Monthly Archives: July 2014

Monday Motivator: Try the One Minute Rule

In her book The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin mentions the one minute rule; If something takes less than a minute, then go ahead and do it instead of putting it off.

Friday night, I came home to find my dining table covered with books, papers all over my sofa, and clothes hanging off my bed frame. Had someone broken in my house? No, it was the inevitable result of not following this rule. Instead of putting things away, I stacked them. And then stacked them some more. And then some more. 

 So after spending part of the weekend putting away the stuff that piled up over the previous weeks, I made a resolution to follow Rubin’s rule. I will no longer throw something to the side if I could just as easily hang it up, put it in the bookcase, or place it in a file. 

Now, I need to do the same with my office here. But one step at a time. . .



Memorization Tips

Of all the things that I memorized in school, I really can only recall one: present tense verbs in Spanish. This might have been because, in my summers during college, I worked in a cotton mill sewing remnants together. To help make the days less tedious, I practiced my Spanish verbs. When you considered all the memorization, I did in high school and college, my retention rate was not terribly high. Maybe my approach was wrong headed.

Last week, a colleague sent me this article on better ways to memorize. And I realized that I had failed in two major ways. 

  • I had done too much cramming in college. I tried to memorize everything I needed for a test in a very short time. My brain held the information for the exam, but soon after, it was gone. The better way to memorize something is to space it out: A certain amount of time each day is much better than the same amount of time pushed into one or two days. Fortunately, you can often work in these periods into a daily routine. You can go as low tech as flash cards or download an app.
  • I also tried to memorize in isolation. Research shows that it’s easier to remember ideas that we understand the subject. Unfortunately, for some of us, we try to memorize WHEN we don’t understand, hoping that pure memory will carry us through on a test. So it’s imperative to understand the concepts and how they relate to each other if you need to memorize material for a course. 

If you are looking for some helpful apps to download, here are some suggestions.

Mind Vault: The Memorization Assistant ($2.99) (Apple)

There are lots of flash cards apps. Here are three as well as some reviews of others:

Flashcards+ (free)

Flashcards from Brainscape (free)

Flashcards Deluxe ($3.99)

Click here for an article on apps for Android users.


Monday Motivator: Just Have Some Fun

We are more than halfway through the summer and through the year. Maybe you’ve already taken your summer vacation, and you have those post-holiday blues. Maybe work is beginning to pile up as you get ready for fall semester. The return of the hot, steamy weather isn’t helping. And the World Cup is over.

What to do?

Now I’m assuming that you don’t have thirty days of vacation time and excess funds to leave town. If so, then stop reading this immediately and book your flight. For the rest of us, it’s time to take some mini-breaks to celebrate the last part of summer:

  • Get an ice cream cone and don’t worry if some melts on your shirt.
  • Watch the silliest, scariest, or funniest movie you can find. (I recommend revisiting Ghostbusters.)
  • Read a good novel. (The Storied Life of  A. J. Fikry is a must-read for book lovers.)
  • Find a television series you missed and binge watch. (Game of Thrones, anyone?)
  • Go to the pool or the gym, not so much to work out, but just to play. Splash in shallow end or play basketball.
  • Go in that little shop that you’re always passing by and saying, “I really should stop there sometime.”
  • Play tourist in your hometown.
  • And, last but not least, rejoice in the fact that Weird Al Yankovic has come out with a new album of parodies. “Word Crimes” is for English teachers everywhere. And “Tacky” . . . well, you know who you are!






Monday Motivator: To Thine Own Self Be True

I am not a morning person. That is actually putting it too mildly. I basically hate everything about mornings. I don’t like that the sun is shining so brightly that I have to bury my face in the pillow to go back to sleep. I don’t like alarm clocks. I don’t like leaving my bed. I don’t like that people want to talk to me. 

But for years, I have tried to change because, let’s face it, morning people rule the world. Success books and blogs extol the virtues of early rising. And morning people often judge those of us who don’t get up at the crack of dawn and are at work before the doors are even unlocked.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I simply can’t make myself a morning person. I can get my body out of bed (well, some of the time) but not my mind. To me, the morning hours drag past. I can’t seem to do any real thinking, and I feel mired in quicksand on projects. However, the minute that morning passes and afternoon has arrived (yes, the stroke of noon), I suddenly perk up and my to-do list no longer seems so overbearing and endless. 

I’ve even brought this self knowledge to my work-out. Two weeks ago, I started going to the gym at 7:30 or 8 in the evenings. Suddenly, I felt like a kid again, having play time after supper instead of forcing myself through a routine. Yes, it requires an extra quick shower when I get home, but it makes my day better. So I’m sticking to it.

