Category Archives: Being a Productive Student
And so my winter break is coming to an end. Next Monday I start my second semester of graduate studies, where I shall immerse myself anew in music, music, and music
(and the midwest weather). Between a musicology course in twentieth-century music to twentieth -century musical analysis, choral conducting, graduate musical composition, and ensembles. This semester will be challenging, but rewarding, I’m sure. Let’s see what this semester brings. Up until now I will be a part of the IMEA in Illinois, and there might be a slight (very slight) possibility that I can get enough funds to go to the ACDA convention this year. If I get the chance, it would be amazing. It’s still somewhat incredible and humbling coming back to the island and meet again my professors and peers. The pressure is still on when the hint, again, that I am the “new guinea pig” because before me nobody has done a Masters in Music, specially Choral Conducting. I just have to work harder this semester. As we say in the Choral Department (thanks to me) “If you try hard enough and believe in yourself…”
On the twelfth week of Grad School, my baton said to me: ‘member all that’s happened to thee…
- I am stronger than I look, wiser than I know, and a hell lot a braver than most people I know.
- Sometimes slow and steady wins the race, sometimes it just means your dead.
- Show the ictus, my child, then they will rejoice in the Lamb…
- No matter how awesome you thing the idea for a section in your paper is, chances are you WILL NOT know how to put it into words, hence the frustration cycle begins.
- I can work under pressure *dum dum dum duru dum dum*
- The number of scores/things you have to do for a specific week will be equivalent to the motivation you have in NOT doing it. This is multiplied by 9 for when you get your weekly breakdown.
- If I think I don’t have an Independent study class, maybe it will go away.
- And now I started to sing Meldelhson’s Octet…
- with a rhapsody of Lully’s Laudate Domino
- You really know you love X musical period. In my case, Romantic music. Because let us SHOW YOU HOW MANY FEELINGS WE HAVE WITH THIS CHORD AND THESE DYNAMICS!
- You may have nightmares of losing your assistantship because of reasons…
- Realizing that you do want to be a Doctor in Music is epic.
- Bonding with fellow graduate students is cool.
- Sometimes having alone time is needed.
- Sometimes saying “NOPE. Not doing anything today!” is necessary. Be prepared for having a little meltdown the following day because you procrastinated. Notice how the graduate student comes back to his natural habitat, made out of choral scores, scholarly articles, and Doctor Who references. This scholarly igloo made out of responsibilities, will keep the graduate student (who’s not form the United States) warm from the upcoming winter.
- Practice, young Padawan, Practice.
- Christmas Carols are hard to memorize, but huge pieces of Masterpieces can be memorize in a one, a two, a three, let’s go!
- Everything is a song cue.
- Even though I may not notice it, I am getting better.
- Stop being a perfectionist. (Easier said than done).
- To every family member, when your son/brother/sister/sibling says he/she want to go to Graduate School, give them a crockpot.
- Crockpots are good for pianists.
- No matter how much you try… the Ole will never vanish. It is called HERITAGE. Sorry.
- Having a tour, a paper due, and a presentation on the same day will make you crazy, but… it will make a Man out of you. *cue Mulan music*
- Yes. This post may not be very coherent. Sorry. This graduate student hasn’t slept in a while.
- You will start to lose count on how many coffee cups or caffeinated beverages you drink in a day.
- There is power in numbers. For example, let’s count how many scores you have to give a graduate student so that he/she can cower in fear (and be more nerdy than before).
- When your first undergrad mentor is recognized by your hometown, it is totally acceptable for you to Skype with a fellow friend, and for her to basically go everywhere so that you can talk to everyone. Including your three mentors from undergrad, more than 15 choristers, more than 5 teachers, and so much more.
- Going to Chicago for Thanksgiving, makes this guy very excited.
- Hoping that when this degree is over, I will have made life-long friends and colleagues.
- Knowing that when I finish this degree, I’ll be even better and stronger that I was gives me hope for my career.
This week is going to be a very hectic week for me. These past weeks have been ok, but every single thing that occurred, was in preparation for this week. In this week, I am going on tour with the Western Illinois University Singers tomorrow (Monday), Tuesday and Wednesday. For this tour, whom my very awesome peer gracefully arranged, we are visiting parts of Illinois and Iowa. This is exciting because I will get a first hand experience in going (for the first time) to a High School in the United States, and can truly start comparing the organization, curriculum, and musicality of this system to the ones I had.
