–G. K. Chesterton, “The Eternal Revolution,” in The Everyman Chesterton
Agree, disagree? This idea haunted me as I was writing The Happiness Project. It seemed relevant to everything.
Habits interview: Brian Wansink.
I’ve been a big fan of behavioral scientist Brian Wansink for years. He does intensely interesting research on eating behavior and consumer habits, and his book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think was a resource for me as I was writing Better Than Before.
For instance, he’s done a lot of research to show how much convenience influences whether and how much we eat. It’s astonishing how much convenience matters. The lesson for habits? Make it easy to do things right, and hard to do things wrong.
Brian Wansink has a new book, Slim By Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life. It’s crammed with ideas to make it easy to eat healthier–without even noticing that you’re making changes. The book is fascinating, and surprisingly lively and funny–this isn’t a dry review of the literature. It’s a fun read.
I so agree with this approach of “mindless eating” to eating habits. Whenever someone tells me, “I need to make healthy choices,” I think, “No, don’t make healthy choices! Choose once, then stop deciding. Use habits. Mindfully use mindlessness to get where you want to go.”
I was very eager to hear what Brian Wansink had to say about habits in general, and about his own habits.
Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research on the subject of habits and eating. What’s the most significant thing you’ve concluded?
Brian: After conducting hundreds of food studies, I’m increasingly convinced that our stomach has only three settings: 1) We either feel like we’re starving, 2) we feel like we’re stuffed, or 3) we feel like we can eat more. Most of the time we’re in the middle, we’re neither hungry nor full, but if something’s put in front of us, we’ll eat it. I all but guarantee that most people with a few spare pounds would lose 20 pounds in a year if every time they had a craving they would announce – out loud – “I’m not hungry, but I’m going to eat this anyway.” Having to make that declaration either prevents you for eating, or if you do indulge, it prevents you from overindulging.
A second finding is that most people think they are too smart to be influenced by candy dishes, television, or the shape of a glass. When we show someone that they ate 30% more because we gave them a large scoop at the ice cream social, they will deny it. That’s what is so astonishing. No one wants to admit they were tricked by something as mundane as the size of a scoop or the shape of a glass. That’s what makes these cues around us so dangerous to our diets.
What aspects of habits would be most helpful for people to understand?
Most people believe they are Master and Commander of their food choices. They aren’t, but I want them to see that they can make small changes that can put them back in the driver’s seat. I want people to see that making small changes in their kitchens and routines will make all the difference with no real sacrifice.
What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?
Before both breakfast and lunch, I think of one thing that’s happened so far that day that I’m grateful for. At dinnertime – if I’m home and not traveling – I have a slightly different routine. Each person in the family (including me) shares what happened that day by answering 4 questions: 1) their high point, 2) their low point, 3) who they appreciate most and why, and 4) their plan for tomorrow. It gives them a chance to celebrate the good things that happen, realize that each of us has daily disappointments, thank a person who helped them out, and to raise their eyes toward the future. All three of my daughters get their moment in the sun, and it makes me happy to see each one shine.
What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
When you get up in the morning, you can say “This is going to be a tremendous day,” “This is going to be OK day,” or “This is going to be a terrible day.” Regardless of what you say, you’ll be right.
Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?
The most top of mind that gets in the way of my happiness is very vivid right now: It’s thinking my work is more urgent than my young daughters.
I’m in DC now because I gave a House and a Senate Briefing on something related to Slim by Design. An hour ago, I was on the phone with my middle daughter, and she asked if I knew these people and I said, “No.”
She replied, “But Daddy, why do you have time to read your book to strangers but not to us. We’re more important than strangers. We’re your little girls.” I’m still choked up and wiping my eyes.
Which habits are most important to you? (for heath, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)
Dreaming big, staying positive, building other people up, laughing as much as possible and making other people laugh.
Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?
The only way I can do it is by avoiding what I call the Tyranny of the Moment.
Generally speaking, we can commit to making a small change in life, such as not eating sweet snacks before dinner. We can write it down, cross our heart, and announce it to others. We can really, really mean it. But fast forward two days. It is been a hard day at work; you finished a 45 minute commute; you are drained, and you know frozen Snickers bar is waiting in the right corner of the freezer door. It is easy to break your cross-the-heart commitment. After all, today is an exception – it was a tough day and, come to think of it, you did not have a very big breakfast. Your plan of the year has just been thwarted by the tyranny of the moment. And the moment – this one exceptional moment – tyrannically wins every time.
Sometimes that inner voice actually whispers to us, “I know I said I’m not going to eat out of vending machines at work, but today’s different – it’s been crazy,” or “I know I still have to do my sit-ups today, but it’s late – I’ll do twice as many tomorrow when I wake up.” I know I should have had only one glass of wine but this is really a great dinner and a really good wine.” [I talk about this problem in the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting.]
There is only one thing that is strong enough to defeat the tyranny of the moment.
As mentally disciplined as most of us like to think we are, nothing beats having to face facts each night and check off a box. We have very selective memories, but I use tools such as this checklist to let us know just why – or why not – we have painlessly lost two pounds on the 31st of the month.
This basic approach works for well or other habits also.
Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?
80% Upholder, 20% Rebel.
Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties)
Since I try to invest heavily in other people, I’m tripped up when a key relationship isn’t going well — it’s tremendously disorienting. A while back, my wife and I were having difficulties, and it threw me out of balance so much that it distracted me away my mindlessly healthy routines. One day I woke up and realized I had gained over 20 lbs.
I went back to these routines (they’re in Mindless Eating, chapter 10), and lost the pounds in about 4 months. It was an unfortunate reminder about what happens when we let healthy habits (and relationships) slip.
Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you changed a major habit very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?
You were raised in Kansas City [wow, good memory, Brian!], and I was raised up the Missouri River in Sioux City, Iowa. My parents were extremely loving and supportive, but there wasn’t an expectation I would go to college or the means to very easily make it happen. I did go to college, and to try and support myself, I struggled selling Amway. I worked all the time, but I blamed my lack of success on being too shy, not smart enough, not having a suit, and so on. One day a friend gave me a copy of an old book called The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz.
This book gave me a transforming level of confidence in myself and my mission. I reread that book 10 times within the first month and at least 30 more times since. Within a semester my grades went from a 2.5 to a 3.8, I met my wonderful college sweetheart, my college money worries disappeared, I ran for the student senate, and I committed myself to become a professor who changes eating behavior – oh, and I bought a suit.
I’ve given that book to over 200 people over the past 25 years. Most think it’s pretty hokey, dated, or simple-minded. I understand that, but I would also understand if their thinking – as a result – never grew any bigger than the thinking they inherited from their parents.
