Eleven tips to stop spinning

by Brian on August 1, 2021

in Cancer,Health,Mindfulness

I never liked merry-go-rounds. They always seemed like the least worthwhile ride at the amusement park. Maybe that’s why carousels only warranted a lowly “A” ticket in the old Disneyland pricing scheme.

Merry-go-rounds don’t go anywhere. You don’t make progress like on a roller coaster or a racing ride. There’s no change of scenery, no thrilling dips. You just spin over and over until you get dizzy and you want to throw up.

I’ve been thinking about a different kind of merry-go-round lately – spinning when it comes to decision-making. 

Spinning sucks away our spirit as we get stuck, regurgitating the same indecisive conclusions over and over, until we are at last forced to move forward, one way or another, but not before we’ve inflicted unnecessary anguish on ourselves (and most likely our loving partners, too). 

This was exacerbated during our most recent trip to the U.S. There were so many opportunities for spinning: where to go, what to eat, who to see, the direct flight vs. the cheaper one with more layovers… the list seems endless in hindsight.

If spinning is an issue for you, too, wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to shut it down and banish the psychological trauma that comes with it?

Here then are eleven tips to stop spinning in its tracks so you can blast off to Space Mountain instead of getting stuck in an endless loop at the Dumbo ride. 

1. Write it down. Making a pro and con chart can help you visualize – and resolve – what’s causing the spinning. You can also just write down your thoughts, freestyle. But be sure to put your list aside for a day so you can see if you feel the same way tomorrow.

2. Prioritize. You’re not going to get everything you want. That’s a truism in life as well as for specific decisions. So, decide: Is it more important to buy the fancier dishwasher or to save money? If you can’t have both, do you prefer better gas mileage or adaptive cruise control?

3. De-conflate. Have you inadvertently conflated two unconnected issues? If your physician has a sour bedside manner, is he nevertheless good at what he does – an excellent surgeon? There’s no reason to disqualify a professional based solely on his or her communication abilities. De-conflate skill from style to manage spinning and move forward. (If you’re developing a long-term relationship, the calculus may be different, and you may want to place people skills higher on the list.)

4. Is it peripheral? When my wife, Jody, and I were looking to book our Covid-19 tests prior to flying, we had to choose between going to the airport, which was cheaper but would eat up more time, or getting it done in town at a nominally higher price. Was it worth the hassle factor of getting to Ben-Gurion in order to save the equivalent of a couple of falafel sandwiches?

5. Can you confirm it? Do you have a source for the spinning thought you’re having? I often worry that, after agonizing over a decision to attend an event or make an appointment, it will be canceled at the last minute. Did I receive a call or message indicating that might be the case? Does the person I’m meeting have a reputation of canceling? No? Then move forward. 

6. Give power to your partner. Sometimes it can be helpful to let your partner make the decision. For control freaks (me included), that takes some serious willpower that you’re not going to second guess your spouse after the fact. Removing the burden entirely from your shoulders can minimize spinning.

7. Decide on a cut-off point. Researching options is important – I would not have been comfortable choosing a chemotherapy cocktail when I was treated for cancer without doing extensive due diligence. It’s OK to get a second or even a third opinion, but don’t keep running to specialists for a fourth, fifth or sixth one. How many different types of shoes should you consider when searching Zappos? How many USB thumb drives? 

8. Minimize conflict where possible. Conflict is not always avoidable, but you can pick your battles. Get into it with someone with whom you’re close. For individuals providing a service, turning the other cheek when confronted by something triggering can lead to less anxiety than if you’d engaged.

9. Don’t spin about the future. It’s one thing to get in a tizzy about something happening right now. It’s quite another to spin over an eventuality that hasn’t and may never occur. 

