Monthly Archives: September 2013

Monday Motivator: Check the Impulse

My friend Pam had a yard sale over the weekend, so a couple of nights last week, I cleaned out my closet to augment her supply of goods for sale. It was also as good a time as any to finally put away all the summer clothes into boxes and take out all the fall/winter ones. 

I was quite surprised at what I found:

  • Last year, a black tank top ripped, so I needed to buy another. But apparently, every time, I went to  Target, I forgot that I’d already bought one. So now four black tank tops were scattered around my closet.
  • Sometime in the past, I went to Ross and bought a denim skirt for $4.99. How do I know this? Because the skirt with the tag still attached was at the bottom of a pile of jeans that I’ve kept to wear when I once again return to a certain size. I tried it on and realized that I must have been keeping this skirt in the hopes that one day I would like it better. I didn’t. So in the bag it went. (So did some of the jeans.)
  • I’d been eyeing some pretty polka-dotted skirts in a Boden catalog. Apparently, I’d been eyeing similar pretty polka-dotted skirts in a previous catalog since there were two in one of the fall/winter boxes. (And you can only wear so many polka-dotted skirts in a week!)
  • And let’s not discuss the corduroy pants in the same style but five different colors and the Target long-sleeved t-shirts in the same style but eight different colors. (You know how it is; you walk in Target and just happen to walk by the t-shirts to see if there are any new colors. . .)

Okay, hi, I’m Faye and I’m an impulse shopper. But impulsive behavior can get all of us in trouble. We blurt out everything we’re thinking and hurt people’s feelings. We see a bowl of candy on a desk and without thinking, we’ve grabbed most of the goodies and eaten them. We allow the car guy to convince us that a $500 car payment will not be a bad idea when that’s half of our take home salary.

There’s nothing wrong with occasionally acting on impulse, but when we go too far, we need to have a way to pull back.

I’ve decided on the following:

  • The one-in, one-out policy. Whenever I buy something, a similar item must go. This includes all clothes (including shoes and purses) and books.
  • I am going to rearrange my closet so that I can see in one glance how many black clothes I have or how many t-shirts I have. I hope this will make me a little more mindful.
  • I also have done an online budget so that if I spend more than my allotted amount, I receive an email. 

Hopefully, these techniques will help. And if not, I’m sure Pam will have another yard sale soon.

The Quotophiles

Our quotation for this week comes from Mark Twain: 

‘Classic.’ A book which people praise and don’t read.

Our question: What is a classic that you always wanted to “have read” but haven’t tackled yet?

Colette: There are some classics I have not read which tug at me.  Why haven’t I?   And there are some which I have not read, or have tried to read and have not finished, which don’t bother me at all.  Moby Dick is a good example.  I tried twice to read those 70 gazillion pages and have never made it through.  All that water.  All that whaling.  Call me “Who Cares.”  As a sweeping generalization, nearly all really dead British authors (yes, Brontes I mean you too) also fall into this category.  If the female characters are wearing bonnets, I’m usually not interested.   I tend to prefer more contemporary authors.

 Then there is Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  Why haven’t I read anything of his?  Not One Hundred Years of Solitude, not Love in the Time of Cholera.  Shame on me.  I really need to rectify this, and put one of those two books in the “on deck” pile on my night stand.  Any recommendations for which one I should read first?

Emily: Despite the fact that I’m a librarian, I’ve never felt guilty about not having read all the “great” novels. A quick perusal of my” to reads” revealed only two classics: All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren and Middlemarch by George Eliot. Middlemarch is there, no doubt, because my boss told me to read it, despite my lack of enthusiasm for Victorians. What makes something a classic versus just plain ole’ well regarded anyhow? 

Pam: Being a huge Charles Dickens fan, I have always wanted to read David Copperfield but have not yet.