Do you embrace habits or resist them?
Embrace. That was the theme of Mindless Eating, and that’s also the theme of Slim by Design: “For 90 percent of us, the solution to mindless eating is not mindful eating—our lives are just too crazy and our willpower’s too wimpy. Instead, the solution is to tweak small things in our homes, favorite restaurants, supermarkets, workplaces, and schools so we mindlessly eat less and better instead of more. It’s easier to use a small plate, face away from the buffet, and Frisbee-spin the bread basket across the table than to be a martyr on a hunger strike. Willpower is hard and has to last a lifetime. Rearranging your life to be Slim by Design is easy.”
Has another person ever had a big influence on your habits?
Absolutely. This happens all of the time. I am a very coachable person. Sometimes that coach is a 5-year old daughter who tells me drink less Diet Coke, and sometimes it’s an author whose book I’ve read over 40 times.
I'm a total obliger.
I posted yesterday about “Do you resist when anyone asks or tell you what to do?”, about some questions I had about the Rebel Tendency, as part of the Four Tendencies framework I’ve created.
A key piece of self-knowledge — which is crucial to habit change — is “What is your ‘Tendency’?” That is: How do you respond to expectations?
-outer expectations (meet a deadline, perform a “request” from a sweetheart, follow traffic regulations)
-inner expectations (write a novel in your free time, keep a New Year’s resolution, start flossing)
Your response to expectations may sound slightly obscure, but it turns out to be very, very important.
In a nutshell:
I gave a talk at LinkedIn about the Four Tendencies, so if you’d like to see me discuss each category in a video, you can watch: for Upholders, watch here; Questioners, here; Obligers, here, and Rebels, here.
I’m always trying to deepen my understanding of how they play out. So this week, I’m going to pose some questions. Yesterday, I focused on Rebels.
Today’s questions relate to the Obliger Tendency.
Obligers, and Obliger-observers, I’m curious: what do you feel obliged to do? It seems to me that Obligers vary tremendously in their standards. They often describe themselves as “people-pleasers” but some do much more to please than others!
Some Obligers seem to feel obliged to do all sorts of things — perhaps even things that no one is actually expecting from them. “I have to make a homemade dessert for the bake sale.” “I can’t go to sleep with dirty dishes in the sink, because someone might see.” “I have to do the yard work myself.” They may exhaust themselves meeting obligations for others — and feel burned out, and also resentful, because they don’t meet their expectations for themselves.
Other Obligers seem to feel obliged only to do things if they’ll actually get in some kind of trouble if they don’t. “I won’t work on the report until my boss comes looking for it.” “I won’t clean up the kitchen unless someone is coming over.”
Another variety: I have a friend who is an Obliger, and very ethical. She feels obligated to anything that she considers morally necessary. So she feels obliged to be on time, because that shows respect for others, which is morally worthy, but she feels no obligation to go to the gym. I said, “What about your duty to yourself?” (That’s the Upholder perspective.) She just waved her hand and said, “Meh.”
Note: For Obligers to meet expectations for themselves, they need to create systems of external accountability. This is key! Essential! And makes an enormous difference.
What do you think? Does this ring true? What spectrum of Obliger behavior have you noticed or experienced?
I wish there was more art in public spaces. it's so enjoyable.
The colours of this last burst of late summer warmth in old stained glass window in the Cloister in Bristol Cathedral. The corridor is effectively a gallery of stained glass presented at eye level - not high up above - which means you can examine all the robes, tassels, folds, drapes, patterns, colours, and ribbons close up,
and wonder at the incredible artistry of the makers and staying power of this medium.
These are interesting concepts. They totally tap into the idea that if I just avoid it, ignore it, it will take care of itself: ostrich syndrome. Which everyone knows, doesn't work! I wonder if you did an experiment with the areas of your life that you were feeling like an ostrich in, if you you tackled those, what would happen?
Novelist Paul Auster wrote a memoir, Hand to Mouth: A Chronicle of Early Failure.
He writes, “By the end of 1977, I was feeling trapped, desperate to find a solution. I had spent my whole life avoiding the subject of money, and now, suddenly, I could think of nothing else.”
This reminded me of a thought-provoking interview I did with personal finance expert Zac Bissonnette a few years ago. I’ve never forgotten a story he told:
A few years ago – when I was in high school — my dad was going through a ton of financial problems that culminated in him living at a friend’s house.
My dad was born in 1948 and is a classic hippie; He lived in a tree-house in a state park for a while in the early 1970s, he’s a carpenter, and he is probably the coolest, most loving person I know.
But he’s never really given much thought to money. He always said that it wasn’t important to him and that it didn’t matter. So I was sitting on the couch with him at his friend’s house watching the Red Sox…and I asked him, just off the top of my head: “Who do you think thinks about money more? You or Bill Gates?”
And I’ll never forget his response: “Without a doubt, me. I spent my whole life thinking I was above money and that it didn’t matter and now it dominates my life and is all I think about. It’s like money is exacting its cruel revenge on me.”
I interviewed you [meaning me, Gretchen] once for a piece and you told me that “Money affects happiness primarily in the negative” and that’s exactly right. When it comes to happiness, the less money matters to you, the more careful you need to be with it. If you don’t like thinking about money and don’t pay enough attention to it, it will one day become all you think about.
I think this is true about money, and I think it’s true about habits. All too often, the areas of our lives that we decide to ignore can become the areas that dominate our lives, later. And not in a good way.
Perhaps this happens most with health.
Habits allow us to put a behavior on automatic, so we don’t have to think about it or make decisions related to it anymore. In this way, habits can free us from the things we don’t want to think about.
For instance, if you hate to think about money, you might decide to follow the habit of never carrying credit cards, so that you can’t impulsively buy things that you can’t really afford.
My sister told me, “Now I’m free from French fries.” Not everyone would use habits the way she did, to get free from French fries — the Strategy of Abstaining doesn’t work for everyone — but habits can bring freedom.
This idea, of how habits can be confining but how we can use them to feel free, is a big theme in my forthcoming book about habit formation, Better Than Before. If you want to hear when it goes on sale, sign up here.
I was recently contacted by Got Milk? to see if I was interested in partnering with them for a blog post.
Considering that milk was such a huge staple of my childhood (like a totally normal person, I collected Got Milk? mustache magazine ads in a binder) and because every member of my family drinks milk every day, this was a no-brainer for me. I was raised on glasses of milk. From age 1 to 18, my brother and I had milk with our dinner every single time my family sat down at the table (so six of seven nights a week). When I go to Sacramento to visit my parents, they pour my glass of milk without asking. (And I drink it without compliant.)
