Food – one of life’s great connectors

Sobremesa – (n) the time spent around the table after lunch or dinner, talking to the people you shared the meal with; time to digest and savor both food and friendship.

There is something profoundly satisfying about sharing a meal with other people. Eating together is one of the oldest and most fundamental unifying human experiences. It can simultaneously fulfill physical, emotional, and relational needs.

It will help establish and deepen friendships

If I share my food with you it’s either because I love you a lot, or because it fell on the floor and I don’t want it. (That’s a joke.) Truly, I can’t think of another setting that’s better for solidifying friendships than gathering to eat. It slows down our pace, narrows our space, focuses our attention, and creates a relaxing ambience—all of which are beneficial for deepening friendships.

It’s good for business

Since humans first walked the earth, we’ve known that sharing a meal can be good for business. For instance, a recent study revealed that it doesn’t take much to get a doctor to prescribe a brandname medication—just a free meal. The study found that U.S. doctors who received a single free meal from a drug company were more likely to prescribe the drug than doctors who received no such meals. Meals paid for by drug companies cost less than $20 on average [Even Cheap Meals Influence Doctors’ Drug Prescriptions, Study Suggests, Peter Loftus, WSJ, June 20, 2016].

I’ve never understood why some organizations are so stingy with the amount of funds allocated for business meals. I once worked with a group of six senior executives at a $75 million dollar a year business. They were frustrated that the CEO, in order to save money, eliminated their budget for business meals, which saved the company a whopping $24k a year. I suspect that poor decision cost the company ten times that much in lost revenue.

It engenders good will

Treat someone to a $15 lunch and they’ll be your friend forever. Well, that’s an exaggeration; but it is true that even a small amount of money and time will generate a lot of relational capital.

A weekly family meal can become a wonderful family tradition

I enjoy watching the sitcom, Bluebloods (on CBS). It follows the lives of three generations of New York City police officers. In every episode, there’s a scene showing their weekly, Sunday afternoon family meal in which they gather around the dinner table to talk, argue, laugh, and pass the potatoes. Every family would benefit from this tradition. [Note to my family: Are you reading this post?]

I double-dog-dare you: initiate and host meals and enjoy the sobremesa.

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“I’m glad…” – benefit from the power of gratitude

Thanksgiving is a natural response to life and may be the only way to savor it. Douglas Abrams

My daughter and I were in the midst of an unenviable task: move the contents of one storage unit (which included a hundred boxes of books) to another storage unit several blocks away. The job wasn’t as unpleasant as chewing on cut glass, but it was close to it.

To ameliorate our sagging enthusiasm, I suggested that we take turns completing the phrase “I’m glad…”

I started with, “I’m glad I’m not doing this by myself.”
Lauren responded with, “I’m glad we’re both healthy enough to lift heavy boxes.”
And on we went:

  • I’m glad it’s not raining.
  • I’m glad we have this time to talk.
  • I’m glad these books we’re moving may someday encourage people.
  • I’m glad we’re saving money by doing this ourselves.

With each new expression of gratitude our work became more bearable and our experience enjoyable.

Expressions of gratitude can change an attitude faster than a speeding ticket.

In his must-read book, The Book of Joy, Douglas Abrams said, “Gratitude is the recognition of all that holds us in the web of life and all that has made it possible to have the life that we have and the moment that we are experiencing. It allows us to shift our perspective toward all we have been given and all that we have. It moves us away from the narrow-minded focus on fault and lack and to the wider perspective of benefit and abundance.” (page 242)

I double-dog-dare you to try this: the next time you coddle a bad attitude, start your own version of “I’m glad…”

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Take time to think

Few people think more than two or three times a year. I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week. George Bernard Shaw

When was the last time you devoted 60 minutes to pure, unadulterated, focused thinking? Well, that’s been too long.

May I suggest:

Discover your ideal time and place to think by yourself

Mid-morning to early afternoon I’m usually in a get-it-done mode which is not conducive to reflection. My to-do list beckons. My best time to think is early morning (5:00-7:00 a.m.) or early evening (6:00-8:00 p.m.). Also, after I exercise, my body is exhausted but my mind is active, so that’s a prime time for me to think.

I think best in a totally quiet, uninterrupted environment. No music, conversation, or extraneous noise.

Think with others

I truly enjoy discussing significant thoughts with intelligent, reflective people. I usually have to initiate this type of conversation—they don’t happen by chance; but if you get the right people talking about an interesting topic the rewards can be good. I have written a post about different levels of conversations Upgrade your conversations; talk about ideas.

What to think about

Explore new thoughts

Don’t just replay old mind-tapes. Once you’ve had a thought, there’s no benefit in thinking it again unless it gives you pleasure (and even then, don’t overdo it). Pursue thoughts you’ve never had before.

Think about how to apply theory to your life

I enjoy learning a new theory/principle and applying it to my life.

For instance, I was recently thinking about what psychologists call a double avoidance situation, where someone is forced to choose between two undesirable alternatives. The classic example is imagining that you are in a tunnel that you need to get out of; at one end is a rabid dog, at the other end is a man with a whip. (Most people feel like the 2016 presidential election was a double avoidance situation.)

Part of my reflection focused on if and how I might be personally involved in a double avoidance situation and if so, how to escape, and how to avoid getting into this type of predicament.