Sally: There are a lot of classics I would like to read.  One would be Walden

Jolly Librarian: I am the total opposite of Colette. If there’s bonnet-wearing in a novel, then I want to read it. And I’ve made quite a dent in Victorian novels. Still, there are a few classics out there that I’m ashamed to have missed since I am an English major. Probably the most shameful is Ulysses by James Joyce. But every time, I think of tackling that modernist masterwork, I decide to put another novel in front of it. Putting off Joyce has allowed me to read War and PeaceAnna Karenina, and Les Miserables!

Getting Gritty: Learn to Delay Gratification

It’s Saturday night, and you need to study for a big test on Monday. A friend calls and asks you to dinner. You go. After all, you have all day Sunday to study. Then Sunday turns out to be a beautiful day, and some buddies are playing football out at the park . . .

College often seems all about delayed gratification. You pay tuition and buy books now so that you’ll have a good income later. You stay home and study so that at the end of the semester you’ll have good grades. And so on.

But delayed gratification seems to go against most things in our society. Why wait to buy a car when we can drive a new one off the lot today with easy payments for the next five years? Why wait to hear from a friend when we can call, text, or tweet this very second? Delaying gratification seems a little old-fashioned, something our Puritan ancestors would be inclined to do.

But it’s a necessary skill for success. So if you are always grabbing the short-term gain instead of waiting for the longer-term, bigger pay off, you’re going to have to develop the skill. Here are some tips:

  • Set up your environment so that it’s conducive for study. You won’t have to battle temptation quite as much if it’s not loudly calling you away. Put away and silence your phone. Find a quiet and private place to work. If you meet your friends in the library to study but end up chatting for a hour instead, you will need to set up study time without them. 
  • Set intermediate and short-term goals. Graduation can seem very far away when you’re starting out in college. It can be hard to maintain the momentum during the daily drudgery if your only motivator is two, three, or four years away. Set goals that can be achieved along the way. Make them learning and “getting better” goals:
    • By the end of the semester, I will be able to do a quadratic equation.
    • At the end of this hour of studying, I will be able to answer the questions on page 356.
    • If I pass my midterm tests, I will go to the movies and buy the extra-large bag of popcorn.
  • Start where you are and build on the skill. Let’s say that right now, you sit down in a chair in the library and open your textbook to read the chapter. Five minutes later, you find yourself checking Facebook and Twitter to see what your friends are doing. Don’t beat yourself up. Use this knowledge as a baseline. Put a timer app on your phone and set the goal for fifteen minutes studying before you check your messages. (Set the timer again for five minutes of ‘fun.’) Then start building up on your study time. 

Some people seem to naturally be able to delay gratification. I am not one of those people. But I have been lucky enough to discover it is a skill that can be learned.


Monday Motivator: Decide What’s Worth It

The other week, I was talking to my friend, a seven-year-old philosopher. She’d been having a tummy ache, but still decided to indulge in some cake and ice cream at her cousin’s birthday party. 

“How’s your tummy?” I asked later.

“Fine,” she answered. Then with a most serious expression on her face, she added, “And even if my tummy did hurt, it was definitely worth it!”

My friend is wise beyond her years. Too many adults have yet to grasp this basic concept. We are free to choose our actions, but we refuse to acknowledge those actions have consequences. Or we take actions but refuse to accept the inherent dangers involved.

But the wise know there are always risks:

  • We choose to love people, and those people may disappoint or leave us.
  • We take on new jobs to find there are new stresses involved.
  • We choose to move to a new place but may find it as disappointing as the old.
  • We eat cake on an upset stomach and may find ourselves quite ill.

The basic question is this:

If I do this, will the risks involved be worth it?

And if the answer is yes, then proceed and don’t spend time groaning about the inconveniences, pain, and grief that may pop up along the path.

The Quotophiles

Our quotation this week is from Gabriel Garcia Marquez:

“It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”

So what dreams are the Quotophiles pursuing?

Colette: I know it’s a simple matter of semantics, but I’ve never put much credence in the term “dreams.”  It just sounds too ethereal to be really helpful and it conjures up images of nighttime weirdness – like the dream I had the other night when my childhood dog and I were looking everywhere for rabbit food. Weird.  I prefer the term “goals” when thinking of the things I want for myself or those I care about.