"Drink you milk" was part of the chorus I heard growing up. (Along with "do your best," "take the laundry upstairs" and the Full House theme song.) If I do my job right, it will be part of Ellerie's as well. (Along with "finish your Harry Potter," "bring in the backyard tomato harvest" and "do you want to go craft supply shopping?")
Anyway, I'm excited to share one of our favorite whole wheat waffle recipes with you today. We eat cereal and milk for breakfast most mornings, but on weekends, we get a little more exciting (you can see our pancake recipe here) and sometimes that includes waffles (made with milk, of course).
This recipe makes three dense (and delicious) waffles, feel free to increase it to fit your needs.
Separate the egg. Set aside the yolk (to be used later) and beat the whites with a hand mixer until stiff.
Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
Combine the wet ingredients. I like to beat the egg yolk then mix with the melted butter and honey before adding the milk.
Mix the wet into the dry and stir just until you can't see dry ingredients anymore (do not over mix).
Add in your strawberries (or other fruit choice).
Fold in your egg whites. This is what will keep the waffle more on the light and fluffy side (again, take care not to over mix).
Pour the mixture into your waffle iron (we have this one). This is a thick batter and you can sort of scoop it into place. Follow the cooking directions according to your waffle iron.
Serve right away...ideally with whipped cream and more fruit! Since I had the hand-mixer out for the egg whites anyway, I decided to make up some whipped cream. I combined 1/2 C cream, a dash of vanilla and 1tsp sugar and whipped until it was the right consistency.
So good. And as far as sweet breakfasts go, these are pretty healthy and properly filling (we're not all starving again at 10am). All three of us are fans (though Ellerie perfers that hers is broken into bite-sized pieces).
This post is sponsored by Got Milk? As always, opinions, post concept and text are all my own.
After Ellerie was born I started having a lot more fun taking photos. Don't get me wrong. I have always LOVED taking photos. But I am learning that, for me, it's more fun when my subject moves. And it's more fun when my subject grows. (No offense, potted plants and cups of coffee.)
I also now take A LOT more photos. (Again with the moving and the growing.) I've gotten a few questions on Instagram about how I get "good" photos of Ellerie and while I have shared technique tips here and cropping tips here I thought I'd share another secret.
I wait for it.
Generally I know the shot is possible - the light is right, Ellerie's in a good mood, the background is decent - so I get my phone ready. Then I set the shot, which for me means lining things up, either by crouching to Ellerie's level or by setting my phone on the ground.
And then I start snapping. Over and over and over. I don't say anything to her, I just let her move around naturally. I usually know when I've got it and, no joke, my breath catches in my throat. The one perfect photo. It's there, caught in the 8 to 12 other decent shots that aren't quite the shot.
As you can see in these "outtakes" the camera doesn't really move. I keep things lined up and just let Ellerie do her thing within the frame. The key for me is to keep the camera out long enough. Usually the best photo comes a few snaps in (though not always).
I like to share stuff like this to keep the mystery out of my photography. It's just about getting things squared up and then...waiting for it.
all of these were taken on my iPhone 5s and the final images were processed with the VSCO app and shared on Instagram (along with photos of my coffee, projects and plants).
Today on ELISE GETS CRAFTY I am chatting with Kathleen Shannon of Braid Creative about all sorts of small busines things including her killer weekly newsletter. Click here to subscribe or stream the episode from your computer here.
It’s a Secret of Adulthood: Happiness doesn’t always make me feel happy. Often, I know I’d be happier if I do something I really don’t feel like doing. Making that phone call. Dealing with tech support. Writing that email. Going to the gym.
Those dreaded tasks hang over my head, though; they make me feel drained and uneasy. I’ve learned that I’m much happier, in the long run, if I try to tackle them as soon as possible, rather than allowing myself to push them off.
Here are some habits I use:
1. Do it first thing in the morning. If you’re dreading doing something, you’re going to be able to think of more creative excuses as the day goes along. One of my Twelve Commandments is “Do it now.” No delay is the best way.
2. If you find yourself putting off a task that you try to do several times a week, do it every day. When I was planning my blog, I envisioned posting two or three times a week. Then a blogging friend convinced me that no, I should post every day. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, I’ve found that it’s easier to do it every day (well, except Sundays) than fewer times each week. There’s no dithering, there’s no juggling. I know I have to post, so I do. If you’re finding it hard to go for a walk four times a week, try going every day.
3. Have someone keep you company. Studies show that we enjoy practically every activity more when we’re with other people. Having a friend along can be a distraction, a source of reassurance, or moral support.
4. Make preparations, assemble the proper tools. Clean off your desk, get the phone number, find the file. I often find that when I’m dreading a task, it helps me to feel prepared. There’s a wonderful term that chefs use: mis-en-place, French for “everything in its place.” It describes the preparation done before starting to cook: gathering ingredients and implements, chopping, measuring, etc. Mis-en-place is preparation, but it’s also a state of mind; mis-en-place means you have everything at the ready, with no need to run out to the store or begin a frantic search for a sifter. You’re truly ready to begin to work.
5. Commit. We’ve all heard the advice to write down your goals. This really works, so force yourself to do it. Usually this advice relates to long-term goals, but it works with short-term goals, too. On the top of a piece of paper, write, “By October 31, I will have _____.” This also gives you the thrill of crossing a task off your list. (See below.)
6. Remind yourself that finishing a dreaded task is tremendously energizing. Studies show that hitting a goal releases chemicals in the brain that give you pleasure. If you’re feeling blue, although the last thing you feel like doing is something you don’t feel like doing, push yourself. You’ll get a big lift from it.
7. Observe Power Hour. I get enormous satisfaction from my new habit of Power Hour. I came up with Power Hour because, as I was working on Better Than Before, my book about habit-formation, I wanted to create a habit of tackling dreaded tasks. But how could I form a single habit to cover a bunch of non-recurring, highly diverse tasks? I hit on an idea. Once a week, for one hour, I steadily work on these chores. An hour doesn’t sound like much time, but it’s manageable, and it’s amazing how much I can get done.
In Better Than Before, I identify the “Essential “Seven,” the areas into which most people’s desired habits fall. Number 5 is “stop procrastinating, make consist progress.” Often, it’s dreaded tasks that block us. (If you want to know when the book goes on sale, sign up here.)
How about you? What strategies do you use to help yourself tackle a dreaded task?
huh. Maybe I can actually make something out of all that extra scrapbook paper I have.
I actually like these ideas. I never remember friend's birthdays in time to get gifts and I don't know what the rule is now that I'm older.
