Yesterday’s cooking contests used to be 4-H cookie bake-offs at the county fair. Today’s cooking contests have Iron chefs being broadcast globally on TV specials. Tomorrow’s cooking contests will be an Olympic sport. An apron-wearing Betty Crocker look-alike will run into Olympic stadium with the Olympic torch. As she reaches the pinnacle and reaches the torch out to light the Olympic flame, it will be in the shape of a large grill that signals the beginning of the Hamburger Cook-off event.
To watch the crazy number of cooking competition TV shows or read the crazy number of websites on cooking contests, you might come away with the idea that winning a cooking contest is all about the recipe and ingredients. Not so. If you think this, you’re cooking with one hand tied behind your back.
The best cook doesn’t always win, and the best recipe doesn’t always win. If you understand what the judges are going through as they taste and judge, you can use three teaspoons of psychology to increase the chance that you Bring Home the Gold.
Most cooking competitions and bake-offs and recipe contests don’t have Bobby Flay or French chefs judging them. Most have either a judging panel of amateur cooks, or they are judged by popular vote. In either of the last two cases, the judges are trying all – or at least many – of the entries. This means that they are starting to get a little bored and the entries are starting to taste an awful lot the same. Here’s what you can do.
Use Taste Contrast. After tasting eleven versions of the same pasta, sensory-specific satiety sets in, and pasta starts tasting monotonous. You win by making your recipe stand out in contrast from the others, and you win by having contrast – taste contrast and texture contrast – within your own recipe. A chili that stands out by adding some steak chunks along with the hamburger, has a taste contrast compared to other chilis. One that uses onion that’s cut into large long pieces (instead of diced), makes every bite stand out in contrast to the next.
Use Visual Contrast. At Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, they say “You taste first with your eyes.” If it looks great, the judges are thinking it’s going to taste great. By including colorful or high contrasting colors or shapes, it makes it look less boring compared the previous 11 things they just tried. The pasta recipe that uses with two kinds or pasta, black olive slices, two types of meat, and a broiler-browned top is going to look a lot more award-winning than the 11 family recipe spaghettis they just tasted.
Give it the Right Name. Tables full of eating psychology research show that you taste what you expect you’ll taste. If someone says something is sweet, you start focusing on what’s sweet about the food. If they say something is creamy, it seems to taste creamier to you. You can make your Olympic entry look good by having it in a nice dish and making it look great (using contrast like browning, parsley, or whatever). You can also give it a name that evokes what you want people to taste. Calling your favorite dessert entry “Sugar Cookies” won’t be doing you a favor, but calling them “Vanilla Sugar Cookies” (because you put a drop of vanilla in the recipe) just raised the Las Vegas betting average that you’ll place higher in the sugar cookie race.
If you’re interested in how this might look in action. Here’s an example. There was a Casserole Cook-off at our mini-country fair this week. Being from the Midwest, I love casseroles. We were going to go to the fair that Saturday to ride on carnival rides, and my daughters said, “You should make something for the casserole contest.’
Step 1. Grab Ingredients. I took a basic boring crab casserole recipe off the internet, and defrosted about $3 worth of fake crab meat from the freezer. I grabbed other stuff from the cupboards that would give it taste contrast or visual contrast.
Step 2. Add Taste Contrast. I figured the judges would be eating lots of casseroles with pasta, rice, or potatoes as the starch. I wanted to this to stand out a different. I substituted soft bread cubes and sliced hard-boiled eggs instead of the pasta. Then I put a cup of celery in it gave each bite taste contrast. I would have sautéed garlic, but I didn’t think of it until I was backing out of the garage.
Step 3. Add Visual Contrast. Sliced black olives – in the shape of rings – would have it some nice contrast. Not everyone likes black olives, but they would be worth the risk. I also finished the casserole off under the broiler to brown it for contrast.
Step 4. Give it the Right Name. Instead of calling it Crab Casserole, I called it “Crab-a-gonza Casserole” which was silly given that there’s no actual crab in the recipe. To take the silliness over the top, I put a little crab icon next to the name, and printed out a color name plate, in case they put the descriptions in front of entry (which they ended up doing).
Step 5. Collect Your Prize. This prize was larger than the first kitchen I had.
