I wrote something on this before. While I was reading on Confucianism and the repeated performance of certain ritual, I was trying to make sense of this repetition. I thought of habit formation and these words on habits, character and fate. Nothing reveals better than these words from Aristotle and John Dryden on the relationship between habit and what we have become as the result of our habits.
“We are what we repeatedly do.” –Aristotle
“we first make our habits, and then our habits make us.” — John Dryden
Therefore, constantly examine what you repeatedly do and what you habitually do everyday. This leads to the word of Socrates “The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being.”
I read this article a few weeks ago on how to get things done.
“The two-minute rule has its roots in Getting Things Done (GTD): If you can do it in less than two minutes, do it now…James Clear adds another rule: When you start to build a new habit, make your goals into two-minute bites so they’re easy to do any time.”
“If you make every step of the way a two-minute chunk that can be done anytime, you’ll be more likely to do it over and over again” until a new habit is formed.
When it comes to doing your weekly review, looking over your to-do list or follow-up list, if you can do it in two minutes, jump on it and get it out of the way. “If it’ll take longer than that—either because you need to research it, talk to someone else, look something up, or produce something, schedule it and get it into your productivity system so you can tackle it when you’re ready.”
Chop a big project into tiny bits, get them out of your way bit by bit, two minutes at a time.
“The 2–Minute Rule works for big goals as well as small goals because of the inertia of life. Once you start doing something, it’s easier to continue doing it.”
“The 2–Minute Rule isn’t about the results you achieve, but rather about the process of actually doing the work. The focus is on taking action and letting things flow from there.
Of course, you can easily find yourself starting in on a to-do that’ll take two minutes and then working on it for ages, so be careful James even cites this as an example in his article, …, as a good thing—we’d suggest some restraint. You don’t want to while away an hour on a “two minute” to-do only to find yourself behind on everything else because you didn’t properly prioritize.”
When I read this part, I think of the time when my daughter said she was bored.
“If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, try it for eight. Then 16. Then 32. Eventually one discovers that it’s not boring at all.” –John Cage
“When people are bored, it is primarily with their own selves that they are bored.” – Eric Hoffer
Boredom is not generated by anything outside. Experience of boredom is really generated by the state of our own mind.
I certainly hope she is not bored now.
Now there is even a name for this kind of behavior when you spend endless hours in a trance scrolling through pictures after pictures or exchanging meaningless conversation or clicking here and there opening hundreds of browser tabs. This is called “flow.”
This is fully analyzed in the article “Online flow experience, problematic Internet use and Internet procrastination,” by Andrew Thatcher, etc, carried on Computer in Human Behavior journal, vol24, issue5, 9/2008, 2236-54.
Flow is defined as “a total absorption in the work at hand.” Procrastination is to avoid doing what one should do. The irony is flow becomes a tool for a procrastinator to avoid doing his/her work.
We want people to be in a flow state when they are doing what they should do, like fully occupied in their work, but if people use flow to avoid doing their work, they set themselves up for the life of a loser.
Yes, the first quarter of the new year is rushing by before you even get used to the new year. This is what I told my children and keep reminding myself– time and tide wait for no man.
It is time when we should go back to our new year resolution and see where we are now. Because I have not kept up with mine, as always, I need to check out why and how to improve, so that I will do something differently and can get back to the right track.
After I took a close look at my daily work, busy as it is, I have found that I actually still can squeeze out some time for doing what I have promised myself to do. Squeezing out time is what I will do next.
On 1/4/2013, I took a narcissistic test. Here’s the result.
My total: 14. Just an average person.
Average person scores between 12 and 15
Celebrities often score closer to 18.
Narcissists score over 20.
My narcissistic trait scores are:
Interesting! Obviously, my highest score is sense of superiority and lowest is vanity. Here’s brief interpretation of each narcissism trait and what my score relative to that trait may indicate about me.
Authority–Authority refers to a person’s leadership skills and power. People who score higher on authority like to be in charge and gain power, often for power’s sake alone.
Self-Sufficiency–This trait refers to how self-sufficient a person is, that is, how much you rely on others versus your own abilities to meet your needs in life.
Superiority–This trait refers to whether a person feels they are more superior than those around them. You scored particularly high in superiority, suggesting you feel you are superior to most others.
Exhibitionism–This trait refers to a person’s need to be the center of attention, and willingness to ensure they are the center of attention (even at the expense of others’ needs).
Exploitativeness–This trait refers to how willing you are to exploit others in order to meet your own needs or goals.
Vanity–This trait refers to a person’s vanity, or their belief in one’s own superior abilities and attractiveness compared to others.
Entitlement–This trait refers to the expectation and amount of entitlement a person has in their lives, that is, unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with one’s expectations. People who score higher on this trait generally have a greater expectation of entitlement, while those who score lower expect little from others or life.
Most people have their guilty pleasures, that is, something they enjoy though they know they shouldn’t do that much, like spending a great deal of time aimlessly browsing the internet or on internet game.
Very often they end up not only wasting time but also postponing doing what they should do.
I have found myself spending a large chunk of time digesting daily news, current events and writing on at least three sites as if it were my day job. Meanwhile, I know I need to spend more time on researching and writing on my job related field.
Very often I find it boring to do what I should do, at least not as interesting as following our guilty pleasures.
In this new year of 2013, I am going to limit my indulgence to certain time of the day. At least I need to complete the should-be-done first before allowing my mind to wander astray.
On 10/25, a Thursday morning, I twisted my back by accident. The damage to my back lasted for several weeks. At first it was hard to bear the pain. A few days seemed to have taken the edge off its initial attack.
All the time I have not taken a day off, as I want to save my vacation days for the time when my son comes back or when my daughter needs me to or when I go back to China.
On 11/2, a Friday morning, after I reached my office, my daughter called, saying she had a headache and did not want to go to school in the morning. I knew she had a party that Friday evening.
“If you cannot go to school, you cannot go to the party in the evening, too,” I said. She protested strongly. In the end, she had what she wanted: excuse from school in the morning, yes for the party that day. I asked her to write down what happened that day, as I am more worried about her college years.
