“I’ve Cultivated the Habit of Hard Work, Which Is Deeply Satisfying.”

Habits interview: Nina Teicholz.

I’m hard at work on my book about habits, and it focuses on how to change a habit – whatever you want your habit to be. Whether you want to start flossing, stop procrastinating about writing your novel,  get more sleep, spend more time with friends, or however you might want to see change. (If you want to know when the book goes on sale, sign up here.)

Most of us have some habits that we’d like to make or break. A few years ago, I changed my eating habits. For one thing, I used to eat non-fat everything — non-fat yogurt, skim milk, egg-white omelets, turkey burgers — and now, based on the research I’ve read (borne out by my personal experience), I embrace the full-fat version of everything.

Nina Teicholz has written a fascinating book, The Big Fat Surprise, which is a deep look at this question. In this book, which has generated a tremendous amount of discussion since it came out, she explores why we came to believe that the macro-nutrient fat is bad for our health — and why it really isn’t bad for our health. Really. Even saturated fat is fine. It may be hard to believe, I know, but the research is very compelling. The arguments are complex, so I won’t summarize them here, but this heavily researched account takes you through the debate.

By chance, she and I live very near each other, so recently we met for lunch (which included fat).

Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What’s the most significant thing you’ve concluded?

Nina: The research for my book led me to conclude that the saturated fats in meat, cheese and eggs are not bad for health. In fact, they are essential parts of a healthy diet. Also, fat does not make you fat.

What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?

I’ve taken a good hard look at the past year–the result of working like crazy to finish my book–and have to conclude that I have few good habits. I hardly do anything in a routine way and don’t take time for myself. Work and motherhood have stretched me thin. However, I make time to read to my boys every night, which is a wonderful way for us to all be together. I call my mom regularly–that always cheers me up. And I’ve cultivated the habit of hard work, which is deeply satisfying.

Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

Yes, of course. I fail to exercise regularly, rarely sit down to eat properly, and allow myself to obsess about things I can’t change. I have, however, achieved a state of enlightenment about how bad these habits are for me and know that one day, I’ll get my act together.

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72 Lines to Jump-Start Your Brain.

I love paradoxes, koans, parables, proverbs, Secrets of Adulthood, and aphorisms. Last night, I started to think about poet William Blake’s Proverbs of Hell, from his book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, so I went to re-read it.

I’d forgotten how much I loved it, so I’m re-posting it today.

Blake’s “Hell,” by the way, is not the traditional Hell, but a place of “unrepressed, somewhat Dionysian energy” (at least that’s what Wikipedia says).

These proverbs are thought-provoking. When I read them, I feel like I’ve had a jump-start to my brain — new, unexpected thoughts come to me.

I don’t agree with all of these proverbs, and I certainly don’t understand all of them, but I love reading them. I’ve put some of my favorites in bold:

In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.

Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead.

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. [Agree, disagree?]

Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity.

He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.

The cut worm forgives the plow. 

Dip him in the river who loves water. [I love this but not sure exactly what it means]

A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.

He whose face gives no light, shall never become a star.

Eternity is in love with the productions of time.

The busy bee has no time for sorrow.

The hours of folly are measur’d by the clock, but of wisdom: no clock can measure.

All wholsom food is caught without a net or a trap.

Bring out number, weight & measure in a year of dearth.

No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings.

A dead body, revenges not injuries.

The most sublime act is to set another before you.

If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.

Folly is the cloke of knavery.

Shame is Pride’s cloke.

~

Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion.

The pride of the peacock is the glory of God.

The lust of the goat is the bounty of God.

The wrath of the lion is the wisdom of God.

The nakedness of woman is the work of God.

Excess of sorrow laughs. Excess of joy weeps.

The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea, and the destructive sword, are portions of eternity too great for the eye of man.

The fox condemns the trap, not himself. [This one has a lot of significance for habits.]

Joys impregnate. Sorrows bring forth.

Let man wear the fell of the lion, woman the fleece of the sheep.

The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.

The selfish smiling fool, & the sullen frowning fool, shall be both thought wise, that they may be a rod.

What is now proved was once, only imagin’d.

The rat, the mouse, the fox, the rabbit: watch the roots; the lion, the tyger, the horse, the elephant, watch the fruits.

The cistern contains; the fountain overflows. [I looked it up: “cistern” is a tank for storing water]

One thought, fills immensity.

Always be ready to speak your mind, and a base man will avoid you.

Every thing possible to be believ’d is an image of truth.

The eagle never lost so much time, as when he submitted to learn of the crow.

~

The fox provides for himself, but God provides for the lion.

Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night.

He who has suffer’d you to impose on him knows you.

As the plow follows words, so God rewards prayers.

The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

Expect poison from the standing water.

You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.

Listen to the fools reproach! it is a kingly title!

The eyes of fire, the nostrils of air, the mouth of water, the beard of earth.

The weak in courage is strong in cunning.

The apple tree never asks the beech how he shall grow, nor the lion, the horse,  how he shall take his prey.

The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.

If others had not been foolish, we should be so.

The soul of sweet delight, can never be defil’d.

When thou seest an Eagle, thou seest a portion of Genius, lift up thy head!

As the caterpillar chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys.

To create a little flower is the labour of ages.

Damn, braces: Bless relaxes.