10. Thoroughness is a spectrum. Being thorough is usually a good thing. But when it goes too far, it can turn into spinning. This is not a “switch” you flip to go from either 100% thoroughness or 100% spinning. Rather, it’s a spectrum and it’s easy to almost imperceptibly slide to the dark side. Before slipping to anxiety, ask yourself: “Have I gone beyond being thorough?” If so, you still have time to gently course-correct.

11. Accept that spinning is a part of certain types of decision-making. You can’t shut down all spinning and, for really critical issues (choosing a college, making aliyah) or ones where you feel particularly helpless (healthcare, taking your car to the mechanic), spinning may simply be part of your decision-making process. Acceptance can reduce some of the frustration when you find yourself stuck. 

If all else fails, try your best to enjoy the ride. After all, even the worst Dumbo ride ends eventually.

I first shared my anti-spinning techniques at The Jerusalem Post.

Picture of merry-go-round in Italy from Ran Berkovich on Unsplash

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If you absolutely must travel overseas from Israel these days, beware the PCR testing shuffle. 

PCR testing booth in Santa Rosa

In order to keep its citizens safe from Covid-19, Israel has one of the strictest virus testing requirements anywhere. You need to get the nasty nasal swab no more than 72 hours before your flight back to Israel. And there’s another one upon landing at Ben-Gurion Airport. On top of that, the U.S. requires a PCR test of its own before flying out of Israel.

All tests must be paid for by the traveler.

I’m not against testing for Covid. If it can keep us from importing more of the Delta variant, I say bring it on.

But the whole testing system strikes me as a bit of a scam. Less so on the Israeli side, where the instructions are clear, the price is reasonable, and the results come back fast: a 14-hour turnaround costs NIS 45 ($14); NIS 135 ($41) to get results in 4 hours, if you’re willing to go to the airport for the test.

In the U.S., it’s a whole different kettle of Covid fish.

While there are plenty of testing sites, many of them free, they’re not set up for the kind of 72-hour turnaround Israel needs. (Our experience was in California; other states may differ.)

For example, you can go to most pharmacies to get tested. But they only guarantee results in 3-5 days for Walgreens, 4-6 days for CVS. If you need results in 72 hours, how can you rely on a facility that only promises them in 96 or hours or more? 

This is not just a hypothetical point. We have two friends who were both denied boarding because, in one case, the test results hadn’t arrived by departure time (an email came an hour later) and, in the other, our friends’ flight was delayed, pushing them out of the 72-hour window.

We regretfully concluded we had no choice but to pay for our test. There was a testing center in Santa Rosa, which is where we were visiting my family, that had a special “travel” package. The cost: $179 per test. 

Ouch.

The “Test Before You Go” booth at the Santa Rosa Plaza shopping mall is a small portable trailer stationed in the parking lot. We arrived at 1 pm but there was no one inside. 

A half dozen people milled around, masked, in the baking hot Northern California sun. The two staff members had, apparently, taken an extended lunch break. I can’t begrudge them for eating, but couldn’t they at least have posted something online reading, “closed between such and such an hour?” 

The whole process took nearly 90 minutes. I was optimistic that we’d get our results in plenty of time before the flight. But 24 hours until boarding, nothing. 18 hours, 14 hours, still nothing.

The results eventually came the night before our flight, but there were complications. Another friend who’d been to the States a few weeks earlier said that it was critical that the form have our passport numbers written on it.

We checked: Ours didn’t.

Moreover, the form didn’t give any indication of the time the test was taken, only the date. How would the airline know if it had been 72 hours before and not 77 or 80 hours?

I panic posted to Facebook.

“Sometimes the airline staff are sticklers for the right information, sometimes they don’t even look,” was the consensus. 

So, would we get an airline representative who was naughty…or nice?

I called Test Before You Go. Could they amend the forms to include our passport numbers and the time? No, there was nothing they could do.  

“But we’ve never had a problem,” the customer service representative replied cheerfully. 

Ha, they don’t know Israeli bureaucracy, I thought.