There are a lot of other ideas you can use, but these will get you started on your journey to bring home the gold. If you’re looking for ideas that work well for names or how to turn your comfort foods into cash and prizes, I’ve included the links to some scientific articles – including one called “Engineering Comfort Foods.” [They are a bit detailed and boring, so don’t read them while driving or operating heavy machinery.]
April Fool’s Day is a goofy holiday for most people. But my Mom loved April Fool’s Day so much, she’d plan ahead for it.
At dinner that night, she’d love to tell us about who laughed hardest at her April Fool’s joke that day. The people she mentioned weren't always the the funniest or most gregarious people in the office; they were often the quietest. What came to be oddly predictable was that the same people who laughed the most were also the ones she felt friendlier toward, and they were the ones she seemed to repeatedly bring up in other conversations on the other 364 days of the year.
One of the best quotes about friendship is also one of the best quotes about laughter: “We choose our friends not because they make us laugh but because we make them laugh.” The most fun person to be around isn’t the funniest person in the room, but it’s the person who believes you are the funniest person in the room.
It seems less cool to laugh than it used to be. In social media, LOL stands for Laugh Out Loud (I’m hip to these acronym things, just like I know WTF stands for Way Too Funny).
What I often see happen – especially with my daughters’ friends – is that instead of laughing during a conversation, someone who's not even smiling will actually say “LOL." It’s weird. It’s sort of like having someone compliment you on your sweater or haircut without looking at it. It' robotic.
On April’s Fools Day my wife and I were having lunch at Panera. At the table next to us, a senior manager was meeting with three employees who worked remotely for the company. He clearly knew all of them, but not very well. They were all earnest, and they asked good questions and seemed prepared. But one of them stood out -- even to me at 10 feet away -- because she genuinely chuckled and laughed very easily. Not leg-slapping guffaws, but just happy chuckles at what either the manager said, or what the others said, or what she said. As their meeting progressed, more and more of the manager’s general comments and advice came to be directed to this woman instead of 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 to each of them. I don’t know if she was the most productive, smartest, interesting of the three employees, but she was the one who stood out.
Who do you like most in your groups -- who makes it most worth sticking around? Over the years I’ve played saxophone in several rock bands, and my favorite people in those bands weren’t the greatest musicians – they were the ones who laughed the most during rehearsals or shows. I’m in a men’s group, and the two or three guys who make it most compelling to return to each week aren’t the ones who are necessarily the most insightful or most successful, they are the ones who laugh the easiest. My favorite colleagues, students, and post-docs have also been the ones who laughed the most. My Mom’s genetics speaking.
I don’t know if that chuckling Panera woman was the best of those three employees, or if the people who laughed at my Mom’s goofy April Fools jokes were the best in the office. They are, however, the ones who are the most memorable.
Sometimes people say, “To find a friend you need to close one eye. To keep them you must close both.” If your eyes are closed, you’ll still be able to find them if they are laughing.
Happy April 2nd.
Using only two words, I bet I could get you to overeat a snack you don’t even really like.
Those two words would be “low fat.”
We’re living in a world of fat-free, carb-free and sugar-free snacks. Most of the time, if we think they are at least low fat, we think “it must be good for us” —even if the snack is loaded with sugar.
When Nabisco came out with SnackWell’s, a line of no-fat and low-fat cookies and crackers, they flew off of shelves, gobbled up by the people who believed they could eat them until they magically whittled down into a supermodel. Six months later and about 6 pounds heavier, the low-fat fanatics finally realized that these cookies had about only 30 percent fewer calories than regular cookies.
This happens all the time. Often the fat-free version is not much lower in calories than the regular version. For example, each low-fat Oreo cookie has 50 calories. The regular version has just over three calories more.Low-fat labels can lead us to mindlessly overeat a product with guilt-free abandon.
Take granola. Where low-fat granola is indeed lower in fat, it is only about 12 percent lower in calories. It does not take a lot of mindless munching to scarf down an extra 12 percent of granola, especially while thinking you are doing your body good.
In one study, a French colleague, Pierre Chandon, and I invited people to watch some commercials and a video episode of the “Dukes of Hazzard.” We gave them bags of granola that were labeled as either “Low-fat Rocky Mountain Granola” or “Regular Rocky Mountain Granola,” as we described in the Journal of Marketing Research. In reality, all of the granola was low fat. While people watched the video, they ate the granola. Those given what was labeled as low-fat granola kept munching long after the other group stopped. After the movie, we weighed the remaining granola to see how much had disappeared. It turned out that those eating what they thought was low-fat granola ate 35 percent more, which translated into 192 more calories. When we offered them low-fat chocolate, they loaded up on 23 percent more calories.