The best wine is the oldest, the best water the newest.

Prayers plow not! Praises reap not!

Joys laugh not! Sorrows weep not!

~

The head Sublime, the heart Pathos, the genitals Beauty, the hands &  feet Proportion.

As the air to a bird of the sea to a fish, so is contempt to the contemptible.

The crow wish’d every thing was black, the owl, that every thing was white.

Exuberance is Beauty. [this is my very favorite; I’ve loved this aphorism for a long time]

If the lion was advised by the fox, he would be cunning.

Improvement makes strait roads, but the crooked roads without Improvement,  are roads of Genius.

Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.

Where man is not nature is barren.

Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not be believ’d.

Enough! or Too much!

Which are your favorites? Or do you passionately disagree with some?

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10 Pieces of Unsolicited Advice, From Me, About Fostering Healthier Eating Habits at Work

Every Wednesday is List Day, or Quiz Day, or Tip Day.

This Wednesday: My 10 pieces of unsolicited advice for how to foster healthier eating habits in the workplace

In law school, we took “issue-spotter” exams, which were actually kind of fun (as law-school exams go). An issue-spotter exam presents a long tale of legal woes, and students must spot every issue that arises—the law-school version of a child’s “find the hidden pictures” puzzle.

A while back, I was speaking at a big company, and as I was shown around the corporate campus, I did a mental issue-spotter.

What steps would make it easier for employees to eat more healthfully without even thinking about it? I amused myself by writing an imaginary ten-point memo.

1. At the reception desk, put all the candy in an opaque container with a lid, with a small sign that says “Candy.”

2. Don’t provide “health bars” or “energy bars” that are really candy bars in disguise. (Just because the label says it’s “healthy” doesn’t mean it is healthy.)

3. Put doors on the office kitchens. The slightest big of inconvenience shapes our habits; plus, if we don’t see food cues, we’re less likely to eat.

4. Set up a partition to divide each kitchen in two. Dedicate the section closer to the door to healthy selections; put less-healthy food in the back section, further from the door, so people would have to make a special effort to get there. Ideally, they’d have to pass another partition or cross an actual red line painted on the floor—and they wouldn’t be able to see those tempting foods unless they were in that area.

5. On the posters that promote healthy foods, stop conflating “fruits” and “vegetables.”

6. Don’t put candies and nuts in bins that pour out their contents in a stream. Instead, provide containers that dispense one small serving at a time. Or better, serve those items in small, pre-packaged bags. That helps people monitor how much they’re eating.

7. Hang mirrors near food stations.

8. Offer fewer varieties of unhealthy foods.

9. Provide a tracking system to allow people to note their daily snack intake (voluntary).

10. Don’t provide trays in the cafeteria. Many colleges have eliminated cafeteria trays; when students can’t easily load up on food and must make multiple trips, they take less. One study found that going trayless cut food waste by as much as 25-30 %, and I bet people eat less, too.

If you could offer some unsolicited advice about your workplace — about how to make it healther — what would you say?

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Secret of Adulthood: Outer Order Contributes to Inner Calm.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:

 

This is one of the things that has surprised me most about happiness and habits. For most people, an orderly environment helps them feel more energetic, more creative, and more cheerful. This isn’t true for everyone, but it’s true for most people.

In my forthcoming book about how we make and break habits, I explore the Strategy of Foundation. I argue that habits in four key areas — sleep, move, eat and drink right, and unclutter — strengthen our self-command, and therefore help us to keep our good habits. (To hear when my habits book goes on sale, sign up here.)

Of course, a major challenge with Foundation habits is that, ironically, they’re often the very habits that we’re trying to adopt. Outer order contributes to inner calm, true, but having inner calm makes it much easier to create outer order.

Do you find that working on the area of “unclutter” helps you? Does outer order contribute to your inner calm?

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Have You Ever Had a Mystical or Supernatural Experience?

Assay: Every day, on my Facebook Page, I pose a question that’s meant to help you think about something related to your habits, your happiness, or your self-knowledge in general.

A few ago, I posted: Have you ever had a supernatural or mystical experience? It was absolutely fascinating to read the answers (well more than a hundred people responded).

This question was inspired by a passage that struck me, from art historian Kenneth Clark’s The Other Half: a Self-Portrait. He recalls:

I lived in solitude, surrounded by books on the history of religion, which have always been my favourite reading. This may help to account for a curious episode that took place on one of my stays in the villino.  I had a religious experience. It took place in the Church of San Lorenzo, but did not seem to be connected with the harmonious beauty of the architecture. I can only say that for a few minutes my whole being was irradiated by a kind of heavenly joy, far more intense than anything I had known before. This state of mind lasted for several months, and, wonderful though it was, it posed an awkward problem in terms of action. My life was far from blameless: I would have to reform. My family would think I was going mad, and perhaps after all, it was a delusion, for I was in every way unworthy of such a flood of grace. Gradually the effect wore off, and I made no effort to retain it. I think I was right; I was too deeply embedded in the world to change course. But that I had ‘felt the finger of God’ I am quite sure, and, although the memory of this experienced has faced, it still helps me to understand the joys of the saints.

I wished that he’d written much more about what happened to him in those few minutes — and afterward.

Have you ever had an experience of this sort? I haven’t.

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