My mind began to race. If we got turned away, did we have anywhere else to go for recourse? There was one final alternative: If we got to the San Francisco Airport early enough, we could race over to a separate terminal and do a test with results in 45 minutes

The cost: $275. Each.

If we wound up doing that final test, on top of the ones we’d already done in Santa Rosa, plus the testing in Israel, we would have spent $1,000 between the two of us – almost as much as our plane ticket!

Wanting to save the money (and not fall into the category of “freier” – Hebrew for sucker – in case the first test forms were deemed sufficient), we opted to hope for the best. 

Still, questions abounded. Why can’t all but the priciest of testing facilities guarantee faster turnaround? And why is it so danged expensive? If I didn’t know better, I’d think this was some elaborate conspiracy, a cartel dreaming up new ways to milk hapless travelers out of even more of their hard-earned cash. 

The check-in line at SFO was long, giving me even more time to worry. Finally, the Delta representative asked for our negative PCR tests, gave them a quick glance-over, and told us we were good to go. 

That was it. No questions asked. 

I guess we got one of the “nice” ones.

When we were in Santa Rosa, my mother asked me, “Why did you have to travel now, in the midst of a pandemic?” 

“Because I haven’t seen you for three and a half years!” I replied.

But unless something unexpected occurs, we will not be traveling again until Covid is truly under control, and we can hopefully avoid the PCR shuffle entirely.

I first shared my thoughts on PCR Covid testing at The Jerusalem Post.

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It’s been several years since I’ve visited the U.S. – cancer and Covid kind of got in the way. But here we are, my wife, Jody, and me, and while it’s not exactly culture shock, this Israeli fly on the wall is noticing all kinds of things that seem new. Here are a few random musings, in no particular order.

1. Wearing a mask for the duration of a 12-hour flight wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. And my fellow passengers were surprisingly compliant. The truth is, I’d already gotten comfortable with masking up indoors (even when it was no longer required) during a pre-flight visit to my optometrist. One of the employees was coughing. I didn’t want to get sick – not even with a head cold let alone Covid. Keeping a mask on is a good way to not ruin a long-planned vacation. 

2. Anti vaxxers are everywhere. The best response I’ve settled on is to simply not engage. You really can’t convince anyone anymore. Like Brandon, the sweet young man I met in Florida. “I’m 23 and healthy. I don’t see any reason to get vaccinated,” he told me as I bit my tongue. I wanted to warn him about Natan and Noga, who I wrote about in my previous column, about the dangers of the Delta variant, but nah. At least he wasn’t denying the pandemic outright. (I met a few of those too.)

3. The Impossible Whopper at Burger King tastes just like a regular Whopper. The Beyond Meat Burrito at Del Taco is nearly identical to its beef version. Which is fine if you like Whoppers and tacos, but if you’re looking for a more transcendent vegan experience, fast food will fast disappoint. 

4. As bad as the political vitriol between Bibi and Bennett got these past weeks in Israel, it’s even worse in America. One sign in particular that shocked me: “F*** you and F*** you for voting for Biden.”

5. Pancakes are overrated. When I first envisioned this trip, I dreamed of going to the nearest IHOP every morning and eating a stack of fresh blueberry buttermilk pancakes for breakfast. I was disabused of this notion after my first syrup-drenched meal: Portions are enormous and any attempt to clean my plate was met with a fullness bordering on nausea. 

6. Uber is awesome. This will come as no surprise to anyone who’s a ride hailing addict anywhere but Israel, where the Transportation Ministry refuses to allow Uber, Lyft and the rest to operate. The ease with which you can order an Uber, the low prices, the interactive map that shows you exactly where your driver is, not needing to pull out cash, have all convinced me that driving your own car is no longer an absolute necessity.

