About two months ago I made a radical change in the form of one baby step. The result was a shift in my worldview, I dropped ten pounds and have never been happier in my life.

The baby step came in the form of no more television. According to positive psychologist Martin Seligman, watching television for extended periods of time is the equivalent of placing yourself in a mild state of depression. Apathy follows.

It may seem simple enough to snap off the TV and do something else, but what happened thereafter for me was life-altering. Instead of flopping in front of the tube every night, I began writing more, eating less and sleeping better. I’ve even started learning French, thanks to supportive friends who have helped me tremendously (je vous adore!).  It is as though I have fully recognized that how I spend my time really does make a difference.

And it shows.

My negative emotions, while not completely eradicated, have receded to the background. Sure, I still get upset with my kids, but I am no longer subjecting myself to the constant barrage of negativity that comes from the TV.

I had no idea how impactful one decision could be.

It may seem paradoxical for someone who actually works in television and film not to want to actually watch it. I am still impressed by images on the Internet, occasionally read the newspaper and peruse business Web sites to keep up on the latest developments. But abandoning my nightly tube-watching has uplifted my spirits and has had a centering effect on my well-being.

When we look at our habits, we may think we can’t live without certain things. We may be so convinced of their inalienable place in our lives that we don’t even question the habit itself. But I bet you anything there is something you can do without and that will actually make you feel better once you depart from its stranglehold around your neck.

What happens next can be quite amazing. Suddenly new people emerge to cheer you on in your new-found authenticity. Perhaps they have been there all along, but you felt you didn’t have the time to pay attention. Or maybe they are new friends you’ve discovered because you’ve magically got so much more time through that one baby step to really enjoy them.

It is an endeavor worth pursuing. What baby step can you take today to make that radical change?

Making Sense of MAD MEN

March 6, 2012

Right before Christmas I stumbled upon MAD MEN at the grocery store. No, Don Draper wasn’t casually smoking Lucky Strikes in the produce section, and Pete Campbell wasn’t chasing women down the frozen food aisle. It was a gift box of Season One DVDs. I grabbed it on an impulse, making a mental mark on my husband’s wish list. Giving in to my old speedaholic tendencies, I didn’t notice that the DVDs weren’t actually in the box, something I was supposed to pick up at the information desk after the purchase. Fast forward to early January when I discovered the faux pas just as my husband and I settled in to watch the very first episode. Luckily, there were only two boxes left at the store so by power of deduction, we were able to match the ‘missing’ DVDs with my set. Another night passed before we reconvened for another viewing attempt.

And we’ve been savoring every episode ever since. After just three shows I ordered the next season online. We were hooked. And we didn’t know why.

I mean honestly. I went to Smith College, alma mater to Gloria Steinem, the godmother of the feminist movement. Why on Earth would I like a show that exhibits sexism, racism and homophobia like none other?

To explain the attraction, fellow Psychology Today blogger Dr. Stephanie Newman just came out with her new release MAD MEN on the Couch: Analyzing the Minds of Men and Women of the Hit TV Show. From her perspective as a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, Dr. Newman dissects every one of the main characters in a Freudian context. It’s amusing, if not revealing, that we appreciate watching people act badly.

It satisfies our inner bad boy or bad girl. We actually enjoy watching Betty Draper dismiss her daughter for possibly dropping the dry cleaning on the floor (and not minding that she’s actually wearing the plastic covering from it over her head). For 42 minutes, we’re allowed to be less than perfect parents, colleagues and lovers. We may be nauseated by all the alcohol and tobacco consumption, but we watch anyway because inside we’re collectively saying “I’m so glad that’s not me.”

It’s a bit like reality TV. We find pleasure in viewing others’ antics for the sake of our own entertainment. MAD MEN on the Couch may be repetitive in its driving home how much Don Draper misses his prostitute mother who died in childbirth, but it also explains a lot about the character himself. Why else would he self-sabotage if he didn’t think he deserved it?

We engage in self-harm on a subconscious level because we somehow think that we shouldn’t be rewarded, that our bad sides acted out and it’s our punishment. We see this in virtually every episode of MAD MEN too.

I embraced the book primarily because I wanted to understand why Peggy, the secretary turned junior copywriter, gets ahead professionally while Joan, the bombshell office manager, does not. They both sleep around. They both are seriously surpressed as women in the early 1960s and they both obviously possess higher than average intelligence. However, while Joan buys in to the role of nurturing maternal figure, Peggy does not. She shuns that societal expectation well before there were even role models to follow. She establishes herself in a man’s world by becoming a lot like them: harsh, critical and independent ~ without all the substance abuse to hide behind.

