Archive for January, 2007

Sometimes There Is No Easy Button

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

There seems to be a fine line between acknowledging that old age has some inherent characteristics, and assuming that being old is a problem in itself. Lumping all older people together into a category is unfair. Assuming they all have the same problems is also unfair. It’s a form of discrimination.

It’s easy to do this kind of stereotyping but it isn’t realistic when dealing with individuals. Today I spent over an hour at a nursing home encouraging and exhorting a woman just a few years older than I to push her own wheelchair to the dining room. She’s done it many times, and, more important, it’s essential if she is to keep her blood circulation, muscle tone, and cognitive skills from deteriorating. But did she ever get angry at me! She said it was ‘tiring’ to try.

Today I also spent over an hour with an 88 year old friend as we struggled to learn how to do something on the computer. ‘Tired’ is an understatement for how we felt when we were finished, but ‘exhilarated’ is another adjective that would be appropriate. And we won’t stop trying to learn something new next week! And I won’t even complain about all the exercise I, and my friends, do to keep our bodies active. Tired? Yes. Healthier? You bet!

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Potpourri

Sunday, January 28th, 2007

Part of the problem is having diverse interests and a brain that struggles to synthesize them into a whole. My thoughts are often chaotic, as are my written notes, and I obsess about finding a continuity. Well, after all, there’s a connection being made somewhere in my mind or I wouldn’t have thought it! But sometimes it takes a while for all those cognitions to come together like jigsaw puzzle pieces and make a coherent picture.

So I’m trying to lean on that old saying ‘A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds’ and learn to share the flow with all of you. This hasn’t been easy, probably because I’ve been too careful. I’m learning that I can’t review everything and integrate all changes in advance because you bring so much to the dialogue.

And as I try to be concise, I run the risk of obscuring what I mean. Especially when there are hoards of non-thinkers swimming the Web like piranha waiting to attack the use of a word they don’t like or with which they have past associations that aren’t what I intended at all. So for those of you who like to think and consider, thank you for your patience! And know that your feedback and comments help me refine the ideas behind the words.

Part of my world view and my resulting thought process is that there are so many things I recommend, that I often don’t know where to begin. It’s an eclectic sampler because any change we make in the way we think, feel, or act involves adjustments in other areas. ‘Life style’ changes are just that; they change the characteristics of our everyday lives on many levels, from the mundane to the sacred. So besides suggesting everyday activities, I’d also suggest researching the many levels below them.

There are basic web sites that will give you background on many of the things I write about. For example, www.webmd.com gives good background on medical issues, and www.nami.org gives good information on mental health issues specifically. For practical suggestions (he calls it ‘personal development for smart people.’) www.stevepavlina.com often has great ideas. I check out his web site as often as I do the other two.

But I also visit www.historychannel.com and www.nationalgeographic.com because I know that stretching my mind to understand other people in other times and places. And I can find fascinating new research to learn about and wonderful places to visit. I love www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/arcnat/lascaux/en/index3.html where you can walk through the cave art with a flashlight.

My taste in books is just as varied. Jared Diamond’s books Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societiesand Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeedhelp me to have a new, the perspective things are on why today way they are today, as does Charles Mann’s 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. Understanding ourselves by understanding our history is as important as it is in psychotherapy, where understanding where you learned your beliefs and habits are essential to deciding if you want to change them.

That’s just a glimpse of some of the things I like. Some time soon I’ll have to share some of my favorite movies and what I learn from them. And then there’s the category of Books I Haven’t Read Yet But Wish I Could. Are you sure you want to hear them all?

Break the Procrastination Pattern

Monday, January 22nd, 2007

Everybody likes the feeling of having finished a job well. But between starting a job and finishing it, there’s a long, hard road of just plugging away. So despite our desire to finish a task, we can find ourselves putting it off until the last minute. Then we have to rush to get it done at all, throwing our already hectic schedule into further disarray.

Procrastinators are easy to spot at any time of year. They tend to look anxious and harassed. They were the ones who were congregating in stores the night before Christmas trying frantically to complete their shopping at the eleventh hour. You may have seen them because you were there too! It’s like a Procrastinators Anonymous meeting!

There may be people who enjoy the excitement and suspense of never really knowing whether they will actually be finished what they’ve started on time. But most procrastinators really wish they could change their habits.

If you’re in the latter category, take heart! Here are some tips that may help you conquer that pile of unfinished jobs. But before you get to work, take a moment to analyze your pattern of procrastination, so you can avoid the trap in the future.

Do you tend to get discouraged at the beginning of a project, when the work looms ahead of you? Or does your energy run out near the end of a project because you’re afraid to accept the finished product? Knowing when you tend to procrastinate can help you plan ahead to gibe yourself extra reinforcement for continuing the work at this point.

Are there particular kinds of jobs that you tend to put off? Some people put off tasks that might bring them closer to other people, especially if they feel ambivalent about the other person. Others put off business tasks because they are afraid to have their finished work criticized. Some people use a crisis-laden schedule to provide an excuse for not dealing with the real problem areas of their lives. What is your pattern?

When you have honestly faced your pattern of putting things off, and are ready for change, here’s a quick way to get started. Get a pencil and paper, and proceed step-by-step:

First, write down all the undone jobs that are worrying you. Don’t worry about the order in which you write them; just get everything down on paper. Be specific and spill all your problems into this list.

Second, underline the five most urgent jobs and note them on a separate piece of paper. Put the first list aside and concentrate for the moment on this second top-priority list. Jot down a quick outline of what needs to be done to accomplish each task, and an estimate of the time needed.

Third, promise yourself a reward, however small, for each step you accomplish. Write it down next to the step. Now, start working through your most urgent items, remembering to reward yourself at each step along the way. (Aren’t you glad you wrote those rewards down?)