7. You need a reservation to buy something at an Apple Store – at least at the one I went to. “I’m here to make your day,” I said to Nevada (yes, that was her name) as I entered the store in Coconut Point, Florida. “I know exactly what I want, and I’m ready to buy it right away.” “Sure,” Nevada replied. “I have a salesperson available in three hours to help you.” “But I don’t want to wait three hours.” “Well, you could go outside, order what you want on our app and then we’ll get it ready for you right away.” Which is what I did, but still…

8. All across America, Covid restrictions are being lifted as if the pandemic is over. (In Florida, where I started my trip, it never happened at all, of course.) Look, I’m all for removing indoor mask mandates when the case numbers drop to the low two digits, as they did in Israel. But there are still 10,000 cases a day in the U.S. And as we’ve seen with the Delta variant wreaking havoc with our post-pandemic plans in Israel, we are far from being out of the woods. I was feeling relatively safe when I left home three weeks ago; in America, I’m masking indoors everywhere, even if the signs say you don’t need to.

9. One-hour weed delivery. My biggest health-related concern about traveling to America (other than catching Covid) was that I wasn’t comfortable bringing the medical cannabis I use nightly for my chronic insomnia on the plane. Well, actually, the Israeli security guard said as long as I have my medical cannabis license with me I could take it through Ben-Gurion Airport. “But I can’t tell you what will happen when you get to New York.”

Fortunately, recreational cannabis is legal in California, the second stop on our trip. Order online and you can have your high within an hour – it’s the Amazonification of marijuana. But the strains in California are not the same as what I’ve ascertained, after months of painstaking trial and error, work for me in Israel. As a result, I didn’t get more than two to three hours a night of sleep for the first two weeks. 

That is until Jody and I stayed at a lovely bed and breakfast in Northern California. In the afternoon, Bryce, the owner, came by bearing a surprise gift: a brown baggie of my favorite strain for sleep (the oddly named Gorilla Glue). Unbeknownst to us when we booked the place, Bryce is pushing to brand his establishment as a pioneer on the “cannabis tourism” circuit. The 2.5-acre property grows several varieties of cannabis. “There’s no extra charge,” he said brightly. “We believe in sharing!” 

I was out like a light for the first time in weeks. 

I first shared my American musings on The Jerusalem Post.

Burger King Impossible Whopper credit: Burger King.

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When on the hottest day of last summer our 25-year-old air conditioner finally called it quits, we called Natan, our air conditioner technician. He’d been patient with me as I’d debated over the previous few months the pros and cons of buying Israeli or Japanese: Electra vs. Mitsubishi, Fujitsu compared with Tadiran. 

But with temperatures hitting close to 40, I had no time to procrastinate – we needed a new unit installed without delay.

We opted for the cheaper Electra. Unfortunately, the new machine was fussy from day one.

First, there was an annoying buzz, then a loud rattle, a weird smell and a remote control that periodically switched from cold to hot without warning, then stopped functioning entirely.

I asked Natan to come back to check if there was something wrong with the unit. Maybe it simply needed an adjustment that a smart technician like him would understand immediately. 

Natan was set to come on a Tuesday. That morning, though, he sent me a short but terrifying text message: He was in quarantine after exposure to a Covid-19 carrier. He wouldn’t be able to make it.

It was October by this point and the weather was getting cooler. I forgot all about my plan with Natan – that is, until the weather heated up again recently and the familiar old noises were still there.

Natan came last week to pay his long-delayed service call.

“So, did you get corona back then?” I asked. “I assume not.”

“Oh yes, I did!” he replied with a cheer that belied the seriousness of his situation.

As I did my best to empathize with Natan, I simultaneously breathed a sigh of relief. If he had come over that morning as planned and only gone into quarantine afterward, I would have been exposed, too. (This was several months before Israel began its vaccination drive.)

“But you got through it OK?” I continued, doing exactly what I despise when people ask that question rhetorically of me without actually being interested in the answer.

“Well, actually, I was pretty sick,” Natan revealed. “At first I couldn’t smell. Then I couldn’t breathe. I was on oxygen for a week. I still have symptoms now. If I have to carry heavy stuff up two floors, I’m out of breath.”