The low-fat label tricked people into eating more than if the product had a regular label.
The cruel twist is that these labels can have an even more dramatic impact on those who are overweight. People who are overweight and eat more than their thinner peers are in danger of really over-indulging when they see something with a low-fat label. The problem is that when we are looking for an excuse to eat something, low-fat labels give it to us.What’s worse than overeating a snack?Overeating one we don’t even really like that much. Few low-fat snacks are nearly as tasty as their regular version.So rather than overeating something you don’t even really like, enjoy the regular version —but only half as much of it.
We have discovered more than 100 changes that lunchrooms can make to nudge students to eat better. For instance, if you show a kid three consecutive pans of vegetables--green beans, corn, and carrots--they’ll take 11 percent more of whatever vegetable is in the first pan. It doesn’t matter what it is. They’re hungry, and what’s first looks best. To help schools visualize how they could go through their lunchrooms and make a bunch of low-cost/no cost changes, I wrote an infographic editorial for the New York Times.[i] One teacher said she even printed this out for her students and had them color it in class. High school math class just isn’t what it used to be.
Shortly after the op-ed was published, a television producer wanted to film us doing a before-and-after Smarter Lunchroom Makeover of a middle school. Why a middle school? Apparently elementary students act too random in front of TV cameras (remember that picnic for squirrels?), and most high schoolers aren’t photogenic enough for television--too many strange clothes, weird hair colors, piercings, and uninterested looks. The TV people wanted us to find a middle school that would do a total lunchroom makeover for less than $50--and film it all MTV-style.[ii]
After finding the perfect middle school and watching students eat lunches for a week, we isolated ten changes we could easily make for less than $50 total that would probably help them eat better without even realizing it--things like changing the location of the fruit, giving fun names to healthy foods, moving the cookies behind the counter, putting the vegetables first, and so on. The food service director and producer were cool with the changes, so we got to work.[iii]Twenty-five kids were hand-picked to be secretly filmed by three hidden cameras. We hid cameras in a ceiling tile, a hat, and even in our fake water bottle. Everything was set--and then came the catch. We were asked, with the cameras rolling, to predict the sales for each food item.
After lunch was over, the smoke cleared, and the dishes washed, we were able to calculate just what had happened. The makeover was a nutritional victory--kids took a lot more salads, fruit sales doubled, white milk sales went up 38 percent, sugary drinks sales dropped by 17 percent, and they ran out of the healthy bean burritos--renamed Big Bad Bean Burritos--for the first time ever. These kids ate an average of 18 percent fewer calories, and they ate better than they typically did.[iv]
What didn’t work was putting the cookies behind the counter. We thought this would decrease sales by 30 percent, but it did nothing. Even worse, we predicted that moving vegetables to the front of the line would increase sales by 11 percent, but it instead dropped by 30 percent.[v]What happened?
A little bit of sleuthing showed that cookies were the cafeteria’s big “destination food.” They were five inches of hot, freshly baked gooey goodness--the main reason some kids ate school lunch. Wild horses couldn’t have pulled these kids away from the cookies without pulling them away from eating lunch there altogether.
The vegetables were a different story. As I mentioned, our lab studies showed that lunchgoers were 11 percent more likely to take whatever vegetable they saw first compared to whatever they saw third. Well, that’s true when three vegetables are in the middleof the serving line, but here we put them in the frontof the line. Nobody scoops up a plate of green beans and then looks for the entrée that goes with it. People pick out the entrée and thenthe vegetable. They didn’t want to take a veggie until they knew what they were having for a main course.
When the interview got to this point, the producer asked, “You’ve been doing eating research for twenty-five years. Sales didn’t increase by 11 percent, they dropped by 30. Why were you so far off?” I said, “Well, if we always knew what we were doing, we wouldn’t call it research.” (He seemed amused enough by this answer to not report these missed predictions in his story.)
Still, nailing five out of seven predictions was pretty decent. Our prediction report card wasn’t straight As, but it was better than the report cards I got in high school. Most important, we were able to show in real-TV-time how only $38 and two hours of tweaking made a bigger difference than hefty expert commission reports.