On the morning of 11/8, my daughter said she was not feeling well with her stomach and wanted to stay home. I told her to go to school and I would get her back if she could not get through the day. She did what I said and everything turned out well that day.
On a normal no monitor day, I would start the day reading online, current events, news on politics, health, technology, or anything that catches my fancy that day. If I find something that I like to read more or write about later, I would save it on a notepad for further work. Most likely I will forget all about them and never touch these files again. This reminds me of the practice of drinking tea over newspaper at many Chinese offices.
All the time I know there are books that I need to read and work that cries for my attention, though not urgently. Still, I postpone doing everything just for this online reading.
Such random browsing lasts about one to two hours or even longer. I think sometimes inaction and procrastination are at work, especially when I push back some work which I shouldn’t have.
Ten days ago I started, for the second time this year, to get serious about one of the promises that I made on my 2012 New Year Resolution. Gee, after a big chunk of the year has gone, right?
One of the items on my resolution is to pick up my German language so that I can read spiegel in the original. I included this also for the benefit of brain health.
Memory makes up a large part of our intelligence. In fact, a sure sign of mental decline is the weakening of our ability to retain information. Hence, a good way of preserving it is to try to learn something new and commit it to memory. I am glad I pick it up again and hope I will stick to the end of the year, not as long as it seems though.
On another related or unrelated matter, one of my relatives promised July of 2011 to pay for his cell phone with his earned income once he found a job. He found one not long ago and intended to keep his promise. Good for him!
Many years ago my sister told me she couldn’t start reading or studying if the room was a mess. Very often she started the day by cleaning the room to make it amenable for study. By the time she finished cleaning and finally sat down by her desk, she already felt tired and seemed to welcome a nap more than picking up a book.
I used to think she had something like a compulsory disorder or was a clean addict. But now, I see it differently. A boy that I know of always spends as long time as possible cleaning his desk before he actually starts his math homework. He is definitely not a clean addict.
“Productive procrastination,” so said by my daughter. Most of us have this tendency, that is, avoid or postpone doing something that we should do but we don’t like by picking up the lighter work which we don’t have to do. The lighter tasks can be seen as the excuse not to tackle the hard ones. This is the root of the problem. I have observed this in myself, my children and in others.
Alas, we can save tons of time if we can confront ourselves and handle the hardest task first, even if that is the most headache one.
When a child did not do well in a test, he/she already feels bad about it. The last thing that a parent should do is to add insult to injury by whipping out more lectures on the already beaten one.
“I told you to work hard, to over-prepare for the test. You wouldn’t listen. See that’s the result for not listening to me. Now you must admit that I am right.”
Such parent forces the child to suck in both his bad test result and the fact that he was wrong and his parent was right, and much more.
Really, there is no need for vindication or confirmation when the child is already suffering from the bad test score and already knows his defeat, unless the parent’s sole purpose is to prove that he is right?
I received this message at work on 7/30/2012. For some reason, these words make me think a lot about myself and my children. Time is flying faster than our dull brains can catch up. Before we get used to the year 2012, half of it has gone. Yet, victory, however you define, is not in sight. Hence, be persevering.
Sometimes you send an email, which is important. Of course, you would expect a reply at least confirming the receipt of your email. But when that reply never comes, you are left there staring at your inbox and wondering if you should re-send your email.
This is what happened to me on 7/16, Monday morning when I was expected to submit something via email. I did it once, then I did it again when I didn’t see it in the sent folder. Of course, the third time I did it with an apology and a hearty laughter.
The person on the other end must be annoyed over the bombardment of the same thing. “Gee, that woman must be too bored.”
I share this experience with my daughter. Be polite and send a reply to the sender if it contains some information that needs your acknowledgement.
If the mountain won’t move, build a road around it; If the road won’t turn, change your path.” — Master Zheng-Yan
This is what I read on 7/8, Sunday morning. I think the message is be flexible and resourceful. When a huge mountain blocks your path and won’t move out of your way, build a road aroud it; if the road won’t turn, take a different path.
Finally, if you are unable to even change your path, just transform your mind to accept reality.
Lu Xun, the famous Chinese writer once wrote, there is originally no road in the world. A road came into being after many people trod on it.
Be flexible also means to break your own ground instead of following the beaten track. Be the first one to tread on a path.
I found this piece laid open for a long time. The topic looks familiar but I am not sure if I have posted it before. Here it is, again if I have.
Many people know what they should do but find it hard to drag themselves through the day actually doing it. Life could be a hardship, a challenge, and of course could be a joy at the same time. We need courage all the time to move on.
I see it in myself and see it in my children. It is so easy to coast each day, day in day out, without any progress, going with the flow, with the crowd and ending up being one of the crowd. But if you want to go upstream and lead the crowd, you need to exert yourself.
Life will be made a lot easy if you get into a habit of doing the right thing, that is, giving your best in the most efficient way. With this habit, you don’t fight resistance when you try your best. All you need to do is follow your good habit.
I have told my daughter so many times that she has built some kind of resistence, even though she agrees with what I say.
On 5/23, I worked on an expired patient who was 58 at the time of death, of lung cancer, with over 40 years smoking history. Like many hard-to-quit smokers, she started smoking when she was a teenager.
One of my co-workers has tried getting rid of smoking many times and still has not succeeded. I can see how hard it is for her to quit. From this I think of the long-term impact of habits on our lives.
It is very hard to change one’s habits, good or bad, once they have been formed early in one’s life. The impacts of those habits developed in our early years will reach over half a century. Hence, it is extremely important to get into good habit when a person is young. Life will be easy if you end up with many good habits and no bad ones.
On 5/19, a friend of mine called about something that upset her at home. I told her not to let it bother her if she could do nothing about it. I also shared with her the following about Obama.
I remember reading a book about President Obama. The author said Obama holds no grudge against any of his former political opponents, if it bears no weight at present. That is, he would not harbor ill feelings toward anyone who used to be against him because it is not relevant to what he is concerned at the present.