Nevertheless, this week is also very demanding for I have two big projects to hand in. I have to due a presentation on Pergolesi’s The Magnificat and hand in my first draft of “The French Smuggler: FrenchInspiration in Henk Badings Trois Chansons Bretonnes “. Up until what I have written now for both things, I don’t really like, because it feels sloppy and not as polished as I would like, but it is a first draft. Now, the “problem” is finding the time (and space) so that I can work during tour. It will probably happen after we finish every night, which will be exhausting, but as Chris Martin wrote “Nobody said it would be easy.” Something that is funny? I’m actually taking a break from working today and continue to write in the form of this blog entry. I believe that I have been fully emerged into the Academia life. Maybe other graduate students around the world do the same? Maybe I am the only person who is somewhat crazy and is doing this? Maybe. Maybe not.
All that I know is that I have to keep writing until I can’t write anymore. Just keep swimming!
In the music world, everything is simple and complex at the same time. When you start to think about grad school, well… it’s just plain complex. You need to take the GRE & TOFEL (for those of us who English is not our first language) pre-audition, then submit the graduate admission essay (or Goals Statement as some universities call it), submit a thousand letter of recommendations, then the audition (if the pre-audition doesn’t cut it), then do everything everybody else does. In short: one big crazy roller coaster and by osmosis a big crazy me.In all this craziness, people transform in two categories. cheerleaders or nagging-antagonists-who-try-to-sunk-you-into-depression (a bit dramatic, but it’s the truth!). Generally the people who fall into the first category are friends, co-workers, and professors. The latter? Family and some of the people who call themselves “friends”.
I won’t post the pre-audition video I submitted to three universities (Florida State University, Westminister Choir College & Western Illinois University), but I will share my graduate admission essay. Why? Just like River Song says in Doctor Who: “Spoilers, sweetie.” Just sit back and use this as a pre-screening for my next post!
Without further ado, my Goals Statement!
When I was 12 years old, my parents took me to a recital of the Ponce Municipal Band where I saw Ruben Colón Tarrats, conductor of the Ponce Municipal Band and the Concert Choir and Chamber Choir from the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, for the first time. From that day on, I have made it my life’s goal to become a choral conductor. Since this experience, I have devoted all of my time and energy into studying music. After seven years of studying in the Juan Morel Campos Music Institute, I started my bachelor’s in music education where professors such as Prof. Rubén Colón, Prof. María Ondarra and Mons. Abel Di Marco helped me polish my abilities in choral conducting, voice, harmony, and counterpoint, respectively. It was there that I discovered a new, profound passion for choral conducting. In the past five years, I have learned that a choral conductor is far more than just that. Choral conductors, along with their choirs, recreate and celebrate moments from history in order to captivate and mesmerize their audiences.
To study my master’s in such an important institution would give me the opportunity to focus my energy into my life-long dream. The Puerto Rican government perceives the arts in general as insignificant in comparison with the core subjects, as well as unnecessary for the integral development of the island’s students. Currently, the Department of Education of Puerto Rico has enacted a policy that authorizes school principals (of both elementary and secondary level schools) to decide whether or not they wish to offer music, visual arts, and even physical education classes to their students based on two criteria: first, if the principals deem the classes necessary to the integral development of their students, and secondly, if the school’s budget allows space for teachers specialized in fine arts and/or physical education. We are living in times in which the idea of “education” here in Puerto Rico is, in my opinion, not extensive enough to produce truly well-rounded individuals who can then contribute their talents to the improvement of the island’s conditions, in every aspect. After completing my master’s degree in choral conducting, I plan to come back to the island and work to repair the damage done to the fine arts programs in the schools here.
This is why finishing a post-graduate degree in Choral Conducting would give me the chance to effect change in Puerto Rico’s Music Education programs in secondary and post-secondary institutions. The opportunity to study in an acclaimed institution would allow me to share my cultural background, as well as my knowledge from my bachelor’s and embrace the latest methodology, assessment, and vocal coaching techniques. It would also give me the chance to work with a project entitled “The Art of Musical Poetry”. This project is a book in progress, a personal endeavor of mine, the aim of which is to marry the processes of musical composition and creative writing into a single form of art.
My vocation in life is that of a teacher, but I fear for the future of the fine arts programs here in Puerto Rico. To better the programs is to better both my students and myself, and in doing so, I will help to build a culture of peace here on the island.
As the song states… Nobody said it was easy!!
Let’s face it, if you’re a musician you may be in a constant state of stress. This may be because of too many rehearsals, deadlines, concerts, too many scores to learn, and or teach. Sometimes we even have to bring our work home! To everything that may be happening in our professional lives, we have to add this to the stress we may encounter in our personal lives. So what can we do to relax and achieve a state of mindfulness? First of all we must properly define those two terms.
