Hairy Balls of Death (coming to a theatre near you!)

sharkmouth.gifThere is a great article in this week’s New York Times by Tara Parker-Pope that says, basically, you are more likely to die from a coconut falling on your head (by a wide margin) than you are to die of a shark attack. The article lists the general risk of death from a variety of things. While the story does a great job of showing how many of our fears can be irrational, it never addresses why we’re like this. Or what to do about it. The problem is, none of the human race is ever that rational, unless we’re forced (and reminded frequently) to be. There’s just never going to be a blockbuster Spielberg movie of a serial-killer coconut tree (buh-buh. Buh-buh. Buh-buh-buh-bu-eeeeEEEE! thud). Scratch the surface of any of us and you find we’re not that far from living in a cave watching the firelight flicker. Instead of being nouveau riche, we’re nouveau rational–and it pervades everything we do, like a tacky bit of trashy upbringing we can’t quite shake. This is why patients (and colleagues!) can spend a tremendous amount of energy fretting about pesticides–while smoking half a pack a day. In a rational moment, the only appropriate response is, Honey, the stuff you’re sucking on is like the tailpipe of a diesel truck–quit that and then worry about your food! But we’re not rational, really. The idea of something lethal hidden, tasteless and invisible, in the food you eat is the shark. The cigarettes are the coconut tree–just too obvious to strike fear into a primal heart. And, like sleeping under a coconut tree, smoking has the added layer of blame-the-victim-mentality: well, if you’re doing that, you deserve what you get. The good news is, knowing how the mind works can sometimes help with behavior change. If you want to quit smoking, try channeling your inner primitive fears. Look at those babies before you light up and imagine your own personal shark, silently cruising the depths–lethal germs, mind-altering chemicals that convert you to zombie obedience (AND ugliness), or tiny glass shards that explode shrapnel into your lungs. Embrace your irrational side and use it to help you make a rational step in the right direction. Because no one deserves a coconut to the head.

If you have a tip on how to recruit your irrational side for those of us struggling with long-term change, put it in the comments section and share the encouragement! (Shark image courtesy of

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