Beware of the "Oops Factor"

Beware of the "Oops Factor"

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

What we don't know can hurt us. One of the things that we often don't know and can certainly hurt us is the disarming nature of little acts of omissions and commissions. Little things can cause big problems.

One of the major "Aha" experiences of my life was when I realized that ordinary everyday events of life cause more stress in our lives than do the catastrophic events. Why so? It is because everyday events are seemingly so ordinary and harmless that our "alarm" never goes off. So, we never try to change ourselves. We keep our guard down. Hence, we are caught unaware. Stress management is not really about crisis management, it is about the management of everyday hassles.

Humanity faces the biggest danger, not from large animals such as whales, elephants or rhinos, but from small bugs, bacteria and viruses. We can hardly see them or feel them, so, they multiply outside our awareness.

Remember the story of a "Frog in the boiling water?" In the story, a starving man throws a frog in the boiling water for dinner. The frog jumps right out of the boiling pot and runs. The man tries again to throw the frog into the boiling water with the same results. He then puts fresh, cold water in the pot and puts the frog in it. The frog loves the fresh and cool water and gets settled in. Now, the man turns on the heat slowly and raises it gradually.

The water keeps warming up and the frog keeps on getting groggier and groggier, until it's too late. The frog is too immobilized by the heat to jump out of the water and thus ends up on the hungry man's dinner plate.

The moral of the story: "Take action before it's too late!" Nip the problem in the bud.

Imagine Scene 1. You see a small patch of weeds in your backyard. You walk back into the house and forget all about it. Scene 2. A few weeks later, what do you see? Oops! The weed has spread and taken over the whole yard.

An unwanted sapling can grow into a monstrous tree, almost impossible to uproot. Likewise, don't underestimate the danger of small vices. Don't be complacent about minor lapses of judgment. Some poisons or toxins if taken in small doses occasionally are considered safe for human consumption. Given a steady diet of the same, the toxin level can accumulate to a lethal level. It can be too late to say, "Oops! I goofed up."

Alan Leshner, PH.D, Director of National Institute on Drug Abuse, has identified this as the "oops phenomenon." In a recent article, Oops: How Casual Drug Use leads to Addiction, he explains it in this way, "No one ever starts out using drugs intending to become a drug addict. All drug users are trying it once or a few times (italicized by me for emphasis)"

So, every drug user starts out as an occasional user. Nobody sets out to become a helpless, dependent, or an out-of-control user. How does that happen? Because, an occasional use of mood altering drugs is first seen as a harmless activity. We volunteer to engage in it purely for recreational purposes. What starts as a voluntary act, becomes addiction, compelling an individual to take ) desperate action to secure his or her drug of choice.

Why do we label them as "recreational drugs," anyway? Such drugs do not re-create anyone. But, they are sure to create pain and sorrow further down the road and destruction in the end.

Dr. Leshner calls the initial drug use pattern as the Oops Phenomenon because nobody starts out with the intention of harming one's own self. It's like saying, "Oops, I didn't watch where I wa

s going."

He goes on to say that we don't start out with the intention of having lung cancer when we smoke. We don't start out with the intention of having clogged arteries when we eat rich and fried food. Then we start eating lots of it and failing to get enough physical exercise. We often end up experiencing consequences we never thought would apply to us.

Notice how harmless and non-threatening these words sound: "Just once," "Once in a while," "Only this time, " "On an occasion like this," "Today is a special day of my life," "These are holiday times," "I am on vacation," "If you do it once in a while, it won't hurt you." They seem so safe to allow us to go ahead, but, before we realize it, we are going fast on a slippery slope. Little slips have a way of turning into big falls and full-blown relapses.

Similarly, we have to watch the thoughts that offer us excuses to not stop, such as, "Not today." Right now I have so much on me," or "When things calm down a bit around here."

On the positive side, we can change our whole life by making small changes; one day at a time, taking baby steps. A journey of ten thousand miles starts with a single step. Look at me! I am carrying on and on when this article is already too long. Oops!

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Copyright 2001, Mind Publications 


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