- Relaxation (noun): the state of being free of tension and anxiety.
- Mindfulness (noun): inclined to be aware
- Aware (adj): having or showing realization, perception, or knowledge
If we were “normal people” (and I use this term for non-musician or artsy people) we would do what “normal people” do when they want to be stress-free, turn up their music and drown the world. Now, I’m not saying that this works, because sometimes it does but this may be counter-productive. Why? Because as musician’s a chord progression, motif in a song or a bands name may remind us about all our stress from our work.
How to achieve mindfulness
In zen, the way to approach mindfulness is by breathing and in quietness. So what we must do is to stop, before or after a rehearsal or project and do the following
- Find the silence
As musicians we know what the power of silence can do. It can create tension or release, it prepares for a new theme, in short, silence is good. If you’re like me I over think things (a lot) and these random (and not so random) thoughts can hurt us more than they should. We have to stop, and “look” or distance ourselves from our thoughts.
- Balance We must achieve a balance between our personal and professional lives. We have to start asking ourselves: am I biting more than I can chew? Do I have too many projects running at once? What are the pros and cons of each project? What is the priority right now? Remember to do this objectively and distant. As you were an observer of your own life, instead of actually living it. To achieve body balance also helps. I remember my choral conducting courses and Prof. Ruben Colon always told us that as a conductor you must align your body so that you feel no tension anywhere. To achieve this I always think of being as relaxed as a rag doll and slowly widening and stretch my back.
- Breathe my child! Breathe! I’m an asthmatic. I am also a singer. When I get in stressful situations I feel like I’m about to drown! When I feel like this I always curse (inwardly, of course) and ask “Where the hell (or other nouns) is my inhaler?!” Then, just when I’m about to drown I listen to that annoying little voice in my head, and he screams BREATHE MY CHILD! BREATHE! Allow yourself to breathe! I’ve noticed that if you’re a musician, even know that we KNOW the importance of breathing, when we’re not what I like to call “musician mode” in a magical way we forget that we have to take deep breaths. We have to permit ourselves to breathe and connect our body, mind, and soul.
- Accept what we can and can’t change. In this year where I have called “The year that Never was”, where I made plans and every single one of them failed, I realized that I have to learn to accept things, life and it’s difficulties. I have to learn to accept what we can and can’t change professionally as well as in my personal life. I had to acknowledge my failures as well as triumphs, the sorrow, pain, sadness, happiness. We must put (want to or not) some things past us so that we can grow.
- Accept resistance
You may want to kill him/her because they don’t do their job. You may want to think of all the negative aspects of your life and the dreadful “What if?” All of this may happen but life is full of resistance. We must always try to make a conscious choice as well as try to maintain that distance between thoughts, especially when you’re going to make important choices in your life.
- Hobbies We must, must, must, MUST find a hobby that is non-music related. In this year this has “evolved” in devouring series such as Doctor Who, Survivor, Merlin, Sherlock, and many, many more. Try to do this with friends. Maybe go out on a walk. A friend of mine started to do 10-mile bicycle runs (a little extreme for me), but find something to do when you’re not in “musician mode” or just want to relax.
**This is a guest post from Study Hacks** (the Url is in the bottom of the post**
The Berlin Study
In the early 1990s, a trio of psychologists descended on the Universität der Künste, a historic arts academy in the heart of West Berlin. They came to study the violinists.
As described in their subsequent publication in Psychological Review, the researchers asked the academy’s music professors to help them identify a set of stand out violin players — the students who the professors believed would go onto careers as professional performers.
We’ll call this group the elite players.
For a point
of comparison, they also selected a group of students from the school’s education department. These were students who were on track to become music teachers. They were serious about violin, but as their professors explained, their ability was not in the same league as the first group.
We’ll call this group the average players.
The three researchers subjected their subjects to a series of in-depth interviews. They then gave them diaries which divided each 24-hour period into 50 minute chunks, and sent them home to keep a careful log of how they spent their time.
Flush with data, the researchers went to work trying to answer a fundamental question: Why are the elite players better than the average players?
The obvious guess is that the elite players are more dedicated to their craft. That is, they’re willing to put in the long,Tiger Mom-style hours required to get good, while the average players are off goofing around and enjoying life.
The data, as it turns out, had a different story to tell…
Decoding the Patterns of the Elite
We can start by disproving the assumption that the elite players dedicate more hours to music. The time diaries revealed that both groups spent, on average, the same number of hours on music per week (around 50).
