A Habitat for Humanity – a reprise on the Carter legacy

Jimmy Carter just celebrated his 97th birthday on Friday. The following is an encore presentation of a tribute to Carter’s legacy, especially with Habitat for Humanity.

There are strong opinions about who might be the most impactful US president. But, there should be less debate on the most impactful ex-president. In the view of many, that would be James Earl Carter, better known as Jimmy.

With Rosalynn, his wife of 73 years by his side, the 95 year-old Carter is out there with hammer and drill building houses for Habitat for Humanity. As a non-profit Board volunteer, I believe the Habitat model, embraced by Carter, is a sound model, based on sweat equity. Having helped build one house with my co-workers, I can attest to the “sweat” part, as never have I been more tired at the end of the day.

Not only does the home owner have to help build his or her house, he or she has to help other home owners build their houses. But, another famous couple is building on the Carter Habitat legacy. You may have heard of them – country singers Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood. They hope to carry the hammer and drill forward after the Carters can no longer do it. Yet, the older couple are still out their hammering away, even after falls, hospital stays, etc.

Yet, that is not all of what Carter does. He still teaches Sunday school, which is so well attended, it was moved to the church sanctuary. He has also written about thirty books – I have read a couple, one on his upbringing and one on addressing the maltreatment of women in the US and world. His and Rosalynn’s “Carter Center” has helped to eradicate guinea worm disease in many places around the globe. And, Carter has been asked by several presidents to be an envoy to certain countries to represent our interests be it for state funerals or to elicit the release of an American in custody.

To be frank, his presidency is not given sufficient credit as he served one term as an outsider. To my surprise, I read that a significant number of bills were signed into law on his watch, but that is not well known. But, it is clear, he has been a much more impactful former president. He will be missed when he is gone.

Let’s celebrate them while he and Rosalynn are with us. A good way to do so, is to sing a Peter, Paul and Mary song, “If I had a hammer, I’d swing it in the morning, I’d swing it in the evening all over this land….”

Things you should not do, but do anyway

I was thinking yesterday about a good friend who tried to make a comeback as a baseball pitcher from a shoulder injury. I volunteered to catch for him sans a catcher mask – at dusk. As the baseballs were whistling toward me at 85 miles per hour in the dimming skies, I was thinking how unwise this is. One tipped pitch off the catcher’s mitt would not end well with my face as the only backstop. Yet, there I was.

As I was trimming some tall bushes, the last one was too tall to get the upper portions even with my various ladders and long electric hedge clippers. As I was putting away everything, I decided to give it one more go. Mistake. The one thing in my favor was I planned what I would do if I felt the ladder being uncooperative. So, as the ladder went one way, I tossed the clippers the other way and fell feet first toward the grass. I survived with a jolt and later soreness, but the lack of wisdom was duly noted.

I have always been a climbing fool dating back to when I was young. Two of my children are the same way. In fact, our daughter was on the climbing team in college. Fences did not present as many obstacles to me, but there is one lesson to be learned. As I was climbing a seven foot high fence, I felt I could navigate the prickly fence wires that were pointing up above the bar for some security, instead of being rounded off as with more neighborly fences. When I got to the top, the bar of the fence came out of its hosel and broke free. One of my arms now has a ten inch scar due to the prickly wires from this high school incident over forty five years ago.

At my age, one thing is for certain. I have made my share of mistakes. And, I will try to avoid future ones, but I am sure I will slip up from time to time. Many of our mistakes are not physical in result, even though they started out with a less than stellar idea. The more common mistakes are saying things you should not or acting rashly when the better idea would have been to sleep on it or not to act.

A key lesson for all of us is just because you think it, does not mean you have to say it. Some of the best retorts are the ones that you swallow and do not speak. And, you would be wise in so doing. Not everything needs to be an argument. In fact, your opinion may not be wanted, only your listening. You have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion.

As for the rash acting, the more important the decision, the better it is to wait, organize your thought process and garner input. One thing my wife and I do is delay a big decision until a few days or weeks pass. Should we move, should we try for baby, should one of us take that job, should we buy a new car, etc.? Try to avoid buying on emotion as that is what the sales person is wooing you to do.