My goal since the time I fell in love with the power of language was to have a book of poetry published.  I eventually did get a chapbook of poetry published by Finishing Line Press in 2009; my publishing goal then evolved to include the stipulation “without a staple.”  My chapbook, The Certainty of Fingerprints, is staple bound.  I now want a book which is hard bound.  It may seem minor, but the leap from staple to perma bound is as significant as moving from winning a district spelling bee to winning the spelling championship of the world.

For myself I will continue to write and seek publication.  I’m also hoping to travel more as I get older.  I appreciate the places I go, and the richness of the cultural differences, much more now than I did when I was younger and travel was mostly about eating good food and getting a tan.  Getting older has also shifted my thoughts to my 20-year old son and his “dreams.”  I’d like to see his dreams come true, every bit as much as I’d like to realize my own.

Emily: Margaret Faye likes to call me the Dream Crusher. I prefer to call myself pragmatic.

Case in point: Shark Tank. If you aren’t familiar with Shark Tank, the show brings entrepreneurs (i.e. dreamers) face-to-face with venture capitalists. The entrepreneur makes their case for their product or service and the Sharks choose whether or not to invest (the Sharks are pragmatists here). Many times these dreamers have mortgaged their house, their parents have mortgaged their house, their dog has mortgaged his house, and so on — all so the dreamer in question can try to make their Wake’n Bacon alarm clock into a fortune. Those of you who are dreamers are probably thinking: “But America’s built on dreams!” or “I’d love to have a Wake’n Bacon.” And to you I say, “Dream your dreams. Fry your bacon bedside. But don’t blame the pragmatist when the sheets catch fire.”

Pam: So, true…so true. In my own journey, I find I battle the “Oh, my gosh, what am I supposed to be doing, now?” as I enter each new decade. The most terrifying feeling of all for me is not feeling there is something productive needing to be pursued. Thank God there is the desire to continue learning. The onslaught of new material going into my mind, the learning of something and the pursuing of something to achieve helps keep me young, hopeful, strong, and, I hope, interesting. It sure helps make life fun, that’s for sure. I want to keep giving…having something I can do for someone else. That seems like it matters the most. Even as I type I am pursuing learning American Sign Language in hopes to be able to communicate with the Deaf students of Nashville State. Along with that, I am bicycling my butt off (literally, that is the goal :)). My high mileage is 21 miles just this Sunday. I can feel my body sculpting into a different shape in my core, and that is so exciting, because I’m having fun doing it. Who would have thought?! My goal is to do a day trip to Chattanooga with a group (that, and not have to get off and walk my bike up the big hill on Clay Lick Pike in Joelton).  Other interests that keep me going are continually learning new songs on clawhammer banjo, learning fiddle tunes on mandolin and guitar, and learning to play the dobro to play with the band that I work with weekly. Learn, pursue, dream, give to others…May we never grow too old to have hope for something interesting left to do.

Sally: I have lots of dreams; maybe that means I will never grow old.  One of my dreams is to set up a nature library in a state park, where people can get resources to take with them on the trails. (Not just books, but also mobile apps for their devices; that’s where people are now.) I want the library to be an anywhere, anytime place to learn new things.  When we stop learning, or dreaming, we might as well be dead.  I would also like to use my bicycle as a bookmobile service to deliver books and other library services.  Bicycling is really a great way to get to know your community, either a campus community or just a general neighborhood.  Another part of pursuing your dreams is to be resilient when people try to squash your ideas. I am a resilient librarian. I never give up on my dreams.

Jolly Librarian: Recently, added the Great Courses to their library. So far, I’ve downloaded Music Appreciation, Great Orchestral Works, and Ancient Egypt. It’s like getting to return to college without tests. I just go down the list and if I think “Wow, I wish I’d studied that in college,” I download it. I highly recommend the series (it comes in both audio and video formats) to other nerds out there.

