Tag Archives: Behavior

How to Make Healthy Choices

A woman recently called my program wanting to know why she couldn’t maintain a diet and exercise regime.  I asked her, “Do you know the difference between you and a person who doesn’t stop?”  “No,” she responded.  “They don’t stop,” I said.

There are two ways we make choices.  The first way is reflective.  In the moment, we are consciously aware of our actions and motivations, and we make a choice with a goal in mind.  The other is reflexive.  Similar to lower animals, we don’t change our behavior because of the consequences; we don’t stop to think at all really, we just do it like some kind of machine.  For example, many people sit down with a plate of food and don’t make choices about what’s on the plate or how much of each thing they’re eating – they just eat.

Routine behaviors are very hard to control.  However, the more you make things reflective and consciously parallel your behavior with your goals, the easier it will be for you to achieve them.

Last year, a man called my show who was struggling with pornography.  Wherever he was – in his office, car, etc. – his reflex was to look at porn and masturbate.  I told him to photocopy pictures of his wife and kids and put them on his cell phone, the visor of his car, and every computer he owned.  I then said, “The next time you’re preparing to masturbate to porn, look at the pictures of your family and make a choice.  Do you want to have dignity as a husband and father, or do you want to do that?”

He called me back a week later saying that when he reflected on it, he chose not to do it.  When he didn’t reflect on his actions, he grabbed for the porn and his parts.  Taking the behavior from automatic to conscious was all about reflecting on the behavior and making a choice.

Unfortunately, a lot of people want immediate gratification and do most things without thinking. More than half of deaths worldwide are due to four big diseases: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and chronic respiratory disease.  The main causes are smoking, overeating, excessive alcohol consumption, and sedentary lifestyles. It’s estimated that 75 percent of diabetes and heart disease cases and 40 percent of cancers would be prevented by changing the behaviors that cause them. 

With all the information out there, you wouldn’t think so many people would make such poor health choices.  And yet, they do.  Remember the ads with the woman smoking through a hole in her trachea?  Remember the “this is your brain on drugs” commercials with the egg frying in the pan?  Well, even after seeing these, people are still smoking and doing drugs.  Personalizing the threat isn’t enough.

One time I asked a waitress in a restaurant if she thought the calorie counts printed on the menu affected people’s decisions about what they ate.  She candidly responded, “To fit people, yes.  But to overweight people, the calorie count means nothing.”

The reason people don’t make healthy choices simply comes down to the fact that they don’t reflect on their decisions.  Information by itself means nothing if you don’t care.  That’s one explanation for why there are so many diet books on The New York Times best-seller list: people buy the books thinking that simply reading them will get them to change and when they don’t, they move on to the next one.

So the next time you sit down for a meal, reflect, “Is this what I should be eating? How much should I be eating? Which things on my plate should I toss?”   Make a conscious effort to cut your portion size in half, and eventually, it will become habit to put less on your plate.  As I have said time and again, it’s all about character.  Some people use theirs and others don’t.

What will you choose to do?

Your Spouse Has Cheated. Now What?

In the movie Closer, Clive Owen’s character grills Julie Roberts’ character about the nature of her infidelity.  He bombards her with a barrage of questions about the frequency, timing, whereabouts, type, quality and orgasmic nature of the sex she had with the interloper until she finally asks, “God, why is the sex so important?!”

Men and women react to infidelity differently. Women are more concerned with the emotional side while men care more about the sex. This is a result of hardwiring to a certain extent.  Females want to know if their male can still be a provider and protector for their young.  Males, on the other hand, are primarily invested in the preservation of their genes.  This is why, like Clive Owen’s character, men will ask about the sex and women will ask about the romantic feelings involved. 

Once you understand the differences in how men and women react to an infidelity, the next question becomes, “What should I do if I find out that my husband/wife has cheated on me?” 

First, you need to know that it’s possible for a marriage to survive an affair. In fact, the healing process can even improve the quality of the marriage. However, in order to improve the chances of your marriage staying together, you and your spouse need to seek professional help. 

Therapy helps you have adult conversations and develop skills to resolve your problems. When choosing a therapist, try to find one who has been in a long-term marriage. Be aware that therapists who have been recently divorced have a higher percentage of their patients and clients divorce.

I recommend high quality professional assistance because in order for you and your spouse to truly work through your challenges, you’re going to have to see and accept that both of you played some role in the infidelity. I am not saying that somebody had the right to cheat; I simply mean that if you decide to stay with each other, you have to figure out why things got so bad to the point that someone cheated. The success of your marriage pins on your ability to change the behaviors that alienated each other in the first place.  

If you truly think you did everything perfectly, then dump your spouse. You’re either right and this person is just a bad apple, or you’re not in touch with them enough to work it out. Either way, the relationship doesn’t have a chance of succeeding.  Don’t sit around playing the blame game for your unhappiness or their lack of a moral compass – it’s a recipe for disaster. 

However, if both of you are willing to work, there are some common mistakes you should try to avoid:

Don’t spend your time humiliating, debasing, challenging, and assaulting the cheater. Instead, try to get to the bottom of what hurt the relationship in the first place (e.g. lack of affection, being too busy to be sweet, etc.).

Contacting the person they had the affair with is usually futile. It rarely uncovers the whole truth, and oftentimes, the exposure alone will make them back off.

Naïvely taking your spouse’s word that he or she has ended the affair is one thing, but constantly following them around and checking their phone and email every five minutes is another. Yes, most people need help disengaging from an affair because there is a tremendous amount of physical and emotional investment.  However, hitting them with guilt nonstop isn’t going to help anything. 

Finally, realize that it’s going to take time. 

