Don’t eat the donuts
Walking into work this morning I was greeted by a fresh batch of warm donuts. It got me thinking about all the different kinds of donuts in my life. Not just the fried delicious pastry donuts but other things I consume that while appetizing are ultimately unfulfilling and detrimental to my health, wealth, and well-being. In what areas of my life am I consuming tablespoons of unhealthy fat, an unholy amount of sugar, and carbohydrates for days.
As mentioned in previous posts, I practice a form of fasting that would preclude me from partaking at that time. I suppose I could have grabbed one and squirreled it away until later and then ate it later in my car (while crying). But I didn’t. It’s just so obvious that donuts are terrible for you. Everyone says it, everyone knows it. Donuts are terrible. Don’t eat the donuts. And yet donuts continue to be bought and sold in large quantities.
There are so many difficult choices in life we need to make. We need to decide whom to date, whom to marry, what career we want to pursue and where we want to live. We need to decide whether we want to save for the future or spend that money on gifts for our loved ones. We need to decide how to spend our time and what choices constitute a good life. We need to decide where to go on vacation and even if we want to go on vacation. These are hard choices.
Deciding whether to eat the office donuts is not a difficult choice. Don’t eat the donuts. It’s easy.
Let hard decisions be hard and easy decisions be easy.
And as mentioned I got to thinking about all the different kinds of donuts that exist across a wide spectrum of life. There are things we consume that we know are terrible for our ultimate well-being, yet we continue to indulge. Why? We’d be so much better off if we didn’t.
Don’t eat the donuts in all aspects of your life
Physical donuts: Fried Pastries
I would say there are some foods that I strongly recommend that you do not eat…No. 1 on that list, I believe, is doughnuts. Comfort food. Zero value. Don’t eat them.
Jocko Willink, ex Navy SEAL Source
Yes, these are just plain old physical donuts like the ones featured in the picture above. Don’t eat these donuts as they will push back your plans of making yourself leaner, fitter. There’s no real reason to eat these fried sugary snacks. They’re high in inflammatory fats, high in carbs, and, as Jocko says, provide zero value. They are the exemplars of over-indulgence for a reason. Donuts are the nutritional equivalent of eating a paper bag that’s been floating around for a while.
The problem with donuts is they present themselves to us so often in social settings. Friends and colleagues buy donuts for other people to ingratiate themselves and it can be seen as rude not to eat the donut. Have you ever purchased a piece of candy for a friend only to have them reject it? What does that say about your friendship that they would reject a gift and what does it say about your judgment to have someone reject your decision.
You might have been raised on donuts. Eating a donut might reassure you that things are OK with the world. You might have eaten donuts with your grandfather on the stoop when you were just a child. It’s nice being reminded of these memories and oh, by the way, they taste great too.
Social cues and norms sometimes need reworking. There are other memories I bet you had with your grandfather and there are plenty of other snacks you and your colleagues can eat. There’s delicious beef jerky or steamed cauliflower for the vegetarians among us. There are alternatives in social settings that can and should replace the donut, It takes action on our collective part to make it happen.
In the meantime, please, politely refuse the donut.
Financial donuts: Credit card debt
ValuePenguin found that more than 40% of all US households carry credit card debt, with the average American household carrying a balance of $5,700. For only indebted households, which excludes people who pay their balances in full every month, the average debt is $9,333. Source
The financial donut that comes straight to mind is credit card debt, especially credit card debt that is carried over from one billing cycle to the next.
The interest you are paying for servicing that debt is the donut that is slowing you down, draining your energy, and reducing the years of financial independence you could achieve. Unfortunately, many of us know individuals — friends, family members — who take on credit card debt when they don’t need to take it on. This is the true tragedy here: it doesn’t need to happen. There are sometimes unforeseen circumstances where having the ability to spend on credit is a lifesaver but there are so many other times where it just doesn’t need to happen. Still, our friends borrow and borrow against their futures, continuing the party whose bill will come due in time.