I hate the word hustle. I hate it so much! It makes it sound like hard work should be a blur, a hive of constant activity! Hard work isn't always a hustle. Hard work is sometimes quiet, slow and deliberate. Sometimes its incremental. Sometimes you must wait for the work to be done by someone else or something else-- in which case hustling aint gonna help nobody. BAN THE WORD HUSTLE!!
I’m fairly certain that 90% of the recipes here on IBC involve dessert or buffalo chicken. I can’t help what I love. It’s a problem.
Anyway, I hope you won’t be mad for long because these Buffalo Chicken Zucchini Boats are bangin’! If you like buffalo chicken and want to find a way to get more veggies in your diet, look no further. Also, with a couple substitutions (light dressing and low-fat cheese), this recipe can be fairly healthy. I opted for the full-fat version, however, because that’s how I roll.
This recipe is my brainchild after seeing lots of zucchini boat recipes on Pinterest. It’s a quick and easy meal that will certainly satisfy.
The recipe starts off with cooked chicken breast. My favorite way to cook chicken is to put it in a sheet pan and sprinkle it with a little olive oil and salt and pepper. I bake it at 300 degrees F until it’s cooked through. This keeps the meat nice and moist. Depending on the size of the breast, it will take about 20 minutes.
While the chicken is baking, slice your zucchinis in half lengthwise and hollow out each half with a melon baller. You’ll want to save about 1/2 cup of the zucchini for your filling.
Once the chicken is cooled and cut up and the zucchinis are prepped, you’re ready to mix everything together and bake!
For the filling, I used blue cheese dressing. I also added some blue cheese crumbles. If you don’t care for blue cheese, what’s wrong with you? Ha! Just kidding. If you prefer, use ranch dressing and omit the crumbles.
Also, I used celery and carrots in my filling as they go really well with buffalo chicken. However, if you have something else on hand, use that. You could even use a bell pepper or tomato for your “boat” if zucchini isn’t your thing.
Other than that, you’re good to go. The recipe is below so you can whip up a batch of the Buffalo Chicken Zucchini Boats in your own kitchen. Hope you enjoy them!
Here's what you'll need:
1 pound cooked chicken, diced
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 carrot, shredded
1 rib of celery, diced
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided
1/4 cup blue cheese crumbles (optional)
3 tablespoons buffalo sauce
3 tablespoons blue cheese (or ranch) dressing
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking oil. Set aside.
Cut each zucchini in half horizontally. Then with a melon baller (or spoon) carefully scoop out the center of the zucchini. Reserve 1/2 cup of the center and dice it up for your filling.
In a bowl, mix together chicken, flour, salt, pepper, carrot, celery, 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, blue cheese crumbles (optional), buffalo sauce and dressing.
Place zucchini, hollow side up, on the prepared baking sheet. Fill the boats with your buffalo chicken filling. The filling should be heaping. Sprinkle with the remaining cheddar cheese.
Bake for about 30 minutes or until the zucchini have achieved desired softness.
I'm a big fan of gallery walls. In our next place, I hope to do something a little more intentional, a little less hoge-podged then what we have now.
I’m happy to report that the gallery wall in my living room is complete! As you may know, I’m on a mission to get art on the walls of my living room and office. A couple weeks ago I decided to create a large drama-filled gallery wall above my sofa in the living room.
The theme for this new gallery wall is wanderlust – places that I’ve visited and places where I want to go. One of my goals for the year is to travel a bit more. I’m always on the hunt for inspiration, and traveling seems to be a wonderful way to soak in the personality of a place. To help make my travel goals a reality, I’ve teamed up with Carnival Cruise Lines to share a few posts on IBC over the next few months. From cocktails to gallery walls, I’ll be sharing ideas inspired by some of the most beautiful travel destinations in the world.
To get my wanderlust gallery wall started, I used several photographs that I took myself (you may recognize the images from my trips to Ireland, California, and Oregon). I also purchased a couple on Etsy – I ordered the barn and train from Annie Bailey’s shop. Her collection of photographs is stunning and she’s graciously offered a 20% off coupon code for IBC readers (use “CHARM20” at checkout, valid through 9/21/14).
Ultimately, I’d like to fill the entire wall with my own photography. I’m hoping that will be possible with some of this year’s travel plans.
I’m all about creating artwork that is personal. Using my photography is a great way to create inexpensive artwork that is meaningful.
I use Photoshop Lightroom to edit all of my photos here on IBC. It’s a less -expensive and less-complicated version of Photoshop. I played around with the colors, brightness, and saturation to make my pictures look a bit more artistic and colorful. I also tried to choose pictures that would complement my current decor.
In the photo above the image on the left is the altered image. As you can see there is more color in the sky, the wood in the dock is more visible, the sky is more colorful near the horizon, and the image is sharper.
Once I had my photos printed (I used Walmart), I laid them out on the floor to get an idea of where I wanted them on the wall.
After that, I loaded up the frames, and in no time my gallery wall was complete.
I took a picture as I was making progress with filling my frames. Remember last time I mentioned I ordered bright white mats instead of the off-white ones included with the frame? Can you see the difference? I prefer the bright white mats so much better. It works better with the room and makes the photographs pop!
Now, for the finished wall!
What do you think?
I was a little bit nervous about using my own photography. However, once it’s matted and put behind a frame, it’s amazing how professional it looks.
What I particularly love about this gallery wall is that I can change it whenever I’d like. While I’m certainly pleased with the gallery wall as is, when I travel to new destinations, I can add new pictures to keep the wall feeling fresh and inspired.
Speaking of new destinations, as I was checking out the Carnival site, one of the places I’m most excited to visit is Belize (located in Central America off the Caribbean Sea). My friends and I were recently talking about planning a vacation, and Belize was one of our top choices. However, getting there is a little more complicated when you’re not arriving on a cruise ship. So, visiting with Carnival is going to be ah-mazing. Belize, puh-lease!
How are you loving my wanderlust gallery wall? If you could hop on a cruise ship, what places would you want to visit?
This post was created as part of my collaboration with Carnival. As always, all of the opinions, thoughts, and ideas in this post are my own.
I think there are more addictions out there than people realize. Thoughts?
This Wednesday: Are you “addicted” to something?
The definition of “addiction,” and what people can become “addicted” to, are hotly contested issues. In everyday conversation, of course, people throw around the word “addicted” a lot, as in, “I’m addicted to Game of Thrones.”
Addiction, whatever it might be, is a subject that’s related to my current fascination: habits. As I explain in the introduction of Better Than Before, my discussion of habit formation doesn’t cover addictions, compulsions, nervous habits, or habits of mind. Nevertheless, I did a lot of reading and thinking about addiction, because it’s a useful area to consider.
