We are our own worst enemies—sad creatures prone to gluttony, alcohol abuse, over-spending, sexual promiscuity and even procrastination.To make things worse, temptations abound in America, observes a new book titled “we have Met the Enemy: Self-Control in an Age of Excess.”Not buying it? Take a look around you.There’s that Big Mac waiting at the corner McDonald’s.and the voluptuous woman on that taboo website. There’s the chance to become an instant millionaire in the state lottery.There’s even that plastic thing in your wallet, beckoning you to spend what you can’t afford.The mentality has become look, salivate and indulge your desire.Sadly, many do just that, and that’s why close to 1 million Americans die annually from behaviors they ought to be able to avoid.That is what Tivoli author Daniel Akst has found in “we have Met the Enemy,” released Jan. 6 by Penguin Press.in it, Akst compares life in America to an “all-you-can eat buffet” and calls self-control “a conundrum.”“But it’s a conundrum that is especially urgent today, when our surroundings so insistently beckon us to excess,” he writes in chapter one, “A Democracy of Excess.”Akst, a seasoned journalist who has worked for the Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal, realizes it’s not a popular theme.“I guess it’s a touchy subject,” he told the Freeman in a recent phone interview.“none of us wants anyone to tell us what to do. Nobody likes to be talked to about their lapses in self-discipline. I’m just trying to explore a topic people don’t understand.”Akst achieves that with great candor, lucidity and painstaking research that dates back to the ancient Greeks.“The Greeks told us that the unexamined life is not worth living … and what I hope to contribute is some understanding that will enable people to be free,” he said.Akst, who has three other books under his belt, said he got the idea for his latest project after writing the 1996 novel “St. Burl’s Obituary.”The comic story looks at an obese obituary writer, who elects to have stomach-reduction surgery, a fairly new procedure at that time.“Today, there are 220,000 stomach-reduction surgeries each year,” Akst said.The idea began churning in his mind.“It seemed that more and more of our problems had to do with what we do to ourselves,” Akst said.Quoting top people from the Centers for Disease Control, Akst not only reveals in “we have Met the Enemy” that there are more than 1 million behavioral-driven deaths each year, but that two-thirds of Americans are now overweight.“That’s why I call it a self-control problem. we don’t want to be overweight. The carnage is just unbelievable,” he said. Not only is obesity examined in “we have Met the Enemy,” but so are other self-destructive behaviors like gambling, over borrowing and overspending.“The core of the book is really moderation in the face of plenty,” Akst said.Some of it can be blamed on how the world has changed. Likewise, Akst says, the “ideology of temptation” has changed.“by now we’ve learned to exalt the passions, forget our longstanding obsession with the afterlife, and shake off the dour Puritan traditions to which we still imagine ourselves beholden; the only thing left is to avoid killing ourselves with our newfound freedom. For in our fair land the weapons of mass consumption—McDonald’s, credit cards, the Internet—are everywhere,” he writes early on in the book.of course, modern conveniences such as the car, the microwave, the credit system and the World Wide Web can also be blamed, Akst said.“when I was younger, all I could buy was what I could carry home from the store,” he said. “now, you don’t only have a car, you have an SUV and a gigantic house to put all that stuff in.”Not only that, but stores are open 24 hours a day, feeding people’s impulses for instant gratification.The sad part about all of this, Akst declares, is that we can’t rely on willpower to beat these devils back.“It doesn’t work.” he said.What does work, Akst said, is what he calls the “skill of constraining your choices.”“in broad terms, what I would say if you want to regulate your appetite … is to control your environment and take it (the temptation) out of the realm of willpower,” Akst said.“if you want to lose weight, don’t keep ice cream in the house. if there’s a really great bakery close to where you work, walk around the corner intentionally to avoid it.”another good solution is to set small goals for yourself when trying to break bad habits.“Let’s say you want to write a book, and you figure it’s going to take three years. you start to work on it tonight, but you figure one night doesn’t make much difference.”so you procrastinate – something Akst labels in the book as “the writer’s curse.” “A thousand nights later, the deadline is here, and you don’t have a book.“your goal should be to write two pages a day. That’s something you can you do. It’s breaking it up into proximal goals. you do that because the big goal is too abstract and too far off,” he said.one might argue that all of this is just common-sense stuff.“A lot of it is,” Akst said. “I don’t claim any of it is rocket science.”Strangley, he said he was not at all motivated to write the book from a personal standpoint.“I don’t have the appropriate demons,” he said. “I have to tell you I’m the dullest of authors, and I have no particular obsessions.”Akst said he’s pleased so far with the way the book’s being received.Not all the reviews have been favorable, but he said he’s happy to get people thinking, especially at this time of year.“It was timed for resolution season. That was the idea of it. you can use some of these techniques for new Year’s resolutions,” he said.
Tivoli author offers ways to deliver us from temptation