What I learned by eating Oreos

There are two things worth knowing about me: I am a ruminator and I am a sucker for Oreos.

I thought of this earlier this week after hearing Paul’s story.

“I only got three hours sleep last night,” he said. “I couldn’t stop thinking about that damn email.”

“What were you thinking about as you lay there?” I asked.

“I kept composing my response. It was like I was replaying the whole scene over and over again, getting some sort of crazy pleasure out of torturing myself.”

My friend Jane does the same thing although she’ll take it to a whole new level. She’ll ruminate, replay the scene, re-write the script of what actually happened while she’s in the middle of a conversation with someone. It doesn’t show of course. The only thing that the other person sees is Jane drifting off (“running silent; running deep,” my witty friend Tom—an ex-submariner—calls it).

“Why do you leave at that moment?” I ask her.

“I don’t know—I think I’m trying to figure it out–somehow make what happened better or not at all.”

I know one CEO who drifted off, ran deep, in the midst of a board meeting, in the midst of intense questioning by a director. As the director pressed and pressed for answers, he says, he couldn’t stop thinking of the mistakes he’d made.

As Paul and I talked the other day, we struggled with the core questions: How do you break through the obsessive rumination, self-recrimination, re-writing of the script? How do stop yourself from disappearing from the present moment of your life? How do you fall asleep?

And then I thought of my relationship with Oreos.

Seven years ago I was  nearly 50 lbs. heavier than I am today. Frustrated, angry, disgusted with myself, I hauled my (fat) ass into a nutritionist’s office. Erica gave me a lot of tools (including a whole new approach to food) but the most important gift she gave me was the power of “Do Overs.”

One day I came in to see her, dejected and ready to give up. I whined: “I ate a fucking dozen Oreos last night, Erica…a fucking dozen.”

“Well the combination of sugar and salt is deadly for you. Some folks like sweets. Some like salts. You’re one of the lucky few,” she said with sweet sarcasm, “who craves both. An Oreo is the perfect drug for you.” And then she gave me the gift: “Tonight, it’s a Do Over. Start again.”

And suddenly I was 12 and back on West 7th Street and Avenue T, playing stick ball with Paulie, Ugo, and Pino. And we were arguing about whether Paulie’s shot was a hit or a foul and to stop the fighting, Ugo yells “Do over!” and just like that, all is forgiven, all is forgotten. It’s not an out. It’s not a foul. It’s not a hit.  Do over.

Later—much later—I’m reading Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind and I realize that coming back to the Beginner’s Mind is a Do Over…and if I allow myself, then I can have an infinite number of Do Overs. I can always return to what is, what is really happening, what is really present. Even more powerfully, if I do that, then I can let go of the email, let go of the missed quarter, let go of the Oreos.

Of course that’s hard. And harder still is letting it go while taking in the implicit lessons. Oreos with high salt and high sugar are a drug for me. The email pricked that bubble of self-confidence and revealed the deeply and long held fear of being found out as the less-than competent person that was projected.

Several years ago I taught an undergraduate class in business leadership at Queens College. From the beginning I had, what to the students seemed a revolutionary policy: You always got a chance to re-write your essay. If you didn’t like the grade you got the first time, you could incorporate my suggested changes (or not) and re-submit your essay at least once.

The lesson I tried to teach was that doling out Do Overs was a powerful incentive. It mitigated the fear of failing and, more often than not, brought out the best in the kids.

Many walked away with the notion that they, too, when they ran their own companies (and they all thought they would one day), would hand out Do Overs. Fewer of them, though, walked away with the deepest lesson of all: you’ve got the magic wand in your hand right now. Give yourself a Do Over. Let go of the shame, guilt, anger, fear from eating too many Oreos and try again today.

  • Eric

    Hello Jerry.
    I see that you link to Zen Mind, Beginners Mind. I’d like to know what Buddhist literature you recommend for beginners?
    Thank you.