The nature of addiction is highly controversial, but I found it interesting to read, in Kenneth Paul Rosenberg and Laura Curtiss Feder’s Behavioral Addictions, this list of factors put forth by Mark Griffiths. Apart from the question of “what’s a true addiction?” it’s a helpful way to think about whether a certain habit is making it harder to live a life that reflects our values and contributes to our long-term happiness.
According to this definition, a behavioral addiction is marked by:
Salience — this behavior has become the important activity in a person’s life
Mood modification — this behavior changes a person’s mood, by providing a rush of excitement or a sense of calm or numbness
Tolerance — more and more behavior is needed to get the mood boost
Withdrawal symptoms — a person feels lousy or irritable when unable to engage in the behavior
Conflict — the behavior causes conflicts with other people, interferes with other activities, or causes a person to feel a loss of control
Relapse — the behavior returns after being given up
I don’t want to sound like I’m treating addiction lightly. Whatever “addiction” might be exactly, when a person feels powerless to control a behavior that’s destructive, that’s a very, very serious matter. Far beyond the scope of my writing.
But I do think that even for people who aren’t “addicted” to something, these points are interesting to ponder, as they might relate to a bad habit (a habit that’s not good for us, but doesn’t rise to this level of severity).
They help us think about whether we’re engaging in a behavior that’s turned into a negative. That’s when we might want to consider changing a habit.
Sometimes, a behavior that one person consider to be healthy and positive is viewed as another person as extreme and negative. I have a friend, a fellow Upholder, who exercises just about every day of the year. People sometimes say she’s “addicted” to exercise in a way that’s unhealthy, but that’s not how she sees it.
In cases like this, I found this point by Griffiths to be very helpful: “Healthy enthusiasms add to life whereas addictions take away from it.”
My research on habits and happiness have convinced me that it’s very important that we feel in control of ourselves. The feeling that a behavior is out of our control — that we can’t change what we’re doing, even when we know it’s not good for us — well, that’s a bad feeling. Whether it’s an “addiction” or not.
As I was writing Better Than Before, I kept changing the epigraph (I love choosing epigraphs). In the end, I’ve chosen this line from Publilius Syrus: “The greatest of empires, is the empire over one’s self.”
Self-command, self-knowledge…more and more, I’m convinced that good habits and happiness come down to these two. And maybe self-command comes from self-knowledge, so really it’s just self-knowledge.
What about you? Have you ever had a behavior in your life that felt out of your control? If you wrested back control, how did you do it?
You increase your self-respect when you feel you’ve done everything you ought to have done, and if there is nothing else to enjoy, there remains that chief of pleasures, the feeling of being pleased with oneself. A man gets an immense amount of satisfaction from the knowledge of having done good work and of having made the best use of his day, and when I am in this state I find that I thoroughly enjoy my rest and even the mildest forms of recreation.
Delacroix was an artist, and he was also a brilliant writer, and I highly recommend reading his Diary. It’s fascinating — particularly if you’re interested in subjects like art, creativity, and productivity.
I am reading this book right now, and I as I tried to explain the argument to Arthur today, little did I know there was a blog post that would do it for me! The book is compelling and interesting... it makes total sense to me.
Habits interview: Gary Taubes.
I’m so pleased to be posting this interview with Gary Taubes, because it’s no exaggeration to say that his work has had more practical influence on my day-to-day habits than probably any other writer.
In Better Than Before, I describe the multiple strategies we can use to change our habits. One of the most powerful, but also one of the most mysterious and unpredictable strategies, is the Strategy of the Lightning Bolt.
When the lightning bolt hits you, you’re so moved by a new idea or belief that your habits change, overnight. Instantly, effortlessly.
I was hit by a lightning bolt when I read Gary’s book, Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It, in March 2012, when my eating habits changed dramatically. Just a few days ago, I described the lightning bolt in a short video. (Some of you may be a bit tired of this subject, but I wanted to explain the strategy before I posted Gary’s interview. Next week, different topics.)
It’s interesting — I was hit by this Lightning Bolt, and my habits changed. Another habits strategy is the Strategy of Other People; we often pick up habits from other people. My habit changed, and my father picked up that habit change, through me. He’s a Questioner, and as he weighed the book’s arguments and tested its principles on himself, he became persuaded gradually. Now he’s as much of a convert as I am. We got to similar habits through different routes.
It’s important to be aware of the forces that can affect our habits, for better and for worse, because when we understand what’s happening, we can direct it.
Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What’s the most significant thing you’ve concluded?
Gary: This one’s easy, but counter-intuitive: that the conventional wisdom on why we get fat or fatter is both foolish and wrong. Ever since the 1950s, nutritionists and obesity researchers have insisted we get fat merely because we take in more calories than we expend and all we have to know about the effect of foods on our weight is how many calories they contain. What I now realize is that this is like having a theory of wealth management or investing that says people get rich because they make more money than they spend, or that the only thing you have to know about an investment strategy is that it makes more money than it loses. If your financial advisor told you this was the secret formula to how they were going to invest your pension plan, you’d fire him or her in a second. And yet this is the way we’re supposed to think about obesity and the way the authorities do. What I suggested in my books is what pre-WW2 European researchers had come to believe: that obesity is a hormonal/regulatory disorder and that foods influence our weight not because of their caloric content (although that’s obviously one way to measure quantity) but because of their effects on the hormones and enzymes that regulate fat accumulation in our fat tissue and whether or not we burn that fat for fuel. If you think about it from this perspective, then the focus becomes on the carbohydrates in our diet, because carbohydrates drive up secretion of the hormone insulin which in turn tells our fat cells to store fat and our lean cells not to burn it. So just by thinking of obesity as a biological problem rather than a mathematical or physics problem, you end up with a conclusion that maybe we’d be better served watching the carbohydrate content of the diet rather than how much we eat and exercise.
What aspects of eating habits would be most helpful for people to understand?
If it’s true that the way foods influence how fat we are — our adiposity — is by their effects on hormones, and specifically insulin (and leptin, as well, but that’s another, technical story), then any foods that drive up insulin and make us store calories as fat are also likely to make us hungry in the process. These foods will come to taste better than other, foods and these are the foods we’ll quickly come to crave. When we’re hungry or dieting, these are the foods on which we’ll end up binging. This is an idea that came out of school of science in the 1920s-30s known as physiological psychology and the idea is that our most pronounced behaviors are responses to underlying physiological states. The implication is that if you change the underlying physiology, you can change the behavior. So we can change food habits — how we eat, how much we eat, when we eat, when we snack, what we snack, etc. — by understanding that physiology and changing that. It’s not that this won’t require some willpower and restraint in the short term, but once we’ve got our physiology fixed and healthy, our eating habits will be healthier too.