Fourth, when you have finished these five items, go back to your original list and begin the process again. As you read over your list, don’t forget to look for items you don’t really need to do, or items you can ask someone else to take over. Do your best on each project, but don’t be such a perfectionist that you exceed your time estimates.

And remember, once you get your schedule back on a less anxiety-filled track, don’t put off your resolution to stop putting things off!

Together We Learn (Part II)

Sunday, January 21st, 2007

This article is the second in a series. The first article is: Together We Learn (Part I).

I was recently asked about the ‘new’ degree programs that are proliferating on line and elsewhere recently. As somebody who has been facilitating learning at the college level since 1973, as well as participating in a variety of non-traditional approaches to learning, I did have some thoughts on the subject. Here they are:

Together We Learn,
Each in His/Her Own Way

‘Non-traditional’ methods have always been around in education. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but the reality is that people have always explored new ways to improve the speed at which we can absorb new ideas, and put them into practice. Good teachers of every grade level experiment nearly every day with new methods and materials in their classrooms. And they get daily experience with the unrelenting fact that each of their students has a different personal style.

History is full of examples of experimental education. Centuries ago, Socrates knew how to ask questions that inspired and provoked thought, but that was darn revolutionary to those more used to rote-memorization. On the other hand, Celtic bards developed a tradition of memorization and music that developed, preserved, and perpetuated their culture’s wisdom. For decades now, many university programs have given credit for ‘life studies.’ (i.e. The things you actually did at your job and other aspects of real life from which you learned.) So is there a ‘best’ way? Or is the bottom line combining all methods so that students can have options that best fit their individual styles?

Resolve

Sunday, January 14th, 2007

I suppose the reason we keep making New Year’s resolutions is that hope springs eternal in the human heart. It’s almost as traditional to break New Year’s resolutions as it is to make them! In the interests of breaking with this tradition of non-compliance, here’s some unusual ways of tricking yourself into keeping those promises you make.

The most important tip is planning ahead. And no, it’s not too late to redo your list, even if we are past the ‘due date.’ Give your resolutions some thought. What do you really want to do differently this year? After you’ve made your usual list, -you know, the one you’re looking at ruefully right now – cross off the ones you only wrote down because you thought you should. If your heart’s not in it, you won’t keep them anyway, so why set yourself up to fail? Keep only the ones you really would like to do.

Take your wall calendar or appointment book or Blackberry and look ahead at 2007. Pick days and schedule in specific examples of some of these resolutions. Did you promise yourself that this year you would spend more time with the kids? Then write/type in ‘take the kids to a museum’ on a convenient day in February. Is taking up painting a wish of yours? Then mark down ‘Paint a picture’ on three different days in March.

Mark down whatever strikes your fancy, just so that you pick a real day and mark down a specific activity.

Check your calendar to see if you need to do any advance preparations. Mark these down too. For example: ‘Call museum for schedule’ on a day next week. Or ‘Buy paint supplies’ two weeks before your first scheduled painting. If you really want to get in the spirit of things, write in related activities too. Make an appointment with yourself to read a book about the museum exhibit or about oil painting before you start.

Or adapt a Japanese custom for your resolutions. Make a ‘Wish Tree.’ Plant a pretty branch in a pot in your living room. Write each New Year’s resolution down on a different slip of colored paper. Roll each one up and tie to a branch on the tree with colored ribbon. Decorate the tree by tying flowers and ribbons to empty branches – anything to make it attractive enough to remain all year long.

Each week untie one wish from the tree at random. Read it carefully, and spend that week focusing on that one resolution. You’ll be surprised at how many new habits you can develop if your energy is devoted to just one focus at a time. Concentrate on accomplishing just that one change. You can make real progress in a short time, and feel encouraged enough to maintain the changes throughout the year.

Nobody has the willpower to change all their habits overnight. Build your New Year’s resolutions into the whole year, and allow yourself time to enjoy each desired change. Be sure the changes are ones that improve your life, and make it more enjoyable. You may find it’s more fun to keep your resolutions than to break them!

Whoops! Temporary lapse in communication!

Sunday, January 14th, 2007

Oh no! Temporary lapse in communication! I sincerely apologize!

No, of course I didn’t just forget! It’s just that blogging is a whole new genre, and one which leaves few protective screens between the writer and the reader. I’m still adapting to a new century and new technology. When I had a weekly column, or wrote books, there was always an editor around to make excuses for those times when the unexpected hit hard. Now it’s just you and me, and I have only myself to blame and to explain.

All in all, the transparency is heartening. Knowing you missed me, knowing that the lapse was noticed, was actually a positive thing. It taught me what a tremendous dialogue we’ve started together. I promise I won’t forget. And I won’t shut you out again. Sharing with you has definitely become a vital part of my life!

Beyond the usual delays of learning a new technology and getting into a new rhythm, the last six weeks has been chaotic far beyond the usual hectic, eclectic mosaic of my life. Foot surgery, family visits during the holidays, and an abscessed tooth all hit around the same time, combining with an office relocation and a down computer for days. And then there’s number of other continuing factors that I’ll get to go into at length sometime in the future. (Aha! A mystery with resolution to be anticipated!)

It’s not that I didn’t log. I wrote in my journal almost every day, a thousand topics exploding. But getting it typed and edited; ah, that’s the rub! So you and I together can deal with New Year’s resolutions that need to be re-visited, and learning how not to avoid work that needs to be done. Oh yes! I try nearly every technique before I recommend it to you. If I don’t use it myself, it’s definitely a tip that has worked for someone else who shared it with me.

Sharing is the name of the game! So join me again. And know you have my thanks and my delight in your patience with a very human being!