    • jerrycolonna

      Hey Eric…I’d definitely recommend Zen Mind. Also, Lama Surya Das’ Awakening the Buddha Within and Pema Chodron’s various works. As well as those of my root teacher: Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

  • dgulbran

    I think your blog is the best thing I’ve ever found via AVC (which is meant as high praise because Fred’s blog is excellent as well).

    And we have a rule in my house not to buy Oreos. :)

    • jerrycolonna

      Yikes! I hope I can live up to that high praise!

      Re: Oreos…ah but the true warrior allows the Oreos into the house but resists.
      ;)

    • Eric

      Thanks Jerry.
      And I agree with dgulbran; I found this via AVC. Very glad I did.

    • http://bsoi.st/ bsoist

      we avoid buying cookies of any kind :)

  • http://veespo.com David Semeria

    I’m reminded of rock climbers. Every so often they bang a nail into a crevice and loop their rope around it. They know they may fall when they’re further up, but they also know they’ll only fall so far.

    We need to learn to bang in a few nails in our own lives, to consolidate our accomplishments (big or small) and then continue upwards – knowing that if we fail, we can always start again…

    • jerrycolonna

      As usual David, your metaphors are better than mine.
      ;)

  • panterosa,

    The Do Over is integrating many things. Embrace the now and try again, trying again will mean trying something new, something new means you learned from the last time, you grew. You grew into this now. Now go for it.

    The sun rises every morning, automatic Do Over. You live in this now, not that now (the oreo now), and changing your perception or the course of events from that now only happens in this now. I’m not sure even the future is valid for making changes. Rewriting the past doesn’t exist, writing the present does. Trusting the 12 oreo now to bring you to the 2 oreo now is faith in why things happen. Shame denies that trust.

    Embracing your own newness implied by the Do Over is what appeals to me – you are rewarded a fresh way of seeing and that emboldens you to try a new way. It also implies humility, the humility of not being perfect or all powerful, the humility, in the face of the oreo, of being part of something larger. Humility of being responsible to contribute, as just one person, to making things better or more interesting for those you share this life with.

    • jerrycolonna

      Just so, Panterosa. You remind me that when you do the Do Over, the now has shifted–perhaps enough so that the what comes next is the sought after better thing.

      • panterosa,

        The choice you make to say/do something, or to not say/do, may haunt you for a while. But it can be seen as a flashlight to illuminate where you were then, and why, as opposed to where you want to be. Once seen that way, it is almost then a clearer compass point reading for getting where you want to go which keeps guiding you in the now.

        Oreo as compass. Oreo as sundial.

  • http://www.bigbags.tumblr.com Bags

    I wish I could count the times that the fear of not doing it right the first time kept me from even trying at all. I’ve been slowly discovering this principle in my own life… taking more risks, reaching out to more people, implementing more ideas.

    Thank you for writing this the way you did. It’s good to know this is something we all struggle with. You just shed light on one of the darkest corners of my closet of personal fears.

    • jerrycolonna

      You’re welcome Bags. We’ve all got those dark closets of personal fears…Robert Bly called it the Long Black Bag we drag behind us wherever we go.

  • joeagliozzo

    But how do you avoid the acceptance of a “do over” becoming a regular thing for excusing your own non-performance (or lack of willpower?). Meaning, well I shouldn’t eat this Oreo, if I do I feel guilty, but I will then give myself a do-over later. Seems like a battle of will vs later feeling overly guilty such that the guilt then blocks you from trying again. Sorry, Not well said, but hopefully my question is understandable.

  • http://www.stustein.com/ Stu

    I have the sleeping problem too, where I lie in bed and think about the email I’m going to write or the idea I’m going to pitch. It kept me up for a long time. I finally started to keep a pad of paper next to my bed to write out those ideas in full. Once my mind knows that the idea is on paper, I fall asleep quickly and easily. Maybe it’ll help some of your clients. Really enjoy your blog.

    • jerrycolonna

      Great! Great idea, Stu. Writing (or anything else) that can get the feelings out will help. I’ll often say to client, write to ME (instead of the person you’re obsessing about)…send the email to ME and not to them. You can always send it to them in the morning if you still want to.

      I write in a journal every morning (just finished a few minutes ago). I’ve been doing it since I was 13. It helps tremendously.

      • stustein

        Your daily journal is probably part of the reason writing comes so naturally to you. I have also found that sending an email upset/angry is always a mistake. Written documentation is something the recipient can keep with them for a long time (and will have a harder time forgetting). If I can, I try hard to avoid sending criticism over email because I really don’t know how the person will take it. Often those things I write late at night look absolutely silly in the morning. Thanks again for your blog – I always look forward to your posts!

        • jerrycolonna

          You’re right in noting that the journaling helps my writing but I think it’s sort of goes the other way…I naturally, instinctively reach to write when dealing with things…always have which why I started journaling in the first place. I am a writer (and that’s a statement about my soul not my vocation).
          There was a time when I was a writer by vocation…but that’s back when my hair was black.

          • Wavelengths

            “. . . that’s a statement about my soul . . .”

            Amen, brother.

        • kareem

          stuart, agreed that sending an angry/upset email is a mistake. i’ve often found it useful to at least write the email i’d want to write in a journal, and then reflect on it for a day before writing the email i should write. usually the reflecting reveals that my ego wrote the first email :) it’s a helpful process to be aware of (and try to minimize) the role ego plays in the decisions i make.

          • panterosa,

            My wasband and I had a rule which worked well. You didn’t comment on a hot button point until you could do so without speaking in anger. When the discussion happened it was in the context of what I called the Next Time FIle. Next time, instead of doing that stupid/hurtful/annoying/counterproductive thing …..Could you do this instead? Could we lay down the ground rules for avoiding this conflict in the future?

            The Next Time File was a real tool for keeping vitriol out of the air and only coming to the table when we had solutions. I guess a form of do over preparation.

          • http://www.tereza.com/ Tereza

            Panterosa that’s a great suggestion!! Love it. How did you two
            define “hot button issues”. Or were they self-evident.

            BTW also loving your new avatar. Now I get it! “Panterosa”! Clever’

          • panterosa,

            The blood boiling moment, the WTF?’s were self evident.

          • http://www.tereza.com/ Tereza

            LOL. Upon reflection, the Whiskey/Tango/Foxtrots are totally self-evident in our household, too.

      • Wavelengths

        I want to ask you about writing in your journal.

        Can you consider the difference in the process when you write by hand on paper and when you write at the keyboard? Can you see a difference in the nuances of the written word? How it feels, both as you write, and as you re-read the content later?

        The mechanisms we use to record those thoughts also shape those thoughts.

        I wonder if the words in your private journal are your first step toward being able to share so eloquently your personal insights.

        Thank you, again.

        • jerrycolonna

          I think there’s a huge difference between writing with a pen and typing. I do the former. It feels like it’s a way to write with my body as much as my mind. Moreover, journaling in the morning–as I do–feels like I’m writing before my cognitive, over-planning brain takes over–really crucial because the over-thinking brain can prevent me from writing, from flowing.

          For me, the answer is nearly always to drop into my body.

          • http://www.tereza.com/ Tereza

            It’s really interesting how we each channel and express our thoughts differently. Also because Jerry like you, I started as a journalist. Probably a few years later, and not for as long.

            My writing really took off when I transitioned to word processing. My brain works in a highly conceptual chunky kind of way. So the blank e-sheet where I unleash my stream of consciousness and then link the thoughts together is what makes me feel good. It’s kind of a lightening-out-of-the-fingertips, sorta vibrational feeling.

            I have that same feeling when I sing. After a many year hiatus, I recently joined the kickass choir at my church (am I allowed to say “kickass” and “church” in the same sentence? Ha!) I walk away from rehearsal thinking WOW I feel better.