What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Is it fair to say “everything?” Or rather anything that I might have thought I knew about forming healthy habits when I was 18 was as likely to be wrong as right. And even if it was right, it might have only pertained to the forming of healthy habits as an 18-year-old. Each age presents new challenges. Certainly as I get older, forming healthy habits is as much or more about unforming unhealthy habits first. At 18 I would have been more of a blank slate.
Which habits are most important to you? (for heath, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)
For creativity and productivity, it’s making sure that my morning hours are reserved for writing — it’s the only time of day when I’m smart enough to write — and getting to my desk having already been thinking deeply about what it is I have to write that day. For health, it’s living by the lessons I learned researching my books (with the caveat, of course, that I turn out to be right and they serve me well). For leisure, let’s just say I have to work on that. I’ve always been a workaholic and have never managed to hit a healthy balance of leisure time with work time. I was writing articles about burn-out when I was in my 20s. Now that I’m in my late fifties, I could write an encyclopedia on the subject if I wasn’t too burnt out to do it. I have to work on the leisure thing.
Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?
Well, let’s see. I used to be a smoker and now I’m not. It was an endless battle, capped by using nicotine gum in my early 40s to finally quit. Then I chewed the nicorette gum for a decade. Recently I quit drinking caffeine. I titrated down over the course of a summer — buying one pound bags of coffee from my local Peets that were first 80 percent caffeinated, 20 percent decaf, then 60/40, then 40/60, then 20/80 and finally all decaf. Then I gave up the decaf. This was last summer. I was off caffeine and coffee entirely by last August. It was as hard as quitting smoking, although in a different way. I never thought of caffeine as anti-depressant until I found out how depressing mornings could be without that first cup of hot coffee waiting for you. Now that I have to write a book, though, and it happens to be almost two years over due, I will probably go back to the coffee or at least caffeine to get it done. I may even start chewing nicorettes again, with the expectation that I’ll quit both — again — when the book is done. I also gave up fattening carbohydrates about a dozen years ago, first as an experiment and then, when I saw the obvious benefits, as a lifestyle. That’s one healthy habit I’ll keep for the duration.
Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?
Definitely a Questioner. Although doesn’t everyone or at least most people think the same?
Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties)
When you’re a person who doesn’t eat sweets, baked goods or starchy vegetables, as I am, dinner parties are an always an adventure. I try not to be a zealot in any way and will eat anything, but it’s a challenge. Moreover these foods can be a little bit like drugs — the sweets, especially — and so the more we eat them, or at least the more I eat them, the more I want to eat them. So my wife will order a dessert; she’ll take one bite and leave the rest. I’ll take one bite because, well, it’s there, and then have to struggle mightily not to eat the rest, and then everyone else’s left over desert as well. It’s the way I am and the way I’ve been for a long time. When I was young I was like Mikey in the old Life cereal commercial. Remember? Give it to Mikey, he’ll eat anything. Of course, when I was young I could eat anything (and usually did). As I got older I found I couldn’t, or at least not without my waistline expanding. Now I find it easier to avoid sweets entirely than to try to eat them in moderation. But dinner parties and restaurants always challenge that decision. [I describe this as the abstainer/moderator distinction.]
Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you changed a major habit very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.? [I ask because reading Why We Get Fat hit me like a lightning bolt.]
When I was turning fifty, I got a life insurance exam which included being weighed. Lo and behold, I appeared to weigh 240 pounds. This was about fifteen pounds heavier than I expected. Now I’m supposed to understand the diet weight control thing, and if I’ve gained fifteen pounds that’s a bad sign. Right? So I started thinking about what could have happened. As I may have mentioned, or should have, I was a caffeine addict. I would have a cup of coffee by my side, at my desk, all day long, and I drank that coffee with cream. One thing I could never understand was why I had to have the coffee at my desk, all day long, even at those periods that I was drinking decaf? Was it the dregs of caffeine in the decaf, or something else — the cream? — that caused the craving? So I did some research, found out that some people over-secrete insulin response to dairy — even cream — and thought that might explain it. I switched to drinking black coffee, which was easier than I expected. A testament to the addictive power of caffeine. It took me only three days to actually like black coffee. The 15 pounds went a way in six weeks, along with another five for good measure. I’ve been a healthy 220 ever since. (I’m 6’2″ and so this is my healthy weight.)
Do you embrace habits or resist them?
I try to embrace the good ones, obviously. But I realize that I’m disorganized and could definitely use some habits to help me be better organized. I suppose I resist those on the basis that I don’t have time to learn them. But if I did learn them, I’d have more time. I’m working on this.
Has another person ever had a big influence on your habits?
Yes. Other than the obvious — my wife, my two boys, my best friend Marion and my partner/boss, Peter Attia — I have an older cousin who lives in Hawaii and was an intelligence officer during the Vietnam War. When I was living in Hawaii between my junior and senior years in college, he gave me a lecture about not working hard enough. He said things came easy to me and so I coasted and was willing to settle for what came easy as good enough. I took his lecture to heart and changed my work habits and my goals. I owe him for that.
Um, worth it for the giveaway folks!
If I could, sometimes I wish for an old fashioned landline, with a cord, and a paper planner.
Google offers windows into at least 3.8 million iterations of “perfect homemade salsa” — I mean, the red, spicy stuff we went through two jars a week of when I was a freshman in college — but I find most of them terrifyingly complicated. Many have nearly a dozen ingredients ranging from sugar to cumin, or call for very specific brands of tomatoes, like Ro-Tel, which isn’t particularly easy to find outside of Texas or well-stocked bodegas in NYC. Fain’s recipe shrugs at all this fussing, and tells you to go to the market when tomatoes are overflowing, halve a bunch on a tray along with a couple garlic cloves and jalapenos, broil them until they’re charred and blend them until you get your desired consistency and just forget about eating salsa another way ever again.
Within reason, I think if you’re craving something, you should go for it, although this theory is mostly born of my own poor logic. I’ve all too many times craved, say, a brownie but thought I shouldn’t eat a brownie and so instead snacked on (just for a completely random example) 12 almonds, 1 slice of cheese, half an apple, 1 banana and then, oops, a handful of chocolate chips, amounting roughly 3x the calories of a brownie, a brownie that I craved exactly as much as I did 500 calories ago. And so, when I really want a brownie, I make my favorite brownies and we each eat one and then I stash the rest in the freezer, so they are not out on the counter, calling to me that we haven’t been cut in a straight line and you should really even us out or we’re going to go bad soon and you don’t want us to go to waste or any of those things that brownies tell me when we’re alone together.