Ultimately, if your spouse has cheated, you need to ask yourself the following question: Is this a pattern of behavior (i.e. a reflection of their character), or is this a single event which indicates that something seriously wrong in the marriage wasn’t respectfully dealt with? Between work, the kids, and everything else going on, did one or both of you stop paying attention to the relationship? With better communication, better decisions can be made and priorities can be adjusted.  Hopefully, in the end, you can both look back at the affair as a slap on the back of the head reminding you that you weren’t paying attention to the relationship.

I’ll Never Learn! I’m a Loser!: Helping Self-Critical Kids

“Is my kid being unduly hard on themselves?” 

I hear this question a lot.  I get calls from parents saying, “My kid is a perfectionist.  When they lose a game, don’t get chosen for something, or somebody doesn’t like them, they go bonkers.” 

Adolescence is tough enough; you’re not a baby, you’re not an adult…you’re just sort of in a swing state.  And what makes the adolescent swing state painful is when young folks are inclined to be very hard on themselves after some frustration or disappointment.  You’ve probably heard this at home: “I’ll never learn!  I’m stupid!  I can’t do anything right!  No one likes me!  I don’t have any friends!  I’m such a loser!  I hate myself!  I wish I were dead!”   

Doing poorly or not doing as well as they wanted triggers a belief that they deserve the self-inflicted bad treatment.  And a lot of people take this feeling all the way through adulthood.  They feel obligated to come down on themselves. 

Where do they learn this? 

Oh I don’t know, let me think…

…From their parents!  Not always, but generally.  They either learn it from a parent who’s blatantly role modeling that behavior, or just from a very critical parent.  And then these young people spend most of their time hating themselves for any perceived failure, big or small.  “The parental rule of ‘judge and punish’ carries on.”  They beat themselves up out of habit, not because they want to motivate themselves, do better, or change.

So, a lot of the time kids learn self-critical behavior from having a parent or two parents who they could never please, who thought criticism was the best motivation, or who felt that expressing dissatisfaction was motivating.  But parents are not always the culprits.  Some kids get it in their heads that they just have to align themselves with an unreasonable set of expectations.  Maybe it’s from sibling rivalry stuff, something happening at school, or just moon spots…who knows.   In any case, parents really need to help them. 

Here are a handful of triggers that cause kids to get down on themselves, and how you can motivate them to go in another direction:

* Losing a game or contest. In a kid’s head, they think, “I have to win or I’m a loser.”  Oh my gosh!  Nobody wins all the time.  How could they?  Also, by following that logic, if you win and someone else loses, that means they’re a loser.  And of course, that’s not true.  Probably the most important thing you can teach your kids is that winning and losing are exactly the same.  Rudyard Kipling said that, except much more eloquently in the poem If.  You should approach winning and losing the same way – calmly.

It took me years to learn this while playing pool.  If I made a great shot, I’d be bouncing around the room.  But if I missed a shot, I’d start muttering things to myself like, “I’ve been practicing this for three hours, and I’m still terrible,” “I’ll never learn this,” and “I suck at this game.”  I couldn’t tolerate missing.  And I know exactly where that reaction came from.  It was parental.  I didn’t make it up myself.  I can really understand when people get into that mode because I personally had trouble getting out of it.  However, now when I make a good shot, I just say, “That felt good, let’s try to create that feeling again.”  And if I miss a shot, I think, “I didn’t go through my whole routine, or I adjusted my aim while I was taking the shot.  Hopefully I’ll get another shot at this, and I’ll do better.” 

You have to teach your kids that it’s best to expect you’re going to win some and lose some, just like the person on the other side of the game.

* Making a mistake. A kid thinks, “I have to get things right or something’s wrong with me.”  Show your kids the problem with this mindset by role modeling the correct attitude.  If you make a mistake while doing something, stop and say, “Aha!  I think I know what I did wrong.”  They’ll see you analyzing the error and remedying it for next time rather than going on an incomprehensible tirade about how mad you are at yourself.     

Failing to perform well.  Many kids believe they have to be a success to avoid shame.  However, in life, you can control your effort, but you can’t control the outcome.  The result is not entirely up to you.  For instance, things are handicapped or there are politics involved.  Or people cheat, even on the highest levels, which can be seriously demoralizing because cheating seems to pay off when people get away with it. 

So, you have to teach kids that everything in life is not on an even playing ground, and if they fail to do well, it’s not completely their fault.  They can’t always control the outcome because there are too many other factors that have absolutely nothing to do with them. 

* Getting in trouble.  A kid thinks, “Since I did this wrong, I’m a bad person.”  If you have a propensity for doing bad things, then yes, you probably are a bad person.  However, kids do stupid things, they test limits, and they don’t think things through – their brains just aren’t ready to do that.  They do dumb things but it’s not the same thing as being a bad kid, unless they do it continuously.  So, it’s best to teach your kids that if they do something wrong, they should take responsibility, pay their dues, and then forgive themselves.  Instruct them to move on and not repeat it. 

* Getting criticized.  A kid thinks, “Oh my gosh, everybody has to think well of me or I’m inadequate, inferior, or horrible.”  That’s the point where you can remind them just like they’re not going to be a fan of everyone they know, certain people will not like them.  And it’ll be for reasons that may have very little to do with them.  It could be because they look like somebody from the other person’s past who upset him or her.  The other person could be jealous of what they have, who they are, and what they’re like.  It has nothing to do with your kid being a bad person. 

* Being left out.  This is one of the tougher ones.  At some point your child will probably say something like this: “I wasn’t invited to the party,” or “I wasn’t asked to be on the team.”  Tell them that just like we don’t want to be with every group, every group doesn’t necessarily want to be with us.  Or as Groucho Marx put it, “I refuse to join a club that would have me as a member.”