I’m reminded of one of my brother’s friends, let’s call him Rob. Rob is in a lot of credit card debt. Rob had a long-term girlfriend who wanted Rob to buy her nice things: dinners, movies, presents etc. Rob couldn’t say no. He didn’t have the money in his bank account and so what started as a small balance that was carried month to month started ballooning under an interest rate of between 15 and 20%. Rob also had a taste for nice meals and although everyone knew Rob couldn’t afford it (to be fair, maybe Rob did not know this?) he always had money left over to buy take-out. Where does Rob’s story end? I don’t know, but recently Rob asked my brother to lend him some money to cover a dinner.
Everyone knows credit card debt is bad for your financial health. Don’t consume credit card debt.
Mental donuts: Fallacies and cognitive biases
The availability heuristic is a mental shortcut that relies on immediate examples that come to a given person’s mind when evaluating a specific topic, concept, method or decision. The availability heuristic operates on the notion that if something can be recalled, it must be important, or at least more important than alternative solutions which are not as readily recalled. Source
These are hard to spot because they are in our mind. You may have been dining on mental donuts for years without realizing it, perhaps mistaking that fried pastry for steamed broccoli. Regardless, mental donuts do exist and they take the form of fallacies, and there are whole lists of them to be on the lookout for.
Some fallacies are easier to spot than others. One of the easiest to recognize is the ad hominem attack which is when a debater goes after someone’s character instead of their target’s idea or argument. How often have we heard this fallacy in our own lives? There have even been presidents in recent history who use this line of attack — not caring about the ideas of their opponents but only what salacious gossip could be drawn up from their past. They target the individual: How can that person know anything about healthy eating when they are obviously overweight! It’s a mental donut. Satisfying at first bite but ultimately hollow and valueless.
The other class of mental donuts are cognitive biases.
One of the most relevant cognitive biases I find myself facing is the availability heuristic. Just because an example comes to mind does not mean that the thing you’re thinking about is important. Has there been a proliferation of white squirrels across the country? Well, I did see that one white squirrel hanging around my garbage cans the other day…maybe there is something to this report…The mere existence of an example that you can readily call to mind is not an indicator of a larger phenomenon. I find myself eating this mental donut regularly. I need to put it down.
Fallacies are weaknesses in how an argument is made, cognitive biases are crutches we as people rely on to make decisions. Both are tempting to dine on but will not further your argument or your education.
Spiritual donuts: Sophistry and distraction
Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on. Cal Newport
Socrates, the renowned philosopher, spends much of the time in his dialogues fighting the sophists. The sophists are a group of individuals trained to win debates regardless of the tactics they employ. They can argue any side of a debate at any time. They trap their prey in trivial distinctions among words. Today if you call someone a sophist or that they are engaged in sophistry they should be properly offended (Note: this insult will land better if you’re making it in the hallways of a philosophy department).
At the end of a debate, the sophist may have won because they tied their opponent up in a maze of words that held no real truth or insight behind them. No one would have been fulfilled listening to such a debate. It would have the empty calories and satisfaction of a jelly donut.
How many times have you listened to someone who claims to know how to live the good life only to trick you with a screen of pretty words?
And the distractions that are sucking our time away are attention donuts.
While writing this post I must have flipped over to reddit about a dozen times. What did I find on reddit that was so enticing? Honestly, I can’t even site an interesting article I read or a new fact I learned…and I just got done browsing the website. What else is this consumption besides a zero value attention donut. The thing that I want to do most of all is focus on finishing this article. And yet mindlessly I flip between this sentence and the news, this sentence and the weather, this sentence and what my middle-school friends have eaten for lunch.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what is truly satisfying soul food because I don’t know. I suspect each of us will land on an acquired taste.
Watch what you eat
In many areas of our lives, we could each probably stand to be more vigilant about what we consume. While ceasing to shovel delicious fried pastries our way may sound easy there are some who could find it very difficult. Some of us were raised on donuts. Some of us have been eating financial donuts for years and we’re afraid what’s going to happen when we put them down. How will I lose the weight? Others dine on mental donuts that are satisfying enough as a meal that they don’t recognize all the other flavors out there to be had. But they aren’t doing themselves any favors.
So what donuts are you looking at right now? Stop it. Get back to work.