[Hm, here I should probably interject some sort of "sure, okay, brownies talk to me but I'm not like crazy or anything; it's not weird. Brownies talk to everyone, right? Haha?" reassurance but I'm not going to. I'm going to make this as awkward as possible.]
But I have other news, which means we are so overdue for a catch-up/tell-all/gossip session, so pull up a chair. I’ll go first:
Organized garages are sexy. Hint hint Arthur.
Agree or disagree? What makes reading a super skill?
Of my hundreds of happiness-project resolutions, and of the habits I’ve tried to form, one of my very favorites is to Read more.
Reading is an essential part of my work. It forms an important part to my social life. And far more important, reading is my favorite thing to do, by a long shot. I’m not a well-rounded person.
But reading takes time, and there aren’t many days when I can read as much as I’d like. Here are some habits that I’ve adopted to help me get more good reading done.
1. Quit reading. I used to pride myself on finishing every book I started. No more. Life is short. There are too many wonderful books to read.
2. Read books you enjoy. When I’m reading a book I love—for example, I’m now reading Charles Portis’s True Grit — I’m astonished by how much time I find to read. Which is another reason to stop reading a book I don’t enjoy.
3. Watch recorded TV. It’s much more efficient to watch recorded shows, because you skip the commercials and control when you watch. Then you have more time to read.
4. Skim. Especially when reading newspapers and magazines, often I get as much from skimming as I do by a leisurely reading. I have to remind myself to skim, but when I do, I get through material much faster.
5. Get calm. I have a sticky note posted in our bedroom that says, “Quiet mind.” It’s sometimes hard for me to settle down with a book; I keep wanting to jump up and take care of some nagging task. But that’s no way to read. Incidentally, one of the main reasons I exercise is to help me sit still for reading and writing — if I don’t exercise, I’m too jumpy.
6. Don’t fight my inclinations. Sometimes I feel like I should be reading one book when I actually feel like reading something entirely different. Now I let myself read what I want, because otherwise I end up reading much less.
7. Always have something to read. Never go anywhere empty-handed. I almost always read actual ye olde print books, but I travel with e-books, too, so I know I’ll never be caught without something to read. It’s a great comfort.
8. Maintain a big stack. I find that I read much more when I have a pile waiting for me. Right now, I have to admit, my stack is so big that it’s a bit alarming, but I’ll get it down to a more reasonable size before too long.
9. Choose my own books. Books make wonderful gifts – both to receive and to give – but I try not to let myself feel pressured to read a book just because someone has given it to me. I always give a gift book a try, but I no longer keep reading if I don’t want to.
10. Set aside time to read taxing books. For Better Than Before, my book about habit-formation, I tried a new reading habit, “Study.” Every weekend, I spend time in “study” reading — which covers books that I find fascinating, but that are demanding, and that I might put down and neglect to pick up again. The kind of book that I really do want to read, but somehow keep putting off for months, even years. Right now, my Study book is E. H. Gombrich’s Art and Illusion: a Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation.
And finally, some tips from great writers and readers:
11. Randall Jarrell: “Read at whim! Read at whim!”
12. Henry David Thoreau: “Read the best books first, otherwise you’ll find you do not have time.”
13. Samuel Johnson: “What we read with inclination makes a much stronger impression. If we read without inclination, half the mind is employed in fixing the attention; so there is but one half to be employed on what we read.”
Maybe you don’t love to read, so finding more time to read isn’t a challenge for you. The larger point is to make sure you’re finding time to do whatever it is that you find fun. Having fun is important to having a happy life, yet it’s all too easy for fun to get pushed aside by other priorities. I have to be careful to make time for reading, or, even though I love to read, I might neglect it.
Also, having fun makes it easy to follow good habits; when we give more to ourselves, we can ask more of ourselves. If reading is a treat for you, it’s a good idea to make time for it. To hear when my habits book goes on sale, sign up here.
If this list appeals to you, check out Daniel Pennac’s The 10 Inalienable Rights of the Reader.
Have you found any good strategies to find more time to read – or to do whatever it is you find fun?
I've never thought about this.
It’s an age-old writers’ question: What do I do about clichés and well-worn tropes? This month, we’ve asked authors about the clichés and tropes they find themselves falling back on, and how they fix, invert, or embrace them. Today, Mitali Perkins, author and editor of , discusses the problem of using food as a descriptor:
CLICHÉ: Using food to describe a character’s skin color or race
Have you noticed how writers sometimes describe the physical appearances of non-white characters? A default strategy is to use food-related metaphors and similes. Does your Chinese character have almond-shaped eyes? Does your Nigerian love interest have skin like dark chocolate or espresso? If so, you may have fallen into the dreaded “Foreigner as Food” trope. (If all your characters are white, you’ve probably managed to avoid this particular trap, but consider asking if your setting and plot truly demands that sort of cast—but wait, that’s not my beef here. Even though my skin is the color of a well-done burger.)
I have no idea why we default to food when we describe the skin, eyes, and hair of people who aren’t white. And believe me, white writers are not the only ones who do this without thinking. It affects all of us who grew up reading fiction mostly featuring white characters. Maybe we have good subconscious intentions. The edible stuff we use to describe nonwhite appearances typically is familiar and tasty—maybe we’re trying to help our readers feel closer to marginalized characters. Now they are neither strange nor foreign! They are yummy!
Our English-language capability for describing the physical characteristics of white characters has deeper roots: English is an Anglo-Saxon language by origin, and the Western literary tradition has long been used to describe those of European descent. But times are a’changing, and so is this amazing language. It keeps accepting new words from other lands and generations, setting a great example of mutability and flexibility for writers.
The eyes of our white characters are rarely described by a comparison to food. They’re as blue as the Scottish sea, or the summer sky, or the jays that wake you with their song. Alternatively, they’re emeralds, or sage, or moss, or—well, you get the picture. Why aren’t non-white characters compared to this wider range of beauty?
Writers, here’s the challenge: let’s create fresh ways to describe the appearances of God’s children. Let’s leave behind the kitchen and grocery store for a while to see—really see—all the colors of our beautiful planet. Let’s commit to using the fast-changing breadth and width and depth of the English language to describe a diversity of characters with integrity and imagination.
Are you in? Good, because I want to see those milky, chocolate, or caramel fingers flying across your keyboards … Oh, shoot. Do as I say, friends. Do as I say.
I normally dont watch her videos but for whatever reason I did and this one makes a really interesting point. Stopping is a habit. I've never thought about stopping as a habit!
I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the various strategies that we can use for habit-formation.
Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and a significant element of happiness. If we have habits that work for us, we’re much more likely to be happy, healthy, productive, and creative. My forthcoming book, Better Than Before, describes the multiple strategies we can exploit to change our habits. To hear when it goes on sale, sign up here.
Today I’m going to talk about the Strategy of First Steps, which is one of the three Strategies that relate to “The Best Time to Begin.” (Here’s a complete list of the Strategies.)
Want to read more about some of the ideas I mention in the video?
I mention “tomorrow logic,” which is related to the ever-popular Tomorrow Loophole. The fact is, once we’re ready to begin, the best time to start is now.
I also mention that some people do better when they start small; others, when they start big. This is a key distinction to understand about yourself, one which I cover in the Strategy of Distinctions.
I suggest that we should be wary of stopping. There are many reasons for this, and one is the danger of the finish line.
Finally, I refer to the “don’t break the chain” approach to habit-formation. Many people find this very useful.
How about you? Have you found First Steps to be a particularly important phase in your habit-formation?
Honestly this seems like the best idea in the world.
The photos and satellite images from Tikrit provide strong evidence of a horrible war crime that needs further investigation. ISIS apparently executed at the very least 160 people in Tikrit.
Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director
(Baghdad) – Analysis of photographs and satellite imagery strongly indicates that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) conducted mass executions in Tikrit after seizing control of the city on June 11, 2014.
The analysis suggests that ISIS killed between 160 and 190 men in at least two locations between June 11 and 14. The number of victims may well be much higher, but the difficulty of locating bodies and accessing the area has prevented a full investigation, Human Rights Watch said.
On June 12, ISIS claimed to have executed 1,700 “Shi’a members of the army” in Tikrit. Two days later, it posted to a website photographs with groups of apparently executed men. On June 22, Iraq’s human rights minister announced that ISIS had executed 175 Iraqi Air Force recruits in Tikrit.
“The photos and satellite images from Tikrit provide strong evidence of a horrible war crime that needs further investigation,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director. “ISIS apparently executed at the very least 160 people in Tikrit.”
On June 12, ISIS first announced on its now-closed Twitter feed that it had “exterminated” 1,700 Iraqi troops. The same day, the group posted videos of hundreds of captured men in civilian clothes, who it claimed had surrendered at the nearby Iraqi Speiker military base. On June 14, ISIS posted roughly 60 photographs, some of which show masked ISIS fighters loading captives in civilian clothes onto trucks and forcing them to lie in three shallow trenches with their hands bound behind their backs. Some of the images show masked gunmen pointing and firing their weapons at these men.
By comparing ground features and landmarks in the photographs released by ISIS, Human Rights Watch established that two of the trenches were at the same location. By comparing these photographs with satellite imagery from 2013 and publicly available photographs from Tikrit taken earlier, Human Rights Watch located the site in a field about 100 meters north of the Water Palace in Tikrit – a former palace of Saddam Hussein next to the Tigris River. The location of the third trench has not been identified.
Human Rights Watch also reviewed satellite imagery of the area recorded on the morning of June 16. The imagery does not reveal evidence of bodies at the site with the two trenches, but does show indications of recent vehicle activity and surface movement of earth that is consistent with the two shallow trenches visible in the ISIS photos. Without visiting the site it is impossible to know if bodies are buried there or were moved.
On June 22, the Iraqi human rights minister, Mohamed Shia Sudani, said at a news conference that the bodies of some of the 175 air force recruits who had been killed were thrown into the Tigris River and that others were buried in a mass grave. A spokesman for the minister confirmed that statement to Human Rights Watch on June 23.
An Iraqi security official said that as many as 11 bodies of the executed recruits had been recovered from the Tigris River downstream from the execution site.
The execution photographs that ISIS distributed suggest that gunmen killed the men at the site in at least three groups. The photographs show one group of men lying in one trench and a second group of men lying on top of the first. A third group of men is seen lying in a second trench.
Based on a count of the bodies visible in the available photographs, Human Rights Watch estimates that ISIS killed between 90 and 110 men in the first trench and between 35 and 40 men in the second.
A preliminary review of the shadow length and angle in the photographs suggests the two groups of men in the first trench were possibly executed around 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. The men in the second trench were possibly executed around 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.
Photographs from ISIS show a fourth group of approximately 30 to 40 prisoners on, and later next to, one of the two transport trucks on the main road between the execution site and the Water Palace. The photos were probably taken later that day, between 4 and 5 p.m.
One of the photographs that ISIS distributed suggests that the group killed prisoners at a second site around the same time, but Human Rights Watch has been unable to locate that site. That photograph shows a large trench with between 35 and 40 prisoners being shot by at least 8 ISIS fighters. Based on the shadow length and angle, the photograph was probably taken between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. One of the ISIS gunmen visible at that site was also visible in photographs from the killing site with the two trenches near the Water Palace.
The photographs and satellite imagery strongly suggest that ISIS transported its captives by trucks to the two killing sites. Human Rights Watch identified the same ISIS fighters and captured men in multiple photographs, including captives who were photographed in trucks and then again being unloaded from the same trucks next to the execution site at the Water Palace.
Human Rights Watch spoke with one man who said he fled Tikrit after the killings. The man said he watched from the rooftop of his home in the Hay al-Qadsia neighborhood in the late afternoon just after ISIS arrived as armed members of ISIS loaded hundreds of captured men onto trucks and drove them away:
I saw them with my own eyes. It was late afternoon. It was a long line. I saw about 10 armed gunmen with their guns pointed at the line of men, walking them to military trucks. Some of the gunmen had masks and others showed their faces. The [captured] men were not handcuffed. They wore civilian clothes.
The man said he did not know where the men took their captives and could not remember the exact date. Tikrit residents told him later they saw bodies floating in the Tigris, he said.
During an armed conflict, the murder of anyone not taking an active part in hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those in detention, is a war crime. Murder, when systematic or widespread and committed as part of a deliberate policy of an organized group, can be a crime against humanity. Both war crimes and crimes against humanity are considered international crimes, with criminal liability attaching to those who commit or order the crime, but also those who assist, and commanders who should have known of the crime but fail to prevent it.
Human Rights Watch has previously documented serious crimes by ISIS in other areas of Iraq and Syria, including car and suicide bomb attacks in civilian areas, summary executions, torture in detention, discrimination against women, and destruction of religious property. The evidence documented by Human Rights Watch strongly suggests that some of these acts may amount to crimes against humanity.
“ISIS is committing mass murder, and advertising it as well,” Bouckaert said. “They and other abusive forces should know that the eyes of Iraqis and the world are watching.”