Monthly Archives: June 2015

Monday Motivator: Watch for the Consistency Error

During the fallout from President Clinton’s infamous affair, psychologist Walter Mischel received calls from journalists asking if the president’s leadership could be trusted. For Mischel, who is best known for his series of experiments with children and marshmallows, these questions and the president’s behavior showed some of the misconceptions we have about self control.

In his book, The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self Control, Mischel addresses the false idea that we are consistent in our behavior across all categories. As Mischel points out, Bill Clinton had incredible willpower to become a Rhodes scholar and win an election for president. However, in two categories, junk food and women, he did not. He also uses Tiger Woods as an example of someone whose willpower was almost legendary on the golf course. But then that willpower just as spectacularly failed him in his personal life.

This shouldn’t be such a big surprise to us. After all, most of us can list such inconsistencies in our own lives. People who are patient at home can be short-tempered at work. I have friends who roll their eyes at my love of desserts but can’t resist having one more drink. A colleague who would never be late for a meeting has no problem making friends wait for him at lunch or dinner.

Of course, we gloss over our own inconsistencies, making up excuses for them. “The people I work with would make a saint swear.” “It’s a special occasion, so I can treat myself to dessert or another drink.” “I’m super busy. I can’t help it if people stop me on the way out and make me late.”

We tend not to give others the same consideration. Years ago, a friend of mine had an affair. She never made excuses for herself, but she did say to me one day, “Just because I messed up doesn’t mean that I can’t still be a good person, does it?”

To many people, it did. If she messed up her marriage, then by default, she didn’t have the self control or morals to be a good parent, teacher, friend, or even citizen.

There’s a post that shows up on my Facebook page every so often: “Don’t judge people because they sin differently from you.” Maybe we should amend this: “Don’t judge people because their self-control failures are different from yours.”

Monday Motivator: Decide What You’re Going to Accept

In his book, Triggers, Marshall Goldman talks about the quadrants that people or organizations should think about when it comes to change. The basic quadrants are these: Positive/Change; Positive/Keep; Negative/Keep; Negative/Change.

The one that interested me the most was the Acceptance quadrant: the things that are negative but that we’ll keep. What really caught my attention was this statement: “Most people waste most of their lives on topics they’re not going to change anyway.”

I am a night owl. I actually can feel my mood shift positively in the middle of the afternoon. I don’t like getting up early. In fact, I don’t particularly like mornings at all.

Yet I always feel like a failure because I don’t get up early. I set several alarms. I even have it on my app as a habit I want to instill. The result of this is that three alarms go off each morning, and I shut them off and return to sleep. Each day I don’t get to check off the ‘get up on time’ item in (I only have one check for the month of June, and only 74  for the past 18 months.)

I’ve decided that Goldsmith is right. I won’t argue that it would probably be better if I got out of bed earlier each day, but it’s ridiculous to keep thinking about doing it, planning on doing it, and then berating myself for not doing it over and over again. So for now, I’m taking it off my list. I am accepting this negative in my life. Maybe there will come a time when I want to change, and I’ll try again.

But for now, I’m turning off the alarms.

Procrastination Nation: Tips from the Worst Procrastinator in the World (Me)

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No one can dillydally like the Jolly Librarian. If a task needs to be completed, I suddenly find the need to research the history of Iceland, learn how to play the maracas, or even clean out the fridge. It’s not a pretty sight, and procrastination has caused me a great deal of stress over the years.

Still, since I’ve been able to earn several college degrees and hold down a job, obviously, I am able to battle and beat my demon on occasion. So here are some things that have worked for me:

  • I had to realize there was no magical time in the future when I would feel like writing my dissertation or updating my resume. Taking away that excuse made me face up to the fact that I wasn’t doing myself any good by delaying.
  • Set deadlines. Since I have a tendency to break my own deadlines, I make sure I have some external accountability. I told my dissertation advisor that I needed to graduate in August. I promised our SACS chair that I would report every Friday on our progress. I might be a slacker, but I don’t want other people to think I’m one.
  • Outline the project. I kept putting off starting my dissertation, substituting more books and articles for any actual writing.One day, I realized that I couldn’t start writing because I didn’t  know how a dissertation was really supposed to be organized. So I looked up a few online and then I outlined my own. Once I had a structure, I felt more comfortable and was able to start to work.
  • Do a little bit everyday. There’s a slogan that says, no matter how slow you go, you’re beating everyone still on the couch. Even if I just write a paragraph or practice the piano for fifteen minutes, it’s a start. And often once I get started, I keep going.
  • Get a buddy. I have to admit I’m something of a loner. But many of my friends have found having a group or buddy to commit to works for them. Join a study group. Meet a friend after work at the gym.

I’ve come to realize that battling procrastination is just something that I’ll always have to do. But luckily, I’ve also realized there are ways to work around it.

Monday Motivator: Defy Inertia

“A body at rest tends to stay at rest.”– Newton’s first law of motion

When I was kid, I was sure that, when I became an adult, I would have an archenemy. This person would try to prevent me from reaching my goals and actively subvert my desires. And would throw me into quicksand if given the opportunity. (My family watched a lot of Westerns.)

As an adult, I find that I do have an archenemy. Unfortunately, it’s no one as intriguing as the gunslinger in the black hat or the White Walkers in Game of Thrones.  But it’s just as dangerous. My archenemy is inertia.

A friend once went to a workshop where they were told to draw a picture of the attitude or trait that caused them the most trouble. Well, here is how my inertia looks to me:

TransientBlob copyHe is bottom heavy and he hates moving. He convinces me that it’s much better just to stay where I am. Sometimes it’s literal. I come home from work and decide to sit down to watch the news before I start on some evening activities. But inertia convinces me that it’s much nicer just to stay seated and watch just one more show. And then one more.