The lesson here is simple: Find what works for you. And then do it.


Learning Tips: Set Up Some Benchmarks

As students, you’ve probably been asked over and over about your academic goals. And they’re probably something like this:

  • make an “A” in College Algebra.
  • earn a degree.

And these are certainly useful goals to make and achieve. But sometimes as  a guide for specific days, they can be a bit fuzzy in helping us know what to do.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say I’ve been planning to study for two hours after dinner when someone calls and asks me to go hear a band. Now I really want to make a good grade but I also would like to hear the band. So here’s my reasoning:

It is September and final grades won’t be given until December. I have three months to study and only one night to see this band. It won’t be a big deal if I don’t study tonight.

The problem with this sort of reasoning is that it can happen over and over again until suddenly it’s late November, and I’ve got a semester’s worth of studying to do in two weeks. (This may or may not be based on actual life experience.)

This is where short-term benchmarks can come in handy to make sure I stay on the right track.

So for my class, I might decide the following weekly activities are important:

  • Go to class.
  • Take three pages of notes.
  • Read the assignments.
  • Do the homework.
  • Conduct one hour of research/writing for the two papers assigned in the class.

So I make a checklist and each week, grade myself on my completion of the activities. This method keeps the tasks in front of me, and make me less likely to procrastinate because the final grade is “months away.” 

If I’m invited out, then I can check to see how many of these things have been done and if I have time to still complete them if I take the night off. I have to be honest with myself, but that’s a little easier to do on a weekly basis than on a semester one.

This has proved to be a very helpful tool for me. Give it a try and see if it works for you. 



Monday Motivator: Do One Small Nice Thing

Yesterday, I was in the check-out line at Target. I thought I had picked the time that everyone had shopped and gone home. I was wrong. Every line was long, and every shopper seemed to have a million items in the each cart. I settled in for a long wait when the woman in front of me, perusing the latest issue of People,  said, “Honey, you go ahead. You’ve got a little basket. I’ve got a bunch of things. And I want to get caught up on the gossip.” (I have noticed lately that strangers have a tendency to call me ‘honey’ or ‘baby.’ Perhaps it’s the deer-in-the-headlights look I often have in crowds.) 

Now, this was a little thing, but I don’t think I would have been happier if she’d given me a hundred dollars or Snow Patrol tickets.  From that one small encounter:

  • I felt more kindly towards all the other people in Target.
  • I felt more energized.
  • I wanted to do a nice thing for the next person I saw.

It was a good reminder that it doesn’t take much for us to make someone else’s day. (And the dark corollary to that: It often doesn’t take much to ruin someone’s day.)  

So today, choose the small, kind act.


Learning Tips: Practice What You Learn

I have a confession. A few years ago, I took a French class. I did all the assignments. I took the tests. I made an “A.” But right now, even if you cornered me in a dark alley and threatened to take away all my Snow Patrol albums, I would not be able to say more than five sentences in French. And most of those would be along the line of “How are you?” and “Where is the bathroom?”

What happened? It wasn’t the teacher. It wasn’t the class. It wasn’t even my fault. Well, not entirely. You see, I knew while I was taking the online course, I was missing out on one crucial aspect of learning a language: I wasn’t practicing speaking it in regular conversation. And we even had a student worker in the library who was a native speaker and would have been more than happy to speak French with me. But I was too embarrassed about my ‘Southern’ pronunciation of French words and my having to think and translate the word I wanted before saying it. So I didn’t practice, and I still don’t know French despite that credit on my transcript.

So learn from my mistake. You are only going to learn what you practice. Athletes know this. They think nothing of practicing skills for hours to make sure those moves are automatic in the game. So do musicians. A friend who plays for the symphony practices at home before going to work where the orchestra practices some more. I’m not sure why we are so slow to follow their example in the academic world because it works.

So if you’re studying a foreign language, take every opportunity to practice. Speak with your classmates or with anyone who will agree to speak with you. Keep a journal in the language. Read books. (I started with children’s books and am now reading a French version of a book I’ve already read in English to keep the frustration level manageable.)

If it’s math, practice those problems. Don’t stop when you’ve got one worked out. Work some more. Get to the point when solving them is automatic before you move on to the next skill.

If you’re having trouble, go back and find the spot where things start to break down. Then get that under control before moving on.

Whatever subject you’re trying to learn, make it a daily habit to review and practice those skills. There’s no substitute for regular practice. And if I’d practiced a little more in class, I would be able to make that point in French.