosophy at the camp; it was the reality of the day. The cabins didn’t have electricity, so no one had the latest in portable music: a clock radio. There was actually a lot of music at the camp, and a lot of talented child and counselor musicians, but all the music was live, and not much was current pop.

    What I found was that for the first few weeks, my brain would play me phrases of pop songs, which would get louder and louder and more frequent as the weeks progressed. And these weren’t necessarily songs I LIKED. Just as this was getting very annoying, it would stop, and my brain would be veeeery quiet.

    I thought of it as my brain’s way of getting rid of junk music that couldn’t escape while it kept hearing more.

    It would be hard to have that same experience today, unless you rented a cabin in the middle of nowhere all by yourself, or you live alone and you stayed at home with the doors shut for two months. You couldn’t do your own “music input cleanse” and live your normal life because background music is EVERYWHERE. Come to think of it, those people who want to do a “news cleanse” face a lot of obstacles, because wherever there isn’t background music, there are televisions turned to news channels. Some places have BOTH, at the same time.

    Re: “Uhh, just don’t cleanse yourself of my blog.”: Glad you noticed the little snag in your plan to be a “no media leader”! ;)

    • Dan Limbach

      Read Thoreau’s “Walden” for more on this concept.

      • I’m confused! Thoreau died before the invention of recorded music.

  • Don

    Yet another terrific post. 

    Our thoughts create both our feelings and our experience of life (our ‘mental life’).  What you are pointing to is exactly why many (most?) live lives of “quiet desperation” or suffering.  I believe that we all have access to some greater intelligence and potential for ‘new thought’ or original thought every moment. But we have created obstacles (mainly clinging to, revisiting and rehashing ‘2-5 decades’ of old, tired worn-out thoughts – often someone else’s) that keep us from accessing it freely as we should. We are living in our own thought-created reality, moment-to-moment. It’s ALL thought. We think it’s reality, but it’s all just thought. We think we understand it all, but do we understand that we THINK? Once we do, we can take our thoughts less seriously and choose to “drop” those that don’t serve us. We can move gracefully through the ugly, crappy thoughts and even laugh at them. To me, when you say “You. You’re left.” it means what is left is each one of us, accessing our innate mental health, wisdom, common sense and new thinking. All of it unencumbered by the sludge with which we are bombarded every day from everywhere.Thank you for all of the great work you do.  I love your blog and your books and recommend them to many.  You are consistently pointing to a better way to live.All the best.   

  • Fredhanson

    Very nice!

  • The greatest junk listening is the listening we do to the narrative we have constructed for our lives. By defining our identities, we both realize who we are and trap ourselves at the same time. Every day we are engaged in this process of consulting our life narratives for guidance. What would happen if we let go?

  • Colleen

    Don, Right on about this being why so many people live lives of “quiet desperation.”  We have to control the portals, the entry ways and the gates to our consciousness.  This includes our eyes and ears, mouth, etc.  We wouldn’t strew a dumpster full of old garbage around the inside of our home yet we so easily let TV, radio, music, periodicals, etc pump whatever they want into our mind.  We have to guard those portals just like we lock our doors at night, to keep unwanted intruders out.

  • Sooz

    I think I have cone ears for silent words..
    More importantly, J.A.,you have always listened to whatever nonsense I have to say.

    • Sooz

      and for that I am grateful…

  • Pkinvst

    James, you got to modify this “Stop Listening” to “Stop Formulaic Listening”. 

    Why do we read (listen you through Internet) your article?  Because, your writings mostly are not formulaic (there is a structure, but the content is unique), and, you have no problem saying what you experienced. 

    Keep shouting, whether anyone listens or not.

  • Anonymous

    In my brief nearing middle aged existence, I have come to view the world through the eyes of Daniel Plainview, I dont really see a whole lotta good in people.  Growing up, going to dead shows, hanging out with other ‘like-minded’ people, being totally open to opinions and ideas has really left me pretty jaded.  I dont really care anymore, probably because I realized no one cares what you have to say, verbally that is, maybe not so much in a blog..  So I dont put a lot of stock in what people say, and have just my favorite authors, musicians, business leaders, artists, coaches, that I trust. I heard an old PR adage about how to react to a microphone in your face, and I think I am applying it to everywhere I go in my life, with really, anyone; “Dont Complain, Dont Explain.”
    I was watching Imagine last night, and the lyrics to God sum it up pretty well, “I dont believe in anyone, I dont believe in God, I dont believe in Kennedy, I dont believe in Elvis” etc etc  John had it right, with 40 approaching I only believe in myself, my world, my wife, kids, family, dear friends, my businesses, my money, my universe.  Making friends, having loose associations is almost pointless and detracts from my own goals; I have traveled the world, worked for some of the best companies and now have my own, unique life goals, and ‘friends’ detract from accomplishing the things I consider to be most important.  Who really needs friends anyway?  And message boards, (most of them are 99% garbage, and the time sorting through the 99% could be better spent reading a book, reading to your kids or teaching math), they are a complete waste of time.  Also, articles written by amateur internet writers, i.e., the Huffington Post, do I really care or need to know what these people so desperately want to do outside of their careers?  The same could be said for the flood of books in Amazon, I am guilty of buying every cool new title with 4.5+ stars.  TV is garbage, but when I am tired, its nice to flip it on and mentally sleep.

    I have learned to trust my own instincts.

  • Anonymous

    Masterpiece Mystery is on after 8pm. I think that’s worth watching.

    Come to think of it, that’s the only time we have the TV on.

  • instant claasic dude.  I laughed out loud a cpouple of times.

  • law

    Couldn’t agree more

    I have actually listened to you and recognized a like mind
    But lots of great ideas and conversation and emotional connections and creativity
    I teach gifted children how to inspire the less attuned and connect elderly bright folks with bright younger folks. Who have no overloading of media ball of twine
    Tv can be stimulating if tuned to healthy stuff

    enjoy life
    Live fully
    Laugh heartily
    Share spontaneously
    Spread kindness

  • In light of the learnings above I will refrain from comment.  

  • Great leaders are really great spiritual leaders. Not in the religious sense, but in the sense that they have heightened self/environment awareness with wisdom in their judgment. Therefore, they find time to quiet their minds, reflect, and see the bigger picture. Today’s digital world is a melange of content – it takes a disciplined mind to separate consuming this melange and just simply resting. Like the seasons, our minds must “turn”. It is in this way, we reflect and with reflection comes true leadership.

    • Colleen

      Good word, Leah.  = )

  • Great post. For a while I was addicted to politics warching the news shows 4 – 6 hours a day. I started observing how my attitude was becoming very negative and all the relationships around me and my work was suffering. I took a thirty day fast from any news show and since only check in about once every ten to fifteen days. Amazing the difference. I have also found reading my Bible daily has been a wonderful cleanser. In the last five years I have read the entire Bible annually.

  • Kefalonitisa82

    there is so much more to the garbage being fed to americans daily with media that u don’t even discuss, and i am quite surprised… i think u r afraid to touch deeper topics re brainwashing that has been going on here for ages

  • Daniela

    The ending is fabulous!!