Sunday, July 25, 2010

Field Guide To The Backseat Driver: Pedal to The Meddle

I try not to post long articles, but since it’s summer and I am posting less often, I really wanted to share this article with you.  

Not that anyone would ever call me a backseat driver...but I love this article because the author discusses the reasons for controlling behavior (oh yes, that’s what backseat driving is) and whether it really works.  It doesn’t, by the way.


Because You Could Do Everything Better
By Elizabeth Svoboda
May 2010 issue of Psychology Today

Stephanie Burchfield is the first to admit it: She's a horrible backseat driver. Her take-charge instinct manifests itself in many situations, including advising her friends as to the kind of organic, healthy food they should be eating. "They've all told me to shut up," says the 49-year-old public relations executive from Phoenix, Arizona. "My husband says meals are not the right time to spark a conversation about inhumane farming practices or issues surrounding quality control in non-organic food processing."

It's an enduring stereotype in popular culture: the person who aims to dispense helpful advice—in the car or elsewhere—and ends up being annoying, not to mention distracting. Take Daisy Werthan in Driving Miss Daisy, who's constantly telling her chauffeur exactly how to drive, or Ned Flanders in The Simpsons, who dispenses moral bromides to neighbors along with his customary good cheer.

Backseat drivers are comical in fiction only; in real life, it's hard to overstate the irritation they can provoke. Their unsolicited advice—however well-intentioned—carries the subtext, "I don't trust you to handle this on your own." "It's like you're playing solitaire and someone starts telling you what cards to put down," says Jerry Burger, a social psychologist at Santa Clara University.

While the criticisms they issue can intimidate those on the receiving end, unwanted authorities are often acting out of their own fear of the unknown, says Pasadena psychologist Ryan Howes. They offer unsolicited advice in an attempt to combat their own feelings of powerlessness—like the realization that they cannot fix the situation if the driver makes a mistake.

Burger once conducted a study in which subjects were told a sample of their blood would be taken. They could prick their own finger or have an experienced technician do it. People who fit the backseat driver profile—those with a high need for personal control—chose the former. "Even in that situation, they say, 'Nah, I'll do it myself,'" Burger says. "They just can't give that up, even if it means hurting themselves."

Psychologist Steven Reiss of Ohio State University concurs. "The backseat driver is an individual who has a strong need to feel influence, and they're always looking for ways to express that need."

Where does a meddler's deep-seated desire for control come from? "If you grew up in an environment that was kind of chaotic, it's almost a defensive sort of reaction," Burger says. "We've seen this in homes where a parent has an alcohol problem, for example—those children develop a need for control themselves."

Other backseat drivers can trace their personality quirk to a specific, traumatizing life event. "An accident happened right in front of me on the freeway," says Cameron Bays, an account coordinator from Portland, Oregon. "I stopped in time, but a truck hit me. From that point on, I didn't really trust drivers who hadn't experienced an accident before."

Most commonly, however, backseat driving emanates from a psychological trait that's usually considered positive—confidence that your knowledge base is solid, that you're capable enough to influence any situation for the better. "Often backseat drivers do have a level of exper-tise: 'I want to share with you some of the wisdom that I have,'" Ryan Howes says.

Burchfield embodies that assessment. "I've owned my own business for 15 years," she says, "and I'm more comfortable being in charge than being in the passenger seat." Figuratively or literally—if she feels unsafe when someone else is behind the wheel, she doesn't hesitate to make her opinion known. The car's other occupants, usually her husband and two daughters, don't always appreciate her candor. "My husband is extremely tolerant, but when I get in the car, you can see the eyes start rolling."

Just as her husband and daughters roll their eyes in the car, strangers tend not to react well to Burchfield's unsolicited criticism. That's because when we think someone is threatening our freedom of choice, we tend to act forcefully in an attempt to restore that freedom, according to the psychologist William Miller of the University of New Mexico. In a study of problem drinkers, Miller found that the more persistently therapists confronted clients about their excessive alcohol use, the more the clients rebelled by continuing to drink.

Backseat drivers often realize their advice-giving habit can grate on others; still they find it difficult to change their ways. "It's something I can't help—short of biting my tongue until it bleeds," Burchfield says.