Where should a school start? Start with the Smarter Lunchroom Movement Checklist below and choose three easy changes to get the ball rolling. When we sit down with the food service directors and managers, we specifically tell them what they’re doing exceptionally well. We then mention that these are some other ideas they can consider, but we ask them to pick no more than three. Some schools want to try everything, but while ambition may soar in the heat of the moment, when it comes to implementation, making more than three changes can seem so overwhelming that often nothing gets changed. Focus on three and save the rest for later.
The Smarter Lunchroom Starter List
When we do Smarter Lunchroom makeovers, it’s easy to find ten or more easy changes a lunchroom can make overnight or over a weekend for less than $50. Yet for most, even making a couple small changes can have a dramatic impact. Here are easy changes we’ve designed to get you started:
To Increase Fruit Sales . . .
Display fruit in two locations, one near the register
Display whole fruits in a nice bowl or basket
Employ signs and suggestive selling to draw attention to the fruit
To Increase Vegetable Sales . . .
Give them creative/descriptive names[vi]
Display the names on menu boards and at point-of-purchase
To increase White Milk Sales . . .
 Place white milk first in the cooler
 Place white milk in every cooler
 Make sure fat-free (skim) white milk accounts for at least 1/3 of all milk displayed
To Increase Healthy Entrée Sales . . .
 Make the healthy entrée the first or most prominent in the lunch line.
 Give the targeted entrée a creative or descriptive name
 Feature it on a menu board outside the cafeteria
To Increase the Number of Complete Healthy Meals Sold . . .
 Place key meal items at the snack window2
 Move chips and cookies behind the serving counter and offer them by request only
 Create a healthy-items-only “grab and go” convenience line[vii]
A Full Description of How to Make Your Lunchroom a Smarter Lunchroom can be found in the free chapter below (Chapter 6 in Slim by Design), and additional resources can be found at this link.
[i] A nice visual of lunch line redesign is titled just that: Brian Wansink, David R. Just and Joe McKendry (2010), “Lunch Line Redesign,” New York Times, October 22, p. A10 .
[ii]The specific show is the MTV-owned show called Channel One. It’s a hip, almost too-cool-for-school program that actually is for school. It shows a 10-minute news feature every morning during homeroom to 5 million kids in America – typically those in the big cities.
[iii]The video of this can be found at SmarterLunchrooms.org. Thanks to the Ithaca Food Service Director, Denise Agati for making this happen and sticking with the changes.
[iv]This is a great two-part (before/after) video with a lot of energy, good lessons, and some modest laughs. You can find it at YouTube at healthymeals.nal.usda.gov/healthierus-school.../lunchd-part-one and the “after” version at healthymeals.nal.usda.gov/healthierus-school.../lunchd-part-two
[v]This works great in the lab, but that’s when you have three vegetables in a row: Brian Wansink and David Just (2011), “Healthy Foods First: Students Take the First Lunchroom Food 11% More Often Than the Third,” Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Volume 43:4S1, S8.
[vi]These changes can be so easy even a high school kid could do them. We showed that by having a high schooler we never met implement a vegetable naming program 200 miles away from us.
[vii]Nothing makes it easier to choose the right food than when it’s convenient. Here’s some great tips here: Andrew S. Hanks, David R. Just, Laura E. Smith, and Brian Wansink (2012), “Healthy Convenience: Nudging Students Toward Healthier Choices in the Lunchroom,”
I hope this doesn’t come across wrong, but I actually had a New Year’s resolution last year that worked.
One of my resolutions for 2021 was to join a rock or R&B band, which seemed like a big goal since I hadn’t really played the sax for about 25 years. Back then a boss I really admired had told me it wasn’t appropriate for a professor to play saxophone in a rock band because it “sent the wrong message to students.” Although I didn’t agree, I subconsciously found myself dutifully playing less and less until three months later I had stopped altogether.
Since I didn’t have any students to send wrong messages to last year, I figured it was safe to again take the rock 'n soul plunge. Although I enthusiastically suck as a musician, I figured if any band gave me a shot to play, they would never fire me for not obsessively practicing and trying hard enough. And they also wouldn’t fire me for smoking all of their weed, or throwing a TV out of hotel window, or ODing on heroin in the back of a tour bus. They might fire me for enthusiastically sucking but not for the other stuff. A Motown-like band called the X’Plozionz gave me a shot.
