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Something to Think About (357 posts)
Once again, we're knocked out by the way science columnist John Tierney introduces us to...ourselves. We've been thinking about his latest all week, especially when pondering our choices of what to make for dinner, when to work out and how to spend the last days of summer. In an article about decision-making fatigue in last weekend's New York Times Magazine, Tierney explained that constantly having to choose between options can have a debilitating effect on our willpower, mood and energy levels. "Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car," Tierney wrote. "No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price." (By the way, can you guess what common ritual is "the decision-fatigue equivalent of Hell Week"?).
Still, sooner or later, we're going to over-stretch our favorite pair of Spanx or shrink our bed sheets, and when that happens, we'll have to hit the mall. As a health precaution, we're taking these bits of advice with us, extrapolated from the research Tierney presented:
1. Go to the gym first, before resisting sales and deciding between colors and prices has a chance to weaken your resolve.
2. Limit options by parking in front of the store with the items you need. The article explains that the multitude of choices available to Americans overwhelms people. By not walking past endless shops, you avoid having to decide whether to go into them.
3. If you're shopping for more than one item, start with the most expensive. The mental depletion that follows multiple decisions makes us more likely to go with the easiest choice, which isn't always the best or most affordable choice. (But changing the order of choices in the process of buying a car ended up costing some study participants $2,000 of their own money.)
4. Bring trail mix to snack on. Recent experiments have shown that the simple sugar glucose (which is found in raisins) can counteract the negative brain changes wrought by decision fatigue, and keep your impulse control in check. (Learn why just the expectation of having to make a decision makes people crave sweets.)
5. Make plans to meet friends or family for dinner so that you won't be tempted by the food court. "When you shop till you drop, your willpower drops, too," he concluded. But people with strong self-control have developed strategies to fend off decision fatigue. Find out the habits of successful deciders.
My mother and I can’t have a conversation without her telling me the end of the movie I am about to see or the book I am about to read. She doesn’t mean to. But it will just come out, as in: “Honey, I just couldn't help it, I sobbed when the horse broke his leg and they had to put him down...right on the racetrack, by the finish line."
I am not the kind of person who hangs up on her mother. But I sometimes pretend the stove is on fire and drop the phone and run off screaming. Now, I can just stay on the line; knowing the ending actually improves a person’s enjoyment of a film or book. A recent study by researchers from the University of California at San Diego, Reuters reported, gave reader stories by John Updike, Roald Dahl, and Agatha Christie, only with two versions—the original, and another with a "spoiling paragraph" inserted in the text.
The verdict: readers preferred the amended stories. My kids of course could have explain this to me—without words even. One look at their bewitched, glazed expressions as they watched Dinosaur Train, the underwater episode, for the millionth time proves the whole entire theory. (Just to increase your enjoyment: the little fish without any names do get eaten by the big friendly dinosaurs).
From now on, I will enjoy my mother's plot references, as long as my mother does not find out that I am enjoying them, at which point either I will be compelled to admit or she will be compelled to point out that—like our long hot endless childhoods visits to Civil War battlefields—this is officially for my own good.
At last: a proved route to wisdom.
The back-from-vacation ah-ha moment!
For a long time, when I have been in-between jobs or just having one of my patented nightly anxiety spazes which inspires to me to mutter in bed—loudly—about mortgages and school bills, I have comforted myself with a few back-up plans. One of them is to invent a washing machine that comes preloaded with colorful little gumballs of detergent that pop out with each cycle (imagine: the end of lugging heavy, bag-breaking detergent bottles). The other is to open up a meatball shop called, uh, Leigh's Meatballs. For many years, when I mentioned the meatballs to strangers at cocktail parties, they would nod confusedly, and then say, "Oh......! You mean like meatball sandwiches!"
"No," I said, firmly. "Just meatballs. No spaghetti. No bread. A little sauce, that's it. The store is not for meatball dibble-dabblers. It's for hard core, committed meatball lovers."
Shockingly, about a year ago, a man (who will remain unmentioned in this article) also had a meatball epiphany. But he got it together and actually opened up a meatball shop, which has gone onto great fame and is opening new locations, hither and yon.
Today, stumbling on this video from Behance, in which This American Life contributor and producer Starlee Kine talks about Little Orphan Annie ideas (translation: ideas that we leave abandoned and un-actualized in our minds) I realized that I had a thing or two to learn. Kine's talk is long, but it is worth listening to, especially when she's talking about the need for a "the sheer force of will" to keep an idea alive and not letting an idea "die" on the car ride to hospital.
She doesn't discuss this in her talk but, no doubt, people also looked at her a little oddly, when she mentioned she was cold-emailing Phil Collins to talk about her breakup with a boyfriend and her idea as to how to fix herself. The next time, nothing is coming between me and my dream of meatballs (or whatever the next dream is).
It's hard enough to keep a sense of humor on regular Monday, when say, you're late for work, your computer freezes, your dog needs some kind of inner ear surgery which isn't covered by pet insurance (does pet insurance cover anything?), and..drumroll...you reach over in the bathroom to wash your hands and get soaked by the puddle that someone left on the counter, making it appear as if you had an accident in your already rumpled pants.
But imagine you're in Afghanistan—now at month 106, the longest war in U.S. history. The members of 7 Commando battery, 29 Commando found a way to laugh at their day by creating their own version of Glee's Don't Stop Believing, which includes singing into radio microphones, singing while doing chin-ups, and singing while in the shower Not only is the show lovable, but it comes with added bonus that almost every one of these young, goofy yet incredibly buff guys has failed to put on a shirt.
Today's rule for life: If people thousands of miles from home, fighting a war, can laugh about their conditions (note the outhouse in the video), so can we.