With that said, some impulsive decisions just need to be governed by catch-all limits. Do not drive while intoxicated or let a friend drive such. Full stop. Do not have sex sans some means of birth control unless you are looking to have a child. Do not have sex if your partner says no, even if he, she or they seemed to be saying yes to that point. Do not take opioid pain killers unless you are in a real bad way pain wise and they have been prescribed – even then you may want to down two Tylenol or look to more herbal solutions so to speak.

And, do not get up on ladders when you are tired. If you ignore this suggestion, you may just well need those two Tylenol or one of those herbal solutions.

Five easy memory tricks – once again for emphasis

The following brief post has been repeated for emphasis, as we all could use a little help recalling names of actors, friends, places and events. Fortunately, my wife knows my shorthand and can ascertain whom or what I am speaking about with a few phrases like “do you remember that place we used to go to near the mall…” or “isn’t she that actress in the show we liked about the Australian doctor….”

With two of our four parents succumbing to complications due to Alzheimer’s, memory maintenance is of interest to my wife and me. Readers’ Digest ran an article by Andrea Au Levitt called “5 Easy Memory Tricks.” Her intro paragraph follows:

“You know that eating healthy, staying active, and solving a few brain games can help keep you sharp. But these lesser known habits work wonders, too.”

1. Sit tall – when slouching it follows or promotes defeated, anxious and depressive thoughts, which hinder memory.

2. Exercise – once – gains in memory after one exercise are similar to gains after regular exercise (note still do the regular stuff).

3. Limit TV – including online versions of TV, too much screen time can harm cognitive development and maintenance.

4. Doodle – people can remember things better if they doodle or draw a picture of what they are thinking of. Writing the words of the thing is not as memorable as drawing a picture.

5. Walk backward – real, imagined or watched walking backward or even forward, can help remember something. So, in keeping with #2 above, take a walk (and walk backwards on occasion).

Let me take one of the above and break it down more. One of the examples from Malcom Gladwell’s book, “Talking to strangers,” notes that torture is a horrible way to gain information. Why? Under trauma, people remember less than they would normally. The comment about sitting tall in #1 above, notes if we slouch we increase anxiety or depressive thoughts, a mild form of trauma.

Outside of the walking backward, I do the above things. The sitting tall actually helps this tall person with his back. As for doodling, for some reason when I work the various puzzles in the newspaper, I blacken in the circular letters (O’s, D’s, P’s etc.) in the title of the advice section (sorry Dear Abby). Maybe it helps me with the puzzles (or advice).

As I leave you, think of Barbra Streisand walking backward singing “Memories light the corners of my mind, Misty water-colored memories of the way we were.”

Mayberry was a simpler place, but it does not tell the whole story

For those who recognize the town of Mayberry, it is an idyllic place that only exists in television reruns. “The Andy Griffith Show” was based in this fictional town along with an ensemble cast around its star who played the town sheriff. It is loosely based on Griffith’s hometown of Mount Airy, which is about one hour north of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, just inside the border with Virginia.

For those familiar with the show, there really is a Pilot Mountain, which is referenced in the show as Mount Pilot. It s a great hiking venue and one can easily picnic off its highest parking lot. Mount Airy has embraced Griffith’s fame and built a replica area of Mayberry to woo tourists who come in droves. They are longing for a simpler time and place, but the show glosses over so much.

This past Sunday, CBS Morning News did a piece on Mount Airy and Mayberry with Ted Koppel, one of its most acclaimed reporters. The report showed the use of a fleet of black and white police cars for the whole town. It showed a place you could get a pork chop sandwich, which was a show favorite of Andy and Barney’s, the humorous Deputy played by Don Knotts..

It was a good piece, but offered some interesting takeaways.

First, when one of the many tourists turned the question back on Koppel about what he thought of this idyllic place and time, Koppel noted that everyone was not able to enjoy this type of environment. African-Americans were not allowed to benefit as much from this type of town when it aired back in the early 1960s. And, returning Vietnam veterans were treated poorly. The tourist agreed with Koppel’s assessment, although he had not initially thought of it in that context.

Second, as for the African-American lack of opportunity, it was in evidence on the show, with only one speaking part for a black actor the entire series. And, of the many crowd scenes, only a handful at a time were African-American. When Koppel interviewed a black family who lived in Mount Airy, one said when she moved back in 1973, she still was not allowed to eat inside certain restaurants and had to get take out.