If you’re a fan of the show (and have seen most of the shows up to Season Four), I highly recommend giving MAD MEN on the Couch a read. You may not agree with everything the author writes, but then again, that might give you even more reason to read it!

 

A recent joint study on the effects of TV viewing on young children by the Universities of Montreal and Michigan found that by fourth grade the children who had watched several hours of television a day at age 29 months experienced a 7% decrease in classroom engagement, a 6% decrease in math achievement and a13% decrease in time spent doing physical activity. In addition, it was found that those same children had a 9% increase in soft drink consumption, a 10% increase in consumption of snacks, a 5% increase in Body Mass Index (BMI) and a whopping 10% increase in classmate victimization by the fourth grade.

As a TV actor, I’m certainly not saying television is the root of all evil. I’m saying we need to bring more mindfulness and discretion into how much of it our children consume.

Citibabes founder Tracey Frost took these stats to heart. Her New York-based community center is not only for kids, but also for parents. The purpose is to educate them while creating a safe place for kids to play.

“As a mom whose priority has been to educate and enrich my children’s world as much as possible,” she admits,”my first reaction [to this study was] completely one of guilt. While I am neither a child psychologist nor researcher, I am a mom, and it’s difficult to hear studies like these and not feel defeated in some way. Most parents I know educate themselves on the dos and don’ts of parenting, but we’re all human. Perfect parenting is an unfair goal.”

Offering enrichment classes such as the ones available at Citibabes is one way to get kids moving. “When it comes to TV,” Tracey says, “we reserve judgment and, instead, try to create a vibrant world of real-life experiences. Everyone can agree that real quality time spent face to face with other people is more fulfilling than virtual experiences.”

When I asked Tracey what we could do to create healthy viewing habits in our kids, she suggested the following:

- Role Model: The best thing you can role model for healthy TV viewing is, ironically, turning the TV off. Showing kids there’s more to life than a video screen is key which is why getting outside to the park, the beach, or just running some errands models the fun of physical activity over being a couch potato.

- Conversation starters: One thing that comes naturally to grown-ups that may not be easy for kids is the importance of discussing what’s happening on TV. When my husband and I watch TV, there’s always a conversation to be had whether it’s debating a point that’s been made or sharing complimentary information about the topic we’re watching. We try and modify that in an age-appropriate way whenever we watch TV with the kids. Asking questions about what we just watched is the best way to get kids thinking actively about what can turn into passive viewership.

- Reward: Sometimes the power of television is too seductive for kids, not unlike sugar and sweets. So, just like we’ve made dessert a “treat” after a healthy dinner, you can extend that lesson to watching TV. Make a chart for the fridge – and include the whole family – indicating what physical or “real world” activities were done for the day in order to “buy” TV time. An hour at the park might mean an hour of your child’s favorite show. A half-hour of reading a book might mean 30 minutes of playing games on the internet. Instituting a system of checks and balances may seem too rigid, but for young children who like structure and reward, the strategy works and you can always ease up as they get older.

So what do we do when they wing about wanting to watch just one more show? Tune in next time when Tracey offers up ways to draw the line and provide TV viewing alternatives.

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You’ve all heard me say it. Limit screen time for yourselves and your kids. One person even said I believe TV is the source of all evil. Not so. I wouldn’t work in TV if I thought that. Toddlers, however, have other things on their minds than watching images pass through the screen: such as learning how to navigate the furniture without falling down and potty training.

According to a recent study,  children age two and under should not watch any TV at all. The ramifications shows up later (by fourth grade), according to the report. Believe me. It’s not worth it. My then-eighteen-month-old took in the story of the three little pigs while playing blocks. He never watched the screen (my three-year-old did), but the sound of the Big Bad Wolf haunted him for years. I mean years!

So, cutting down on screen time is a super duper power of slow idea. How? If you’re in Manhattan or Scarsdale, New York, consider this community, Citibabes (their blog, launched today, literally rules!). I sat down for a cyberchat with Citibabes founder Tracey Frost to discuss the importance of community. The power of slow says the meeting of the minds uplifts. Have a listen to Tracey Frost!

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Oprah Asked Me

January 17, 2010

“What brings you joy?”

Okay, so she asked a million others, too. Here’s what I wrote because I thought the topic was blog-worthy (and I’m also not sure anyone else will see it otherwise.) :)

The biggest joy I experience in life is connection with other people. Whether it’s my writing that affects change or watching a movie that alters my inner landscape, pulling open the tethers of each other’s hearts is a source of great inspiration for me. I find it in Nature, in the arts, and in those around me. We were placed on this Earth to help each other tap into our collective greatness. Living life to the fullest means remembering what we are here for. I strive to do that every day. ~Christine Louise Hohlbaum, author of The Power of Slow: 101 Ways to Save Time in Our 24/7 World

What brings you joy? I’d love to know (and Oprah would, too, so once you’ve told me, pop over to her site to tell her as well!).