Instead of going cold turkey on criticism, a resolution that is unlikely to last for long, Howes recommends that backseat drivers strive to soften the edges of their approach. "It's possible to offer an opinion without being intrusive. Saying 'I have a thought on this if you'd like to hear it' gives the other person that little bit of control to say yes or no."

Those in the driver's seat can do their part to calm the situation. While it's easy to respond with knee-jerk hostility to unsolicited advice ("It's none of your business"), a more effective strategy—and one that preserves the peace—may be to find a helpful outlet for the advice-giver. If you're planning a wedding and your mother keeps calling with opinions on everything from the cake flavor to the color of the flower girls' dresses, ask if she'd like to be in charge of something specific like assembling the table centerpieces. In a car, put the meddler in charge of the radio or navigation.
Stephanie Burchfield's youngest daughter, 16, is beginning to learn to drive, and Burchfield recognizes the toll her tendencies could take on their relationship. Still, she reports some recent success with keeping her impulses in check—with her daughter as well as with others. When she frames her input as a personal preference people seem to take less offense.

Burchfield doesn't think she'll ever be able to shake the backseat driver mantle entirely. She does, however, recognize it for what it is, which allows her to inject some levity into the proceedings. "We deal with it with a certain amount of humor—my weird inability to just sit and ride has become a joke. I've created a family culture where people feel free to pick apart my driving, too." —Elizabeth Svoboda

Better Backseat Driving
Take a deep breath before you offer criticism. Ask yourself a quick question: "Is it really critical?" advises psychologist Marcia Reynolds, the author of Outsmart Your Brain. "Maybe it's not that big a deal." Weigh the importance of your input against the negative impact your intervention is likely to have on the relationship.

Imagine how you might react if the tables were turned. Reynolds, a self-professed backseat driver in recovery, characterizes her former attitude as, "I can tell other people what to do, but they can't tell me what to do." When she realized this approach was nonsensical, she got better at biting her tongue.

Give advice to people who'll appreciate it. Your sister might bristle if you tell her she needs to test-drive a different haircut, but volunteering at a career center or mentoring high school students puts you in contact with people eager to benefit from your perspective and expertise. Reiss advises, "Get yourself into situations where someone like you can thrive."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Culinary Excursions in the SF Bay Area

As a lot of you know, I really like food, too much so.  A little over a year ago, a few Oxygen members went on a tour of Berkeley's gourmet ghetto (home of Chez Panisse) with Lisa Rogovin who runs "In the Kitchen with Lisa" Culinary Excursions.  It was a fantastic tour!

Lisa is so much fun to be with and she knows everything about the San Francisco Bay Area food scene.

Last week, a friend and I went on her new "Taste the Mission" tour .  I know the part of the Mission with Bi-Rite, Tartine, and Delfina on 18th Street, but I didn't know the area Lisa showed us.   Here are some places we visited and foods we tried:

Mission Minis is a storefront with mini cupcakes baked fresh daily. Flavors may include: cinnamon horchata, Aztec chocolate, pink lemonade, ruby red velvet, and more.  

Handmade tartlets from Mission Pie and hand held savory pie delivered by Bike Basket Pies.

Humphry Slocombe's award winning (and one of a kind) ice cream, as well as a maple bacon donut from Dynamo Donuts.  
Mexican delicacies from El Farolito (taco), La Palma Foods (huarache and fresh salsa) and La Victoria (pan dulce).
I also loved a new restaurant we visited called the Local Mission Eatery on 24th Street.
We also had a short guided tour of some of the beautiful murals in the Mission.  The tours run about three hours and I promise you won't be hungry afterwards.  Lisa does tours of the Ferry Building, the Gourmet Ghetto in Berkeley, and a food and wine tour in West Marin County.  The Mission tour runs $75, but if you mention the Oxygen network or the EntreNous blog to Lisa, she will give you $10 off.

To get more information, go to Lisa's website:


Friday, July 09, 2010

Lean on Me

I like to think that I am a strong, independent woman and that I can take care of myself; but, what really gives me strength are the people that I lean on, family members, and particularly, my friends.