Third, when Koppel was riding a trolley around the contrived-for-tourists Mayberry, he took a poll of the political leanings. Of the twenty folks on the trolley, only two felt the 2020 election was fair and the rest thought the former president had won. Some even voiced the January 6 insurrection was staged by actors trying to hurt the former president and that the real violent insurrections were occurring in cities all over the country by the far left. One said she “loved Donald Trump.” They noted the news was biased against the former president and should not be heeded. One said he got his news from other sources, but did not want to mention them.

Now, I have always enjoyed “The Andy Griffith Show” and have even been to Mount Airy a few times before they built the Mayberry tourist attraction. But, another role that Griffith played reminds me of the trolley rider views. Griffith won acclaim for playing Lonesome Rhodes in “A Face in the Crowd.” The movie showed what can happen when a populist cult figure recognizes his own power to persuade, not unlike that of the former president. That is the character I want people to think about when they read the lies purveyed as truth.*

I do love small towns. My wife and I love to visit them and wander around. They are quaint and full of stories. But, they are imperfect just like any other place. They have biases, they have secrets, and they have painted over flaws. We should not forget that.

*Note: In the attached post called “Mama Guitar” by our blogging friend Resa, she has a link to the movie trailer about “A Face in the Crowd.”

Tea for Tuesday with a spoon of Dyerism

My youngest son has exposed us to cold brewed tea using both caffeinated tea and flavored teas with turmeric, hibiscus, ginger, lavendar, orange or lemon zest, etc. The tea brews with natural sunlight over the course of a morning. What I like about them is no sugar is needed as the flavors stand on their own. So, it is refreshing.

So, get yourself a soothing or refreshing drink in hand, sit down in the morning rays, and let me share a few miscellaneous thoughts.

My wife and I are not Royalty watchers, but we did catch the latest installment on Lifetime of the Harry and Meghan travails. Realizing these kinds of things have a little truth mixed together with hearsay and supposition, there are a couple of takeaways. If true, why does the Royal family and their staffs spend so much time reading trashy gossip magazines? I must confess the only time I pay attention to these things are when checking out at the grocery store, but primarily for my own bemusement. The other take away is no matter what one feels about Meghan, there is both a subtle and overt racist element to her press that goes unchecked. I realize fully that the Royal family does not like to comment on the magazines they read so much of, but it truly is opportunity lost to condemn in strong times that we are better than this as a country.

This search for perfection in the actions and statements of people, entities or institutions is a futile endeavor. Let me save everyone a lot of trouble. Just like with individual people, there are no perfect groups of people or organizations of people. This would include those who are calling foul. Past actions are important, but we must understand a couple of things. Severity is important. Context is important. On the latter, anyone can be made to look foolish taking his, her or their words out of context. But, severity (and repetition) matters. Not to condone any actions, but saying something sexually insensitive is not as severe as sexual assault. Saying something sexually or racially insensitive over time is worse than saying it once. Also, how long ago did the infraction occur matters as does what have they done lately? This does not give anyone a hall pass, just asks for better scrutiny.

As an example, the Reverend Billy Graham lamented that he was in the Nixon White House and did not push back on the president for his racist and ethnic slurs. Apparently, Nixon’s colorful language was not unusual. Graham was in a better position than anyone to counsel the president on his words and tone. My guess is he was looking for any door to escape, but that is beside the point. Graham was embarrassed when his silence was discovered on the released Nixon tapes of conversations. It goes without saying, Graham was a very fine person and spiritual leader nonetheless.

I pair these two stories together, as we need more of what Dr. Wayne Dyer used to call “defending the absent.” When his children would gossip about someone, he would defend the person not present. His point is it is not right to talk about someone behind their back. Graham missed an opportunity to say simply, “Mr. President, I must confess I do not appreciate your tone and comments about others. You can choose to feel that way, but it makes you look smaller when you do.”

In the Royal family movie, they debated on whether Charles, William or Harry could react. Harry did on one occasion, but wanted to do more. But, truthfully the Queen is the one who should have made an overarching statement. “We are better than this. It is one thing to disagree with someone, but to denigrate someone because the person is perceived to be different is uncalled for and inappropriate.” It should be noted that 80 members of Parliament signed a petition of reprimand for these racist attacks in the press, so I am not just talking out of turn.

