I love science, especially psychology. Nothing fascinates me more than to discover yet another fact about how the human mind works. I’ve found that the more I learn about my own mind, the more at peace I feel about who I am and what my life is all about.
This year I’ve selected another twelve excellent TED talks, each one exploring some surprising, counter-intuitive aspect of our human minds and natures. Our amazing brains often wind up being too clever for our own good, creating illusions and misconceptions that make life a lot harder than it has to be.
Students typically wait until the last minute to begin studying for tests, and many parents support this practice, fearing that their kid will forget the material if they review it too early. But decades of tutoring as well as personal experience has taught me otherwise: Consistent, deliberate practice over time is the way to master material.
I have 30 tutoring students, and bunches of them go to the same schools and are in the same classes. This means that I often have multiple students taking the same test on the same day.
Recently, I was working with a number of students who were all getting ready for the same Monday algebra test (the test was being given by more than one teacher at the same school). My weekend schedule was so hectic that, in order to find enough time for everyone, I met with some students after school on the Friday before the test (my least popular time slot as you can likely imagine). The rest of the kids reviewed with me on Sunday.
This arrangement accidentally created a nice mini-experiment, with interesting results!
Last month, my own daughter was getting ready to take the LSAT (the law school entrance exam), so I tried a few practice LSAT sections myself…and, guess what?
I found them stunningly, amazingly difficult! And, I made TONS of mistakes!
For example, on my first reading passage, I answered the eight questions, and got SIX of them wrong!!!
This was an excellent experience for me, because I felt something I’ve lost touch with: I felt a sinking, dizzying fear of this difficult material.
Recently, I made a mistake that, thankfully, caused only minor damage. I was pulling into my driveway, and my foot slipped off the brake pedal and became momentarily entangled in my sandal; I wound up bumping the nose of my car into my front porch and making a small dent in the wall!
It was a split-second event, one of those common sorts of accidents which occur when we’re doing something routine and operating on mental auto-pilot. That momentary shock and confusion and panic really rattled me!
After I calmed down, I looked online and, sure enough, there are many articles cautioning people to wear proper footwear when driving. I now have a pair of slip-on sneakers in my car for those flip-flop or high-heel-wearing occasions.
I’ve been telling my cautionary tale to every one of my students, because besides conveying a safety message, I also want to make sure and model for all of my students the importance of viewing mistakes as learning tools.
This is true in all of life, including academics.
Does this sound unrealistic? Impossible?
When my kids were growing up, we had a big house with an acre of lawn and an in-ground swimming pool. We enjoyed the space and made good use of the pool. Even so, that big spread was a lot to afford and a lot take care of.
I spent a lot of stressful hours, many of them sleepless early-morning ones, fretting over maintenance issues and bills. Paying the cleaning lady, the lawn guy and the pool guy meant I had to work more hours. Letting those folks go and doing the work myself meant spending tons of time doing chores I did not enjoy and couldn’t keep up with.
Decades ago I discovered a terrific ab crunch routine; it’s quick, easy, shows results within days, and it isn’t even especially painful or uncomfortable…and yet…
I haven’t been doing it.
And I dislike the realities that stem from my slacking. I always love the treat of un-boxing my summer clothes; this June I was so disappointed to find several of my favorite dresses were too tight around the middle.
…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
Two PsychCentral bloggers have written recently about emotional infidelity, and I want to throw in my own two cents.
Like Beth, there was a time in my past when I was involved with a lovely and lovable man who insisted on maintaining close “friendships” with other women, including several of his exes.
And that’s a good thing, right?
Joe was super-smart, responsible, kind, scrupulously honest, family-oriented, conscientious, and like me, more focused on doing valuable work than on making tons of money.
The relationship itself, however, was stupefyingly difficult, for reasons Joe and I struggled to figure out.
I’m paraphrasing John Gottman from a wonderful 3-minute YouTube clip entitled The Best Predictor of Divorce.
I think it’s instructive to the critical person to enter the room…and find it empty. What will he do with his irritable feelings now?
Perhaps he’ll fill it right away with another lover, or with material objects. Perhaps she’ll clutter it with work or other busy-making activities.
But what if the critical person simply sits in the empty room and experiences the irritability? What might he learn about himself? Perhaps she’ll find that her feelings aren’t deadly and that, in fact, she is fine just the way she is.
And doesn’t this go for all of us? Spending some stretch of time alone, with no other person to affix our moods to and no external factors to blame for the way we feel…what might that teach us about our worries?…our melancholy?…and our happiness?
I’m like a mule stuck between at least twenty intriguing potential-subject haystacks, paralyzed by the sheer number of interesting things I’ve been reading and discussing, all of which I long to express in print.
None of which is happening.
It’s wonderful to have variety and selection. Who doesn’t enjoy freedom and flexibility and a cornucopia of options? Who doesn’t thrill to a banquet spread before them?
In fact, too much choice can be absolutely stultifying.
I see this in my students all the time. I live and work in one of the most affluent areas of the country, and the kids I tutor have every sort of choice. We all believe these kids “should” be grateful for all their privileges, yet often they are paralyzed by them.
What to wear? What sports to play? What friends to hang out with? What to do with one’s free time? What music to listen to?…and, of course, those truly terrifying questions: