Michael Mulligan, head of Thatcher School, presents the three most important question we can ask teenagers. Excellent questions, and we should ask these to adults too:
Who tells us who we are?
Where do we want to go with our lives?
How do we want to get there?
Question one is important because forces are lined up (internet, television, movies, advertising, just for starters) that tell us who we are is not about how hard we work, how curious we are, or how much we are willing to make a positive difference to others and to our world in distress. No, these forces say: You are what you wear, what you buy, how thin or buff you are, how many like you (on Facebook or anything else) – or for the elite college bound crowd – where you go to college. When we focus on the wrong things, we create these conditions for monumental cynicism in our kids. Our children need to learn that they are important not for reasons of appearance but for reasons of substance.
Question two is important because if we believe that the only thing that matters is college and job status then how can we not end up frustrated, angry, and lonely? Where we want to go with our lives is intrinsically linked to the question of what leads us to fulfillment and happiness? For most of us the answer is passion. We all know we are in the right jobs when how long we work at something is driven by interest and not only about earning a paycheck. The truth is that we are all going to have to work hard to succeed in life, and if that is the case, let’s us at least try to work hard on things that matter and that we care about.
Question three may be the most important because how we get anywhere is as critical as where we end up. Kids cheat in school because they think grades are more important than what they learn. They take short-cuts because they believe the longer, harder path has no value or because they are afraid of stumbling or of being seen as someone who stumbles. They are mean or cruel or uncaring often because they do not like themselves; they feel they cannot make the grade that will earn them a spot at That College. They begin to see others as competitors for those spots – not as fellow-journeyers. Diminished self-respect skulks alongside little respect for others. No one wins.
Eric Barker offer a well researched post on how to deal with social anxiety. Here’s an excerpt:
- Mindfulness recommends “noting” troublesome thoughts like fear. Recognize and accept them to let them go.
- Neuroscience advocates “labeling.” (Frankly, this is a lot like noting but backed by some PhDs and an fMRI.)
- Stoicism has “premeditation.” That’s when you ask, “What’s the worst that could happen?” and realize it’s not that bad.
- Neuroscience also recommends “reappraisal.” This is reinterpreting your feelings with a new story that makes them less scary.
A random bunch of tips? Nope. So what do they all have in common? You gotta use your brain. You gotta think. Some might reply, “I am thinking, I’m thinking about all the awful stuff that could happen if I embarrass myself. In fact, I can’t STOP thinking about it!” But you’re not thinking. You’re reacting. Fight or flight. Like an animal would.
Here’s something Barker’s article that I didn’t appreciate. Intense mental focus “smothers” anxiety.
When your thinking brain — the prefrontal cortex — is highly engaged, it slams the brakes on feelings. And you can use this trick deliberately. Anything that gets you thinking actively can smother anxiety.
This makes perfect sense, given the limited scope of attention. If you fill your head with challenging problem solving, there simply isn’t room for anxiety. Barker suggests that one thing to focus your mind on is your fears–face your fears, and it will keep anxiety at bay. Barker reminds that we are not our thoughts. Therefore, instead of saying, “I’m feeling anxious,” say say, “There is anxiety.” Instead, note the existence of scary thoughts.
I’ll keep this advice in mind.
Kim Stark has made a career of talking to strangers. She made it her task to try to understand why she does that, in this TED talk. She has decided that it is better to use one’s perceptions than to use categories, such as the category of “stranger.” Using this category means that we are not treating others as fully human. There are other benefits. Some studies show that people are more comfortable opening up to strangers than to people they believe they know. We expect that people we know understand us–we expect them to read our minds. Not so with strangers, with whom we start from scratch. Sometimes they do understand us better. Maybe we need strangers, but how should we interact with them, how do we balance both civility and privacy, which are the guiding rules in the U.S. In other countries there are other rules. In Denmark, many folks are extremely adverse to talking to strangers.
Stark offers and exercise that involves smiling, and then “triangulation,” commenting on a third person or a thing. Or engage in “noticing,” such as complimenting the other person on something (and you can most easily talk to a stranger’s dog or baby). Or engage in “disclosure,” sharing a personal experience, and this tends to cause the “stranger” to reciprocate.
Stark’s main message is that we need to stop being so wary of strangers and to make a place for them in our lives.
At The Atlantic, James Hamblin follows up with his own explorations on talking to strangers.
How can you possibly attend elite colleges for free? You just walk into the classrooms and act like a student.
Here is the opening to this story, which addresses more than a few serious topics:
Between 2008 and 2012, Guillaume Dumas took courses at some of the best colleges in North America—Stanford, Yale, Brown, University of California Berkeley, McGill, and University of British Columbia, among others—without being enrolled as a student. He then went on to start a successful online dating business in Montreal.
For four years, the 28-year-old from Quebec lived the life of a wandering scholar, moving from one university town to the next, attending lectures and seminars, getting into heated debates with professors. Sometimes he was open about his unregistered status, but most of the time, fearing reprisal, he kept it quiet. To pay for his everyday expenses, he worked at cafes and occasionally earned money by writing papers for other students. He lived at co-ops or other cheap student housing, but at Brown, when funds got particularly low, a kind soul let him set up his sleeping bag and tent on the roof. At the end of all this, he never received a degree.
Even if Owls work the same number of hours as larks, they are perceived to be lazier. That is the conclusion of this article:
The belief that getting an early start to the day is virtuous is widely held. In fact, finds a forthcoming study, it’s so pervasive that managers rate workers who get an early start higher than those who get in and stay late, no matter how many hours they work in total or how well they do their jobs. And it could explain why other research has found that workers who have flexible schedules have less successful careers.
The study, from researchers at The University of Washington, highlighted at the Harvard Business Review, will be published later this year in the Journal of Applied Psychology. It finds support for the idea that managers have a “morning bias.” In other words, they buy into a common stereotype that leads them to confuse starting time with conscientiousness. They perceive employees who start later as less conscientious, and consequently less hard-working and disciplined, and that carries through to performance ratings.
A friend recently told me about Tony Robbins. I had heard the name but didn’t appreciate who he actually was. This extended interview of Robbins by another productivity guru, Tim Ferriss, is well worth your time. I’m only half-way through and much of what Robbins says is resonating with me.
Eric Barker offers some excellent advice on how to stop being busy. I’m really appreciating and implementing many of the ideas he so succinctly presents. This article urges that you stop being busy and start being productive. Here’s the nutshell:
Just because the other people at the office are overscheduled and the other parents are doing 1000 things doesn’t mean you need to.
We all only have 1440 minutes a day. Accept you can’t do it all, focus on what’s important and do that well.
We’re all jealous of the people who are calm and cool under pressure. Be that person.
Next time someone asks how you’re doing, don’t talk about how busy you are. Don’t get sucked into thinking busy means important.
Busy doesn’t make you important. Doing the important things you need to do makes you important.
I could spend hours reading Barker’s summaries of his science-based self-improvement advice, which seems counter-productive. But I’m going to work hard to implement many of these suggestions–many of them ring true.
Related excellent article by Eric Barker: 6 Things The Most Productive People Do Every Day Here’s the intro:
People work an average of 45 hours a week; they consider about 17 of those hours to be unproductive (U.S.: 45 hours a week; 16 hours are considered unproductive).
Lots of good advice on how not to fritter away one’s time.