The difference was in how they spent this time. The elite players were spending almost three times more hours than the average players on deliberate practice — the uncomfortable, methodical work of stretching your ability.
This might not be surprising, as the importance of deliberate practice had been replicated and reported many times (c.f., Gladwell).
But the researchers weren’t done.
They also studied how the students scheduled their work. The average players, they discovered, spread their work throughout the day. A graph included in the paper, which shows the average time spent working versus the waking hours of the day, is essentially flat.
The elite players, by contrast, consolidated their work into two well-defined periods. When you plot the average time spent working versus the hours of the day for these players, there are two prominent peaks: one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
In fact, the more elite the player, the more pronounced the peaks. For the best of the best — the subset of the elites who the professors thought would go on to play in one of Germany’s two best professional orchestras — there was essentially no deviation from a rigid two-sessions a day schedule.
This isolation of work from leisure had pronounced effects in other areas of the players’ lives.
Consider, for example, sleep: the elite players slept an hour more per night than the average players.
Also consider relaxation. The researchers asked the players to estimate how much time they dedicated each week to leisure activities — an important indicator of their subjective feeling of relaxation. By this metric, the elite players were significantly more relaxed than the average players, and the best of the best were the most relaxed of all.
Hard Work is Different than Hard to Do Work
To summarize these results:
- The average players are working just as many hours as the elite players (around 50 hours a week spent on music),
- but they’re not dedicating these hours to the right type of work (spending almost 3 times less hours than the elites on crucial deliberate practice),
- and furthermore, they spread this work haphazardly throughout the day. So even though they’re not doing more work than the elite players, they end up sleeping less and feeling more stressed. Not to mention that they remain worse at the violin.
I’ve seen this same phenomenon time and again in my study of high achievers. It came up so often in my study of top students, for example, that I even coined a name for it: the paradox of the relaxed Rhodes Scholar.
This study sheds some light on this paradox. It provides empirical evidence that there’s a difference between hard work and hard to do work:
- Hard work is deliberate practice. It’s not fun while you’re doing it, but you don’t have to do too much of it in any one day (the elite players spent, on average, 3.5 hours per day engaged in deliberate practice, broken into two sessions). It also provides you measurable progress in a skill, which generates a strong sense of contentment and motivation. Therefore, although hard work is hard, it’s not draining and it can fit nicely into a relaxed and enjoyable day.
- Hard to do work, by contrast, is draining. It has you running around all day in a state of false busyness that leaves you, like the average players from the Berlin study, feeling tired and stressed. It also, as we just learned, has very little to do with real accomplishment.
This analysis leads to an important conclusion. Whether you’re a student or well along in your career, if your goal is to build a remarkable life, then busyness and exhaustion should be your enemy. If you’re chronically stressed and up late working, you’
re doing something wrong. You’re the average players from the Universität der Künste — not the elite. You’ve built a life around hard to do work, not hard work.
The solution suggested by this research, as well as my own, is as simple as it is startling: Do less. But do what you do with complete and hard focus. Then when you’re done be done, and go enjoy the rest of the day.
(Photo by RKHawaii)
This is a Guest Post from http://www.scotthyoung.com/
Just about every way you can measure, the world is a better place today than it was before. Life expectancy is up, poverty down, even most environmental indicators aside from greenhouse gases have improved.
Yet this is never the story. The story is always how the world, despite the nearly consistent progress over the last millennia, will deteriorate in our lifetimes.
Why Is Pessimism Fashionable?
My hypothesis is that pessimism is the safe, easy stance for most beliefs. If you are optimistic, and wrong, you’re a fool. If you foresee doom that never occurs, nobody bothers to correct your errors.
It’s easier to see why pessimism is fashionable, if you think in terms of game theory. The pessimist, if wrong, suffers little public humiliation. He may even be praised for alerting society to possible danger. The optimist is a fool when wrong and receives little praise for correct predictions.
Given these uneven outcomes, it benefits people to appear overly pessimistic. After all, better to seem overly cautious than to be later made a fool.
The Danger in Pessimism
The problem is that pessimism isn’t without costs. Being overly cautious about some risks exposes us to other dangers. This was the case in Africa, where hysteria over GMO foods resulted in more people starving.
The safest thinking is the most rational thinking. Optimism can be dangerous, but so can pessimism—in causing us to choose “safe” options, which cause more problems than uncertain choices.
Riskless, Cynical Attitude
There’s a parallel between pessimism, believing bad things will happen, and cynicism, or general distrust and jadedness. Once again, there’s a lop-sided risk to the publicly stating your beliefs.
