Tag Archives: The New York Times

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?

Hey Baby, What’s Your Credit Score?

I believe the answer to having a happy, long-lasting marriage is relatively simple:

First, no two people between the ages of 20 and 40 should date without having met each other’s families.  The man especially should meet the girl’s family and convince her father (hopefully there is one in the house) that he is a worthy competitor for his daughter’s hand.  Young women these days are far too immodest and free with their minds, bodies, and souls to have good sense about what they’re doing.  We don’t call it being slutty anymore – we call it “hooking up.”  We ought to go back to the days where a young man had to convince a girl’s family that he was worthy to court their daughter.

Second, all couples should spend six months in premarital counseling before they tie the knot.  Roughly 20 percent of people who go through premarital counseling realize they’re not a match, and the other 80 percent enjoy better marriages.

What it really comes down to is choosing wisely.  If you’re not being treated well two years into the courtship, you should hit the eject button.

There are many factors to choosing wisely.  Men, for example, need to discern whether or not a woman is going to take care of their babies (i.e. suckling them at her breast and not farming out motherhood to a nanny or day care center).  However, one quality that is constantly overlooked by both men and women is their date’s credit score.

Credit (especially for men but also for women) is an important attribute.  There are now sites such as creditscoredating.com and datemycreditscore.com which help people make sure they’re connecting with somebody who isn’t in debt or irresponsible with money.  This is especially important for young people who may bring tens of thousands of dollars in student debt to a relationship.

The New York Times recently interviewed more than 50 daters under 40 from around the country and found that many of them regarded a good credit score as a prerequisite for a good date.  No kidding.  What is the point of being with someone who is totally irresponsible with money and can’t support a family?

As the Times reported, “It’s a shorthand way to get a sense of someone’s financial past the same way an S.T.D. test gives some information about a person’s sexual past.”  Some people may think this vetting process goes too far, but I disagree.  According to an article in Time magazine:

“Landlords and lenders may look at your credit score to help determine if you are worth taking a chance on.  Even employers may do a credit check on you.  Why not a prospective mate?  How you handle money says a lot about your ability to be organized and responsible.  Why would anyone with options risk falling for someone likely to bring heavy debt and poor spending and saving habits to a [marriage]?”

I’m thunderstruck at how many women call my program with some variation of, “We’ve been dating for two years, but he never has any money because he spends it all on (fill in the blank).”  I mean please.  Too few women show any sense these days.  That’s why I think marriages should be arranged again.  I know it sounds terribly insulting, but it’s true.  The divorce rate would plummet.

If you have poor credit, read this Time article for tips on how to improve it.

No Commitment When Shacking Up

I can’t believe The New York Times, with its hugely liberal perspective, actually published an article on the downside of shack-ups.  I was stunned.  The article, titled “The Downside of Cohabitating Before Marriage,” gives some stats that are simply mind-boggling:

Cohabitation in the United States has increased by more than 1,500 percent in the past half century. In 1960, about 450,000 unmarried couples lived together. Now the number is more than 7.5 million. The majority of young adults in their 20s will live with a romantic partner at least once, and more than half of all marriages will be preceded by cohabitation. This shift has been attributed to the sexual revolution and the availability of birth control, and in our current economy, sharing the bills makes cohabiting appealing. But when you talk to people in their 20s, you also hear about something else: cohabitation as prophylaxis.

In a nationwide survey conducted in 2001 by the National Marriage Project, then at Rutgers and now at the University of Virginia, nearly half of 20-somethings agreed with the statement, “You would only marry someone if he or she agreed to live together with you first, so that you could find out whether you really get along.” About two-thirds said they believed that moving in together before marriage was a good way to avoid divorce.

But that belief is contradicted by experience. Couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to be less satisfied with their marriages – and more likely to divorce – than couples who do not.

The issue lies in the shack-up itself.  When people decide to get engaged, there’s a lot of thought involved.  They realize, “Oh my gosh, I’m making a commitment.”  They talk about babies and families, and where they’re going to live.  None of that occurs when people shack up.  There’s no decision-making, only sliding.  Shack-up couples slide from dating, to having sex, to sleeping over, to bringing their things over, to being there most of the time, to shacking up.  There are no concrete decisions with rings and ceremonies and families involved.  The two people have not and do not talk about what they want, need, and expect from each other.

The article also discusses how cohabitors often have different, unspoken – even unconscious – agendas:

Women are more likely to view cohabitation as a step toward marriage, while men are more likely to see it as a way to test a relationship or postpone commitment, and this gender asymmetry is associated with negative interactions and lower levels of commitment even after the relationship progresses to marriage.  One thing men and women do agree on, however, is that their standards for a live-in partner are lower than they are for a spouse.

You can see right there that shack-ups are just convenient and comfortable.  There is no desire for a connection on a deeper level.  A lot of people think, “Well, living together reduces costs.   It’s easy, and there’s no real risk.  If it doesn’t work, we’ll just break up.”   EXCEPT, they’ve already bought furniture and pets together.  A couple that thinks, “Maybe we will, maybe we won’t,” is not as dedicated as a one that says, “We do, we’ll commit, we’ll make it happen.”