Of course, you can see from this that President Obama is a very practical person. Essentially, if you want to go for big things in life, you have to be this practical and focus your time and energy on what is relevant and important, and learn to forget and let go any past irrelevant grievances.
On 5/17/2012, on the way to Sonic drive through restaurant, I shared with my daughter an experience that I had that day at office.
One of my colleagues had some issues with computer that day. She could not print a document from our network. I told her a roundabout way to avoid network, that is, save that file on her local computer, then print that local copy. She would not take it, insisting that she should be able to print anything simply by hit the print icon.
She spent nearly an hour calling helpdesk, to no avail. Later, I helped her print it without going through the network. She spent next hour talking to manager, then another colleague, complaining about this issue.
I told my daughter, “To those who can solve the problem, this is not an issue at all. Instead of complaining about an issue, we should learn to resolve it ourselves. You turn to helpdesk only after you have tried but failed to resolve it.”
Around the time when I was working on my second column for midwest voices, I bumped into a writing talking about the relationship between low self-esteem and mental health problem. Interesting.
The author associated low self-esteem with many mental health problems. The two can feed off each other in a vicious circle. That is, low self-esteem can lead to depressed state, the more you depressed you become, the lower is self-esteem, and the more you avoid activities that could help to build-up esteem.
It makes sense that we tend to avoid activities that we think we are not good at. I remember I was told or I got the impression that I was a bad singer. Someone even told me not to ruin her ears by singing aloud. I took it to heart and started whistling and playing flute instead of singing aloud. As the result, the more I avoided it, the worse I became and it is no surprise if my confidence over my voice hit bottom, which is one step short of depression.
Oh boy, one can never overemphasize the negative impact of low self-esteem on a person, his mental health, spirit, mood, and life.
Early this year, I read from Time magazine an article, saying “For 60 years, Elizabeth II has been a model of propriety and duty. Five things Kate can learn from her.”
Of course, I was curious to know what these five things are, even though I believe Kate can very well just be her unique self, one of a kind, without the need to imitate anyone at all. After I read them, I think the first two are good advices to all people. Here are the 5 things.
(1) Resist the lure of celebrity and cultivate humility.
(2) Stay with your look and be consistent with her style; it shows confidence and reassures the public.
(3) Master your brief.
(4) Embrace the countryside and its pursuits.
(5) Support William without overshadowing him.
This is the third and final part of the training. Here are some quotes from the training.
(1) I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.
(2) “The customer you lost holds the information you need to succeed,” The Loyalty Effect by Frederick Reichheld.
(3) Service recovery is treating the customer well when something goes wrong.
Openly expressed disappointment can be a gift to an organization because research shows that the trust of a person is strengthened if the problem is handled properly.
Conflict resolution steps:
Take the HEAT
Hear them out –If somebody yells at you, you tend to get defensive. If you interrupt someone, he tends to get louder and madder.
Empathize –put yourself in customer’s situation
Apologize — say I am sorry when you should
Take responsibility for action.
I like this customer service training because I have learned something that I can apply to other human interactions like parents to children.
Poor customer service is expressed through intonation, disrespect, showing slight, making customer feel less important by not having the full attention, and other non-verbal body language. On the other hand, good customer service means respect others by giving full attention, keeping eye contact, smile, caring tone, and self-introduction.
I remember sometimes my daughter gets upset when she talks while I am not giving her full attention. Now I know this is called not showing due respect.
Key principles of good customer service include:
(1) Maintain or enhance self-esteem — you get your self-esteem from feedback from others, other people contribute to it. You praise people for something specific in order to enhance his self-esteem. e.g. “How can we do without you?”
(2) Listen and respond with empathy –listening, response, eye contact, put yourself in other’s shoe. Validate the feelings of others.
(3) Involve the customer. Involvement means empowering, release anxiety, give them control or options.
The wonderful part is you can actually use these principles in all human dealings.
On 4/10 I attended a training in customer service, a required one by our work place. I learned many interesting things there. First of all, customer can be defined as anyone we interact with. That’s a broad one. Here’s another one on customer satisfaction.
They are largely four types of customer reactions:
(1) Patron – a happy customer but has not expressed this verbally
(2) Praiser – a happy customer who either sends a thank you letter or verbally expressed it.
(3) Walker – an unhappy one but says nothing about it, just walk away and never return.
(4) Talker – an unhappy one and let you know immediately of his unhappiness by verbalizing it.
At first, I thought the kind of customer reaction is more determined by one’s personality, the out-going customers being more verbal while introverts tend to be either patron or walker. I was surprised to learn that 9 out of 10 unhappy customers are walkers.
I think it is in the culture that people avoid confrontation and choose passive aggressiveness when they are not happy. In fact, you can see the same pattern of response in all human interactions, including within a family. The introverts tend to walk away without a word when they are upset, but the unhappiness is still there. The out-going ones will shout and yell and let the world know their unhappiness. Very interesting.
One of my colleagues has very low threshold for stress and pressure. She would get flare-up if she perceives a lot of work. Many people feel overwhelmed by too many tasks on hand. Some simply give up trying.
On the other hand, some people feel depressed when they suddenly find themselves having nothing to do with their time. Having nothing to do tend to create a sense of meaninglessness, as if life had no purpose. This often happens among people who just retire or right after you complete a big project.
To be sure, for some people, their minds are so delicate that they need to maintain a well-balanced work load, not too busy, not too free.
While my daughter tends to feel overwhelmed by having too much things to take care of, I have the tendency to go the opposite way.
It means seeking common ground on large issues and let go minor differences among people.
I have found from my role as contributing columnist there are some people who seem in their nature very antagonistic. No matter what you write, they can always pick a fight and come up with something very negative. And very often they comments are full of personal attacks like this “This pundit is incorrect again. (for the umpteenth time IMO)”
When I talked to my daughter about this, I summed up the damaging effects of such negativity.