Being enthusiastic about a goal or project is risky. If your goal fails, or your hopes dashed, you are naïve and foolish. Before I started this venture, I tried making a computer game (and failed) in high-school. People around me still like to joke about how precocious and naïve that was.
But whether I had the skills or ability to become a computer games developer is beside the point. This business required 5 years of unsupported enthusiasm before it became successful. The same cynics don’t take back their original skepticism, they just pretend they knew it would have worked all along.
Shut Up and Do The Math
The solution isn’t to always be optimistic and never look for the possible downside. Just because you can believe it, doesn’t mean you can achieve it and phony systems like the Law of Attraction are completely divorced from reality.
Unwarranted enthusiasm and optimism have dangers. But so do pessimism and cynicism. The ideal is to be rational about the future, not to be knowingly biased in one direction.
I can already imagine the objections. “Knowledge is impossible!” you say, “we can never escape bias or make accurate decisions.” This is complete garbage. Yes, perfect rationality is impossible, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a realistic assessment.
Let’s say you’re starting a new business venture. You could follow societal cynicism and say that 80% of businesses fail. Or you could follow self-help charlatan’s optimism and believe that faith and persistence alone will make you a success.OR—you could do some research. You could figure out what the path to success typically requires. You could calculate what the start-up costs would be, and see if there is any way you can make small calculated experiments to gain more knowledge of future success. At the very least, you could determine the worst-case scenarios in both decisions and try to minimize potential future regret.
Yes—the future is unknowable. No—predictions will never account for all uncertainties. But this doesn’t mean that cynicism is the default rational choice, simply because you’ll never look foolish.
The Guts to Be Optimistic
Sometimes the math does make cynicism the best guess. I think people getting mortgages they can barely afford for investment properties are idiots. The math doesn’t support their enthusiasm.
But in other cases, the math makes enthusiasm a better choice. When I first started this business, the chance of success was probably low. However the worst case wasn’t bad at all. At the very least, I’d learn something and maybe become a better writer. In the best case, I have a career as a writer. Even if success is unlikely, that’s a gamble I’d like to take.
If your goal is to never look foolish or naïve, cynicism is a good strategy. If you’d rather have an awesome life, shut up, do the math, and ignore the dire
Go to http://www.scotthyoung.com/ for more articles devoted on How to get more from life.
This is a great post I found on Zen habits and I hope you will like it to.
“The Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” – Benjamin Franklin
For some of us, the ultimate goal in life is happiness.
Whether we see fulfillment in our work, contentment in our relationships, passion in our hobbies … we strive to find happiness.
“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” – Aristotle
And yet, this search for happiness can be a lifelong search, especially if we look at happiness as something that will come once we achieve certain goals — a nice home, a perfect spouse, the ultimate promotion … and when we get these goals, instead of being happy, we often are looking forward to being happy when we meet our next goals.
Happiness shouldn’t be something that happens to us in the future, maybe someday, if things go well. Happiness should be here and now, who we are now, with the people we’re with now, doing the things we’re doing now. And if we’re not with people who make us happy, and doing things that make us happy … then we should take action to make that happen.
That’s the simple formula for happiness. Take action to do the things that make you happy, with the people who make you happy, and to be happy with the person you are now. (Disclaimer: this probably doesn’t apply, of course, to those who are clinically depressed or who have other similar medical conditions which I am not qualified to discuss.)
Don’t wait for happiness. Seize it.
“If you want to be happy, be.” – Leo Tolstoy
Here’s how — a list of action you can take today to seize that happiness. You don’t have to do these all at once, but you should do most (if not all) of them eventually, and sooner rather than later. Pick one or two and start today.
1. Be present. Don’t think about how great things will be in the future. Don’t dwell on what did or didn’t happen in the past. Learn to be in the here and now, and experience life as it’s happening, and appreciate the world for the beauty that it is, right now. Practice makes perfect with this crucial skill.
2. Connect with others. In my experience, very few things can achieve happiness as well as connecting with other human beings, cultivating relationships, bonding with others. Some tips on doing this.
3. Spend time with those you love. This might seem almost the same as the item above, and in reality it’s an extension of the same concept, a more specific application. Spending time with the people you love is extremely important to happiness … and yet it’s incredible how often we do just the opposite, and spend time alone, or disconnected from those we love, or spend time with people we don’t much like. Make it a priority to schedule time with the people you love. Make that your most important item of the day. For myself, I have a time when I cut off work, and the rest of the day is for my family. Weekends are exclusively for my family. And by setting aside this sacred time, I ensure my happiness by letting nothing come between me and the people I love most.
