Me and the Big Bang Theorist

Josh Spodek shopping at local vegetable stand

This last month, since the news of my diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, I have been seeking out experts to help me turn my diagnosis around. I am much better at caring and advocating for others before myself, and understand that I need the coaching, beyond the academics of good health, making it a personal reality now and into the future.

Recently, to help guide me in my personal leadership, I met with Joshua Spodek in New York; Josh is the author of the bestselling book “Leadership Step by Step.” Josh is a Professor at NYU and columnist for Inc; he holds five Ivy-League degrees, including both a Ph.D. in Astrophysics and an MBA from Columbia University, where he studied under a Nobel Laureate. He helped build an X-ray observational satellite orbiting the Earth as part of a multi-billion-dollar decade-plus mission led by the European Space Agency with NASA. He left academia to co-found the venture Submedia, to bring to market his invention — a technology to show motion pictures to subway riders moving between stations — starting the field of commercial in-tunnel motion pictures. Submedia has grown worldwide, installing dozens of displays in the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Australia. He holds six patents. He co-founded and helped lead several education ventures, including partnering with New York City Public Schools. He has taught art at Parsons, the New School for Design and NYU-Tisch’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP). (joshuaspodek.com/bio)

I spoke with Josh on the phone for an hour from Virginia before we met the following week in New York. Josh had immediately picked up on my “self-talk” — my habit of pre-excusing failure through apology, which stung me like a blistering laser right at my core.

Since childhood, “being sorry” was a frame of mind — apologizing at my first waking moment, from spilling at breakfast on my school clothes right through to bedtime.

I remember the choosing process of being picked for sports in my grade school where I was always the last picked, typically to a wave of groans. Then I’d assure the other kids it was OK — I’d sit out-no need to pick me.
Even when diagnosed with Epilepsy as a youngster, I bought my mother flowers, and I apologized. The virtual tape playing in my head was to be feeling regret — simply for being me.

As an adult, I have tried to hide in plain site behind my work. A couple of years ago at the National Cancer Prevention Day Workshop, my daughter Maeve said in an effort for me to take ownership of my work, “Dad, people think you’re the doorman or the event planner…they don’t know you are the guy that made this happen. they don’t understand that this is your vision.”

Josh and I had an appointment to meet at a local coffee shop. From all physical appearances we looked like specimens of a pair of perfect opposites; he forty-something and a hip dresser and I more like a version of a bald Thurston Howell the 3rd of Gilligans Island fame, dressed in a button-down shirt, double-breasted sports coat, loafers, no socks. Josh was quick to point out that you don’t see people who dress like me in East Village.

At the coffee shop, Josh gave me the choice of staying there and talking or would I like to learn how to make the stew he’d shared with me in our exchange of emails. I opted for the cooking lesson, and off we walked to the small market nearby. Josh explained that he does not buy packaged foods and that he only assembles foods. The level of “packaging” he makes concessions for would be a rubber band holding something together or a sticker on an apple.

Upon entering the market, Josh had made his way over to the bulk goods where he pulled out some reusable bags and began to load up on nuts, nutritional yeast, and beans. After going through the checkout line, we then hit a vegetable stand before heading down the street to his house.
Once we arrived at his building, he pointed to the elevator and said, ‘that’s the elevator I don’t take it, do you mind if we walk up four flights?’ I, of course, said not at all. I in fact often choose the stairs. Not always four flights though. As he waited at the landings as I ascended — I think holy shit -is this the real Sheldon of the Big Bang theory?

We finally reached his apartment, sparsely furnished with little else but a bed, exercise equipment, and a blackboard. Out of breath, I was quick to say I love it -who’s your decorator?

Then thought to myself -he does not find me amusing- I wanted to apologize but held my tongue.

Soon we were down to business. I sat across from him, learning about his pressure cooker and vegetable stew and observing him chop and create -he clearly is nothing like a Sheldon, but rather some hybrid of an artist, observer and passionate do-gooder.

He told me he was very concerned about the earth and particularly about waste. He is hopeful he can teach people about reducing waste with virtual no packaging, creating less trash. He is passionate about caring for the world at a higher level. Josh dreams big about the important things — leaving the earth in better shape is at the top of his extensive list.
We talked about his structured, disciplined day, his eating habits and exercise habits- of which he has many.

In his article in Inc. Science Shows Habits Spread Like Disease. How to Catch the Habits You Want Josh writes:

“Trying to change behavior through willpower alone rarely works in the long term. Willpower gives out. New behavior sticks in the long term when you make it automatic. The lesson of the research is to use your relationships or make new ones to reinforce the behaviors you want.

The lesson: Interact with people with the behavior you desire. “If you wanted to catch a cold or flu, how would you do it? You’d spend time with people with colds and flus.

If you want to “catch” weight loss, do the same thing: spend time with people who have lost weight. It’s a lot more effective than trying to do it on your own, especially if no one around you has the weight-loss “disease.”
If you want your team to “catch” producing quality results, have them spend time with teams who consistently produce quality. It’s a lot harder a habit to start from scratch.

When you want to create a habit, think of who already does it, interact with them, and “catch” their habit. Lead your teams the same way.
You’ll also want to keep away from people with the habits you don’t want.
Quarantine them.”

Joshua Spodek is all about good health, good habits and making the change you wish to see in yourself by practice. He has given me some step by step recipes towards reaching my goals-for now I am still processing and yes practicing.

UPDATE: Since my type 2 diabetes diagnosis, I have lost 10lbs through a combination of exercise, eliminating sugar, sticking to a plant-based diet, working to eat foods I assemble, sans packaging. And by continuing to bring people like Josh into my life.