This is Spinal Tap is a hilarious rockumentary spoof about a fictional rock band (Spinal Tap) where everything goes wrong. My first gig was the remake of the Spinal Tap movie. It was July’s Cortland County Fair. We played on a flatbed trailer, and our opening act was the 4-H Animal Judging competition. That’s where you win a Blue Ribbon if you raise the county’s fattest turkey. Since barnyard animals can’t tell time, everything ran late. And since barnyard animals don’t ask where the nearest restroom is, they conveniently used the dance floor as their bathroom. Some people were dancing and trying to wipe off their feet at the same time. Others were doing the Gangnam Style horsey dance in honor of the opening act.
News of our animal-friendly show got around. We blinked and we had recorded a Live at Budokan album. We blinked again and we were the first American band to perform at Eurovison.
Actually neither of those happened, but this month we did get named as the What’s Hot in Syracuse band of January 2022 (and also What’s Hot in the Finger Lakes). The magazine is on newsstands and an earlier draft of the story is posted below.
It’s another New Year for us. I hope you have incredibly great fortune in making your New Year’s Resolutions and goals come true this year.
See you at Eurovision!
The X'Plozionz!!! The Rock and Soul Party Band of the Finger Lakes
(Story from What's Hot (Syracuse Edition) January 2022 pp. 10-15)
When the lead singer of a band looks like a defensive tackle for the Buffalo Bills, three things happen. People stop, look, and listen.
First, they STOP talking. Second, they LOOK and see his firecracker red suit and matching red glasses, Fedora, and shoes. Then, they LISTEN to this “All Pro” performer when he snatches his microphone and begins channeling the singing voices of everyone from Wilson Picket and the Temptations to Rick James and Bruno Mars.
Mr. E Hunner is the dedicated front-man singer of one of the funkiest, eclectic Rock & Soul show bands in the Finger Lakes. “The X’Plozionz!!! have been around for about 10 years,” said Hunner, “We went dormant because of COVID. Now we’re back, and we’re bigger and badder.”
When the band’s beloved drummer passed away during COVID, the band wanted to honor his aspiration to move from being a fun party band to being "the Rock and Soul show band of the Finger Lakes." “To put on that kind of show we needed the right mix of people, songs, and places to play,” said Hunner.
The Right People
Along with Hunner, The X’Plozionz!!! are anchored with long-time bassist, John Busch, widely known in Central New York as an owner of the original Third Rail in Cortland and former bass player for the eclectic “Eddy’s Basement” band back in the 80’s. Caine Davenport – the youngest band member at 25 – was brought on as the lead guitarist because of his versatility. He elaborates, “Motown songs have a dance kick and need to be note-for-note like they sound on the record. But then the next minute you need to be able to play a crazy rock solo for Sharp-dressed Man or Radar Love. Then I'll need to do another change-up and play a jazzy-type solo for something like Crystal Blue Persuasion or I Can't Go For That.” Busch added, “A lot of guitarists can rock out, but to find someone like Caine who can also play with discipline, precision, and finesse was key . . . plus he sings.”
Next came the return of singer-keyboardist-guitarist, Steve Giocondo, who had left the band years before to write music and perform as a solo act. “His keyboard work give us that big sound. It fills out some songs and gives other songs a real rocking rhythm,” said Busch.
The two rookies in the band are drummer, Drew Martin, who was previously with Holy Smoke, and saxophone player, Brian Wansink, a recently retired Cornell professor. “Drums and horns were really the two things that helped the Motown Sound really pop,” said Busch. “They put the icing on the cake.”
The Right Songs
Martin’s big drum bang opened The X’Plozionz!!! recent lounge show at the Tioga Downs Casino and Resort. Martin and Busch kicked off the song Boogie Shoes and then settled into it’s toe-tapping, head-nodding groove while the microphone stand stood empty. After two minutes of grooving, it was time for the crowd to stop, look and listen.
From the side of the stage, Mr. E. Hunner appeared, gyrating and finger-snapping. His red Boogie Shoes dance-stepped to the beat as he funkily dance-stepped to the microphone. When he cooly arrived, he snapped his head to the audience, snatched the mic, and shot his finger high in the air until the downbeat. Then, at the very instant he belted out the opening line of the song, he dropped his finger to point at the audience, as if he insisted they put on their Boogie Shoes and dance. And dance they did.