I am imperfect. I have said, written and done some stupid things. I try to do the right things, but sometimes fall short. But, I am not alone. We must shine spotlights on behavior we do not like, but we should also recall we have our own blemishes. But, I would suggest we do so in the manner and style of Dr. Dyer. He is one who would criticize privately and praise publicly. He would defend the absent, a very noble endeavor.

Sometimes, you just have to be more direct

When dealing with people who have a high sense of self worth, ranging from arrogance to narcissism, a common attribute is the “all about me” chip they carry around with them. This chip also precludes them from thinking they ever did anything wrong.

I have observed and dealt with a few narcissists in my career, but also many who carry this chip around. In my dealings with others I have tried to be at my diplomatic best. This especially comes in handy when you have to tell a client his or her idea lacks merit. But, what happens when you are dealing with someone who rarely, if ever, thinks he or she did something wrong?

One of our blogging friends Cynthia writes an excellent blog on PTSD and other issues related to dealing with narcissistic people. She offers first hand experience and supportive advice. I commented on a recent post the best way to deal with narcissists is to avoid or limit exposure to them. What makes this approach so valuable is narcissists fail to realize they are the lone constant in all of their negative interactions.

When you do dialogue with a narcissist or arrogant person, an extra dose of tolerance and diplomacy is required. To me, it is a truism the most intolerant of people require the most tolerance of others in dealing with them. But, when people show little acknowledgment or remorse of their shortcomings there are times when you just have to be more direct and dial down the dipllomacy.

When I raised concern with NC legislators about the unconstitutional and “Jim Crow” like nature of a drafted Voter ID bill before it was passed, the author of the legislation wrote me back and ripped me a new one and he did so again after I diplomatically rebutted. I showed them to an attorney friend and his response was it looks like your roles are reversed when reading the tenor of the emails. My final response to this legislator was simple – I am a 54 year-old white man who was raised in the south; you and I both know what this legislation is all about. It should be noted the law was later ruled unconstitutional.

I was dealing with one of the most overbearing leaders of a business unit in a company I worked with. His direct reports followed their leader and tended to be overbearing as well. So, when I interviewed him to get his thoughts on compensation for his staff, I knew I was in for an interesting interview. He held firmly to a practice called stretching out raises – i.e., when budgets are tight, lengthen the time between raises to eighteen or twenty-four months. He was quite vociferous that he could give them same value in raises that he would have given at twelve months. After several minutes of this diatribe, I said “you can If they are still here.” His business had a lot of turnover.

The above are two examples of push back. The common theme is I had done my homework and felt comfortable in offering a response. I knew the Voter ID law was unconstitutional, as the NC Attorney General had written a piece saying those very same words and why. I knew the business leader was experiencing high turnover as I had seen the data..

Yet, it is not that easy to push back, especially on an overbearing person who has trouble acknowledging his or her mistakes. I have used the example before of working with the youngest curmudgeon I have ever met. It was all about him and he would tell you so. When my wife and I invited my work friends to a party, he was fuming out loud to others for me to hear – “I don’t want to go to your stupid party.” My response was direct, “Then, don’t come.”

I will continue to try to wear my Harry Potter “diplomacy cloak” more often than not. Yet, there are times when the cloak needs to be set aside. Note, one needs not be rude to be direct. You do want the message heard or read. Yet, it helps to be armed with facts or a position of strength. As for my curmudgeon friend, I thought the party would be good for him, so when he rudely said he did not want to come, it was no bother and we had a good time without him.

Arrogant and narcissistic people tend to complain. Nothing or no one is ever good enough. Even those on their good side, should not get used to it, as they will at some point misstep in the eyes of the narcissist. That will not change. So, if pushback does not suit your style, the avoidance approach works well. A colleague asked why I did not eat lunch with a known narcissist in our office. My response was simple – “I don’t want to listen to him running people down.” Or, as my friend told me once he got to fifty, he realized he did not want to suffer fools anymore, so he avoided them whenever possible.

That boy sure is a runnin’ fool

Those familiar with the movie “Forrest Gump” know the title is one of the many one-liners from the movie. We learn early on that Forrest could “run like the wind blows” after his legs got better from wearing braces. And, that was his primary means of transportation.

I used to be a runner, but after a lot of up and down running efforts, my joints told me I needed to walk more. It is much easier to start walking again after stopping a walking regimen, than it is is to start running.