            I don’t have that feeling when I write linearly on paper. My hand can’t keep up with my brain and I’m also not very patient vis-a-vis multiple drafts.

            Now all that said — as a reader, there is nothing so special as handwriting on paper. I’ve been going thru old letters, recipes, etc from my parents, grandparents and so on. You can’t beat that tactile, emotional experience. A whole different level of connection.

          • jerrycolonna

            I’ve a similar problem…I typed faster than I write and I often can’t write as quickly as I think.
            Which is why handwriting in a journal is perfect for me…it slows me down. I can be facile and that’s not always wise.

            What was really freeing was giving up the notion that someone, someday would read what I was writing in the journal. Then I no longer had to care about penmanship (the bane of my life since second grade).

            Amen, you’re allowed to say kickass and church in the same sentence!

          • http://avc.com fredwilson

            but what about the few of us that can’t write with a pen?

            the computer was a gift to me because i basically cannot write with a pen. i squeeze so hard on it that my hand cramps within seconds and i can’t write.

            i failed penmanship every year as a kid.

          • jerrycolonna

            So did I. I actually had nuns who’d rap my knuckles with a ruler because my cursive writing was so illegible. Thank God they didn’t kill the impulse to write…or rather, it was too strong.
            I’ve found that really well-designed pens help…and noticing that my hand is cramping…that helps too.
            But the real point isn’t handwriting or not…it’s slowing down and letting the other parts of your brain catch up.

          • http://avc.com fredwilson

            slow down? you’ll have to explain that to me :)

          • jerrycolonna

            I like to humor myself and think of Fred Wilson drinking as much caffeine as I do. Yikes.

          • http://www.tereza.com/ Tereza

            Coming from a long, established line of lapsed Catholics, I’m allowed to say that one thing they haven’t figured out is that it’s highly unproductive, and often destructive, to repress and bind impulses. A really bad idea, on so many levels!

            Jerry it is to our benefit that your impulse to write survived Sister Mary Benedictine (or perhaps, the repression strengthened it!)

          • jerrycolonna

            “(or perhaps, the repression strengthened it!)”
            Me? Motivated by the desire to prove someone wrong? Never!

          • http://www.tereza.com/ Tereza

            LOL. I get *totally* pissed off when someone tells me I can’t do something.

          • http://www.mattmireles.com/ Matt Mireles

            Funny. I have the same problem.

          • Pete Bruce

            so did i

        • stustein

          What has struck me from what you’ve said, @jerrycolonna, is that the form of expression is personal. Back on my initial comment, you mentioned, “Writing (or anything else) that can get the feelings out will help.” I hadn’t really thought about other expressions people use to help clarify their problems. While writing is my tool of choice, my cousin is a fantastic graphic designer, and she expresses herself visually. And while I personally like the feel of the pen when I write, typing flows more easily for some people (especially if they detest their own handwriting!). @Wavelengths, I think it’s always great to experiment around and see what works best for you.

          I have also been interested to hear about everyone’s personal strategies, so thank you @kareem, @Tereza, and @panterosa for sharing as well!

          • jerrycolonna

            Isn’t really all about soul expressions? (Or, for the would-be psychologists in the room, the expressions of the subconscious?)
            Art in all of its forms moves because it connects at the soul/subconscious level.
            When I dance–and there, I said it, I dance–I use my body to tell a story.

          • panterosa,

            Phew, you said it! Feel good?

            If only more people connected to their non-verbal selves, pre-verbal selves, post-verbal selves. Dancing is a form where you must learn to leave embarrassment (how you look) and embrace joy (how you feel). Let your body Talk. I’m sure it has a lot to say.

            Once upon a time dancing was the great stress buster and social connector. If only more people danced, and people danced more, the world would be far groovier.

          • http://auntmimisbookclub.com/ Emily Merkle

             I have found an outlet for expression and discovery in blogging content from others that speaks to me.
            Quotes, images…

  • http://www.tereza.com/ Tereza

    At times I’ve wished I had an “Undo” button for stupid things I did or said, like in Excel or Word.