Getting Gritty: Focus on Getting Better

Over the years, I’ve taught my share of study skills courses. One of the first assignments required students to list their goals. Typical were the following:

  • make all A’s
  • get a degree
  • be a good mother
  • make a lot of money

But, very occasionally, there would be something like this:

  • learn to play the piano well enough to write some songs for my band
  • improve my baking so that I can make specialty birthday cakes for my son’s parties

The first group’s items were surely desirable but seemed to focus on the end rather than the process. The second group took into account the learning that would take place and why that learning was important to them. 

According to psychologists, the first set of goals consisted of ‘being good’ goals: I will be rich. I will be a college graduate. I will be an ‘A’ student.

The second set consisted of “getting better” goals: I’ll get better at the piano, so I can write songs. I’ll improve my baking.

Studies have shown that both types of goals are good, but when difficulties emerge, the getting better goals more highly correlate with persistence. Why?  According to psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson, there are two important advantages: 

  1. When problems arise, people with get-better goals don’t get discouraged. Their goal was always trying to get better; they never expected things to be easy. 
  2. Even when doubts about success crept in, get-better goal setters were still more likely to persevere. Learning and improvement were still possible.

Let’s face it: many students need to reframe their goals. Too many are looking at the grade as the basis for accomplishment, instead of the learning. Many of my colleagues and I have been bewildered by students who have A’s in Comp I classes but come to Comp II not knowing basic structural or grammatical skills. I’m sure professors in all fields have similar stories.

But the fault is deeper than that. Our society praises high grade point averages and test scores without looking for the learning that should be going along with them. And as much as we complain about current education, test scores ruled when I was a kid, and probably will still long after I’ve gone to meet my ancestors.

Therefore, it is up to students themselves to set the types of goals that provide both success and perseverance. And those are ‘get better’ goals.


Monday Motivator: Snatch a Moment of Joy

A friend of mine was traveling yesterday, feeling sad about the present and dispirited about the inevitable near future. We’ve all had those times when the pains of life weigh us down so much that we can’t see a way through.

Just then, she spied three hot air balloons, their reds, yellows, and purples standing out against the bright blue sky. For a few seconds, she just admired the sight. Then she suddenly realized that she had momentarily forgotten her troubles. Sure, they came back upon her. But the fact that she managed to get out from under them at all seemed like a minor miracle. And seemed to hold promise for the future.

The Quotophiles

Our quotation for this week is from Theodore Roosevelt:

If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.

Here are our wise responses:

Colette: Tru dat, Teddy.  When push comes to shove, many of us are our own worst enemies.  Most of the people I hang with are harder on themselves than they are on others. I also fall square in this category.  We expect from ourselves the kind of greatness we don’t expect from others, and we tend to be less forgiving of ourselves when we make mistakes.  We are champion self-kickers.  This is how it should be though, if the alternative is the person who is constantly pointing outward and blaming others for his troubles.  I’ll take a good self-kicker over a finger pointer every time. 

Emily: I’ve always been pretty hard on myself. As a child, I usually started crying before my parents could dole out real punishment – when my brothers would ask why I never got spanked my parents replied that I punished myself. So I guess I’m glad I can’t kick myself in the pants. 

Pam: Interesting that this would be this week’s quote. Just yesterday I sat with my dearest friend at a Thai restaurant up the street and felt a pang in my heart as I looked at her sadness of being disappointed in herself, as always, and said the very thing she (and so many others) have said to me my entire adult life, “I think you are too hard on yourself”. Why is it that we scrutinize ourselves in the harshest way, and yet, we sit lovingly, patiently with those we adore and see only the very best in them? Why can we not see ourselves in them and hear our own voices reflected in our own hearts? I don’t know, but I am reminded that this is one of the best reasons to cling to those friends who hold us so dear and praise them just a little more often. God knows they must surely be comforted by the unconditional acceptance. 

