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As you may know, I am taking piano lessons. Today my teacher, after listening to me play a song, suggested that I take a dance aerobics at the gym where we both belong.
Not because I’m chunky and out of shape (although I am). But because I apparently just don’t feel or hear the rhythm of the music. I can read the notes, but I can’t get the rhythm.
This is not how I imagined my foray into the world of music would be. I pictured sitting in class, learning the notes,and discovering that I am a natural player. I would amaze my friends and colleagues with my ability to pick up everything from Elton John to Mozart. At holiday gatherings, I’d sit at the piano and start a carol singalong.
Instead I am plugging away at “Down in the Valley” and have such bad rhythm that my teacher thinks I need a type of physical therapy.
Am I tempted to quit? Sure.
Am I going to? No.
For one reason, as bad as I am, I enjoy the piano.
But for another, it is good to struggle every so often. I have been working in the writing field so long that many of the skills seem natural to me; I don’t always understand how students can find essay writing or researching difficult. Being a failure at piano helps me be more sympathetic and understanding when students are frustrated in the research process.
And if you see a chunky girl out of step at aerobics at the Bellevue Y, do me a favor and just look away.
Last week, like most of Nashville, I was stunned by the intensity of the ice storm that hit our city. I quickly realized that I had only one plan to deal with icy weather: that I would stay inside overnight until the ice melted. When the ice didn’t melt, I was in trouble.
Let me count the ways:
- My shovel was iced in the storage room off my deck, and nothing was opening that door.
- I was also sick and had only a quarter bottle of Nyquil left. When that ran out and ice was still firmly entrenched, I had to go scrape my car’s windshield.
- Let’s just say that a car left outside to its own devices after an ice storm and two days of below-freezing weather requires more than the average scraping job. In the middle of the job, my ice scraper snapped in two.
You get the picture. Luckily, my neighbor loaned me her shovel to break the ice off my front step. I had filled my car up the week before, so I could keep it running to help melt the ice. And when I got to the drug store, there were still ice scrapers available.
But I have learned some valuable lessons:
- Just because it has before, don’t assume the temperature will bounce up thirty degrees the day after an ice storm.
- Even if you don’t have to go into work, don’t assume you won’t need your car and scrape the ice off it every so often.
- Always have an extra bottle of Nyquil around because, no matter what the weather, when you’re sick you won’t feel like going out to get some more.
- Be prepared for backup plans to go awry, and have a couple more up your sleeve.
And after seven days of almost continuous home confinement, I now give anyone permission to slap me if I’m heard complaining about the heat this summer.
In the first season of The Americans, the series about Russian spies living among us in the 1980s, when President Reagan is shot and Al Haig announces that he’s in control at the White House, the Russians freak out. In the Soviet Union, this sort of announcement would mean a coup. People start to act on their assumptions based on their misunderstanding of American culture.
We’re often like those Russians, I think. We look at events and judge them by our own standards of what’s right and normal, forgetting that there are other standards out there. We say things like, “I would never do that,” as if that is the only criterion for judging something as right or wrong.
Now I’m not saying we should let ourselves be beat down or let others take advantage of us. But I do think it would help if instead of automatically responding, we gave ourselves time to reflect on where other people are coming from and recognize that in their minds, they are behaving as naturally and normally as we think we are.
It might not cut down on all our disagreements, but it might make those disagreements more civil.
Many of us like to be called positive thinkers. And people do like to hang out with positive rather than negative people. But as a tool to achieving goals, research has shown that positive thinking is not terribly effective.
In her new book, Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation, Gabrielle Oettingen describes a technique which is more effective: WOOP.
How does it work?
- Wish. The first step is to define the goal. What is it that you want to do?
- Outcome. Imagine the best possible outcome.
- Obstacles. Then list all the obstacles that could get in the way of achieving that goal.
- Plan. Then make a plan for overcoming those obstacles using if/then statements.
For example, I have a very hard time getting up in the mornings. Getting up late causes me to rush, doesn’t allow me to indulge in my preferred morning routine of tea and newspapers, and makes me mad at myself. So this week, I’m going to try the WOOP technique.
Wish: To get up when the alarm goes off.
Outcome: I am up and having a leisurely breakfast with enough time to go to the Y or practice piano.
Obstacles: I hate getting up. The alarms don’t seem to work. I stay up too late at night (being a natural night owl.) I stay in bed and check emails on my iPad.
Plan: I will keep the iPad downstairs. I will move the alarm clock into another room. If I’m tempted to stay up late to watch television, I’ll remind myself of how hard it is to get up in the mornings. If I do get up late, I will not change my morning schedule so that I may have to go without breakfast, shower, makeup, etc.
We’ll see how this works :)
January 26, let me count the ways that you are bringing us down:
- Cloudy outside.
- Three people out sick.
- Two more going home early.
- Printer problems.
It would be easy to be grumpy today. But then I saw this on the Internet:
So I am going to give it a try. It might be that i can only make partly-cloudy. But I’m determined not to be all doom and gloom around other people. Sure, there might be lots of reasons for people to feel down today.I’m going to make sure I’m not one of those reasons.
The Museum of Extraordinary Things
by Alice Hoffman
It is a work of historical fiction set in 1911, which tells the story of a girl who works in her father’s museum of unusual people like herself. She has webbed fingers and is billed as a mermaid. She meets a young photographer, and, as their story unfolds, they are witnesses to two major New York fire disasters. He photographs the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and watches young women and children plummeting to their deaths to escape the fire. She watches the Dreamland Amusement Park on Coney Island as fire consumes the rides and amusements. It is heartbreaking in what they both helplessly witness and hopeful in what they find in each other.
Robin teaches psychology at the Humphreys County Campus.
Almost everyone starts off the semester with good intentions (kind of like gym memberships in January). But somehow a month or so in, things start to get more and more difficult. So what can you do now to ensure that you’ll not only survive but thrive during the entire term?
Here are some tips:
- Be prepared to work hard. College is not high school. There is more work. There is the expectation that you can learn independently. And you are responsible for that learning.
- Get to know your professors. Ask questions. Go to their offices during office hours. They are the most valuable resource you have!
- Find a study spot. Take advantage of breaks between classes. Go to the library or the learning center. Find a quiet hallway.
- Find out what help is available. How do colleges try to help students? Let me count the ways: Tutors, workshops, office hours, information sessions, etc. I think I can safely say if you need help and don’t get it, then it’s because you didn’t ask.
- Pull your weight. Don’t be the guy in the back playing with your phone. Don’t the woman in the group who doesn’t come through with your part of the assignment.
- Keep up. The most successful students are those who do the assignments daily, keep up with homework, and don’t have to cram to take a test. There’s no substitute for daily practice.
- Manage your time. Get a calendar. Write down all your assignments. If you have three big projects due in the same week, start early.
- Be responsible for your learning.