Read More5 things happy people do
The Happiness Test
Has this every happened to you? You're walking down the street, eating a muffin—which, like all muffins, is really a cupcake with added bran—while simultaneously talking on the cellphone:
You: I'll meet you [chew, chew] at six at the restaurant.
Your husband: Honey, I told you before [wind blows, the muffin paper crinkles in your hand] the dinner is at [boom-boom of woofers from a passing car] eight o' [dog barks, somebody else's cell phone rings playing "Last Friday Night" by Katy Perry) clock.
You: Right! [fire engine wails by] Got it!
Your husband: Great.
You: Six o'clock! [Child cries over skinned knee, disturbed man screams at the corner about the radio signals in his back molars] See you there! Don't be late!
Everybody seems to talk about how fast the world moves now. But rarely has anyone pointed out how loud is it—and how this changes us as listeners. Do we really hear each other anymore? More importantly, do we hear the small subtle noises that create such texture in a day—the clink of ice in a glass, the velvet whirl of the fan?
Last month celebrated sound expert Julian Treasure gave a TED talk on how to become a better listener. One of his exercises is to take a few minutes and savor the "hidden choir" in the everyday—for example a clothes dryer that thumps to rhythm of a waltz worth dancing to. Discover these sound secrets—and four others—that help you tune into the sound of your own life.
My mother has a saying: It's easy to be nice...(long, potent beat)...when you're feeling nice. The same holds true for forgiveness. It’s to forgive the easy, inconsequential things—being stood up on a date or cut in front of in line at the grocery store. But what about the big wrenching losses, those life-changing wrongs that you know you must forgive—not just for the person who let you down, but for yourself? (Bitterness, by the way, has been recently proven to reduce lifespan.)
Earlier this month, hearing about Farid Singh (from India) receiving an email from Qais Hussain (from Pakistan), we were astonished. In the email, as the website Good originally reported, Hussain claimed to have shot down Singh's father's plane—killing him—back in 1965 during the Indo-Pakistani War. Worse, Singh's father was an innocent civilian. Hussain sent his apologies and condolences, writing that "the unfortunate loss of precious lives, no matter how it happens, hurts each human and I am no exception. I feel sorry for you, your family, and the other seven families who lost their dearest ones."
Even more astonishing, was Singh's letter back...
We all believe in change at Oprah.com. But when you're in jail, that change is all the more difficult—if not, in many cases, impossible (one study found that 52 percent of all offenders in America end up re-incarcerated). This summer, as the Today show originally reported in this moving, altogether inspiring interview, an organization called Hope House reconnects kids with their incarcerated fathers by offering both parties a chance to catch up at an in-prison summer camp, complete with sing-alongs and art projects.
Much of the news coverage focused on the kids and how they become more open and loving to their dads after the weeklong experience. But listen to what counselor Rachel Foley says about the fathers toward the end of this clip.
Just to recap, Foley describes how putting a child in front of his dad transforms "the man from the nothing the prison makes him believe he is to the father he knows he is."
Which serves a great reminder to all of us. Sure, not all of us are in prison. Sure, there may be big differences between our lives. But the goal is the same: getting to that split second of visible change where we become who we want to be.
Monday is too stressful. Wednesday is already hump day. But Tuesday is "you" day: a day when you have the energy to do—or plan—something fresh and unexpected that might just turn your whole week around.
Treat your family on Thursday, also known as Cupcake Day. How to make fluffy, scrumptious, strawberry flavored treats from the famed cupcake experts at Sprinkles.
Honor your inner King during National Elvis week. How to shake up a cold, sweet, smooth Velvet Elvis cocktail.
What to do with all those fresh-from-garden tomatoes that are taking over your kitchen and your life? How to make your own vat of ketchup (with a slightly spicy kick).
Treat yourself some revitalizing, life-lifting karma. How to feel good and help the world in 2 minutes this Friday, National Humanitarian Day.
Everyone struggles with the big questions: how to discover what you were really meant to do (not what your family, circumstance or fear directed you to do), how to forgive and be forgiven, how to live your best life, no matter how your life changes.
Today, Oprah announced her return to television this fall, with a very personal project: Oprah's Lifeclass. Each episode will focus on a specific lesson that matters the most to her, using clips from The Oprah Show’s 25-year history. She'll explain what she was really thinking back then--and what she knows now.
The first one million people to sign up for the class will receive a limited-edition journal and can enter a sweepstakes for a chance to win a trip to Atlanta to meet Oprah in person.
Last Tuesday, when Diana Nyad gave up her quest to swim—without a shark cage—to Cuba at age 62, we all cried. We cried even more when the New York Times reported that Nyad said she had no regrets and that she had concluded that the combination of her injured shoulder and the asthma attack made continuing impossible.
So we moved over to her blog to grieve with her, where her supporters Candace Lyle Hogan and Elaine Lafferty said, "This was always about the importance of reaching beyond your grasp. Of course, a shore-to-shore success would have been nice—it was what Diana wanted, passionately. There’s no sugar coating for that; her disappointment is real. But for her contemporaries whom she so specifically addressed, this was always about the attempt, about the courage to risk wanting anything passionately again—or maybe even for the first time.... "
And we agreed, sobbing over our keyboards (okay, that was just me). Then we stopped. Because, the glory of Nyad's efforts was about her passion and willingness to try, but, geez, it was also about what she accomplished. As one Twitter fan so insightfully pointed out, "[She] 'only' made it halfway to Cuba?"
Fifty-eight miles of open ocean isn't exactly nothing. Which serves as a little reminder: sometimes what we achieve is something other than what we dreamed, but that doesn't mean it's failure.