Jolly Librarian: My preferred method of exacerbating trouble: procrastination. In college, I always put off writing papers until the last minute, so the process was always much harder and cumbersome than it had to be. If I noticed a suspicious spot on my skin (and I’m a pale girl in the South; there’s always a suspicious spot on my skin), instead of calling the doctor, I’d worry over the horrible disease I most likely had, how I would have to take time off work, how no one would visit me in the hospital, etc, etc. So by the time I made it to the doctor’s office, I not only had a suspicious spot, but also, very likely, a nervous rash. So I’m with Teddy on this one.

Getting Gritty: Stop Thinking about Your Ability; Start Concentrating on Your Effort

If you spend any time around children, you will probably hear someone say one of the following to them:

  • You’re so smart.
  • You’re athletic.
  • You’re creative.
  • You’re just not good at math. Neither was I.

Usually they are meant as compliments. Or as a salve to make someone feel better. But you might be surprised to realize that these statements are also cultural. They are likely to be heard in Western, not Eastern, cultures. In fact, according to researcher Heidi Grant Halvorson, in her book Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals, the major difference between East Asian and American students is “Americans believe in ability, and East Asians believe in effort

She goes on to say, “Asian children are explicitly taught that hard work and persistence are the keys to success. . . . Too often American students labor under the (mistaken) belief that doing well in math and science is a matter of possessing some innate ability–as if some people are just born capable of long division. When they first encounter a difficult concept or a problem they don’t know how to solve, they jump to the (mistaken) conclusion that they don’t have what it takes to do well.”

Just as it is important to praise children for their effort, we also need to look at our own attitudes and what we say to our students (if we’re teachers) and what we say to ourselves (if we’re students). 

  • One of the best math professors I’ve ever known took a different approach on the first day of class. Some of her colleagues would start off a semester stating that students should relax because math is not hard. It was meant as comfort, but then when students started having trouble, they concluded, “Well, my teacher said this is easy and I can’t do it. What chance do I have of succeeding in college?”  My friend, instead, started out the semester like this: “You’re nervous because you think math is hard. Well, it is hard. However, if you work hard, do the practice, ask questions, and come see me in my office, we’ll get through this together.” 
  • We should be honest with our students about our own academic struggles, letting them know how we overcame them.
  • As students, when a course gets hard, don’t say, “Well, it’s obvious I wasn’t mean to major in engineering” or, even worse, “I should quit college.” Instead say, “It’s college. It’s SUPPOSED to be hard.” Then ask yourself what is the next step YOU can take to learn the subject.

Changing your focus from ability to effort is like changing a filter on Instagram. It provides a different way of seeing the familiar, one that is more likely to bring you success.

Monday Motivator: No One Believes He or She Is the Toad

I’m reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. It’s the story of Henry VIII’s attempts to put aside his first wife Katherine and marry Anne Boleyn. Now this is a story that has been told many times before, but Mantel relates the events through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell. 

History has not been terribly kind to Cromwell. He has been portrayed as the toadying working-class courtier who was willing to do the back-room deals to make sure Henry got what he wanted. And was not above applying force when necessary. No one is terribly upset to find that he too made the King mad and ended up on the executioner’s block.

But Mantel portrays a different Cromwell, one who was enlightened and truly felt that the Catholic church had no place in running governments, one who was loyal to Cardinal Wolsey despite the personal risk, and one who would much rather encourage people to change their minds than torture and execute them.

So which interpretation is correct? I have no idea, but reading the novel reminded me that none of us believes we’re the toad of our own stories. I’m sure Cromwell thought he was doing the right and rational thing. And I’m sure Thomas More, who certainly had no compunction about torturing those he suspected as heretics, also saw himself as the hero of the story. 

It is easy when we’re in the midst of arguments and controversies and unsettled times to assign negative motives to those on the other side. But it may be worth a moment to remember that those folks feel as passionate and noble as you do, just on the opposite side of the fence.

And they see themselves as anything but toads, but may suspect they hear a little croaking from you 🙂