Archive for June, 2011

Breaking Bad Food Habits

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Gluten-free, day 26.

It’s been that long since my last bowl of pasta and the realization that the unbearably itchy Mystery Pox I’d fought intermittently for a couple of years was probably a reaction to gluten.

Me, the queen of the PB&J foldover. A pizza addict. A bread fiend. A cookie monster.

Gluten intolerant.

My initial horror at this idea was tempered by relief at having identified (fingers crossed) the Mystery Pox that had four doctors scratching their heads while I was scratching everything else. So at first, I was giddy. I read up on gluten-free living, found recipes, made my first batch of (delicious) gluten-free brownies.

Then I made another batch of brownies, as a consolation prize. Because I started realizing, one favorite food at a time, how much I was giving up. I entered a period of mourning that continues to this day. (Today I remembered funnel cake.)

I’m sure I’ll get over it. It’s only day 26.

In a way, I’m lucky. The memory of the Mystery Pox is powerful motivation for me to stay on the wagon. And I’m lucky that gluten sensitivity is all the rage these days, so finding gluten-free products is pretty easy.

But still, I’m in the nitty gritty of trying to change old habits and that’s not easy.

My Brain is Tired…Whatever That Means

Friday, June 24th, 2011

My brain is tired.

My work as a freelance writer requires a lot of thinking. Not only a lot of thinking, but a lot of thinking about a lot of different subjects. Research too. And then, after I’ve thought and researched and thought some more, I have to string together words to explain all that thinking and research in a way that might be interesting to other people.

I’ve cranked out a lot of work in the past few weeks, on topics ranging from authors to canoeing, psychology to Dolly Parton. My jobs range from blog posts (I contribute to four) to writing books to editing reports.

I’m not complaining. I enjoy my work and I’m lucky to have so much, and so much that is interesting.

But I am wondering: What actually happens when your brain gets tired? Is it physiological or…what?

Trust Me: You Can Trust Your Facebook Friends (And Unfriend the Ones You Don’t)

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Some people who don’t do Facebook take the high ground about it, letting the Facebook philistines among us know that they prefer their friends the old-fashioned way, and that they are far too busy for such nonsense.

Then there’s the sky is falling! panic surrounding social networking, from people who believe that society is substituting virtual friendships for real world friendships, and that the Internet is isolating us.

That’s fine, believe what you want and do as you please. If I don’t see you on Facebook, I’m sure I’ll run into you someplace else. I do, in fact, leave the house sometimes.

But you can’t convince me that Facebook is the beginning of the end of civilization, and new research by The Pew Internet & American Life Project seems to confirm my faith in the Facebook scene. This project is an initiative of the nonprofit Pew Research Center, which “ provides information on the issues, attitudes, and trends shaping America and the world.” The research was conducted via telephone interviews of 2,255 adults, 18 and older.

The research unearthed lots of interesting tidbits about people who use the Internet, social networking, and particularly Facebook. For example, it finds that Facebook users have more close relationships, more of a support network, and they’re more politically engaged. In addition:

What the Dallas Mavericks Did For Me This Year

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

I recently did something highly uncharacteristic for me: I stood in the blazing Texas heat with tens of thousands of people for the parade celebrating the Dallas Mavericks, who had just clinched the first NBA championship in the team’s history.

I’m a total bandwagoner. I never watched basketball before and ignored the Mavs until the semifinals. Even then, my interest was desultory at best. I kinda sorta watched the first games of the finals because my husband was watching. But by the end, I was hooked.  I could follow the game in a rudimentary way, appreciate the beauty of the perfect shot, and had picked my favorite players. (Dirk Nowitzki is my imaginary boyfriend.)

My husband and I had a blast watching the last two games with friends. When the Mavs won, I immediately decided to go to the victory parade, no matter how much of a hassle it was—and it was.

Still, it felt great to be among the giddy throng celebrating “our” boys. People were friendly and kind and happy, and when the float with Dirk and Jason Terry passed, everyone went wild. My favorite moment was when Dirk threw an empty plastic water bottle out into the crowd. I think it was just sheer exuberance, and the bottle was all he had to give. And I bet some fan was thrilled to catch it.

After it was all over and I was back in my deliciously cool, quiet house, I started wondering: What came over me?

Autonomy Makes Us Happy, And That’s No Joke

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

Autonomy is good for us.

The researchers in this recent study on the connection between autonomy vs. money in individuals’ well being were interested in the equation on a large scale. They want to figure out whether nations can improve the general sense of well being among their citizens by trying to increase wealth, or by trying to provide a way for people to have greater control over their lives. What they found was that as long people have enough money to meet basic needs, autonomy has:

…overall a larger and more consistent effect on well-being than money does. Money leads to autonomy… but it does not add to well-being or happiness.

Debt As A Rite of Passage

Saturday, June 11th, 2011

New research says that young people feel pretty good about having debt. In fact, for young young adults—ages 18 to 27—debt enhances self-esteem. And that includes both college loans and credit card debt.

Behavioral economics is a burgeoning field, and research into our relationship with dept is pretty new, and particularly relevant in our debt-burdened age. And this debt lovefest seems to be a new phenomenon.

Kids’ romance with debt is tough for me to wrap my mind around. I didn’t get my first credit card until I was about 25 years old, and I paid that off every month. Except for a mortgage (acquired when I was in my 40s) and college loans (ditto), I didn’t carry a balance on anything until fairly recently. My husband and I have debt now, but mostly because the crap economy has given our businesses a thorough thrashing. We didn’t overextend ourselves, but like a lot of Americans these days, we’re struggling to maintain our modest lifestyle.

The Two Faces of Envy (And Which One Trumps Admiration)

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

In my last post, I wrote about what happens when I compare myself to other authors. To quote myself (how uncool is that?):

I can be demotivated in my writing by reading something really, really excellent. I get all hopeless and Eeyore about my own talent. And bad writing isn’t motivating. Being better than terrible is too easy. I get most fired up by mediocre writing, which gives me a just-right goal to shoot for. I want to be better than mediocre.

I recently stumbled upon research that appears to explain some of this.

The researchers, who have done all kinds of interesting work on envy*, find that “benign envy” is more motivating than all-out admiration or “malicious envy.”

Success, Motivation, and Demotivation

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

“Vicarious goal satiation.”


According to research published in the The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, seeing someone else reach a goal is demotiving.

The goal examined in the research was completing anagrams. One group, while completing another computer task, saw a video of hands trying but not managing to complete anagrams. Another group under the same circumstances saw the hands succeed in completing the anagrams. Then, when presented with anagrams to complete themselves, participants who saw hands unable to complete the task did better than those who saw the hands complete the task.

The researchers conclude that seeing someone else succeed gives you the vicarious sense of having reached a goal and so you don’t try as hard.


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