The Problem with Life’s Pop-Tarts

I’ve noticed a troubling personal trend lately. Here’s just one example. See if you can relate…

  • I’m on social media and see a news headline, likely about whatever daily debate is going on.
  • I read the article. Despite feeling my blood pressure rise a scooch, I click on links within the article to get more details and background.
  • I feel myself growing increasingly frustrated or sad or scared.
  • I go back to social media to see what people are saying about it. Usually it’s a lot. I read it.
  • My emotions run high. I read more. I read the comments (!). I check back regularly, watch the debate grow bigger, perhaps get nasty.
  • Before I know it, all kinds of time has passed, all kinds of focus has been lost, and all I’ve got to show for it are tense shoulders and a sick-ish feeling in my gut.

I’ve just encountered one of life’s Pop-Tarts.

You know Pop-Tarts, right? The toaster pastry filled with some kind of sugary paste, sometimes frosted, and somehow described as breakfast?

To be fair, many of us find eating one to be a pretty exciting, delicious experience.

The problem? We don’t usually eat one. After all, they come in packs of two. And there are several packs in a box. So we can have them every day. Perhaps multiple times each day.  Which is unhealthy and makes us feel icky.

Pop-Tarts are a great metaphor for lots of things. A little bit is relatively harmless. But, all too quickly, the temptation rises for more more more…and, despite the fact that we know how we’ll likely feel if we give in, we…give in.

We overdo it. Our stomachs churn. We feel gross or tense or embarrassed or agitated or hopeless. We respond or behave in ways we regret. We lose focus during the day…lose sleep at night.

Need some specific Pop-Tart examples? Allow me…

  • Discussing politics with those you agree with
  • Discussing politics with those you disagree with
  • Gossiping with a friend or family member
  • Getting the day’s news
  • Getting advice of any kind
  • Giving advice of any kind
  • Consuming and sharing opinions while on your favorite Social Media
  • Consuming and sharing opinions while on Social Media you don’t even like that much
  • Checking texts and emails and apps for updates
  • Playing video games and watching reality TV and reading celebrity or beauty magazines

Like many of our diverse guilty pleasures, life’s Pop-Tarts demand moderation.

The first thing, of course, is to actually recognize when we’ve encountered a Pop-Tart. We must know from the start that we’ll be tempted to overdo it, must remember the negative impacts from last time…the tension, the ick feeling, the lost sleep, the lost focus on other important things, the anxiety, the regret.

We must resist telling ourselves that this time will be different or worth it. And then, when we’re in it, we must stop before it goes bad.

(To be clear, limiting our consumption of life’s Pop Tarts – especially those related to current events and debate – doesn’t limit our ability to take action or discuss them. Instead, it makes us better at both because we are then more thoughtful and articulate. After all, we all know that spewed out, frustrated dialogue doesn’t change anybody’s mind.)

It’s not necessarily easy to cut down on Pop-Tarts, but we can do it. And we can help each other do it, too.

After all, we might need some help. Because life’s Pop-Tarts really can be delicious at first.

And there will always be more of them.

PS: Thanks to Mike Mozart for the awesome Pop-Tart pics!

PPS: If you haven’t heard already, there’s a new baby in the Maloney home! It’s another Tough Truths mini-book and it (boldly!) focuses on happiness. I’m really proud of her and know she’ll help people. You can get more info on my Amazon page (though she’s available online everywhere). Here’s her first photo:


8 responses to “The Problem with Life’s Pop-Tarts”

  1. Samantha Goldstein Avatar
    Samantha Goldstein

    Oh why oh why didn’t I read this before having half a box of dry Frosted Flakes for lunch?!! So much icky feeling now. Great piece and oh so wise!

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      Ha! Thanks my friend…and you’re lovely even if you’re feeling icky!!

  2. Patty Avatar

    Thank you Deirdre. Another great lesson on when we need to let go or perhaps not even START! so to spare ourselves that stress.

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      SO true Patty…not starting could very well be the best strategy of all!

  3. Daved Avatar

    What you describe is very similar to the disease of addiction…reminding us that any habit or behavior can become an addiction if we fail to learn from the negative consequences. Likewise, we can kick it with the right help. I’ve recently made a series of small changes that have resulted in big changes….I’m now very aware of pop tarts in my world and am learning how to limit them. Thanks.

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      Completely agree that this feels like addiction…we start small, then small isn’t good enough…then NOTHING is good enough. Congrats to you for making changes for yourself. You’re clearly getting the right results 🙂

  4. Jim Tenuto Avatar

    I have intentionally become less connected to social media. Weeks may go by without checking Facebook, Instagram, etc. The world still turns. I don’t discuss politics with anyone–online or off– (including during international travel). Life is better. Good advice, Deirdre!

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      Wow! I so admire you, Jim! I’m going to try to take a page from your book on the social media stuff. It’s just so toxic these days…thanks for the great comment!