Yet, I see many who run both along the streets and on trails that fail to heed a few lessons that might help. I learned from others, but still had challenges with the yo-yo running efforts. Here are few tidbits that I hope are more redundant than not.

  • Do not run on sidewalks made of concrete. The concrete does not flex, so your knees, feet and ankles (and other parts) take the brunt of the impact of each step.
  • Do not run with headphones on if you are next to car traffic or by yourself on a trail. Not being able to hear puts you in danger of turning cars or nefarious folks on trails. If you must have music, heighten your other senses to avoid getting run over.
  • Stretch before and after running. Sometimes the after part gets left off, but warming down is as important as warming up.
  • Start out slow (or even walking) and build up speed to the pace you want. Starting out to fast can cause pulled muscles and charley horses.
  • Wear shoes that have a good tread and are designed for running. A worn out tread can add impact shock to knees, feet and ankles.
  • Courtesy of the legendary basketball coach John Wooden, wear two pairs of socks, one reversed inside of one normal. The combined friction in the socks will cause less friction on your feet. Wooden would actually teach this the first day of practice.
  • Stay hydrated. This is a no-brainer, but never pass a water stop in a race and have a water bottle with you or in the car waiting for you.
  • If you do run on trails, have someone with you or run on popular trails designed for running. Some trails have way too many tree roots that are painful when stepped on or could trip you (I have done both).

I know much of the above may be well-known. But, as an old fart, let me just add I have read in my local newspapers of more than a few women being sexually assaulted on trails, I have read wear joggers were run over and killed not realizing a car was turning (one woman did not comprehend that a truck was pulling a trailer because of her headphones and stepped into traffic after she thought the truck had passed) and I am aware of many falls, bumps and bruises and arthritic or worn out knees.

Be safe. Be healthy. And, run like the wind blows.

People want your money – be vigilant

Scams abound. At the dinner table when the kids were younger, we discussed with our teens that people want your money. So, you have to be vigilant and guard against them. Some want it by legitimate means – advertising to get your money for services rendered or products bought. Some want it through aggressive marketing to accelerate such purchases and some want to steal or trick it from you. The scams are the trickster part of the equation.

I had a new scam attempted on me this week which I will call the Electric Utility Scam. This scam was quite well organized with a sincere woman saying I owed money to the electric utility and they were on their way to cut off my power. I could stop them if I called Accounts/ Billing and gave me the number. I called and they asked for my last four digits on my phone and I asked what address they showed, which they correctly offered. He said I owed $500 and I said that was not possible, as my last bill showed a lesser amount due and it was not the due date. He then gave me to a supervisor who wanted me to go on my bank account and do a quick pay. I then said I do not believe you are the utility company and hung up. I called the number on my account statement and they confirmed it was a scam.

I don’t know why I went along for so long. I was skeptical from the outset, but the sincerity and the multiple people involved showed how organized it was. Yet, it was a fraud attempt. Other scams have been tried on me, my wife and my relatives. Here are a few to let others know they are indeed fraud attempts.

Grandparents Scam – This one bothers me the most as the scam preys upon the elderly by saying a grandchild has been in an automobile accident and cannot reach his parents. When the grandparent asks which one, the grandparent offers the name, which the caller seizes upon. The scam is to wire a sum such as $2,700 to an account. Usually the numbers are high, but not extreme.

Amazon Scam – This one is the most active as we have had about a half-dozen calls. An order on the account did not go through and they want us to provide credit card info to pay an odd sum like $739.45 to process the order. The first time we asked each other if we are expecting anything at all or for that amount. Since the answer was no, it must have been a scam. When other calls came in for similar odd amounts, we knew for sure.

IRS Scam – This one is scary sounding saying there is legal action being taken against you for taxes owed, but this is a scam. The IRS will send you a letter, not call you. And, they will try to resolve issues without legal action, before they ever move down that path.

Microsoft Scam – This one is a phone call saying your system has been compromised. The first time I got this one, it sounded legitimate, but when I was booting up my computer the guy asked me if this was the computer I do my banking with? I hung up. Then I realized Microsoft will not be calling me.

