“Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.”

—Dalai Lama

Several months ago I was sitting with the vice chair of our board of directors, Jim Buchanan, at the Hancock Lumber home office in Casco. Across the street logging trucks were arriving, the sawmill was churning, and the smell of sawdust was in the air.

“What have you been up to lately, Jim?” I queried.

“I’ve been freeing up brain capacity,” he replied.

Curious about that statement, I pressed the question.

“Tell me more. What do you mean by that?” I asked.

“Well, you know, I’m just letting go of low-level or outdated information in order to make space for new and higher thoughts to come into my life,” Jim said.

“Brilliant,” I replied.

* * *

That thought-provoking exchange with Jim reminds me of one of my favorite work exercises. Each day, without fail, I take the time to scroll through my in-box of e-mails and UNSUBSCRIBE.

In a world in which we are all incessantly streamed an overflow of information, unsubscribing is an act of healthy defiance and assertive self-control. It’s also a manifestation of Jim’s sage advice to protect the intake valve to one’s precious emotional, spiritual, and mental capacity.

We are all encouraged to be intentional about the food, beverages, and toxins we consume. We don’t want to clog our arteries or fill our lungs with detrimental substances. The same holds true for our mental and spiritual capacity. Just because I went to Walgreens yesterday does not mean I want an e-mail from them today.

I find it therapeutic to open my e-mail in-box and watch the new candidates for deletion emerge. I wait for an instant, feeling empowered (lighter, even), before selecting a message and scrolling directly to the bottom in search of the word today’s digital marketers most try to hide: Unsubscribe. I even take time to select the reason code: “I never signed up for these e-mails.” The message originator then thanks me as their inquiry swirls off into the blackness of Internet purgatory. It’s a liberating moment. Fifteen seconds invested eliminates one small but repetitive mental distraction for life.

No, I don’t need to learn about your “5 amazing strategies for doubling sales in 90 days.”

No, I don’t need “a third pair of socks for free.”

In our digital, consumeristic, 24/7 media age, each of us is being fed an indigestible volume of information, most of which is irrelevant to our personal mission, values, and priorities. Sorting out that clutter is the closet-cleaning challenge of our time.

Self-awareness requires being intentional about what we take in so as to stay focused on our unique priorities and personal mission.

What information do you need to know, and what information is a distraction? What are your strategies for maintaining control of your finite emotional, spiritual, and mental capacity?

Rest assured, in the absence of being intentional, you will be taken for a grand ride.

* * *

Another favored move of mine to free up brain capacity is to watch and read less news. It’s been said that if you read the news once a week you would know as much as someone who does so every day.

Never has this been truer than during the era of COVID-19. Think about it. The virus formally arrived in America in March of 2020. By April you knew everything you were ever going to need to know about that infectious agent. Wash your hands. Practice social distancing. When you can’t distance, wear a mask. If you feel sick, stay home. A vaccine is coming.

That’s all you needed to know about the world’s most famous pathogen.

But if you are CNN, well, you need to talk about COVID-19 every day, all day, and through the night, for over a year. And the worse the data becomes, the more likely the virus is to grab the headlines.

All of this reinforces one fundamental conviction: The world right in front of you is more manageable than the world as seen through a screen.

When I turn on the television news, within minutes it feels like it’s all over—like we can’t possibly survive another day. Yet when I open the front door and enter that day in person—so far—every day, I have survived.

Unsubscribing is a powerful act. So is watching and reading less news. Reducing your daily intake of external noise and drama allows you to gain and maintain control of your personal airspace. We are what we watch. We are what we listen to. We are what we read. We are what we unsubscribe.

“No one can bring you peace but yourself.”

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

* * *

Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.


This is the twenty-fifth in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin Hancock to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021, in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk.