Forbes has just published my latest OpEd, “The Single Most Important Lesson Gun Owners Should Learn From The George Zimmerman Case“.

Here is the opening:

I am a gun owner. I support the 2nd Amendment and the right to self-defense. Although I’m not a police officer or a gun expert, I am one of the 8 million Americans with a concealed weapons permit. And the most important lesson I’ve learned from the George Zimmerman case is, “Don’t go looking for trouble”…

 

Increase Your Self-Control

 Posted by on 15 July 2013 at 11:00 am  Advice, Ethics, Fitness, Health, Moral Amplifiers
Jul 152013
 

As you might recall, I answered a question about cultivating powers of self-control on the 23 June 2013 episode of Philosophy in Action Radio.

In that discussion, I mentioned that one strategy for increasing self-control is to set clear standards for success and failure, perhaps even with artificial rewards and punishments for oneself. For example, if Paul and I go out to a movie, sometimes I don’t wish to eat any of his popcorn. In that case, I’ll agree to pay him $20 if I eat any of his popcorn. (He’s not allowed to tempt me; that would be unfair.) I’ve never paid him that $20, simply because the prospect of doing so is sufficient incentive. I’m motivated not merely by the loss of $20, but also by the shame of so clearly giving in to temptation and thereby doing something that I know isn’t good for me. Plus, he’d never let me live it down!

As I mentioned in the broadcast, my friend Trey Givens used that same strategy last winter to help himself to clean up his diet and start working out. At some point, I’d tweeted him, “I have a solution to your lack of discipline! Send me $20 for every pound you gain or every week that you don’t workout!” He came up with a better plan, as explained in this blog post:

So, here’s what I’ll do: I will donate $20 for each week that I don’t work out AND I will donate $20 for each week that I don’t stick with The Whole 30. So, it’s possible that I could end up donating $40 in a week. I’ll donate it to Diana’s Philosophy in Action webcast. This also supports another personal goal of mine which is to give more monetary support to Objectivism this year.

Shortly thereafter, he modified the deal as follows:

OK. After thinking about it a bit more, I want to modify the deal for donating dollars to Philosophy in Action based on how well I stick to my diet and exercise plan.

I will donate $20 to PiA for every week in January that I do not work out at least 3 times. I will donate $20 to PiA for every meal in January in which I deliberately break The Whole 30 rules. I’m changing it because I think the previous arrangement was a bit too generous in leaving room for “error.” Like, if I ate a piece of candy today, I don’t want to find myself rationalizing into eating ice-cream for the rest of the week. And working out once a week is for the fat lady I am, not the fat lady I want to be; my goal is 3x a week at a minimum and so that’s why that’s the goal.

So, with these changes, it actually could end up that I owe Diana a zillion dollars at the end of a given week. I’m pretty sure I have enough self-control to avoid that, but in the event that I don’t, I will also change my name to “Congress.”

That’s definitely a better deal for Trey: the more fine-grained and specific that you can get with these artificial rewards and punishments the better.

So how did this experiment work? Pretty well, I think, particularly given the demands of the Whole 30. Still, I can’t help but laugh:

Well, it is finally over. And it is difficult for me to express exactly how glad not to be worrying over The Whole 30 any more.

I suppose the worrying part is my own fault, since for the month of January I could probably count on two hands the number of mornings that I woke without a vivid memory of a dream in which I ate something bad and worried about paying Diana $20 for the infraction. Clearly, my subconscious is far more concerned about financial matters than my physical well-being. So, how did I end up doing?

Well, I paid Diana a total of $80 this month.

Half of it was due to a week in which I was on a business trip and only worked out once. 2 missed workouts * $20 = $40.

On that same business trip, I was at a restaurant with my boss’s boss for dinner and I ordered what appeared to be a “safe” meal and explained to the waitress that I absolutely could not have diary. First, she came back with a plate sprinkled with cheese, so I sent it back. When she returned to the kitchen she explained that what I had ordered actually also included butter. So, I had a choice: change my order completely and be the awkward person sitting at the table without food or just suck it up and pay Diana $20 for having eaten some butter. Not being able to think of a delicate way to avoid the awkwardness, I decided to just pay up.

The second infraction happened just this past Saturday. I was at Costco and they have all these samples out and one of the displays caught my eye. It was some stuffed grape leaves and the package said it was dairy free and gluten free. I checked the label and the only thing that jumped out at me was that there is a bit of canola oil. I didn’t spot any cheese or sausage or wheat, so it must be OK, right? I tried it and it was pretty tasty. It wasn’t until last night that I was reflecting on this and realized I had just eaten a mouthful of RICE, a grain. So, this morning, I paid Diana another $20, but I have a package of those grape leaves in my freezer and I am very excited about eating them at some point in February.

You can check out his blog post for details on his ten-pound weight loss, plus before and after pictures. Really, $80 isn’t a bad price for a radical change in lifestyle!

Of course, I think that this is an excellent idea, and I encourage all of you to make use of it! Certainly, you’re welcome to use Philosophy in Action’s Tip Jar as your motivator. You definitely want to write down the rules — and better yet, share them with someone. You’re welcome to share them with me too. Basically, you need some kind of accountabilibuddy.

Oh, and in case you’ve not yet heard it, you can listen to or download the segment of the podcast on self-control here:

For more details, check out the question’s archive page. The full episode — where I answered questions on lying for the sake of a happy surprise, people too young to raise children, and more — is available as a podcast too.

Happiness Should Be Normal

 Posted by on 5 July 2013 at 10:00 am  Advice, Ethics, Happiness
Jul 052013
 

I wrote this tidbit for this week’s Philosophy in Action Newsletter, and I thought it worth sharing!

Sometimes, it’s a bit too easy to get sucked into troubles and worries. They start small and slow, but gradually, they consume you. Then, at least for me, the stress of those troubles quickly becomes “the new normal.” I forget just how happy my life usually is… until I manage to re-establish my normal life. Then I wonder why the heck I let those troubles so consume so much of me for so long.

Of course, sometimes the troubles can’t be avoided. At other times, we could — and should — shed them. (That’s what I just did. It took a few weeks, but oh the joy!)

Whatever you choose to do about your troubles, don’t lose your connection to the joy possible in life. That’s just deadly to the soul. Plus, it’s so much harder to regain your zest for life if you’re not consciously aware that you’ve lost it.

Life can be — and should be — so very good!

 

(I wrote this for Philosophy in Action’s Newsletter back in September 2012, but it’s still relevant.)

A few days ago, I was riding my horse in our neighborhood arena while a father was attempting to teach his son to ride a bike in the grass. The father would push the son forward on the bike, and the son was supposed to pedal. However, even from a distance, I could tell that the son was getting scared and freezing. Instead of pedaling, he’d put his feet down into the grass and come to stop. The father had an excellent opportunity to talk to his son about overcoming fears.

Alas, that’s not what happened. Even from a distance, I could hear the father yell to his son in frustration, “If you’d only pedaled when I told you!” and “Why aren’t you listening to me?” Obviously, that didn’t help the boy pedal any better!

The father was making a very serious mistake in taking his son’s failure personally. He was seeing it as a failure to obey, rather than focusing on the son’s actual problem — namely, the difficulty of overcoming fears. As a result, the son was not only deprived of useful help about managing those fears, but also burdened with feelings of guilt too. Even worse, the father was telling the son that the son’s own judgment (including his fears) were not nearly as important as obeying the father’s commands. Oy.

Happily though, the father seemed to muster some better control over himself after that burst of anger. He stopped yelling, and the tension seemed to ease. Hopefully, he realized his error. Hopefully, he’ll stop himself sooner next time.

I’m not immune from the error of atttemping to dictate others — whether children, animals, co-workers, friends, or husband. I suspect that I’m not alone in that! So here are a few suggestions, which you can take or leave:

When you find yourself growing frustrated by the fact that other people aren’t doing what you’ve told them to do, remind yourself that they’re not likely attempting to spite you. Perhaps you didn’t give clear instructions. Perhaps you’ve asked too much of them. Perhaps they saw problems with your plan that you missed. Perhaps their goals don’t mesh well with yours.

Instead of stewing over their failure to obey, consider how you might be genuinely helpful. You might want to ask them if they want help. You might want to clarify your instructions. You might want to just keep your mouth shut.

Whatever the circumstances, acting like a petty tyrant is always the wrong answer. Nothing alienates rational thinkers — young and old — more quickly.

Ideas for First Dates

 Posted by on 14 May 2013 at 2:00 pm  Advice, Friendship, Love/Sex
May 142013
 

Many moons ago, shortly after I published my podcast on Finding Good Prospects for Romance and Friendship, Stella Zawistowski sent me this set of excellent ideas for first dates, particularly geared toward city-dwellers.

  • If you live near a college, university, or especially a conservatory for the arts, be sure to get on the school’s mailing list or check posted schedules regularly for free or low-cost performances. You’ll frequently find Shakespeare, dance productions, recitals, orchestra concerts, and sometimes even opera.
  • Ballroom dance studios often offer free or low-price guest nights to attract new students. You can enjoy the free beginners’ lesson, then apply your new skills dancing with your date for the rest of the night.
  • Many pubs and bars offer trivia nights. You and your date can be a two-person team.
  • Some bars and restaurants offer themed wine-tasting nights.
  • Picnic in the park. Bonus points if you make the food yourself and/or have a dog that likes to play.
  • Follow dinner or drinks with board games instead of a movie.
  • In the summer, many cities have food festivals or street fairs that it’s fun to browse with a date.
  • If you and your date are sports fans, try minor-league or college games. Minor-league baseball is a particularly fun date, and usually costs the same or less than a movie ticket! If there’s no minor-league team in your area, catch a game at a sports bar.
  • Go on a hike (but don’t pick too strenuous a trail; you want to be able to converse with your date).
  • Visit your local zoo or botanical gardens to enjoy nature harnessed for man’s enjoyment.
  • If your city has a Time Out magazine, subscribe to it (or visit timeout.com) to find all kinds of events.
  • Many farmer’s markets offer free or low-cost cooking demonstrations. See how a dish is made, then buy the ingredients, go home and prepare it with your date.

Any other ideas? Post them in the comments!

If you’re interested in purchasing the podcast, that’s still available for just $20. You can find more information — and purchase it — here: Finding Good Prospects for Romance and Friendship.

May 092013
 

(I wrote this for Philosophy in Action’s Newsletter back in September 2012, but it’s still relevant today… and I’m still using the same technique!)

Just this week, I had my third horseback riding lesson with my new three-day eventing trainer. Lila (my horse) and I have made remarkable progress in just these three lessons, and my trainer has definitely noticed that. Hooray!

The main reason for my progress is that I’ve been ruthlessly purposeful about my training. After each lesson, I’ve taken notes on the main problems and exercises that we covered. (It’s a bit hard to take notes while on horseback!) Then I deliberately work on some of those issues every time I ride. Lila and I aren’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but we are making very speedy progress. That steady progress makes my riding and my lessons so much more enjoyable and satisfying. (Ideally, I’d like to find a way to video record my lessons, as that would be even better than notes.)

So if you’re spending your valuable time and money on learning any kind of skill — whether via dance class, dog training, or a sports clinic — make the most of it! Take good notes as soon as you can. Then practice the advice in those notes as often as you can. You’ll likely notice vastly better results in very short order.

Life’s Great Potential

 Posted by on 3 May 2013 at 10:00 am  Advice, Ethics, Happiness
May 032013
 

I published these comments in Philosophy in Action’s Newsletter in late December 2012… and now that 2013 is well underway, it’s a good time to revisit them.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about people’s expectations for their lives. Unfortunately, many people are burdened by problems, frustrations, and feelings of alienation. They live with too little joy and too much pain. Many don’t even notice it, because it’s been such a constant in their lives for years or even decades.