Wow, Natan is just 28 years old, a strong guy who had spent a couple of years in the jungles of South America, and he was on oxygen? So much for the mistaken idea that young people don’t get severe symptoms from Covid-19.

“My wife also got corona,” Natan added, almost as an afterthought. “I don’t know if she caught it from me or I caught it from her.”

“Wait, when did you get married?” I asked. The last time we spoke, Natan was living with his parents in Jerusalem.

“I had just met Noga a few months earlier. When we got corona, it made me question what’s important, what our values are. We’d just survived this awful experience. So, I told her, ‘I had corona. You had corona. Why do we need to wait?’ She said, ‘OK, Natan, but let’s discuss this again in another half a year.’ That same morning, I went out and bought a ring. When I gave it to her, she said, “Hey, I told you to wait!’ I said, ‘Take it or leave it.’” 

She took it and Natan and Noga were married just a week and a half later.

Natan showed me some pictures from the wedding on his phone. Bride and groom both looked radiant. (It wasn’t from a post-Covid fever, as far as I could tell.)

Covid-19 has upended countless life plans. Some partnered couples have discovered during lockdowns they’re not as compatible as they once thought and have opted to split up. Others, like Natan and Noga, have jumped into relationships for which they might otherwise have taken more time. 

Then there’s the baby boom – or not.

Potential parents “may be foregoing childbearing because the pandemic has forced them to confront their own mortality,” writes Kate Choi on the website The Conversation. After all, how can you bring new life into the world if you “cannot envision a future in which you will be able to provide a loving and secure environment for the child to thrive?” 

Data backs up this trend. Rather than the jokey prediction that bored couples stuck in lockdown with nothing else to do would lead to an increase in pregnancies, the U.S. CDC found nearly 40,000 births “missing” in the final month and a half of 2020, which is also nine months or so from the advent of the pandemic. Demographers predict that the decline in fertility will continue to accelerate, making this the largest fall in births in a century. 

It’s even worse in Europe where 50% of people in Germany and France who had planned to have a child in 2020 said they were going to postpone it. In Italy, 37% said they had abandoned the idea altogether. Spain is reporting its lowest birth rates since records began.

“Having seen how bad the pandemic was, I’m not surprised,” says University of Maryland Prof. Philip Cohen. “But it is still just shocking to see something like this happen in real time.”

Natan and Noga are examples of the opposite trend. When I asked Natan if Covid had affected their own family planning, he responded with a chuckle and a telling twinkle in his eye. 

“Ask me again in a week,” he said.

I first told the story of Natan and Noga for The Jerusalem Post.

Photo by Carlos Lindner on Unsplash.

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We were out on tiyul when the tour guide sprung what still seems to me, years later, the biggest whopper of religious cognitive dissonance I’ve ever heard.

“Dinosaurs,” he stated derisively, looking over the desert landscape. “How does Torah understand these kinds of fossils if, as we all know, the world is less than 6,000 years old?”

The hike participants snickered. Dinosaurs! Who could believe in enormous ancient reptiles that supposedly lived millions of years ago when it’s clear that God created the universe much more recently?

The year of that outing was 1984. I was attending Ohr Somayach, a yeshiva for the newly religious. Those of us on the hike eagerly devoured any and all things ultra-Orthodox. But the explanation we were about to receive strained credibility for even the most wannabe supplicant.

“God put those fossils in the earth so you would think the world is billions of years old,” the tour guide said. “There were never actually dinosaurs. God simply wanted to supply us with a believable ecosystem.”

The other students nodded appreciatively, but I was incredulous. Paleontology, geology and all the other “ologies” of science have long formed the backbone of my own belief system and, despite my growing interest in Jewish philosophy and law at the time, this was pushing things too far.

I left the yeshiva a few days later and enrolled in a more balanced religious program.