Insurance Scam – This one was not an effort to steal, but to sell. My mother was told her certain insurance company account had been compromised. My mother did not have such an account. This was an unscrupulous marketer trying to sell her a Medicare Advantage plan, which she already had with another provider. So, I called to cancel and told the representative how this happened. We also had to change my mother’s banking information as a result.

Bank Scam – This one often shows up on our mobile phones which is annoying. Someone representing our bank or someone else’s bank will send a text warning of a compromise on our account. It is not the bank especially when we don’t even bank with the entity being used. It is a fraud. Banks do send texts at your request, but they appear more legitimate and are for helpful reasons you checked off on – activity, overdrafts, etc.

Please share your experiences below with these and other scams. These do not even count the ID theft attempts, actual compromised credit information at various stores or services or ransomware attempts. People want your money. Be vigilant, even more so than I have been.

The Power of Habit (updated)

We are creatures of habit. A book I often cite is called “The Power of Habit – Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg. My niece thought I might like this and she was correct. I would encourage you to read it as well, as it articulates how much of what we do each day is based more on habit that is ingrained in each of us or in our organizations.

A friend who taught philosophy at University shared with me that Aristotle felt habits reigned supreme. In his “Nicomachean Ethics,” as referenced in Duhigg’s book, Aristotle said:

“…just as a piece of land has to be prepared beforehand to nourish the seed, so the mind of the pupil has to be prepared in its habits if it is to enjoy and dislike the right things.”

A few examples from “The Power of Habit” might help reveal further Aristotle’s belief. Paul O’Neill is a great example. In short, he came in and transformed Alcoa as its CEO in a very unheard of way. It unnerved so many financial experts, they told people to sell the stock once they heard O’Neill’s first speech. One analyst later said “it was the worst piece of advice I have ever given,” as under O’Neill, Alcoa’s earnings and stock price soared for many years. What did he do that was so unusual and successful? His first focus was to make Alcoa the safest company it could be, as its safety record was atrocious. In other words, he wanted to change Alcoa’s bad safety habits.

He consciously picked this as he explained later, as it was the one thing we could get management and labor to agree on – a safer workplace. So, what happened? Communication between the line workers and management improved as accidents and how to prevent them had to be reported within 24 hours. He showed by example, after a tragic death, that this mattered to him and was not window-dressing. He changed the habits of executives, managers and line workers by insisting that we cannot condone safety problems and must avoid them at all costs. Through the improved communication, other benefits occurred – processes had to be improved to make them safer, the workers were empowered to share ideas on how to improve processes, and management’s goals could be communicated more readily. By emphasizing the importance of safety habits, the company got better. And, so did results.

Another good example about habits is regarding Starbucks. There is a moving story about how a young man had fallen into bad and even criminal habits. His drug problem caused him to lose everything time and time again. Then, someone suggested he try to get a job at Starbucks. Someone gave him a chance and mentored him. But, it was really the Starbucks training that transformed him. The training told him how to serve customers well. It told him how to address situations with an irate customer. It taught him the need to be organized, as if you were not, the customer would be ill-served. This consistent training replaced his bad habits with new habits. He built on his success by first building his self-esteem through better habit. And, it spilled over into his personal life. Now, he is managing a Starbucks and improving his education.

There are numerous examples in the book, but one my niece and I both found interesting is about the fabric freshening product called Febreze. Now, you may not know that Febreze was almost pulled from the market as its sales were almost non-existent. It was a flop. Febreze’s inventor had found a way to chemically remove bad odors from fabrics. When it was first marketed, the elimination of bad odors was the pitch. Yet, that pitch only sold to people whose houses were a total wreck and reeked. The average homeowner did not buy it, at least buy enough of it. Before Proctor and Gamble (P&G) pulled it, they did more research of their target buyers.

Through this research, they discovered a habit in housewives (please forgive the gender reference), who after they made their beds with new linens, they purposefully inhaled the crisp, clean laundered smell. In fact, after they did any cleaning, the desire for a clean-smelling house was habitual. P&G realized people did not crave scentlessness, instead they crave a nice clean smell after they’ve spent 30 minutes cleaning. With this focus, a new marketing effort was launched and within two months sales doubled and then took off, spawning dozens of spin-off products. P&G’s Febreze provided the reward of a clean-smelling house to someone who cleaned it, which was the cue for the reward.