(1) It creates a rather unpleasant reading experience. I always feel dreadful reading these comments.
(2) It put people on the defensive as soon as you start attacking them.
(3) Worst of all, be antagonistic never helps clarify the issue.
(4) It only serves to fuel up negative feelings against each other.
I think of daily interactions with people and I think of this Chinese saying.
Yesterday I went out with my daughter in the evening. It was nice and cool outside. I shared this experience with her on the way.
An acquaintance of mine told me she worked hard to lose weight but was not successful. “It is hard, you know,” she told me. I could see she did try to eat healthy and stay active, but still showing no sign of improvement.
This reminds me of what I learned about fluff pounds, which are the temporary weight gain you get during holiday seasons when you eat too much food for a day or two. Good thing about fluff pounds is they will be gone in 1-2 days IF you return to your health diet and make timely effort to get rid of the extra pounds.
On the other hand, if you wait for a week or so and do nothing about fluff pounds, it will be harder to lose than if you work on them in a day or two. The unpleasant fact is the longer you keep your fluff pounds, the hard it will be to take them off. By the time they are no longer fluff pounds, they tend to stay in your body relatively permanently. That’s what happened to my acquaintance.
I told my daughter, “Same thing can be said of habit. The younger you are, the easy it is for you to form good habits.”
On 3/14/2012, after work, I went to Barnes and Noble’s where my daughter was doing something. I read Scientific American Mind magazine, which we used to subscribe when my son was home. There is an article on Mar/April issue, “The Secrets of Self-Improvement: Meet Your Goals with Research-Proven Tips and Techniques” by Marina Krakovsky.
“It seems to be human nature to aim high and fall short.” Well, the title looks attractive. The article details some tips that can help you on the track to your goal.
(1) Maintain realistic expectations
–visualize your success along with the specific obstacles you will face.
–avoid situations that trigger the habit or behavior that you want to break away from.
–forgive yourself if you slip up. Keep moving forward.
(2) Find what motivates you most
–think about how making this change will help you become the person you aspire to be.
–try to come up with fun ways to work toward your goal.
–imagine how achieving your aim might strengthen you.
–find a way to measure your progress and track your accomplishments
(3) Take baby steps
–set short-term, achievable objectives that add up to big change
(4) Formulate action plans
–prepare yourself for specific situations “If I want to quit….. I will say”
–frame your intention as positive actions
–picture yourself carrying out your plans
Here are the quiz.
Rate yourself from 1 to 5, that is from strongly disagree to strongly agree
(1) In a crisis or chaotic situation, I calm myself and focus on taking useful actions.
(2) I am usually optimistic. I see difficulties as temporary, expecting to overcome them.
(3) I can tolerate high levels of uncertainty and ambiguity.
(4) I adapt quickly to new developments. I am good at bouncing back from difficulties.
(5) I am playful. I can see the funny side of rough situations and can laugh at myself.
(6) I am able to recover emotionally from losses and setbacks. I have friends I can talk with. I can express my feelings to others and can ask for help.
(7) I feel self-confident, appreciate myself, and have a healthy concept of who I am.
(8) I am curious. I ask questions. I want to know how things work. I like to try new ways of doing things.
(9) I learn valuable lessons from my experiences and from the experiences of others.
(10) I am good at solving problems. I can think in analytical, creative, or practical ways.
(11) I am good at making things work well. I am often asked to lead groups and projects.
(12) I am very flexible. I feel comfortable with my paradoxical complexity. I am optimistic and pessimistic, trusting and cautious, unselfish and selfish, and so forth.
(13) I am always myself, but I have noticed that I am different in different situations.
(14) I prefer to work without a written job description. I am more effective when I am free to do what I think is best in each situation.
(15) I read people well and trust my intuition.
(16) I am a good listener, I have good empathy skills.
(17) I don’t judge others, and I am comfortable with many kinds of people.
(18) I am very durable. I hold up well during tough times. I work well with others, but I also have an independent spirit.
(19) I have been made stronger and better by difficult experiences.
(20) I have converted misfortune into good luck and found benefits in bad experiences.
I got this result, “You are more resilient than most. You are probably able to handle most of life’s challenges well.” I am wondering if everybody got the same thing.
On 3/8/2012, I took a resiliency quiz provided in chapter two in book The Resiliency Advantage by Al Siebert. It reveals how well one bounces back from setbacks, loss, stressful situations, frustration, and any unexpected or unfortunate or unhappy events in life.
People who are resilient recover quickly from disruptive change, illness, or misfortune without being overwhelmed or acting in destructive ways.
The quiz calculates your score based on the statements you choose. The calculation is based on those personality factors—such as flexibility, self-confidence, creativity, and ability to learn from experience—that make people more resilient.
ON 2/22/2012, I read this interesting poll on medscape site. The poll question goes like this. My best mood boost comes from–
No.1 Maintaining a routine that fits me
No.2 Changing up my ensemble
No.3 Shaking up the routine
62% of response vote for exercising
27% for No.1
6% for No.3
5% for No.2
Of course, the winner is exercise. Because we all should have known by now the benefit of exercise on our brains. And we also know following the same routines allows us to live with the old habits, go through the same pattern of familiar daily activities, no risk, no surprise, and of course routines provide comfort.
What surprises me most here is the impact on our mood when we shake up our routine and change up ensemble. There must be something that is biologically hard-wired in us and that makes us stick to the old routines, the familiar environment and avert the strange experience. Is this also the effect of inertia in us? This leaves me all the more respectful of those who choose a different path and challenge themselves with the unknown and uncertainty in life.
I read this early this year from London Express. Here are some of the tips on keeping our grand promises at the beginning of the year.
(1) Be realistic. Most of resolutions are about breaking bad habits and creating new ones. Just as constant dripping wears away a stone, so will our constant effort and daily attention help us reach our goal.
(2) Get organized. Be strategic. For example, in order to curb “comfort eating,” have an alternative ready to meet your next craving.
(3) Visualize success. Hold that sparkling vision of a new you and hold it everyday of the year.
