Let the gods decide

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Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash, modified by author

In a lecture course there’s no need to choose among the students: all students simply take notes, though from time to time one may ask a question for clarification. Some courses, however, require students to actively participate in class. Such classes use some form of the Socratic method, in which students do the talking or presentation, with the teacher acting as a coach or guide, asking occasional questions and keeping the discussion productive.

In discussions classes students talk more than the teacher. The teacher often calls upon students — to go to the board to demonstrate a theorem in geometry, or to read their translation of a text, or to give their thoughts about a passage in an assigned reading (with those thoughts then discussed by the students). …

Withered good intentions can bloom again if you learn how to recover from failure

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These crooked branches grow into an orderly top; a crooked path can still reach your goal. (photo by author)

Given that immediate and sustained success is extremely rare, we all experience multiple instances and kinds of failure. It follows that knowing how to handle failure—and, ideally, how to recover from it and set things aright — is an important skill to learn.

Some failures are easy to spot and have simple solutions — for example, a basketball player who can’t make a free throw can see the failure and remedy it through practice. Other failures are more invidious, developing gradually over time with the signs of developing failure obscured by the signal noise of daily life.

For example, anyone who seriously wants to maintain a good practice finds that discipline rot can easily set in — minor oversights that over time clump together and result eventually in major omissions, with demoralized despair a likely result. I’ll here look at an example of such a problem and describe one approach to tackling it: doing a hard reset through a back-to-basics emphasis on observing the fundamentals and in that way restore the practice. …

Patience is not a gift but a skill; skills require practice.

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Photo by Little John on Unsplash

Patience is important, but like any skill it must be learned, so impatience is common (and can have serious consequences).

Impatience differs from impulsiveness. In impulsive behavior, the issue of patience does not arise: a person who habitually acts on impulse does so not because they are impatient but because they have poor impulse control. Controlling impulses is important, and developing that skill may require patience, but the two things — impulsiveness and impatience — are different. Impatience is a feeling (a kind of frustration), and impulsiveness is a habit of action (one worth breaking).

You can be impatient with others as well as with yourself. In either case, the feeling seems to arise from frustration at not having control over what you want to happen — either no control of another or no control of yourself. That feeling of frustration is what we call “impatience.” We are frustrated that we cannot make happen what we want to happen as fast as we want it. …

The unfamiliar makes us uneasy, so some pretend it’s like previous experience.

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Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

I think we all like — or are at least comfortably reassured by — the familiar. In Patrick O’Brian’s (excellent) series of British naval novels in the Napoleonic era, Stephen Maturin quotes a Catalan benediction on parting: “May no new thing arise.”

New things make us uneasy because they are unfamiliar, so we don’t know what to expect nor how best to respond. I just moved into a new apartment, and I like it better as it becomes more familiar. …

Some say a disaster is looming, others believe it’s overblown — what’s your take?

FutureMe.org allows you to write an email that it will send to you at a date you specify. The World Health Organization has officially stated that we are now experiencing a pandemic of coronavirus.

Test your prognostic talent. Go to FutureMe and write yourself an email to be delivered to you on (say) 1 July 2020, setting out your expectations and predictions. For example, you may believe that it’s no big deal, just like the flu but with a lower mortality rate. …

But I finally figured out why I was repeatedly short of money

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Photo by Acharaporn Kamornboonyarush from Pexels

Years ago I was mystified at how consistently I ran short of money each month. I understood why someone supporting a family on a low-paying job (or two) would face financial straits. But I was earning a decent salary and living on my own — and still I came up short. That made no sense.

Then I discovered what I call “implicit spending.” Some possessions must eventually be replaced. I finally realized that, as I use one of those, I am implicitly spending money. For example, take a computer I bought for $2000. Now that I own it, I thought that using it came at no additional cost. …

A simple meal schema based on the Daily Dozen

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Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash

Part 2 of Dr. Michael Greger’s book How Not to Die (a fascinating read on how diet affects chronic illnesses, for good or bad) consists of his guidelines for a whole-food plant-based diet. Those guidelines were a lifesaver for me when I switched overnight from the low-carb high-fat diet that I had followed in the mistaken belief that it would help my type 2 diabetes.

It was not helping — exactly the opposite. It’s true that on the LCHF diet, my blood glucose was low, but that was because I was eating virtually no carbs (including dietary fiber, a carb important for the health of the gut microbiome). But for people slipping into type 2 diabetes, the problem is not “carbs,” but refined carbs (spikes blood glucose) and animal fat (worsens insulin resistance). …

Your theories of action: Theory in Use vs. Espoused Theory

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Photo by Icons8 Team on Unsplash, modified by author

Your “hidden personality” is hidden only from you — others get a clear understanding of it from your actions and words because behavior conveys personality. You’ve undoubtedly noticed that some people view themselves very differently from how others see them.

For example, assholes don’t view themselves as such, though from time to time, one will, with a shock of recognition, see that they have acted exactly as an asshole would. Sometimes that results in a positive change — they are, as it were, scared straight and take a more thoughtful and careful in future interactions.

Our theory of action consists of the ideas, values, and assumptions that guide our actions—what we do and say. Chris Argyris saw the difference between how people view themselves and how others view them as the result of having two theories of action. …

If you wait for someone to empower you, that’s not being empowered.

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Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash

IBM once did a study in which employees and their managers were asked separately via a questionnaire whether the employee had the authority to make various decisions or take various actions without first getting authorization from the manager. The idea was to see whether employees could accurately judge the extent of their power and authority.

In many instances, employees and managers disagreed. Employees responded that they had to get clearance from their managers, but managers generally said that their employees were empowered to take action on their own.

Empowered employees are more productive and happier in their jobs, but if an employee believes that empowerment must come from others—and waits for that to happen — then there is no actual empowerment. Empowerment comes from within by focusing on actions within your circle of influence (as described by Stephen Covey in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). …

Building a conversation

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Photo by Jessica Da Rosa on Unsplash, modified by author

Questioning is not the mode of conversation among gentlemen. It is assuming a superiority, and it is particularly wrong to question a man concerning himself. There may be parts of his former life which he may not wish to be made known to other persons, or even brought to his own recollection.
— Life of Samuel Johnson, by James Boswell

Once at a party long ago, I asked someone I had just met, “What do you do for a living?” and got an embarrassed and somewhat angry response, “I’m currently unemployed.” …


Michael Ham

Wrote “Leisureguy’s Guide to Gourmet Shaving the Double-Edge Way.” Blogs at leisureguy.wordpress.com. Enjoys cooking, reading, movies, and listening to jazz.

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