08/22/2011 05:54 pm ET | Updated Oct 22, 2011

Watch Your Mouth, Dude

I grew up in suburban New York, and my family wasn't much on traveling, so when I arrived at my alma matter, The Colorado College, I'd never been out West before, seen a 14,000-foot mountain, experienced snow in 70-degree weather or come into contact with something called a "dude."

Back then, in the early 80s, the term "dude" was not yet a universal term for "pretty much any person in North America, male or female." It was still fresh and new and reserved for a specific and privileged type of private-school white boy, one who dressed in the latest fashions from The North Face and Patagonia, drank tasty beers, high-fived to Bob Marley and ripped loads of sticky bud through bongs the size of tree trunks.

The dude of yore rock-climbed, skied Aspen, and could tell you within five notes the day, year, town and venue in which the bootlegged Grateful Dead tune blasting through his Denon stereo was recorded.

Even though a solid portion of my friend pool was made up of these guys (and still is), hearing the rally cry of the wild "dooooood!" trumpeting across campus had me rolling my eyes. Really? Dude? That's the best you could come up with?

So I started making fun of it. I'd enter frat parties, cup in the air, bellowing out the D word in sarcastic revelry.

And before I knew what had happened, to my horror and surprise, I found myself saying it. With zero irony. All the time.


Somebody somewhere did a study that said it takes 21 days to form a habit, both good and bad ones.

This is why it's vitally important to watch how you speak, what you focus on and especially what you make fun of and complain about. Because our brains, with all their proud posturing around top of the food chain this and higher consciousness that, are ridiculously malleable and will latch on to repeated trains of thought and speech with the same forethought and speed as a baby latching on to a your finger.

This is also why turning into our parents to some degree is utterly unavoidable; we've been studying, and often complaining about, their every idiosyncrasy since the day we were born.

So keep an eye on your brain and your mouth. Pay attention to how you think and speak, and if it turns out that you're sounding snide or crappy or doubtful, make the conscious decision to change. If something bothers you, focus on the solution or the desired outcome, not the part that has you spinning out in the middle of the night. And whatever you see in other people that bothers you most, find compassion and humor in it. Because if you let it get to you, it will become you. Trust me, dude.