Think about significant thoughts

In my post Embrace significant thoughts, I talk about the value of reflecting on key thoughts. Find a phrase that appears to have depth and take a dive. Several years ago I memorized Federico Fellini’s statement, “I want to live so that my life cannot be ruined by a single phone call” and have ruminated on it often. It has matured in my mind such that I have written a blog—Diversify—that I’ll post several weeks from now.

Where do important topics come from?

In my post Cultivate your intellectual nutrient base I encouraged you to identify sources that nourish the mind. Just as we all have a biological nutrient base—we routinely digest a suitable and adequate amount of physical nourishment—we need an intellectual nutrient base. On a regular basis, feast on proven sources of “food for thought” and you’ll never lack for interesting things to think about.

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Don’t be high-maintenance or tolerate those who are

She’s the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.

High-maintenance people wear me out. I’ve decided that I’m not going to be a spectator or victim of their behavior. Join me in resisting demanding, overly needy, selfish people. Don’t feel obligated to tolerate their behavior or cater to their whims.

Here are some characteristics of high-maintenance people (HMP) that should cause your crap-detector to peak.

  • Excessive and insatiable emotional needs. We all have legitimate emotional needs (attention, encouragement, comfort, respect, etc.) and relationships are deepened when these needs are mutually acknowledged and met. But some people are excessive in their neediness and are never satisfied. Their neediness is like a relational black hole that sucks all the light and energy out of relationships. And there’s seldom any reciprocity; they take but do not give.
  • Extremely picky and hard to please. It takes them two hours to make it through the cafeteria line because they are micro-processing all the options. Their indecision adversely affects those around them.
  • Negative. Instead of owning a pleasant, positive outlook on life, HMPs often reside on the dark side; their default setting is pessimism.
  • Unhappy and hard to please. HMPs are rarely satisfied; there’s always a controversy brewing and something to be upset at. They nurse a low-grade fever of discontent.
  • Melodramatic. We nickname them drama queens (or kings) because they are attracted to drama and if they can’t find any, they create it. They are uncomfortable with peace and calm; they gravitate to, or create, storms.
  • Unorganized. Often, they live disordered lives and expect us to compensate. They expect their lack of planning to be our emergency.
  • Hold grudges and keep picking the scab off old wounds. HMPs have difficulty in letting things go; they coddle hurt feelings and offenses; they would rather keep old wounds and misunderstanding alive than simply forgive.
  • Self-centered and self-absorbed. With apologies to Copernicus, they think they are the center of the galaxy. They act as if the world revolves around them.
  • Lack of self-awareness. All these characteristics are exacerbated by the fact that HMPs are clueless about their annoying behaviors. They either don’t own a mirror or never take the time to look at themselves.

Now, put down your digital device, go look at yourself in the mirror and ask, “Am I high-maintenance?” Or better still, ask those who know you best, “Am I high-maintenance?” If you are, stop it.

Secondly, identify people in your life who are high-maintenance and decide how you’re going to deal with them. Tough-love may be the answer. For sure, as long as you allow them to be high-maintenance, they will be.

Occasionally, everyone benefits from a well-thought-out, intentional thump on the nose.

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Exercise more; eat less

The average US adult weighs about 25 pounds more today than a few decades ago. That’s like hanging three plastic gallon jugs full of milk around your neck. That can’t be a good thing.

Everyone should read this article by Mandy Oaklander, published in Time Magazine: Seven Surprising Benefits of Exercise

Instead of beating us over the head (“exercise, you slob”) she presents the happy news that the “no pain no gain” approach to exercise is a myth. Any activity—unloading the dishwasher, mowing the lawn, walking the dog—is beneficial. Just start moving.

The article also reminds us of the multiple benefits of exercise: better cognition, improved mental health, longer life, better overall health—there’s really no downside.

Here’s an article I read several years ago that changed my exercise routine.

It illustrates 14 exercises that use your body weight (no equipment required) and the entire regimen only takes seven minutes (though I have expanded the number of exercises and doubled the time for each, so the workout takes me 30 minutes). Three times a week I combine this routine with 30 minutes on the elliptical machine for a stout one-hour workout.

Though exercise is a deterrent to weight gain, the fastest way to lose weight is to eat less. The best advice I’ve read recently about controlling our consumption of calories is to limit portion sizes.

In his terrific book, What Intelligence Tests Miss, Keith Stanovich writes, “Despite French people eating a higher-fat diet than Americans, the obesity rate in France is only 7.4 percent compared with 22.3 percent in the United States. Rozin and colleagues posited that one reason that Americans are heavier despite eating less fat was because they were routinely exposed to larger portion sizes. For example, portion sizes were 28 percent larger in McDonald’s restaurants in the United States than in France. Portion sizes at Pizza Huts in the United States were 42 percent larger. Across eleven comparisons, the United States portion size was 25 percent larger than in France. Rozin and colleagues have studied the so-called unit bias: that people will tend to eat one portion of something, regardless of the size of that portion, or will tend to eat a unit of something regardless of the size of that unit. [pages 207-208]

I like the strategy of eating smaller portions because it doesn’t restrict what we should eat, just how much. (I like my pizza and hamburgers.)

Exercise more and eat less.

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