God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
I like Victorian-era cemeteries, and whenever I visit one the Serenity Prayer enters my mind.
In those days there was no cure for tuberculosis, which was romantically called “consumption” and which along with other infectious diseases filled the churchyards and necessitated the creation of vast new burying grounds.
Victorian cemeteries were intended as parks where families could picnic and visit their departed loved ones on Sunday afternoons.
For one thing, due to our limited powers of attention (see Day One) we never get the whole story to begin with. Then, every time we recall an event our minds edit and interpret and embellish, like a fish story.
And we do an especially inaccurate job on emotionally loaded events; we freight those memories with so much emotional baggage that they become personal fairy tales more than actual recollections.
When I get home from work, which can be as late as 10PM, I am soooo done! I don’t want to do anything besides kick off my shoes, fling my coat over a chair and grab something good to read (my way of relaxing) until bedtime.
I’ve spent most of my life beating myself up over my evening slacker ways, until learning that, in fact, I’m not unusually lazy. Willpower naturally fades as the day wears on.
People use words as weapons, to defend themselves. It is common for people to attack with anger when they are afraid and to become insulting when they are hurt or jealous. -Dr. Shirley Glass
When we are anxious or angry we can’t think straight. This means we ought to avoid taking action or having heavy conversations while immersed in these mood states.
The emotions of fear and anger trigger our internal fight-or-flight mechanism, which sends epinephrine (adrenalin) gushing through our bloodstream. Our heart races, our blood pressure shoots up, our platelets ready themselves to clot in case we are injured…and our higher-level thinking skills shut down. After all, it doesn’t take a lot of brainpower to run from a saber-toothed tiger.
Although we move through our days believing we are awake and aware, there are severe limitations on the amount of data our brains can process. This means that we miss out on all but a tiny fraction of what goes on around us.
…it is possible to process at most 126 bits of information per second…It is out of this [limited amount of available attention] that everything in our life must come – every thought, memory, feeling, or action…[and] in reality it does not go that far. -Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow, pg 29
Enter a party in progress and it sounds like a random, muddled buzz, until you choose to join one conversation; then, miraculously, the background noise tones down and you can engage with your companions. You may even manage to eavesdrop on another conversation or keep an eye on an attractive person across the room, but that’s about where your attention capacities will hit their wall. Everything else happening at that party will pass you by as if you weren’t there.
So creating a happier, better life for oneself begins, very simply, with being selective about how you choose to spend your attention.
…the information we allow into consciousness becomes extremely important; it is, in fact, what determines the content and the quality of life. -Flow, pg. 30
Here’s a sampling of articles and videos, each exploring ways in which you can become more aware of what you’re doing with your precious 126 bits of attention and how you might refocus your attention for the better:
Dr. John Gottman very humorously describes the Critical Person who has developed the bad habit of automatically searching for the negative in other people.
Dan Heath shows us how we can seek Bright Spots and build on them.
Dr. Martin Seligman explains the options we have for how we respond to our loved ones, and the impact of these choices on our relationships.
This hilarious and eye-opening TED talk by Barry Schwartz …
If I ever write my memoirs, I’ll devote one chapter to each of the books that changed my life, by authors including Dan Ariely, Judith Rich Harris, Steven Pinker, Martin Seligman, Shirley Glass, John and Julie Gottman and Haim Ginott.
I’ve always been a reader and a learner, and it’s no coincidence that I wound up in the education field. I believe in the power of knowledge to solve problems and make life comprehensible and happier.
I love this time of the year; time to think about a fresh start and renewed goals. For the past two years I’ve curated collections of favorite TED talks, which you can view here:
A fifth grade student was amazed that I knew every word on the American Heritage Dictionary’s Top 100 Words Every Middle Schooler Should Know list. She only recognized five.
I assured her that soon she would also know these words, because we were about to begin learning them now.The authors explain why knowing these words is so important:
Dear Friends, Many students believe it’s best to leave their summer math review for the end of the summer; they fear that if they do the work too early they will have forgotten the material again by September. In fact, the best way to make learning stick is to work at it consistently and review all summer long. The brain is exposed to a barrage of information every day, so how does it decide what to keep and what to forget? One big marker is repetition. The brain receives most facts only once, and because those bits of information never show up again they don’t need to be remembered.
I get a kick out of the recent Volkswagen commercial in which two guys pile into their Passat for a road trip, and then the passenger is appalled when his driver pal announces that instead of listening to music they’re going to learn a language.
Thirteen hours later, the buddies climb out of the car at a rest stop; the friend is still highly annoyed, and he rants and fumes at his companion…in fluent Spanish:
My own kids passed a good chunk of their childhoods in the car; I’ve always been an eager and ambitious traveler, so we spent virtually every school break driving somewhere. And we made those hours pass by listening to books on tape.
One day, I was reviewing with a high school student for a final exam in history. It was rough going; the material was detailed and complex and this young man’s grasp of both the facts and the concepts was poor.
We plowed on for two solid hours, and then he turned to me and floored me with this question: “OK, now, do you think I know this stuff?”
Truly, isn’t that a remarkable thing to ask? This young man couldn’t tell for himself whether or not the hard mental work he had just done had resulted in “knowing.”
But what, indeed, does “knowing” feel like? How do any of us know whether or not we know?