I had assumed that this story was an outlier, unique to our impressionable group of young twenty-something seekers. 

So, I was flabbergasted to hear the same twisting of pseudoscience from 21-year-old Na’ama who has been in Israel for two years now studying at an ultra-Orthodox women’s seminary.

I tried to argue. 

“Why would God need to come up with such an elaborate ruse?” I asked Na’ama. “It doesn’t fit with Occam’s Razor.”

Occam’s Razor is a famous proof proposed by Franciscan friar William Ockham in the 13th century in which he posits that, if there are two explanations for a particular phenomenon, the simpler one is usually correct.

“How is something like evolution simpler?” Na’ama responded. “If anything, the solution with the least assumptions is that God created everything, including the fake dinosaur fossils.”

Despite Na’ama’s assuredness, I was curious whether the God and dinosaur coupling was still canon amongst the ultra-Orthodox. I checked the Ohr Somayach website. In an article for the yeshiva’s “Ask the Rabbi” series entitled “Jurassic Judaism,” the existence of dinosaurs was raised.

“Dinosaurs aren’t a matter of belief. The fossils really exist,” the unnamed author writes. 

I breathed a sigh of relief. 

“How one interprets these fossils is a different matter,” the article goes on.

The author then does some serious mental gymnastics, wondering, “How do you measure a ‘day’ [in the book of Genesis] when the sun was only created on the fourth one?” 

According to this creative melding of science and fiction, each of those first four days of creation could have spanned billions of years – an “era” rather than a mere 24-hour-period – thus enabling the possibility that the fossils are real.

That was at least a step back from “God wanted to trick us.”

My dinosaur conundrum might seem an inconsequential thought experiment, but it has real-world implications. In Jerusalem, for example, the Natural History Museum has taken to hiding its dinosaur exhibit behind a curtain when ultra-Orthodox youngsters visit.

“The museum should decide whether it is a scientific museum presenting the truth or an institution with self-censorship that seeks to tell its visitors half-truths and complete lies,” chastised Uri Keidar, executive director of Be Free Israel, a group promoting religious pluralism, in 2018. 

There’s no such equivocation at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky where founder Ken Ham has constructed a $35 million facility including a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark featuring (wait for it) dinosaurs coexisting with humans.

“Sixty-five million years ago, a giant asteroid entered the earth’s atmosphere and crashed into the surface, destroying the dinosaurs and the majority of the species in existence at that time. Or did it?” the museum’s promotional material asks.

And what happened to the dinosaurs that survived the flood? 

“Dinosaurs could have gone extinct any time after the ‘two of each kind’ got off the Ark, just like many other animals have gone extinct since the Flood,” the site states.

Don Stewart, writing for Blue Letter Bible, an evangelical Christian website, adds that “dinosaurs would have had to have lived at the same time as humans because they were part of the animal kingdom created by God” on the sixth day in the book of Genesis. 

“Why can’t you just live and let live?” my wife, Jody, challenged me. “Na’ama has her point of view and you have yours.”

“It’s because I find this way of thinking offensive.”

“Offensive? Really? That’s what you’re going with?”

“It’s just that it flies in the face of everything I hold dear: logical thinking, respect for research, consideration of experts.”

“All this over a few fossils?”

Yes. Because it’s a short distance from dismissing dinosaurs as facts to dismissing the most important policy issues facing us these days: climate change, vaccines, masks … heck, the entire pandemic itself. Anti-science conspiracy theories are reaching the corridors of power all over the world. 

It’s for these reasons that this seemingly small issue is emblematic of a much bigger problem, one that threatens the very fabric of our fragile society. (A little over the top, I know, but that’s how I feel.)

We can’t simply agree to disagree. There’s too much at stake. 

It’s not just about dinosaur bones anymore. 

Na’ama and I first argued about dinosaurs at The Jerusalem Post.

Image from by Fausto García-Menéndez on Unsplash

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