Hunner’s a show unto himself. His spins, his moves, and his gestures all echo the classic stage showmanship of Motown charisma. He continued grooving and spinning with funky, fun versions of Knock on Wood, Play that Funky Music, and Come and Get Your Love before handing off his magic microphone to Giocondo and then Davenport who changed the pace with Brown Eyed Girl and Jenny Jenny (8675-309).
Giocondo said, “Because we have three singers, a keyboard, and a sax, we can play a lot of dancing fun songs that other bands can’t play. One minute we'll be playing some 80s stuff like Baker Street or Maneater, and the next minute we'll light it up with Kung Fu Fighting or Uptown Funk.”
The Right Places
“We’re having a blast, and they're having a blast, Giocondo continued. "It doesn’t matter where we are – casinos, county fairs, dance clubs, weddings, or company parties – we’re going to do everything we can to make sure people have a legendary good time.”
“I love to see a table of people laughing and pointing at each other as they're singing along to Super Freak. I love seeing strangers all of a sudden spontaneously start a Congo line to Love Train, or a seeing a wedding party of grandkids and grandmas line-dance to Uptown Funk. And I really crack up seeing people in suits or tuxedos doing Karate moves when we play Kung Fu Fighting.
"They’re spending time and money to be here with us. We're going to make darn sure they look back and say, “I had a great weekend.”
Here's an easy New Year's Resolution: Trick yourself into eating better.
You can easily set up your kitchen (and some habits) that lead to eat better or less. But since you will know what’s going on, you won’t have to feel tricked.
Quartz used this "Trick yourself" title for a catchy story on my Cornell Food and Brand Lab colleague, Aner Tal. It’s about 3 minutes long and has a lot of eye-opening tips and insights. What’s unusual is how Aner describes why these work in a suave James Bond style and how Quartz cleverly illustrates them. Too cool for school.
Here’s some of what they mentioned:
1. Use lighter plates
2. Use smaller plates
3. Cut your food into pieces
4. Don’t watch TV when you eat
5. No scary movies
6. Don’t shop when you’re hungry (you don't buy more, you buy worse)
7. Deprivation always backfires
Some of these might sound pretty basic, but it’s Aner's description of how they work and Quartz's funny illustrations that really make them pop.
Aner flew out to visit me from Israel a while back, and we were talking about how people react after they hear about some of these discoveries.
Some people hear about suggestions like these and say to themselves “That would never happen to me,” so they don’t try to do anything different, and nothing changes in their life. Other people say to themselves, “Yeah, that makes sense” but they never do it, so, again, nothing changes in their life.
No one is going to hear about 7 discoveries and make 7 changes in their life. It’s too much. But you can make 1 or 2 of them. After they become habits, you can always come back to the table for another course.
Yes, this is the season of weight gain. But this is a horrible month to be on a diet. You ruin the JOY for you and the joy to the world. So, what’s a person to do when cookie trays are a passin’ and Christmas Carols are a pumpin’?
We've run a 4-year study called the Healthy Weight Registry. We wanted to discover what perpetually skinny people do to stay perpetually skinny. One thing we've asked them is what they do during the holidays that the rest of us don't do. They do a lot of crazy cool things they need testing, but one that's relevant to us cookie lovers is this: When they were at a holiday party and they tried something they didn't absolutely LOVE, they simply didn’t eat the rest of it. They either didn't take it or they didn't finish it. They left it.
• That no-bake brownie-mix brownie? They left it.
• That gluten-free Avocado Cupcake? They left it.
• That Thumbprint cookie with the real thumbprint? They left it.
When we first read this "Leave it if you don't love it" idea, my researchers and I were all trying to finish up our Avocado Cupcakes so we could be the first to say "That's nothing new. That's totally obvious."
There's never been a cookie in the world that isn't worth choking down, but there might only be 2 out of 10 that are really worth LOVING.
"Leave it if you don't love it."
No one has a cousin named Tarzan. No one has a best friend named Goat Boy. That’s because we’re not raised by apes or goats, but we're all raised, socialized, and helped by other people.
Some of these people are obvious: parents, close relatives, coaches, and some teachers. But a lot of others aren’t nearly so obvious. They might be that person who recommended we go to one school versus another, helped get us a job, helped lend a hand during a difficult time, or saved us from a desert island that one time by paddling through shark infested waters using only his right arm.
With Thanksgiving coming up, it can be a nice chance to hit pause and think of 2-3 nonobvious people who might have done a small thing that made a big difference in our life. Doing something as simple as this can do your soul good. On one extreme, it reminds us that we aren’t the self-centered Master of our Universe as we might think when things are going great. On the other extreme, it reminds us that there are a lot of people silently cheering for us when we might think things aren’t going so great.