It’s important to discuss everybody’s motivation: “I’m shacking up with you because…” or “My expectation is…”  As I’ve always told people on the show, you cannot have any expectations when you shack up.  It’s not a commitment.  Either one of you can do whatever you want at any given time, so expectations of marital behavior are silly, foolish, and self-destructive.  This is why there’s more mental illness, violence, and breaking up when people shack up.  Women especially start having more anxiety and depression.  They also experience more battering because their partners take their frustration and annoyance out on them.

Shacking up is not an intentional step — it’s just convenient.  There’s absolutely nothing of depth that people can count on.

Ya Gotta Have Friends

I’ve been giving something a lot of thought lately, and have decided to share it with you – to influence you (if you’re not already) to open up to friendships.

Deborah Tannen, the linguist, recently wrote a piece published in The New York Times which discussed some research which indicated that people with sisters are happier than those without them.  Her point of view was it isn’t women who talk better than men, it’s that they talk more often – even if it’s not about problems.  The very act of just communing is beneficial to both.

She pointed out that men – even men with problems – might talk to each other and end up feeling better, even when they didn’t spend ten seconds talking about “the problem.”  Why?  I believe it’s because talking is a connection, an act of interest and caring, and a remedy for isolation, loneliness, and despair.

My mother was from a small town in northern Italy and grew up during the Fascist/Mussolini era.  Her parents owned a restaurant and worked all the time.  She did have a sister, my aunt Lucia, who was gunned down by a Nazi firing squad at the age of 20 the very first day she joined the underground movement but, other than that, she learned (sadly) to be contained in herself.  That never changed.  As I grew up, I never ever saw her have even one friend and she instilled in me a real sense of self-protection.  She always told me I trusted too quickly, got disillusioned/betrayed/hurt and then suffered immensely.  She was right.  But so what?  Being “hurt” is not the worst thing in the world.  Being disconnected is.

I don’t readily tend to talk about my personal/emotional conditions.  That’s now what I do when I get together with friends.  I just share life with them.  I have a few lovely lady friends right now – a deep quality of friendship – which is so deeply satisfying.  I remember my surprise when one of them hadn’t seen me for almost a week and said, “You know, I miss you.”  I just about fell down.  Why was I so touched?  Because for the most part, folks are into their own lives and don’t necessarily pay much attention to subtle niceties like that with friends.  At that moment, she was cemented into my heart.  What a generous, sweet thing to say.  I have another friend who texts me now and then just to tell me to have a great day, and another one who gives me professional massages twice a month simply because she wants me to relax.

My mother missed out on a lot.  I’m glad I didn’t listen to her warnings about trust and people.  Yes, some have been untrustworthy and unkind, and others have outright betrayed me.  But if your heart stays closed to avoid that hurt, then you won’t hear from a friend those words:  “Miss you…love ya.”  I’d rather suffer some frustrations in return for not missing out on hearing that.  I hope you are also so willing.

Truth Can No Longer Be Spoken

Last week, I wrote about Molly Norris, the Seattle cartoonist who made a declaration that April 10, 2010 should be known as “Everybody Draw Mohammed” day.  This poor woman is now on a designated Muslim “hit list,” according to our FBI, and has to go into hiding for the rest of her life.  The American-born Muslim imam Anwar al-Awlaki (the guy who allegedly inspired the Fort Hood massacre) singled out Molly Norris as a “prime target,” saying “her proper abode is hellfire.”

Our government isn’t protecting her.  Moderate Muslim groups are not protecting her.  Her free speech rights have evaporated along with her life as she knows it:  friends and family and job are gone as she has to “go ghost.”

Well, this situation keeps happening all over America.  The New York Times reports that some Harvard University faculty members and students are objecting to a plan to honor an alumnus and editor of The New Republic, because of a blog post he published this month that said Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims.  The editor, Martin Peretz, asserted that among Muslims led by the founder of the proposed Muslim Community Center near Ground Zero in New York, “there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood.”  He went on to say he wondered “whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment, which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.”

Let’s look at his assertions.  For which one is there evidence of an untruth?  Are there not suicide bombings and attacks all over the world perpetrated by Muslims on innocent Muslims as well as innocent Westerners?  Is there a profound moderate Muslim movement which is aggressively attacking the so-called radicals?  Are moderate Muslim groups protecting the speech – no, forget that – the very life of Molly Norris?

It has gotten to the point in America that truth cannot be spoken if it offends somebody or their agenda.  Let Abdelnasser Rashid, president of the Harvard Islamic Society debate Mr. Peretz and provide facts and information to refute his claims.  That is the American way.

I am gratified to inform you Harvard issued a statement that Mr. Peretz’s assertions were “distressing to many members of our community, and understandably so,” but it would not revoke the honor.  Hallelujah.  “It is central to the mission of a university to protect and affirm free speech, including the rights of Dr. Peretz, as well as those who disagree with them, to express their views,” the statement continued.  At least one institution in America is still standing up for what is inherently American:  freedom of speech.

I am worried though some imam will respond to Harvard’s refusal to be intimidated by issuing a fatwa for Mr. Peretz as exists for Molly Norris. 

That is our world today.  Face it.  Deal with it.