Extreme TV Viewing Kills

January 14, 2010

According to research conducted by Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute’s Professor David Dunstan, watching more than four hours of television a day can lead to an increase in cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer, and non-CVD/noncancer mortality in Australian adults.

The study, which was recently published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, found that there was:

  • an 11 per cent increased risk of death from all causes (of death)
  • a 9 per cent increased risk of cancer death; and
  • an 18 per cent increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) related death.

Going slowly doesn’t mean you are sedentary 24/7. So click off the tube and jump into life, grooving to the power of slow!

Many thanks to MyLifeScoop for naming the Power of Slow blog one of the top ten work-life balance blogs!

Today has been yet another lesson in slow. Even though it didn’t start off very slowly…

The alarm went off at 5:30 a.m., just as the church bells did. You see we live in a slow rural town in which the church still alerts the farmers when it is time to milk the cows. I took a long, hot shower, then accidentally dropped my liquid make-up on the floor. It shattered, then splattered, right onto the outfit I was supposed to wear for a TV commercial I filmed this morning.

Everything happens for a reason, I heard my inner voice whisper. I took a slow, deep breath, then did what any self-respecting wife would do. I woke up my husband to ask for help!

He got up to hand wash the spots off my white shirt, then iron it. I ended up dropping the shirt again, this time in the car. The great news was the production company opted for a different blouse (the one I ended up wearing), saying the white was too bright for the camera. Whew.

Sometimes the Universe is shouting, and we’re not listening. It was obvious my white blouse wanted to stay home. When we give it up to the Universe (God), we are trusting that what is unfolding is the perfect creation that was meant to be.

The filming went very well. The camera man smiled encouragingly, the make-up artist dabbed every now and again, and the director said, “Yup. Goose bumps. It’s a wrap.”

With the help of my new navigation system, I came home in plenty of time to congratulation my son on his super grade on his math test and to bask in the glory of the emerging sun.

How do you trust in the Universe when things don’t go according to your internal script?

The American Time Use Survey, released every year in June by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, reveals not much as changed since last year in how we spend our time. According to their 2008 report, one-half of our daily leisure time (2.77 hours) is spent watching the tube. Socializing came in a distant second (about 45 minutes daily). Men (3.01 hours ) watched a bit more TV than women (2.55 hours). I don’t suppose those financial shows count, do they?

Nonetheless, the interesting difference this year is that people worked .1 more hours at home than last year (that’s six more minutes for the fractionally challenged). That either means more people are telecommuting or are staying connected to the workplace even longer. A full twenty-one percent (as opposed to twenty percent last year) worked 2.90 hours a day at home on average. When looking at full-time employed men only, that numbers jumps to 3.13 hours a day.

How are we spending our time? A lot of it is spent in front of a monitor. Screen time is becoming more and more prevalent every day…

Just Another Hour…

February 20, 2009

The phone jangled me awake this morning. I decided to sleep in after a massive headache told me I’d better.

The good news is my headache was gone by the time my friend called an hour later. She was calling to tell me she had read about a casting happening for a TV docu-drama on ZDF (think ABC news). She thought I should apply. Curious, I dragged myself out of bed and went to her house to get a copy of  the announcement.

It is great fun to pretend for a few hours. Acting is like being a different person for a while. It tests your limits and allows you to see the world with different eyes. Whether or not the gig works out doesn’t really matter in the end. The neat thing is I tried. And if it doesn’t work, there will be more hours to sleep in!

Soap Opera Slowness

February 19, 2009

I admit I used to watch Young and the Restless religiously. It was the only soap I followed and, with some irony, I was invited to an awards’ ceremony in Las Vegas last year. The host was Melody Thomas Scott, the actor who has played Nikki, one of my favorite characters on the show, for decades.

sturmAfter wondering for years what it is like on a soap opera set, I have been privvy to a behind-the-scenes look at one of Europe’s most popular soaps – Sturm der Liebe (Storm of Love). The funny part is they have asked me to come again to play a hotel guest. This would be the third time in as many weeks. It is not hard work, but it’s very tiring as we typically wait three to five hours between sets, which last about ten minutes of us walking back and forth through the ‘hotel lobby’. In reality I wonder why I continue to say ‘yes’. Perhaps it has to do with the memories of being home from school with a cold, sitting with a steaming bowl of Campbell’s soup balanced on my lap, as I watch Nikki trick Victor yet again.

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