So for 2013, try asking yourself: If I could magically change something about my life, what would that be? Be willing to think of anything that would make you happier. Then, spend some time mulling over how you might make that happen — or at least how you might improve that area of your life. Give yourself some time to stew on it. Be willing to consider radical changes. Be willing to experiment.

Happiness is not a gift that some lucky people are given by the mysterious forces of the universe. It’s an achievement… an ongoing achievement. Now’s the time to get to work to make 2013 fabulous!

Apr 152013
 

Here are three more tips for email. (The first three are here: Three Tips on Managing Email.) As before, your mileage may vary.

(1) Don’t assume that you should respond to an email with another email. A phone call or in-person chat might be more efficient and effective. In some cases, the precision of writing is worthwhile, but in many cases, you’re consuming too much time in writing — and asking others to consume too much time in reading. Or, in the case of conflicts, you can seriously worsen the conflict by miscommunication, particularly in tone.

(2) Be ruthelessly purposeful about your email communications. Identify the purpose of every email you write before you begin writing — and then write the email according to that purpose. Don’t just write a reply in order to get another message out of your inbox. (Yes, I’m guilty of that on occasion!)

(3) If an email requires some action of you that you can’t completely in two minutes or less, create a task for it in your task list. Don’t let it languish in your inbox as a reminder; it’s too likely to be missed, and it just clutters up your inbox in the meantime.

Now, I’m off to go plow through my inbox… hopefully with all due care and purpose!

Note: I published a version of the above commentary in Philosophy in Action’s Newsletter a while back. Subscribe today!

Apr 052013
 

Here, I offer you three tips on managing e-mail, partly inspired by the awesome podcasts of Manager Tools. (As with all such advice, your mileage may vary.)

(1) Don’t leave your email opening and running all day. It’s a major distraction from your work, and it leaves you feeling like all that you do is email. Instead, schedule blocks of time in which to process your email — and do nothing else. That focus will improve the quality of your emails, while decreasing the time required. (GAH. I need to start doing this again… and closing Facebook too!)

(2) Be willing to give very short replies to emails — or no reply at all. Just because someone emails you doesn’t give them a right to your time. Make sure that you’re not sacrificing what matters most to you in responding to other people’s emails.

(3) Make the purpose of your email clear to the recipeint at the outset: give the summary of what you’re telling or asking at the very top to set the context. Yesterday, I received a lovely email from a fan of Philosophy in Action. Alas, it began with two big paragraphs of personal history (700 words), and the request for an interview was left to the bottom. Not only might I have missed the request if I’d just skimmed the email, but I didn’t understand the relevance of any of the personal history as I was reading it. Putting the interview request at the top would have helped me understand the email better.

In essence, be focused, selfish, and purposeful in your emails!

Note: I published a version of the above commentary in Philosophy in Action’s Newsletter a while back. Subscribe today!

When You Encounter the Crazy…

 Posted by on 7 March 2013 at 2:00 pm  Advice
Mar 072013
 

… follow these ten rules:

  1. If you don’t have to deal with a crazy person, don’t.
  2. You can’t outsmart crazy. You also can’t fix crazy. (You could outcrazy it, but that makes you crazy too.)
  3. When you get in a contest of wills with a crazy person, you’ve already lost.
  4. The crazy person doesn’t have as much to lose as you.
  5. Your desired outcome is to get away from the crazy person.
  6. You have no idea what the crazy person’s desired outcome is.
  7. The crazy person sees anything you have done as justification for what she’s about to do.
  8. Anything nice you do for the crazy person, she will use as ammunition later.
  9. The crazy person sees any outcome as vindication.
  10. When you start caring what the crazy person thinks, you’re joining her in her craziness.
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