Below is from our office’s internal circulation on how to implement New Year Resolution.
(1) Set more specific and realistic goals. Commit to doing something everyday to reach your goal
(2) Don’t beat yourself up. There is a reason we only make New Year’s Resolution once a year –
they can’t be accomplished all in one day. Realize that anything worth doing takes time
(3) Celebrate the little accomplishments. Find a way to reward yourself for a good job done
(4) Get support. Find people who will support you as well as remind you to get back on your feet
when you have fallen short.
(5) Make plans in advance and with others. This way, you are less likely to give up.
If you don’t want to set and forget, come back to your promise at a fix date every month. There is nobody out there checking you, hence you got only yourself to check on you. Isn’t that scary?
On 2/6/2012, I started working on the tasks that I set for myself on my New Year Resolution of 2012. One of them is to learn Tai-chi. The next day I shared it with a friend of mine at office. She talked about learning Tai-chi last summer and has not started yet. She asked me if I took classes from some Tai-chi master.
I told her it was home schooling, self-taught by following the video. I figure if I cannot learn it from a video, I would be too dumb to follow a class instructor. One-on-one instrutor is more expensive than piano teacher. I think if it is a challenge, it is a good one and I believe I can take it on. Just as I learned roller skating a few years ago.
She said, “Anything worth anything at all requires practice and patience, I think. If it is too easy, you give it up too fast and it doesn’t mean as much.”
I shared this view with my daughter. She agreed with my colleague. In fact, she is going to be my cheerleader in my endeavor.
By the way, there are 24 forms in simple tai-chi. It took me two days to learn the first one. At this rate, it will take 48 days (24×2) to learn all of them. 48 days can pass very fast even if we don’t learn anything. I thought I might put a little bit value into them and get something out of them.
Yesterday morning, my daughter and I went out for a walk. I told her one of my discoveries that I made during my daily morning exercise.
I found it was a lot easy to keep on jogging than stopping for a second and then resuming it. Once I stopped, I found it hard to resume it. She said it was called inertia. The strange thing is while I am running, I don’t find it hard to stop. In fact, I always welcome the idea of stopping. It seems inertia works only one-way, that is, you encounter resistance only when you move forward or move from rest to action or from an easy stage to a difficult one.
It seems our natural tendency is to slip into an easy stage whenever possible, just as water flows downward effortlessly. It takes some effort to reverse the inertia or natural downward movement.
For me, I have learned it is better to keep the momentum if you don’t want to encounter inertia and make an extra effort to conquer it. No wonder people say it is better to get all the degrees you want in one breath instead of taking a few years off.
P.S. we went to Nelson Atkins Museum of Art yesterday. It was a delighted experience.
Last Thursday, 1/19/2012, I went post office to pick up a package that my daughter ordered online. There were plenty of customers with only one postal worker around. To make things worse, this one talks with a foreign accent.
I saw a young lady got impatient when there seemed to have a misunderstanding between she and the postal worker. The postal one seemed to answer a question that was not what the lady asked. “Oh, never mind, forget it.” With that, she left, looking more than upset with the postal worker. The postal worker looked hurt and red-faced.
I feel sorry for the postal worker, who actually speaks much better English than I do. I am sure with a little patience she has no problem communicating with her customers. Back home, I shared this part of experience with my daughter, hoping she could be patient when she talks with people with foreign accents.
I have posted something on this topic before, probably with exact wording. Still, I think it worthwhile to be posted again as I can never overemphasize those brain formative years in one’s life.
The article appeared on BBC News, 10/19/2011 — IQ ‘can change in teenage years’ By David Shukman.
“Intellectual performance can both improve and deteriorate in adolescence. The mental ability of teenagers can improve or decline on a far greater scale than previously thought, according to new research.”
“… tests conducted on teenagers at an average age of 14 and then repeated when their average age was nearly 18 found improvements – and deterioration.”
If you fool around and waste away those precious teenage years –drinking, smoking, too much hanging out, rebelling against any authority simply for the sake of rebelling — when you finally wake up from the abyss of your stupidity, you will surely find yourself suffering from IQ loss for life, which is the cost of immaturity and teenage stupidity.
Scary but true. I wish more teenagers realize this.
“The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning.”
― Michel Foucault
It is this time of the year when we both look back and look forward. On 12/17/2011, while my daughter and I were at the Barnes & Noble’s bookstore, I shared with her Foucault’s word. I said, “In other words, you are a different person from the one you start with.” To be sure, these few words are open to interpretation.
Still, I find his statement very much fitting for this occasion, that is, if you can re-word it like this — the main purpose of New Year Resolution is to become, in some way, someone at the end of the year that you were not at the begining of the year, or a better version of you.
On 10/25/2011, I received an email from a friend of mine. I thought it so true. Here’s my translation. I am not sure if my translation brings out original meaning. I do hope my children could read Chinese, one of the hardest things for me to do.
The hardest thing to keep is time;
The hardest thing to seize is opportunity;
The hardest thing to do well is detail;
The hardest thing to deal with is human relations;
The hardest thing to get rid of is habit;
The hardest thing to obtain is heart;
The hardest thing to distribute is interest;
The hardest thing to control is mood;
The hardest thing to conquer is self;
The hardest thing to find is true friend;
The hardest thing to resist is temptation;
The hardest thing to enhance is one’s inherent quality.
It may make you feel good when you scream out your frustration.
It may make you feel good when you throw out hurtful words without any regards toward other people’s feeling.
It may make you feel good when you smash at something hard to let out your anger.
It may make you feel good when you always have the last word in quarrel.
It may make you feel good when you solve your problem with a powerful fist.
It may make you feel good when you indulge yourself in your favorite unhealthy food.
It may make you feel good when you smoke as you are so addicted to.
It may make you feel good when you drink as an alcohol does.
It may make you feel good when you lie in bed instead of venturing out in the morning.
It may make you feel good when you are just purely selfish.