Sometimes inertia makes a sneak attack on my goals and dreams. “Really,” it says, “Why would you want to try that? You make a decent salary. You have a nice house. Just remain comfortable. Comfortable is good. Risk taking is bad.”

I’ve realized that my childhood fear has come true. I have been thrown into a type of quicksand. I may not be drown, but I also don’t get anywhere.

My mom used to work in the school cafeteria. Often she did several loads of laundry before work, and, then after work, cook dinner, clean, iron, and help us with our homework. I realized that, no matter how tired she was after a day on her feet, she didn’t sit down until all the chores were done. She knew that the way to battle inertia was to never let it get a hold on you.

Unfortunately, it does have a hold on me. But I’ve decided to put up a battle.According to most of the writers on this topic, the key to beating inertia is simply to begin. Something. Anything.

Wish me luck. Because if you remember anything about quicksand from those old TV shows, it takes a lot of pulling to get out of there.

Procrastination Nation: Get a Deadline

First things first: Accept that there will never come that magical time when you ‘feel’ ready to do a task.

So, if you are a serial procrastinator like me, and you’re finally ready to face that fact, how do you proceed? Well, strangely enough, just as I was sitting down to write this entry, this article showed up in my Facebook feed. (And, yes, I was using Facebook as a way of avoiding writing.)

According to this article, I need deadlines. And not just any deadlines: external deadlines.

This is not news to me. I depended on deadlines to motivate all the way through high school, college, and graduate school. I was often stressed, but not enough to change my ways. And since my grades didn’t particularly suffer, I kept up this strategy. But once I finished my coursework for my doctorate, I realized that this was not going to be the best way to write my dissertation. There was a deadline, but it was six years in the future. And if I didn’t want this book-sized project hanging over my head for five of those years, I was going to have to come up with a different approach.

I set schedules. I gave myself blocks of time. But the dissertation wasn’t going anywhere. Then one of my classmates emailed that she was pregnant and was determined to finish her degree before the baby came. That set me to thinking. No, I didn’t decide to have a baby, but I did set an external goal. I told my advisor I needed to finish my degree before summer came. Once I made that pronouncement, she gave me a schedule. And I kept to it.

So if you a chronic procrastinator as I am, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to make sure that you are on a deadline.

Monday Motivator: Never Underestimate the Power of a Little Thing

When I’m not wearing my contacts, I have to rely on two pairs of glasses, one for distance, one for reading. It’s supposed to go like this: one pair on my eyes; one pair on the top of my head. Except it rarely happens this way, mainly because of my curly hair. The glasses on my head get caught in my hair, and I become irritated. So I throw the pair I’m not wearing to the side.

And that’s how I managed to roll over on my pair for distance one night before going to sleep  and stretching them so out of shape that they fell off my nose every time I put them on. This did not seem to be a big deal since I wear my contacts for most of my waking hours. So I put up with it and kept delaying getting them fixed.

Then this summer, I decided to make a list of little annoyances that needed to be dealt with. A couple of weeks ago, I remembered to put my glasses in my bag and took them to Costco at lunch time. They were fixed in no time. (And I even enjoyed a nice slice of the combo pizza.)

What I would not have predicted was  how happy this made me. I was able to take my contacts out earlier in the evening. When I put my glasses on, I didn’t have to avoid looking down since they no longer slid off my face. I had underestimated the effect those warped glasses had on my mood.

So this week, don’t overlook the power of the little.

Procrastination Nation: The Sad Secret You Need to Know

When I was in college, there was one thing my friends and I said over and over, like an unhelpful mantra: “I don’t feel like studying now. I’ll study (Choose one: in the morning, tomorrow, over the weekend, later tonight, after dinner, etc.) when I’m (Choose one: fresh, rested, less anxious, not hungry, more in the mood, etc.)”

Basically, what all this talk came down to was the belief that we all thought that at some point in the future, we would feel more like studying or writing that paper. And we all finally did get down to doing those things, usually a day or two before a test or deadline.

As a practicing procrastinator for most of my life, I have constantly put things off, waiting for that magical time when universal forces would come together and I could proceed with enthusiasm. I would want to write that paper. I would want to clean my kitchen. I would want to research health insurance plans.

But here’s the secret I learned: That time never comes. If you don’t want to write a paper today, you’re not going to want to write it tomorrow or next week. If the thought of cleaning your kitchen depresses you tonight, then you’re not going to wake up tomorrow with the thought, “I can’t wait to clean my kitchen.” And let’s face it, most people are never going to enjoy reading insurance details.

So the secret is simply this: When you sit down to do a dreaded task and realize you don’t feel like it, you also need to realize you probably are never going to feel like it. So buckle down, and start despite your feelings.

Monday Motivator: Brighten Someone’s Day

On Saturday, I had the depressing task of having to buy a mousetrap. If I were Superman, mice would be my kryptonite. I get freaked out by the very thought of them. So I was probably not in the best mood as I waited in line behind a mother with two very young daughters who were munching on popcorn.

One little girl said to her sister, “There’s a lady behind you.”

The other turned, looked at me with wide eyes for a couple of seconds, and proceeded to give me a giant hug. Then her sister did the same thing.

I have never had a day turn around so fast. Sure, I still had to go home and deal with a mouse (or mice), but suddenly I was smiling and felt that I could do with what I had to do.

Now as adults, we probably can’t go around hugging strangers on a regular basis. But we can still make an effort to welcome and comfort those whom we encounter each day. It doesn’t have to be anything major: a smile, a sincere thank-you, letting someone else in front of you in line, etc.

And the effects of such little gestures multiply. Because of two hugs from strangers on a Saturday morning, I was nicer to everyone I met this weekend..

Well, except for the mouse.