4. Do the things you love. What do you love doing most? Figure out the 4-5 things you love doing most in life, the things that make you happiest, and make those the foundation of your day, every day. Eliminate as much of the rest as possible. For me, the things I love doing are: spending time with my family, writing, reading, and running. I do those things every day, and very little else. It may take awhile to get your life down to your essentials like I have (it took me a few years of careful elimination and rescheduling and saying “no” to requests that aren’t on my short list), but it’s worth the effort.
5. Focus on the good things. Everyone’s life has positive and negative aspects — whether you’re happy or not depends largely on which aspects you focus on. Did you lose today’s softball game? At least you got to spend time with friends doing something fun. Did you sprain your ankle running? Well, your body probably needed a week’s rest anyway, as you were running too much! Did your baby get sick? Well, at least it’s only a flu virus and nothing life-threatening … and at least you have a wonderful baby to nurse to health! You can see my point — almost everything has a positive side, and focusing on the positives make all the difference. My Auntie Kerry died last week (as you know), and I’m still grieving, but
- I’m happy I spent time with her before her death;
- her death has brought our family closer together;
- her suffering has ended; and
- it reminded me to spend more time with the people I love while they’re still alive.
6. Do work you love. An extension, of course, of doing the things you love, but applied to work. Are you already doing the work you love? Then you’re one of the lucky ones, and you should appreciate how lucky you are. If you aren’t doing the work you love, you should make it a priority to try to find work you’re passionate about, and to steer your career in that direction. Take myself for example: I was doing work that I was good at (just last year), but that I wasn’t passionate about. I was passionate about writing, and so I pursued blogging … and with a year of hard work, was able to quit my day job and blog full time. I’m so much happier these days!
7. Lose yourself in your work. Once you’ve found work you love, the key is to lose yourself in it … clear away all distractions, find an interesting and challenging task, and just pour all your energy and focus into that task. With practice, you’ll forget about the outside world. There are few work-related joys that equal this feeling. Read more.
8. Help others. Is there any better feeling than helping a fellow human being? There aren’t many. And it’s not too hard — here are 25 ways.
9. Find time for peace. With the hectic pace of life these days, it’s hard to find a moment of peace. But if you can make time for solitude and quiet, it can be one of the happiest parts of your day. Here’s how.
10. Notice the small things. Instead of waiting for the big things to happen — marriage, kids, house, nice car, big promotion, winning the lottery — find happiness in the small things that happen every day. Little things like having a quiet cup of coffee in the early morning hours, or the delicious and simple taste of berries, or the pleasure of reading a book with your child, or taking a walk with your partner. Noticing these small pleasures, throughout your day, makes a huge difference.
11. Develop compassion. Compassion is developing a sense of shared suffering with others … and taking steps to alleviate the suffering of others. I think too often we forget about the suffering of others while focusing on our own suffering, and if we learned to share the suffering of others, our suffering would seem insignificant as a result. Compassion is an extremely valuable skill to learn, and you get better with practice. Here’s how.
12. Be grateful. Learning to be grateful for what’s in our lives, for the people who have enriched our lives, goes a long way toward happiness. It helps us to appreciate what we have and what we have received, and the people who have helped us. Read more.
13. Become a lifelong learner. I find an inordinate amount of pleasure in reading, in learning about new things, in enriching my knowledge as I get older. I think spending time reading some of the classics, as well as passionately pursuing new interests, is energy well invested. Try to do a little of it every day, and see if it doesn’t make you happier.
14. Simplify your life. This is really about identifying the things you love (see above) and then eliminating everything else as much as possible. By simplifying your life in this way, you create time for your happiness, and you reduce the stress and chaos in your life. In my experience, living a very simple life is also a pleasure in itself.
15. Slow down. Similar to simplifying, slowing down is just a matter of reminding yourself that there’s no need to rush through life. Schedule less things on your calendar, and more space between things. Learn to eat slower, drive slower, walk slower (unless you’re doing it for exercise). Going slowly helps to reduce stress, and improve the pleasure of doing things, and keeps you in the present moment.
16. Exercise. I’ve written about the pleasures of exercise many times. It can be hard to start an exercise program (here’s how) but once you get going, it relieves stress and can really give you a good feeling. I feel joyful every time I go out for a run!
17. Meditate. You don’t need to join a Zendo or get a mat or learn any lotus positions, but the simplest form of meditation can really help you to be present and to get out of the worrying part of your head. You can do it right now: close your eyes and simply try to focus on your breathing as long as possible. Pay attention to the breath as it comes into your body, and then as it goes out. When you feel your mind start to wander, don’t fret, but just simply acknowledge the other thoughts, and then return to your breathing. Do this a little each day and you’ll get better at it.