But you know what, do the right thing always, because, by the end of the day, doing the right thing will make you a good person and that should make you feel good.
If you ask why I write this piece, it is because I am fed up with too many selfish persons.
I told my daughter task alternation might reduce mental fatigue and enhance productivity. That is, you work on one subject for an hour and another one for the next hour instead of dragging on for hours on one subject as she often does. Even though she knows its benefits, she often resists alternation. Actually she is not alone here.
I have also found myself having this tendency to stick to one task as long as I can and any slight change seems a challenge to me. Call it brain inertia. I think this inertia originates from our aversion to change.
Because change means we need to put in more energy to get started and become familiar to the new task. We like to be energy efficient mentally and biologically.
That’s why I set a timer when I was cleaning around in kitchen. I pack it up and go once time is up. When I check email, I set timer. This way, I don’t get hooked on one task and let a whole chunk of time pass before I realize it.
That co-worker sees criticism as personal attack or a challenge to her judgment and intelligence. Every time I see people raising their voice and getting hot-headed and rather energetic on self-defense upon a slightest criticism, I think of that co-worker and how people never care to contradict her, and how much she has lost because of this.
My co-worker presents a sharp contrast to this Chinese saying, “Being delighted when people bring up our weakness.”
It is a matter of attitude and interpretation. I am sure we will benefit tremendously if we can tuck in our useless pride and see kindness and positive factor in people who care enough to make us see our blemish.
Imagine how you feel if I see an used band-aid stuck to the back of your hair and walk away without telling you, tyring to cover my smirk at the same time. That means I-dont-care. How sad that would be!
When I was at our SW clinic back in 2009, one of the co-workers was a genuine headache. If someone points out her mistakes, it is like poking the hornet’s nest, she would make a scene and put her whole self out in self-defense. She takes it very personally.
Once I saw she used pencil on inclusion/exclusion document and the wonderful part was our doctor even signed on it. This is like inviting trouble. Still, I would poke that wasp nest by telling her this. Indeed, when the monitor asked her to write it in ink and ask doctor to re-sign it, oh-boy, she was so mad that the air was filled with f-word spitted out from her mouth.
I observe the reactions and attitudes of people around her. I mean nobody cares to put out her mistakes. Once I noticed she committed a major protocol violation, I only confirmed my discovery with another friendly colleague and just watched from a safe distance.
To be continued…
When I was in China, my sister told me the story of her friend’s daughter. The girl just came back from America after a year’s stay there as a high schooler. Her parents had to find an English tutor here to help with her English.
I think it ridiculous that she still cannot carry on daily conversation after living in America for a year. I should not be surprised over it as I realize this is not an isolated case.
What often happens is this. The Chinese students jump into the circle of their country folks, their comfort zone, as soon as they arrive in America. They have as little as possible contact with Americans outside classroom. The more they fail in English, the more they seek refugee in their mother tongue, thus perpetuating the vicious circle and forgetting what they venture out for.
As with everything in life, it is actually in human nature that we tend to take the easy option whenever that option is available. It takes some courage and maturity to break away from one’s comfort zone and enjoy a giant progress.
“A self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, by the very terms of the prophecy itself, due to positive feedback between belief and behavior.” from wiki.
I wrote about this story before, but when I asked my daughter about it. She totally forgot. This happened during my years of sociology teaching. There were a few Jewish boys in my class who already excelled in my class but still worked hard. When I asked one of them why, he told me these words which I will never forget, “Since God gives us such smart brains, we would waste them if we do not use them.”
The theory goes like this. It is this belief that has motivated them to work hard. As the result of their working hard, they got good grades which further reinforced their previous belief–they were given smart brains.
This works in all aspects of life. It can initiate either a good or a vicious cycle. e.g. if you believe exercise can help you lose weight, you go for it, with big stride and highly motivated. When you see the fact that you have lost weight, you are more convinced and motivated for more of it. If you want to be chained in a good cycle, hold fast to positive belief, no matter what you engage yourself.
Before the final merge of our company into KU system on 6/20, we were asked to do a health risk assessment. To be sure, it was interesting going through the list of questions. By the end of assessment, we were given some advice on how to be our healthy best, which sounds like a sound advice for all goal-setting. I make sure my daughter pays special attention to this when she makes hers, no matter what plan she does.
(1) Decide if you are ready to change
(2) Choose one lifestyle action you wish to improve
(3) Set goals leading toward changing this behavior. Think of where, when and why you have this habit.
(4) Work on one goal at a time
(5) Be realistic. Set yourself up for success. Goals that you don’t really care about or that are set too high may be un-reachable. Then you may give up.
(6) Choose positive goals.
(7) Plan measurable goals.
Fortunately, it is possible to strengthen our mental resources and turn our impulses for good. The following are tips and methods which can help bolster self-control.
(1) Become aware of the risks and long-term negative consequences of undesirable behavior.
(2) Increase your personal engagement by, e.g. telling friends or family members about your goals.
(3) Transform abstract overarching objective into reachable intermediate milestones.
(4) Take pleasure in achieving partial success and reaching intermediate milestones.
(5) Formulate “If then” resolution to deal with critical situations.
(6) Replace old habits with new good ones.
(7) Change your impulses by learning to associate the mere sight or thought of temptations with negative stimuli. e.g. chocolate with a pig.
(8) Identify situations that poses a particular risks and avoid them as much as possible.
(9) Train your working memory.
(10) Plan enough breaks and relax periods to prevent depletion of your mental resources.
Finally, know yourself and proactively avoid damaging temptations of all forms.
There are two different information-processing systems in our brain fighting for control of our response to temptation.
(1) Our impulsive self makes fast associations– vending machine equals to chocolate and to the pleasurable experience of its taste. It scans the environment for potentially pleasurable stimuli and sets habitual actions in motion… Impulses aim at immediate gratification, often at the cost of long-term objectives.
(2) Reflective thought draws on reasoning and planning; it comes into play whenever someone sets a long-term goal. It helps us hold back instant gain in order to pursue a long-term objective. Compared with impulses, reflection is resource-intensive, demanding time and memory. It affords us a good measure of control over our actions.