What do you suppose would happen if you tracked these people down and game them a call? It’s four steps:
1. Find their phone number and dial.
2. “Hey, I’m ___; remember me? How are you?”
3. “It’s Thanksgiving. I was thinking of you.”
For about the past 30 years, I’ve tried to do this each Thanksgiving. It used to be the same 3-4 people (advisors and a post-college mentor), then a couple more, and this year I’m adding a new one. For some reason, I always look for an excuse why I shouldn’t make these calls. I always find myself pacing around before I make the first call. Part of me thinks I might be bore them, or they already know it, or it’s interrupting them, or that it’s too corny.
Yet even if I have to leave voice messages, I’m always end up smiling when I get off the phone. I feel more thankful and centered. Maybe they feel differently too.
Still, there’s some years I never made any calls, because I had good excuses. Maybe it was too late in the day, or they were probably with their family, or I called them last year, or I didn’t really have enough time to talk. I’m sure they had some good excuses – way back when – as to why they didn’t have time for me. I’m thankful they didn’t use them.
If you can think of 2-3 people you’re thankful for who might not know it, you don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving next year to tell them. They won’t care that you’re a little bit late or a whole lot early. It’s only 4 steps.
Halloween is like Thanksgiving for candy bars.
We were talking about Halloween Trick or Treating last night, and people were talking about what they were going to do with all of the left over candy that they bought, or which their kids bring home. Nobody planned on throwing it out. They would all eventually eat it. Probably pretty quickly.
This reminds me of a study we did for the New England Journal of Medicine that showed that every year Americans start gaining more weight from today and for the next two months. The key take-away is that we shouldn't wait until January 1st to make a resolution to lose weight. We should make a Halloween resolution to not gain weight.
Below are some nice details related about the study. The Blue line is the Americans, and you can see that just before November starts, the average weight of Americans grows higher and higher until just after January, when it drops again.
Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving . . . the summer is almost over but the indulgent holiday season is near. This study we conducted found that many of us spend months getting rid of that excess weight gained during the holiday season. The study showed that according to yearly national weight patterns, it takes American’s nearly between Thanksgiving and Easter.
We also found in a similar study that the weight of Americans begin rising around Thanksgiving, and peak around Christmas and the New Year. It isn’t until after Easter, about a 5 month period, that weight patterns even out.
We also analyzed yearly weight patterns in Germany and Japan. Similar to the US, those in Germany weighted the most around Christmas/New-Year period and those in Japan weight the most during Golden Week in April – a major Japanese holiday. Each country also showed a peak in weight for New Years.
Everyone gains weight over the holiday -- starting on Halloween Instead of making a New Year’s Resolution, the best time to make a resolution to keep the pounds off this holiday season might be now.
I once saw a photo of a 35-year old man defiantly showing a tattoo on his big upper arm that read "9-11-2002 -- Never Forget." Right date; wrong year. But I don't think anyone was going to tell him that.
Today's the 20th Anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. This was a defining moment for many Americans, as in "Where were you when you heard about World Trade Center being attacked?" Since it was so defining, it's curious why its 20th Anniversary seems to be slipping by so quietly.
One exception of this that's most vivid to me came in the form of a poem that a friend wrote a couple weeks ago and sent to me. It was written by Michael Antunes who is the Top 40 rock saxophonist (On the Dark Side, Tender Years) and actor (Eddie and the Cruisers). Michael said I could share it.
There are a lot of themes associated with 9-11: Heroism, innocent lives lost, reversals of fortune, resilience, and so on. There's a lot to memorialize, a lot to remember, and a lot to celebrate.
While I wish I saw more unified or institutional efforts to do so, it's also important that we take the individual initiative -- like Michael did -- to memorialize, remember, or celebrate in a way that is personally meaningful to us and to those we share it with.
Thinking back to the "Never Forget" 9-11 tattoo that had the wrong year on it, I'm no longer convinced that our deliberate, individual efforts at memorizing, remembering, or celebrating have to be on the right day or even have to have the exact year right. What's most important is that we do it in a way that's meaningful and memorable to us.
Here are some tips, tricks, and secrets on how you and your family can be healthier and happier. They're based on over 30 years of our published research.
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