Examining Yourself for a Garbage Mindset

When something feels great ... but you know it might be terrible for you

It’s hard to look at ourselves, and it’s especially difficult when we suspect we have a mindset that is now doing us more harm than good – when we suspect we have what a friend of mine recently called a “garbage mindset.”

And garbage mindsets are like fried chicken:

  • delicious

  • bad for you

  • everywhere.

I know. I’ve had my share of garbage mindsets concerning food, exercise, work, politics, and relationships.

What Exactly Is a Garbage Mindset?

A garbage mindset can be so many things that it defies definition except in this respect: you know it’s probably not good for you (and everyone else) but it feels good and you so want to believe.

Garbage mindsets taste good. They taste defiant … especially in a society that is full of folks telling you what’s bad for you and shaking their heads. (The Goodie Two-shoes and Holier-Than-Thous are so annoying, right? Can I get an amen?)

So you take not just one defiant action (like eating that fried chicken one time) but you fall into a habit of doing it a few times a month, then a couple of times a week, and soon you’re working at the chicken shop. (Metaphorically … or maybe for real.) You’re fired up and not listening to your friends gently saying, “Hey, you might want to slow down …” or “Girl, can we talk?” (And your friends might even have the same mindset!)

If you’re an idealist (like me), you’re probably already shaking your head or you emitting a soft “oh” and your memory banks are flashing with all the red lights that you sped past.

You may have indulged a garbage mindset while dating (“Oh, he means well”) or working (“My company isn’t that racist”) or being friends with someone (“She’s much nicer when she’s not drinking”) or shopping (“Sure, it’s bad for the environment but it’s so cheap and who even knows if climate change is as bad as they say?”)

Now I’m not saying all our forays into questionable decisions end up in a garbage mindset but it’s something to examine. Take a look at your own behavior, past and present. I sure have.

The First “Cult”

I got a little away from myself when I joined the Air Force. I can’t call it a 100% garbage mindset (there was good there too) … but I was young and immature and in my own toxic and aggressive mindset. Also, I was 100% in the closet and determined that I could simply will myself out of being gay. Look at me here. A little full of myself, perhaps?

There’s another photo where my squadron t-shirt reads “When it absolutely positively has to be destroyed overnight.” It was a play on the old FedEx ad campaign: “When it absolutely positively has to be there overnight.” Funny, right? I was in a fighter squadron and our job was to support the mission of flying fighter jets into other countries, dropping bombs, and fighting our way out. Back then, I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. Now? I’m more inclined to think it was a bit of a garbage mindset. A little too cavalier when our jobs ultimately ended in destruction and death.

You live, you learn, you grow up. All our actions have consequences. And eventually, we reap the consequences of those actions.

The Second Cult

And here I am during what I might call “My Bacon Love Phase” but my kids call “Your High Maintenance Period.” Both answers would be graded as correct.

Although I look so cheery, I was immersed in what we might term “aggressive fitness” and what other folks might call a fitness cult. So many workouts, so little rest, and a whole lot of traveling and drinking. It was a blast … for a while.


I also thought during this time that I could eat anything in the world because I worked out like a crazy woman and all my numbers were amazing: BP, heart, cholesterol. Plus I looked and felt GREAT! Bring on the steak and bacon and butter! Paleo was going to save everybody! What could be wrong? How could this be a garbage mindset?

Fast forward 10 years and now my colon is screaming and I’ve abandoned the steak and the bacon. Now I eat more like an Okinawan (where I did live for four years in the 90’s but then abandoned those ways when I came back to America). The Okinawans really have it going on concerning life and longevity: they focus on cooked veggies, fish, movement, purpose, and community. I’m reading this fabulous book called Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life. Check it out.

The Way Out of a Garbage Mindset

I guess I’m here to tell you that we all fall into garbage mindsets at some point – and some of us fall repeatedly into them. And that’s okay. I’m not here to judge you and you’re not here to judge me.

What’s not okay? Staying in a garbage mindset after you’ve identified it and realize that you want to change. But that work is up to you. I suggest you try this:

  1. Take a moment and think about your life. Is there anything gnawing at you? Maybe something you’ve identified but you keep shoving to the back, like “I’ll deal with that later.” Is there some aspect of your work life or home life or personal life that you would like to improve?

  2. Commit today to doing something differently about what you’ve identified. It’s really hard to change. You know that. So the best thing is to identify something you can do today to change your mindset: like eating fried chicken (literally or figuratively) only once this week. You don’t have to give it up right away: just reduce the frequency. Small steps. In another couple of weeks, have it one time a week. Another month, not at all for a week. Eventually, once in a blue moon.

  3. Rely on your community. And if you don’t have one? Find one! That saying that you are the five people you spend the most time with? It’s the truth! Upgrade your peeps and you can upgrade your mindset a lot easier. That doesn’t mean you have to get rid of folks in your life, just be more mindful of their influence and the amount of time you spend with them. Small steps, again.

  4. Don’t expect anything to happen overnight. Lasting change can take months or years. And that’s okay. Overnight change doesn’t last. You have to keep committing daily to the changes. And don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day. Just get back to the path as soon as you can.

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Mindsets don’t develop over night. We sink into garbage mindsets over the course of months and years so, naturally, our rise out of them and into better mindsets will take time. But you can do it.

And here’s me today: out, proud, and always rooting for you.

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