    But that’s magical thinking.

    A “Do Over” button is actually feasible.

    Great post, Jerry!

    • jerrycolonna

      Thanks Tereza. I like the forgiveness implicit in the Do Over. Undo pretends it didn’t happen. Do Over says, there’s no way to resolve this except to just move forward.

      • http://www.tereza.com/ Tereza

        Exactly. Undo is denial. (and not a river)

  • http://asalesguy.com Keenan

    The risk to do overs is we tend to abuse them by not trying as hard the first time. If we are given one chance to do something right we tend to work MUCH harder at it than if we know we get a second chance.

    Do-overs work best when we don’t realize we have one until AFTER we failed. If we know before the effort is never as good as if we didn’t.

    • jerrycolonna

      Exactly right, Keenan. See my comment above about intent and a knife.

  • http://www.3pmobile.com/ Peter Cranstone

    Couple of thoughts…

    Write the email and send it to a spare email box. The writing of the email is the “emotional” salve that chills the mind of the Entrepreneur. I have several email boxes I can send to. It’s the act of letting go without being seen as “emotionally immature” (I’ll never forget that lecture) that helps.

    With regard tot the Do Over – it’s a great idea, but don’t use it to expect a different result (that’s insanity). It was Thomas Watson that said “Double your failure rate – that’s where you’ll find success”… you learn more in defeat than you do in victory. If you keep your eye on winning the war (dropping those 50 lb’s) then losing a few battles along the way is not a bad thing. The issue becomes why did you lose those battles and invariably that’s an emotional issue.

    I don’t send emotional emails anymore – way to destructive – I simply have a “Get to Box” where I can move them to get them out of sight and if I really have to send an email then it always goes to a spare email box. About 5 days later when you review it you’ll be glad you didn’t send it.

    Failure is all part of the journey – embrace it, learn from it and adapt and let go of those unwanted pounds.

    • http://www.tereza.com/ Tereza

      Very wise, grasshopper!

      • http://www.3pmobile.com/ Peter Cranstone

        Thanks – I too at times have eaten to many Oreo’s.

        • jerrycolonna

          as I have I…oh wait, I said that already.

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  • http://avc.com fredwilson

    what’s interesting to me about the stick ball parable is that it is a compromise. “ok, we can’t agree, so let’s do it over”

    someone should write a book called “life lessons learned at recess”

    • jerrycolonna

      Hmmm. Good idea for a book.

      • http://www.tereza.com/ Tereza

        That’s funny, i did actually write a kinda related post on friday — lessons learned in my current favorite cartoon (on the ‘evil plot’ meme) http://terezan.tumblr.com/

        Thanks to prodding by e-Coach Colonna, i’m really getting into this blogging thing.

        You guys should do the playground one, though. The girls angle is, “Don’t Pull Hair” and “Don’t Double-Cross your Friends”. A more sinister flavor than you’d want to take the book, I think.

        • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/MGRF3SBYDLW4UV6P2BULO2XXUE Julie P

          I have kids into that same cartoon. Great post. The play-ground theme could have chapter’s like: “Never walk in front of swing jumpers” or “Pick your teams carefully”, or according to my charming 2nd grade boy, “If you kiss a girl you may have to kiss her best friend as well.”

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  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/MGRF3SBYDLW4UV6P2BULO2XXUE Julie P

    Hi Jerry, perfection is exhausting the do-over keeps us out of paralysis when that fear of failure is GIANT! Thanks again.

  • http://www.allweekwalls.com/ pressurized walls nyc

    Did you know that according to Wikipedia.. originally, Oreo was mound-shaped and available in two flavors; lemon meringue and cream. In America, they were sold for 25 cents a pound in novelty tin cans with glass tops, which allowed customers to see the cookies.

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  • Pete Bruce

    fucking love this post

    • jerrycolonna

      ;) And I still fucking love Oreos.