I use cue and reward, as these are two of the tenets of understanding and changing habits, whether they be smoking, nail-biting, eating bad snacks, drinking, etc. In short, Duhigg articulates:

1) Identify the routine (what leads to the habit and why, when and how does it occur?)

2) Experiment with rewards (to change a habit, a new reward has to be substituted, but it has to be fulfilling, so experimentation is needed)

3) Isolate the cue (what is truly the cue; what more than any other thing is causing the habit?)

4) Have a plan (this is what am I going to do about it, this is in my control to change and if I write down my plan, I will have a better chance of success).

One example was an office worker and his craving for a mid-afternoon donut, muffin or unhealthy snack. The routine was the person would leave his desk from boredom, being tired, just to get up, etc. and would go to the vending machine for a snack. The reward was the snack. The cue was harder to find, as various paths led to the reward. It turned out the cue was the time. Invariably, between 3 and 3:30 pm, the person would get the unhealthy snack. So, he noted this in a plan to do something differently. He experimented and felt if he purposefully socialized with others for ten minutes instead of getting a snack, the new reward would satisfy him. So, he planned and executed the plan by getting away from his desk at the same tim each day, forming a new habit. Instead of eating, he would talk with colleagues.

There are other habits noted that have been replaced by new rewards. The key is to find a new reward. If you drink, substituting something that takes the place of the drink will make it a new habit. It could be drinking fruit juices, hot tea, coffee, etc. or it could be taking a walk after dinner, when your old habit of drinking most occurred. The same would hold true with smoking. You have to find a new reward to replace the smoking reward. Otherwise, the old habit will have a better chance of returning.

Let me close how Duhigg did referencing a passage from William James’ book “The Principle of Psychology.” Note William’s brother Henry is an author of some renown.

“All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits – practical, emotional, and intellectual – systematically organized for our weal or woe, and is bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.”

Habits can be good or bad. If they are the latter and you want to change, the above steps are worth considering. The book is a good read, with many understandable examples. I highly recommend it. Let me know what you think.

Random life lessons from sports or other interests

Whether it is playing an individual or team sport, marching in a band, or working in some group effort, life lessons abound. These lessons may not be earth-moving, but they will serve you well, if you heed them and use them elsewhere. In no particular order:

  • Sporting activities teach us how to handle failure. The best baseball hitters will fail seven times out of ten. Think about that. What you do when you fail is of vital importance.
  • Specific to golf, it is a terrific metaphor for life. Golf is a game of managing your mistakes. The worse the golfer, the wider array of outcomes to any given shot. The next shot is of importance, but also managing that six inches of area between your ears. The just completed bad shot needs to shoved out of your mind before the next one.
  • Marching band is hard work and involves a lot of team work. Think about playing an instrument while weaving in and out of patterns avoiding other marchers. And, doing that until you get it right for the day.
  • Any team member knows we each have a role on the team. Not everyone can be star or lead the effort. We just need to roll up our sleeves and do our part. In basketball, teams with too much talent are not necessarily the ones who win. There is only one basketball, so someone has to pass the ball, rebound the ball, play defense,…
  • You cannot change the past, only the present and future. The great baseball pitcher Orel Hershiser said when he starts out, he wants to throw a no-hitter. Once the opponent gets its first hit, he sets out to throw a one-hitter and so on. He said he was good at putting the past behind him, as I mention about golf in the earlier example.
  • Life is not fair. Neither is sports or music. No matter how hard you practice, there will be some who are more talented than you. So, just do your best, work hard and find a way to contribute. There is an old lesson that the best coaches are the former players who had to work harder to succeed. Think about that.
  • Practice the things you do not do as well, not what you do well. This is a common mistake. Practice is good, but practicing what you need to practice is better. Also, do not shirk on practice efforts. Work hard to improve as if you do not, then you are only cheating yourself.
  • Focus on sustainability as you practice or work out. What are your goals? Then work toward them. Whether it is better chipping, more accurate free throw shooting, or more aerobic exercising, work toward those goals.
  • Play the game the right way treating all participants and team mates the way you want to be treated. Recently, I wrote about Dean Smith teaching his basketball players to thank the person who passed the ball leading to their basket. Also, trash talking serves no constructive purpose. Win and lose with class.

There are so many more life lessons that can be mentioned. Please share your thoughts and other lessons you took away from such interests.