18. Learn to accept. One of the challenges for people like me — people who want to improve themselves and change the world — is learning to accept things as they are. Sometimes it’s better to learn to accept, and to love, the world as it is, and people as they are, rather than to try to make everything and everyone conform to an impossible ideal. I’m not saying you should accept cruelty and injustice, but learn to love things when they are less than “perfect”.
19. Spend time in nature. Go outside and take a walk each day, or take the time to watch a sunset or sunrise. Or find a body of water — the ocean, a lake, a river, a pond — and spend time taking a look at it, contemplating it. If you’re lucky enough to live near some woods, or a mountain, or a canyon, go hiking. Time in nature is time invested in your happiness.
20. Find the miracles in life. I absolutely believe in miracles, and believe that they are all around us, every day. My children are all miracles. The kindnesses of strangers are miracles. The life growing all around us is a miracle. Find those miracles in your life, and enjoy the majesty of them.
For more happiness reading, check out my favorite happiness blog: The Happiness Project, by the lovely Gretchen Rubin.
“Man is fond of counting his troubles, but he does not count his joys. If he counted them up as he ought to, he would see that every lot has enough happiness provided for it.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky
As all well know Steve Martin is an awesome comedian and great human being. He has been one of many inspirational people for a great majority of the world’s population. Why I say that? Well because first of all it’s true and second because he made it in the entertainment business by BEING HIMSELF which is a lot and as he says in his advice the only way be good in your area of choice is by being yourself and “being so good the can’t ignore you”.
As a struggling composer and future choir director this is what you need be a successful musician in this area. Why? Because if you are not yourself your compositions will suffer and you would be trying to imitate, write or evoke an emotion which is not likely be yours which is a big error because as author and world renounced conductor James Jordan would say “you are not being honest to music and hence not being a good musician” Alas this is what the music world is today imitation there is no “honest music”. If an artist is successful with a song struggling artists will try to imitate that so that they’ll be equally successful. What I am trying to say here just be yourself, and in your job or career if choice people will start to notice you more and maybe we will be as successful as this master comedian.
My headline might sound overreaching. Clearly a rule can’t define something as complex as human behavior. But despite this, I’ve found most people tend to make the same mistakes. These mistakes are frequent enough that they create conflicts later. Remembering these seven rules will help you avoid these mistakes.
People Skills is About Being Nice, Friendly and Interesting, Duh!
Most the books I’ve read on dealing with people either make two claims:
Incredibly obvious stuff that most sensible people understand; even if they haven’t always mastered it. Things like be nice, be considerate, etc. Bizarre and complex theories that may explain some behavior, but is difficult to generalize.
Between these two I’ve found there seems to be a gap of information that is can be applied generally, but isn’t always obvious. These frequent mistakes tend to cause most people conflicts, social errors and emotional upsets.
Here are the seven rules I’m talking about:
- Rule One: Never blame malice for what can easily be explained by conceit.
People don’t care about you. This isn’t because people are mean or hurtful, but simply because they are mostly focused on themselves. Consider this hypothetical pie-chart showing the variety of thoughts a typical person has:In this example, 60% of thoughts are self-directed. My goals. My problems. My feelings. Another 30% are directed towards relationships, but how they affect me. What does Julie think of me? How will boss evaluate my performance in the next review? Do my friends like me or see me as irritating?
Only 10% in this model is time spent in empathy. Empathy is the rare event where one person actually feels the emotions, problems and perspective of another person. Instead of asking what Julie thinks of me, I ask what is Julie thinking. Within that 10%, most people then divide attention between hundreds of other people they know. As a result, you would occupy a fraction of a percentage in most peoples minds, and only a couple percentage points in a deeply bonded relationship. Even if you are in another persons thoughts, it is how your relationship affects them, not you.
What does this mean?Embarrassment doesn’t make a lot of sense. Since others are only focusing a small portion of there thoughts onto judging you, your self-judgement is overwhelmingly larger.
People who appear to be mean or hurtful don’t usually do it intentionally. There are exceptions to this, but generally the hurt you feel is a side-effect, not the principle cause.
Relationships are your job to maintain. Don’t wait to be invited to parties or for people to approach you.
- Rule Two: Few Social Behaviors are Explicit
Basically this rule means that most the intentions behind our actions are hidden. If a person is feeling depressed or angry, usually the resulting behaviors distort their true feelings. If I feel you snubbed me, I might hold my tongue but ignore you later.
