Learning the Right Way

At the start of this year, I was practicing two languages – French and Spanish – and mainly used Duolingo to keep on top of my daily studies (I’ve since dropped French and have been focusing solely on Spanish).

While my Spanish to begin with isn’t too bad – thanks to many years of language class in school – it still helps to keep up with it. However, as the days drag on, I find myself more focused on “getting it out of the way” rather than truly taking in the language. My vocabulary is extensive. My practical grasp on the language, one the other hand, is not.

Once you get into a certain habit, it becomes second nature. Unfortunately in a lot of cases, that also means you’re just going through the motions. You do it because that’s what you do. It’s a simple matter to open up a phone app, reach your (or the app’s) goal, and carry on about your day. It becomes second nature in a bad way, and instead of absorbing it all, you’re doing it with no real useful outcome. In some ways, you’re making it harder on yourself because you need to go back and re-learn it.

I’m not saying that practice is bad. Far from it. At times it can be very helpful and in this particular situation, my vocabulary has grown, and that’s not a negative. But to blindly follow along with something just because, you forfeit (and often forget) important critical thinking that allows you to truly learn.

When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, we were taught (lol) about the dangers of rote memorization, or “chalk and talk” as it was so lovingly referred. Practice is fine. Blind practice is not. You learn nothing but how to hone your short-term memory, how to pass a test, and how to forget whatever it was immediately after. This is a lesson I have to remember with myself and my personal goals, and not just when it comes to learning a topic like with Spanish.

With that in mind, I (we) need to take a more proactive approach to active learning. In order to escape the tedium of blind practice, it’s important to step up and step out. How else are we to learn if we don’t give ourselves a chance?

 

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No Feeling is Final

Over the past month, I’ve cycled through every major emotion—and a few minor ones, too. Happiness, sadness, joy, anger, jealousy, grief… you name it.

Naturally, the ones that stick out most are the negative emotions. These are tied to fairly large events that have transpired in the past 30 or so days. To explain one of these events: I was on the waiting list for a particular job for months. I spoke with HR multiple times, only to be kept in the dark (HR was with me on that, too, so it’d be remiss to blame them). Last week, I was told the job was made redundant, and so, the hope I’d carefully built for that opportunity was dashed.

It was upsetting. Who wouldn’t be upset by that? But, I had to remind myself that this was just one in a sea of thousands. Still, I have a bad habit of nursing negative emotions far longer than I should (and I assume many others as well). In reality, we shouldn’t hold back on feeling them. Bottling them up will do more harm than good in the long run. Don’t ruin your life because you cannot let go. Let them cycle through you, allow yourself to feel whatever it is you’re feeling (safely), and be prepared to let it go once it’s run its course.

The great thing about emotions is that they’re temporary. Sure, they might mix and mingle and confuse us, but at the end of the day, we can lie down and awaken with a fresh slate. It might be hard for bigger events in our lives, but we will not feel that way forever. Tomorrow may turn out to be the best day of your life. And even if it isn’t, remember that no feeling is final.

Own Your Space

Whoa, two posts about exercise? Weird. But while we’re on the topic, why not?

As mentioned in my previous post, I’ve started taking my exercise routine seriously. And part of this is attributed to me shrugging off the awkwardness that inevitably ensues when you’re flailing about your room, sweating buckets and panting heavily.

Rather, I had to shrug off the idea that I couldn’t comfortably exercise in my own house because other people would see me, or walk in on me, or generally be an inconvenience to me (and I to them).

I am learning how to own my own space.

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The Climb

I really, really hate high places. In fact, I’m such a wuss that I even get queasy going too high on the swings.

Once upon a time, when I was a wee child, I went on a field trip with my summer camp to a rock-climbing arena. We were all bouncing off the walls and waiting impatiently for our chance to climb. Soon, it was my turn and once I was strapped for safety, I began my ascent.

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Happiness is a Warm Jar

As each day unravels, it’s easy to slip into complacency. I find myself doing the same thing, day in and day out. Everything feels stagnant, and while each day is different in its own right, the days remain largely the same.

On top of that, it’s hard to find what’s good every day outside of “I woke up, all of my body parts are functioning as usual, I have food and a roof over my head.” Of course, these are not to be taken for granted (I learned the power of running water when during my Peace Corps service I was denied it for an extended period of time). And really, we should be more thankful of these privileges. I remember telling a friend or two about said waterless plight and how they shouldn’t take it for granted.

“I don’t!” they said.

But believe me, they do. I do. You do, too.

A few years ago circa 2012, I learned about something called a happiness jar. Starting on January 1st of the new year, you’re supposed to write something – anything – that made you happy every day. By the end of the year, on December 31st, your jar should have at least 365 reasons something or someone made you happy.

So on January 1st, 2013, I washed out a salsa jar and threw in my first piece of paper. Sadly, here in 2017, the jar isn’t even halfway full (to be fair it’s a massive jar). I even started one during my service, only for it to meet the same fate. It’s not that I’m devoid of emotion; it’s that I don’t find interest in writing the same reasons over and over again. So now, instead of forcing myself to drop a paper into my jar every day, I add one when I am genuinely happy.

It’s a great exercise in understanding gratitude. There are some days that are so bad, I have to actively remind myself of what good happened so that I don’t write off my day as a complete waste. Those entries to the jar are most important.

My jar stares at me from across the desk every day, and I stare back. Yes, it’s only barely halfway full, but I can still find reasons to add to its collection. One day, that jar will be full, and I can finally dump out its contents to read, to reflect, and to start again.

Perceptions of Perfection

Our standards are higher than ever: we expect the best from everyone at all times, and if one doesn’t rise to the expectations of their peers, they’re criticized.

This is not a new concept. No matter what, people are going to point out what’s wrong with someone else (and will go to great lengths especially if they don’t like you), casually ignoring their own faults.

But what I’m focusing on is this strange air of professionalism that’s permeating everything we do now. This is, in part, because of the internet and how easy it is to scroll through someone’s life. People become so afraid of having their pasts used against them that they erect a massive wall and hide under the shiny veneer of perfection.

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