Here we see the dichotomy between impulsive and reason, short-term and long-term, which may well be the dividing line between losers and winners.
To be continued…
“Mental strain, stress and the influence of alcohol can impair an individual’s ability to bypass temptation.” Fatigue and stress can exhaust cognitive resources, such as working memory and will power, and render us less able to withstand temptation.
My daughter has this experience. When she is tired during those midnight hours, she is very prone to wandering away on the internet and easily going down to next morning over some homework, which she could get it over in much less time. When she is not stressed out during the day, she can better concentrate and not yield to the temptation of the short-term fun of internet surfing. This also explains why people tend to gain weight when they stay late at night.
“Self-control is the exertion of will power in the interest of long-term objectives.” The two key elements are will power and long-term. This reminds me of marshmallow experiment and delay gratification. Without will power and long-term view, a person easily succumbs to the temptation of the moment for the meager short-term gain.
To be continued…
On 4/30/2011, the last day of the month, like every Saturday afternoon, I was sitting at HyVee’s dining center, reading magazines and waiting for my daughter’s drawing lesson nearby.
On that day, I read the current issue of Scientific American Mind magazine, May/June 2011, article “Control Yourself!” by Wihelm Hofmann and Malte Friese. I found it interesting and helpful to most of us who need self-discipline to get things done. Hence, I took some notes. Here they are.
“Withstanding temptation takes self-discipline–no easy tricks when immediate gratification plumbs our sense of well-being. But it is well worth the effort. Self-control saves us and other people from embarrassing or, worse, damaging consequences.”
The damaging consequences go far beyond those embarrassing moments when we have one too many and our tongues go out of control. So many foolish things can be accomplished when we let go of our self-discipline and let our pleasure-seeking impulses take control. One small example is when we fool away a large chunk of the day aimlessly surfing the internet and allow it happen everyday. Imagine how much you could accomplish if you put to good use of these hundred of hours.
To be continued…
I place this posting in the category of emotional intelligence because we choose whoever we want to be with and our company in turn comes back influencing us.
We had a site initiation visit from a pharmaceutical company on 4/11/2011. The company sent four people over for the task. One of them is a PharmD and the director leading their biotech oncology clinical research and development. They talked about our study drug, the design and the study protocol.
The person talked with such an intelligence and clarity that it was almost refreshing hearing her explanation.
When I reflected the meeting and these intelligent speakers, I felt motivated and wanted to make more time for my pet project, which was started in 2008. I have no doubt that I could have made more progress if I were working with these people. It reminds me of the invisible influence of people around us.
As he started his speech, he cleared his throat, and began. “Graduation is a time to thank those who helped you make it through those tough years. Your parents, your teachers, your siblings, maybe a coach… but mostly your friends. I am here to tell all of you that being a friend to someone is the best gift you can give them. I am going to tell you a story.”
I just looked at my friend with disbelief as he told the story of the first day we met. He had planned to kill himself over the weekend. He talked of how he had cleaned out his locker so his Mom wouldn’t have to do it later and was carrying his stuff home.
He looked hard at me and gave me a little smile. “Thankfully, I was saved. My friend saved me from doing the unspeakable.” I heard the gasp go through the crowd as this handsome, popular boy told us all about his weakest moment. I saw his Mom and Dad looking at me and smiling that same grateful smile.
Not until that moment did I realize it’s depth. Never underestimate the power of your actions. With one small gesture you can change a person’s life. For better or for worse. God puts us all in each other’s lives to impact one another in some way. Look for God in others. “Friends are angels who lift us to our feet when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly.”
I hope parents will share this story with their children. The simple message is this: Good deed matters. Do good whenever possible. After all, we don’t have the chance to do good everyday even if we want to.
Continued from yesterday
“Monday morning came, and there was Kyle with the huge stack of books again. I stopped him and said, “Boy, you’re gonna really build serious muscles with this pile of books everyday!” He just laughed and handed me half the books.
“Over the next four years, Kyle and I became best friends. When we were seniors, we began to think about college. Kyle decided on Georgetown, and I was going to Duke. I knew that we would always be friends, that the miles would never be a problem. He was going to be a doctor, and I was going for business on a football scholarship. Kyle was valedictorian of our class. I teased him all the time about being a nerd.
“He had to prepare a speech for graduation. I was so glad it wasn’t me having to get up there and speak. Graduation day, I saw Kyle. He looked great. He was one of those guys that really found himself during high school. He filled out and actually looked good in glasses. He had more dates than me and all the girls loved him. Boy, sometimes I was jealous. Today was one of those days. I could see that he was nervous about his speech. So, I smacked him on the back and said, “Hey, big guy, you’ll be great!” He looked at me with one of those looks (the really grateful one) and smiled. “Thanks,” he said.”
To be continued…
On 3/27/2011, my daughter’s birthday, I shared this story with her. She said she read it before, still she read it again, believing it was a touching one. I am sure some people have read it before. Still, I love it and will share the story here.
“One day, when I was a freshman in high school, I saw a kid from my class was walking home from school. His name was Kyle. It looked like he was carrying all of his books. I thought to myself, “Why would anyone bring home all his books on a Friday? He must really be a nerd.” I had quite a weekend planned — parties and a football game with my friends tomorrow afternoon — so I shrugged my shoulders and went on.
“As I was walking, I saw a bunch of kids running toward him. They ran at him, knocking all his books out of his arms and tripping him so he landed in the dirt. His glasses went flying, and I saw them land in the grass about ten feet from him. He looked up and I saw this terrible sadness in his eyes. My heart went out to him.
“So, I jogged over to him and as he crawled around looking for his glasses, I saw a tear in his eye. As I handed him his glasses, I said, “Those guys are jerks. They really should get lives.” He looked at me and said, “Hey thanks!” There was a big smile on his face. It was one of those smiles that showed real gratitude.