I feel comfortable being vulnerable with them because I know they love me unconditionally and they will tell me the truth.  I lean on my friends and hope they will lean on me when they need to.

I was listening to the song the other day, “Lean on Me”.

I was particularly drawn to these words, “Lean on me, when you're not strong and I'll be your friend. I'll help you carry on, for it won't be long 'til I'm gonna need somebody to lean on”.

They are profoundly simple words.  I was reminded of one of my high school friends.  I had a close girlfriend to whom I would tell everything.  I would go to her for advice and tell her about mistakes I had made.  I leaned on her and she was there for me;  but, the one thing I always remembered is that she never really told me her deep inner thoughts or worries.  It seemed as if she had her world under control and didn’t need my help.  It felt strange because I wanted to be there for her to lean on, but there never seemed to be a need.  For that reason, our friendship was never really complete.

Years later, I realized that she had secrets of her own that she couldn’t or didn’t want to share with me.  She, for some reason, didn’t lean on me or anyone for that fact.

Looking back and thinking of the lyrics to “Lean on Me”, it reminds that me that though we all strive to be independent and self-reliant, one of the greatest gifts that we have is a chance to lean on our friends and family when we need to and to be there for them to reciprocate.

Sometimes being strong isn’t the goal, it’s being human and appreciating the invaluable relationships that we have.  Sometimes allowing ourselves to seek help or advice from others shows more strength than trying to handle it all by ourselves.  Allowing ourselves to admit that we can’t do it alone and that we are human is OK and, believe it or not, it strengthens that bond with those we lean on.


Monday, July 05, 2010

Overcome the Most Common Decision-Making Pitfalls

The author of this article, Deepak Chopra, discusses the fact that how you make your decision is many times more important than what you actually decide.


Just for a moment, think about the various decisions you have made this week.  Which ones were easy? Which were difficult? Are there any decisions you have been putting off or avoiding? Did you make any impulsive choices?

The way you make decisions is important because, ultimately, the quality, happiness, and fulfillment of your life is shaped by your choices.

The following are different paths that people take when they are trying to make a decision.  It’s helpful to know which one is your decision-making style.

I Need to Make the Right Decision

If you obsess over making the so-called right decision, you need to reframe the decision-making process away from a life-or-death dilemma to an enjoyable process of taking assessment, choosing, and then working with that choice until you make your next choice.

Remind yourself that there are no mistakes in life. If you make a decision that doesn’t lead you in the direction you want, you can then make another decision. 

Don’t feel like you have to be certain that your decision will be “right” and don’t think you have to wait until you have perfect knowledge of the situation. In reality, it isn’t possible to have complete certainty or complete knowledge.

I Avoid Risks and Make Decisions Based on What Seems Safe

In reality, every decision involves some level of risk. There are no safe paths, and that is actually a good thing, for it is in the wisdom of uncertainty that we find freedom from past conditioning. Realizing that at the level of spirit, your choices are always supported. When you have a decision to make, instead of getting caught up in risk analysis, ask yourself the following questions:

Does this choice feel right for me?
Am I interested in where this choice is leading?
Do I like the people involved?
Is this choice good for my entire family?
Does this choice make sense given my stage in life?
Do I feel morally justified in making this choice?
Do I feel inspired by what I’m about to do?

I Feel a lot of Regret about Past Decisions

We are always doing our best we can at our current level of awareness. If you have made a decision that has resulted in pain for yourself or others, you have the option now to make new choices. Remember that every event in life can only cause one of two things. Either it is good for you, or it’s bringing up what you need to look at in order to create good for yourself and others.

I Tend to Base My Decisions on Other People’s Opinions

This pattern is a clear symptom that you aren’t in touch with your inner self and what you really want. Instead of trying to fit in or please other people, find out who you really are. Turn inward and follow the path that leads to your inner intelligence. From this place of knowing, you will be able to make decisions that will serve your higher good and, ultimately, those around you as well.  How do you do this? The most effective way to connect to your deepest self is a regular practice of meditation. In meditation, you go beyond the mind’s perpetual noisy chatter and enter the silence and peace of pure awareness. This is where you’ll discover your true self and connect to your deepest desires and purpose.