The old joke is that women use words like, “fine,” and, “go ahead,” when they really feel the opposite. But I’ve noticed men do this too in polite situations, although often not in the same way.
The application of this rule is that you need to focus on empathy, not just hearing a person. Demonstrate trust, build rapport and learn to probe a bit. By focusing on empathy you can usually break away these subversions and get to the heart of the issue faster.
The other application of this rule is that most the time you feel something, nobody else knows about it. So don’t get angry when people aren’t responding to you. If you deceive your thoughts with your actions, don’t get angry when you fool people.
- Rule Three: Behavior is Largely Dictated by Selfish Altruism
To say everyone is completely selfish is a gross exaggeration. That ignores all the acts of kindness, sacrifice and love that make the world work. But I would argue that most (not all, but most) behavior does work from the principles of selfish altruism.
Selfish altruism is basically win/win. It is where helping you directly or indirectly helps me. There are a couple main categories where this applies:
Transactions – If I purchase a car, both myself and the dealer benefit. I get a vehicle, which I want. The dealer gets money to improve his lifestyle. This is the predominant form of selfish altruism between people who don’t have emotional bonds.
Familial – Blood is thicker than water. We are designed to protect people who share our genes. This can sometimes shift towards extremely close friends and loved ones.
Status – Helping someone is a sign of power. Many species of primates will offer assistance as a sign of dominance. People act similarly, offering aid to boost their self-esteem and reputation.
Implied Reciprocity – Many relationships are based on the idea that if I help you, one day you will help me as well.
Occasionally behavior falls outside this group. Nameless heroes dying for causes that don’t help their bloodline. Volunteers devoting their time towards humanitarian missions. But these are the minority, whereas most actions can be explained by some form of selfish altruism.
How do you apply this rule? You understand the motives of people and appeal to them as if they were selfish. Find ways to help people within these four categories. Don’t expect people to offer aid outside of selfish altruism, it isn’t impossible, but it isn’t likely.
- Rule Four: People Have Poor Memories
Ever been told someone’s name at a party and then forgot it later? Another rule of human behavior is that people have trouble remembering things. Especially information (as you’ll recall in rule one) that doesn’t apply to themselves. People are more likely to remember your similarities than your differences (unless they were emotionally incensed by them).
Recently I even broke this rule. I made arrangements to talk to a person I hadn’t met before on the phone. Even with my normally foolproof system of calendars and to-do lists, a few spontaneous schedule changes caused me to miss the call. I quickly apologized and made a new arrangement.
But the fact is most people don’t have organized GTD systems. People are forgetful by nature, so once again, don’t assume malice or disinterest if something is forgotten. The other side of this rule is that you can demonstrate reliability by having a good memory or system (if it doesn’t fail you).
- Rule Five: Everyone is Emotional
Perhaps this is an exaggeration. But the core of the message is that people tend to have stronger feelings about something than they let on. People who regularly have outbursts of anger, depression or flamboyant enthusiasm are generally frowned upon in most cultures. This especially applies to men (for women trying to figure us out).
The application of this rule is to not assume everything is fine just because someone isn’t having a nervous breakdown. We all have our individual problems, angst and upsets that are normally contained. You don’t need to call people out on their private deception, but being sensitive to those underlying currents gives you an advantage in trying to help.
The alternate application of this rule is similar to rule two. People generally assume everything is fine unless you just had a blowup.
- Rule Six: People are Lonely
This is another broad generalization. But it is amazing how many people who seem to have it all, suffer from bouts of loneliness. As social animals, I believe people are especially sensitive to any threats to becoming ostracized. In Neanderthal times, exile meant death, so loneliness and the desire to be with other people is a strong one.
The application of this rule is that loneliness is fairly common, so in that sense, you really aren’t alone. I used to be bothered when I felt alone or an outsider in a social group. Although I’m still human, I’ve found recognizing this feeling to be fairly common as a way to minimize it.
- Rule Seven: Did I Mention People Are Self-Absorbed?
This may sound like a reiteration of rule one, but I believe the applications extend beyond relationships and your emotional state. The fact that people tend to be too concerned about themselves to give you much attention, that people tend to be lonelier, more emotional and feel differently than they let on applies to how you view the world.
If anything this perspective should make you more proactive and independent. Once I started really learning these rules, it made far more sense that I needed to take charge. By placing your individual happiness in the hands of another person (or people), you ignore all these rules and do so at your own peril.
I like to take an optimistic, but realistic view of people. People who are generally try their best, but make mistakes and suffer from unintended self-absorption. In other words, they are basically like you.