I helped him pick up his books, and asked him where he lived. As it turned out, he lived near me, so I asked him why I had never seen him before. He said he had gone to private school before now. I would have never hung out with a private school kid before. We talked all the way home, and I carried his books. He turned out to be a pretty cool kid. I asked him if he wanted to play football on Saturday with me and my friends. He said yes. We hung out all weekend and the more I got to know Kyle, the more I liked him, and my friends thought the same of him.
We take care of lung cancer patients everyday and are fully aware of the deleterious effect of smoking on these patients. Some of my colleagues announced that they would quit smoking cold turkey. Last week when I went to CBO, I saw one of them still smoked outside the building. I feel sad for her as I know she has tried many times to quit but no success so far.
Some bad habits are as addictive as smoking and drinking. You know they are detrimental to you and you even hate yourself for possessing these habits, but you simply cannot break away from them. These habits include procrastination and aimless browsing or any undesirable time-consuming soft addictions.
Of course, the best policy is to never allow yourself to go that deep in bad-habit-trap, even though it is so easy to get into one of them. Hence, constantly and carefully watch yourself against any habit-forming behavior. Otherwise, master enough will power and take the cold turkey challenge.
On 1/22/2011, while waiting for my daughter’s art lesson, I was reading Scientific American Mind magazine, issue Jan-Feb 2011. There is one article on habit-forming.
It is a research first published in European Journal of Social Psychology, carried out by Phillippa Lally of University College of London. She asked 96 undergraduates to form a habit in 12 weeks by repeating a healthy behavior.
The results of her study suggest that habits take much longer to form than researchers previously thought (an average of nine and a half weeks and potentially as long as several months).
Yet, as with enhancing our emotional intelligence and changing characteristic traits that are given at birth, no matter how hard it is, it is possible. A new habit can be formed as long as we keep up doing it. We just need to prepare for some hard work involved in habit-forming.
According to a Chinese saying, it is easy to change a landscape than to change a person’s nature. Though the saying is often used in a negative sense, I have for a long time inclined to accept it. The belief implies that a person’s personality and temperament come with his birth and will remain unchanged throughout his life.
The course on developing our emotional intelligence has made me a disbeliever of this age-old saying. We are more the products of nurture, our growing-up experience than of nature. Our experience can not only change the way we think and how we think, but also the physiological makeup of our brain, which will lead to the change in our temperament, making it possible to mold us into whatever human-being that we wish to be.
Second skill, harnessing emotions productively. This requires monitoring self-talk to catch any internal negative messages. It also means taking time to understand what is behind your feelings and finding ways to handle fear, anxiety, anger, sadness and any negative and energy-draining ones.
Third skill, reading emotions in others. This involves practice in taking another person’s perspective. You must first appreciate the differences in how people feel about things, work on listening effectively and asking a lot of questions, and recognizing your own reactions to what people say and do.
Being able to control the urge to focus solely on self and to control negative impulses offers a vast array of benefits to the individual and to society as a whole. These emotional intelligence skills open the path to empathy and listening, which in turn lead to caring and compassion. This dynamic combination breeds tolerance and acceptance of differences, increase mutual respect, and creates the possibility of fulfilling personal and professional relationships.
Very often people with high IQ fail in life as the result of their underdeveloped or failure to develop their emotional intelligence. They provide sad lessons for us all. After these postings, the first and final message is this: becoming emotionally intelligent is the key to lifelong success.
P.S. I love these courses offered freely by our company. As we merge with an academic institute, I look forward to more opportunities of this nature.
Educating emotions: Key to Your Success
A person with high emotional intelligence is self-disciplined, leads a virtuous life, is able to motivate and guide himself personally and professionally, has the ability to delay gratification, control and channel his urges, will, appetites, and passions, knows how to do right by himself and others, possesses “character.”
Character is the essence of emotional intelligence. Character is made up of these three skills:
First skill, practicing emotional self-awareness is essential in educating the emotions and building character.
—recognizing and naming emotions. This requires building a vocabulary for feelings so that when an emotion is experienced, you are able to label that emotion appropriately. e.g. anger, frustration, hurt.
—understanding the causes of feelings, which means dedicating yourself to observing your own behavior and recognize the feelings that various situations elicit. e.g. when someone treats you with indifference, do you give up or try harder to get them to notice you?
—recognizing the difference between feelings and actions. There is a big difference between thought and action. To become more emotionally self-award, you must understand the relationship between your thoughts and reactions. When you examine your actions, pay attention to whether your thoughts or feelings are ruling.
Problems associated with emotional illiteracy:
The fourth problem is aggressive behavior. While admittedly withdrawal is probably the most common social problem that may be caused by emotional illiteracy, aggression is likely the most troublesome. Aggressive behavior includes the following.
(a) Interpreting neutral acts as threats. Their aggressive behavior is based on a perceptual bias that causes them to be highly sensitive to what they perceive as unfair treatment. Consequently, even neutral acts appear to be threats.
(b) Aggressive person tends to jump to judgment, causing him to pay too little attention to what is really happening. Once that assumption is made, the person moves into action.
(c) Low emotional tolerance: aggressive individuals have low emotional tolerance, and get irritated more often by little things. Once upset, they see all acts as hostile and begin concentrating on how to strike back.
(d) Perceptual biases toward hostility are in place at an early age. Aggressive children are often rejected by their peers and are unable to make friends easily. These children are most at risk for eventual committing violent crimes.
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Problems associated with emotional illiteracy:
The second problem is depression. Although there are many causes for depression, including biochemical imbalances, depression may also be caused by emotional illiteracy. People with depression often suffer from
(a) being lonely
(b) having many fears and worries
(c) needing to be perfect
(d) feeling unloved
(e) feeling nervous
(f) being sad
The third problem is attention or thinking problems. These problem often display themselves through nervous or overly active behavior.
(a) They have difficulty sitting still and very often they feel too nervous to concentrate or get his mind focused on the issues at hand.
(b) Or they are daydreaming constantly, having difficulty getting his mind off a topic and often act without thinking.