Why I’m taking an undergraduate class this semester

Fredonia faculty and staff can take one 3-credit course each semester tuition-free, so next week I’ll start taking Victorian Literature. Why?

Besides for the enjoyment of learning, it’s because I want to be a better writer. The fastest way to become a better writer is, of course, to write, then have someone critique it.

Last fall, Joseph Tellerg, an English professor at College of the Sequoias, said this to the Chronicle of Higher Eductation:

My students can’t write a clear sentence to save their lives, and I’ve had it. In 10 years of teaching writing, I have experimented with different assignments, activities, readings, approaches to commenting on student work — you name it — all to help students write coherent prose that someone would actually want to read. And as anyone who keeps up with trends in higher education knows, such efforts largely fail.

Most of us work for a business when we graduate from college, whether or not we graduated with a business degree. The biggest differentiator in business today is good writing.

Good writers are rarely born with innate talent for it. Like anything, good writers practiced writing a lot.

“Boys won’t like my calluses!”

I get this one a lot after a girl lifts weights for the first time: “I’m getting calluses on my hands! Boys don’t like that.”

I’m not sure if these boys exist, the ones that don’t like calluses that is, but if they do you probably don’t want to date those boys anyway.

That said, I think most boys (men) would prefer a strong girl (woman) over a girl with soft hands.

Come to think of it, I’ve never heard a boy comment on a girl’s hand texture in the first place.

Living next to your college friends, for life

I just had an interesting thought as I walked through my six-building apartment complex this morning:

“Wouldn’t it be neat if all my best friends from college lived here with me?”

Given the impossibility of this ever happening, my next spontaneous thought:

“Isn’t it possible to make the people who already live here my new best friends?”

I don’t know if I’ll ever take the initiative to make that happen, but at least the second thought is under my control.

The entire field of fitness, condensed into one sentence

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Senior exercise science major, Calvin Wong

Warning: this post ends up being longer than one sentence. Consider how much you care about your health and success, then continue as needed.

This is an excerpt from Scott Adams’s How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. I’ve already written about Adams here and here, so I won’t talk more about who he is and why his opinions are important.

Adams credits personal fitness to much of his success as a cartoonist, speaker, and author. After almost twenty years of practicing a fitness routine, I still learned something from his chapter on exercise:

“After a lifetime of trying nearly every exercise tip, trick, and fad and sometimes scientifically proven techniques, I have condensed the entire field of fitness advice into one sentence:

Be Active Every Day

[…]

If you are young and you don’t have crushing responsibilities, you probably have everything you need to exercise regularly. But after a certain age, life transforms exercise from one of your highest priorities to the thing you give up first when things get busy, and that can literally be a death trap.

My challenge in this chapter is to convince you that if you get one simple thing right — being active every day — all of the other elements of fitness will come together naturally without the need to use up your limited supply of willpower.

That last part is key. In my experience, any form of exercise that requires willpower is unsustainable. To stay fit in the long run you need to limit your exercise to whatever level doesn’t feel like work, just as kids do. When you take willpower out of the equation and you achieve a solid baseline of daily physical activity, your natural inclination will be to gradually increase your workout. You’ll do it because you want to, and because it will feel easy, and because you know it will feel good. No willpower will be needed.

If you walk two miles every day for a month and enjoy the leisurely pace, your brain will automatically start to think that walking an extra mile might be even more fun or that running half the way and walking the rest might be interesting. That’s how you turn boredom into a tool. When you are active every day and your body feels good about it, it will become easier to increase your exercise level than it would be to stop it. Ask any dedicated runner, biker, or swimmer how they feel on the occasional off day. They don’t like it. That’s where you want to be. And the only way that happens is if you make fitness — of any kind — a daily habit. Once exercise becomes habitual, you won’t need willpower to keep going because your body and brain will simply prefer it to being a couch spud. And your natural inclination for variety will drive you to do more stuff over time.

[…]

What you need is a natural and easy way to evolve into a fitness routine that works for your specific brain and body. And you want to do it all without drawing on your willpower. The starting point for that journey is nothing more than being physically active every day regardless of the specifics.

[…]

I use the word “active” in an intentionally ambiguous way. That’s what makes the rule a system and not a goal. As you know, goals are for losers. If the rule were “Run ten miles every day,” that would be a goal. And it would probably set you up for failure, since most people can’t do something specific every day. But almost everyone can be active in some way every day. That could mean anything from playing basketball to cleaning the garage to taking a walk. Under my system, any physical exertion counts, and none is better than the other. I’ll explain in this chapter how all paths can lead to optimal fitness if you follow a few simple rules for manipulating your willpower.

The most important and powerful part of the “Be active every day” system is the “every day” part. Everything springs naturally from that. And if you have trouble fitting exercise into your busy schedule, as most adults do, I’ll give you some suggested fixes for that too.

[…]

If team sports aren’t your thing, the next-best solution is to schedule your exercise for the same time every day. Shelly can tell you where I will be on any given Tuesday at 12:40 P.M. I will be at the gym, just finishing my resistance training and heading for some stretching before cardio. Shelly (Scott’s wife) finds my regular exercise schedule inconvenient at times, but it doesn’t feel personal because it’s my system. I don’t decide to be unavailable for a romantic lunch with my wife; I simply have an exercise system. On some level it’s exactly the same, but it sure feels different. And that’s the beauty.

I exercise at lunchtime because mornings are better for my creative work and afternoons are unpredictable in terms of work and family time. Other successful exercisers get up long before the sun to do their workouts. Still others go straight from work to the gym. IN each case the key is to have a predictable system. The method that never succeeds is exercising whenever you have some spare time. If you’re like most adults, you haven’t seen spare time in years.

Motivation to Exercise

…the most important rule is that you should never exercise so much in one day that you won’t feel like being active the next day. To put that another way, the right amount of exercise today is whatever amount makes me look forward to being active tomorrow.

My old exercise system involved workout out so hard that I could barely move the next day. No pain, no gain, or so I thought. I figured the harder I pushed myself, the better. But pushing takes willpower, and if I use up my willpower at the gym, I can barely drive past the doughnut shop without being sucked in.

And soreness is like a penalty for exercising. Humans aren’t that different from dogs: If you give me a penalty every time I do something, eventually I’ll find a reason to stop doing it. And that reason will be something along the lines of “too busy.”

What you want is for your daily exercise to give you a reward every time. Light exercise does just that; it reduces your stress and boosts your energy. Over time, as you become fitter, you will naturally increase your exercise level, but by then your body will be equipped to handle it.

If you want to make a habit of something, the worst thing you can do is pick and choose which days of the week you do it and which ones you don’t. Exercise becomes a habit when you do it every day without fail. Taking rest days between exercise days breaks up the pattern that creates habits. It also makes it too easy to say today is one of your nonexercise days, and maybe tomorrow too.

Reward

I find it important to reward myself after exercise with a healthy snack that I enjoy, some downtime that involves reading interesting articles on my phone, or a nice cup of coffee. By putting those pleasures at the immediate end of my exercise, I develop a strong association between the exercise and the good feelings. It forms a habit.

[…]

So how do you exercise on those days when all you want to do is sit on the couch, eat ice cream, and feel bad? Can you jump-start your body when one part of your brain knows that exercise is a good idea but another part of your brain is using its veto power?

The trick I have found to work best takes advantage of certain cues in your life, or “keys” as hypnotists like to call them. For example, if you were bitten by a German Shepherd as a child, every time you see that type of dog you might get a little burst of fear. That’s a cue, or a key. Your life is full of these little cues and keys that can control your attitude. The trick is manipulating your own cues in a way that programs your mind.

Here’s what I do when I know I should exercise but I feel too tired and droopy to imagine doing a vigorous workout. Instead of doing what I feel I can’t do, I do what I can do — which is put on my exercise clothes and lace my sneakers. (You might call them tennis shoes or running shoes where you live.) Central to my method is that I grant myself 100 percent permission to not exercise, even after getting suited up for it. This is important because I know I won’t take the first step of donning my exercise clothes if I feel it will commit me to something that just seems impossible in my current frame of mind.

But once the sneakers and shorts are on, a funny thing happens, and it happens quickly. The physical feeling I get from my exercise clothes triggers the going-to-the-gym subroutine in my brain, and my energy kicks up a notch. It’s like Pavlov’s salivating dogs. The exercise clothes cause me to think positive things about exercising, and that boosts my energy.

Suddenly the idea of exercising seems possible, if not desirable. There’s one more step, and this too requires granting myself permission to back out at any time. I drive to my local gym, walk in, look around, and see how I feel. About 95 percent of the time this set of cues will put me in a sufficiently energetic mood to go ahead and exercise, and that in turn boosts my mood. But sometimes — and this happened perhaps five times this year, which is typical — I get to the gym, look around, turn, and leave. As I drive home I am not thinking I failed. In fact, I feel exactly the opposite. Failure is for people who have goals. If my goal is to exercise, leaving the gym without breaking a sweat looks and feels like failure. But what I have is not a goal; it is a system. And the system allows leakage. It is designed that way. As I drive home from the gym, a seemingly wasted trip, I never feel defeated. Instead, I feel I am using a system that I know works overall. I win if I exercise, and I win (albeit less) if I use my system and decide not to. Either way, my attitude improves. And at least I get out of the house and clear my head. It’s all good.”

How to get an ‘A’

An English professor just told me an interesting story about a class he teaches every fall semester.

Two weeks before the beginning of the semester he sends an e-mail to the class announcing that he has the reading list ready. If a student wants the reading list in advance, she can send the professor an e-mail to get it. The professor says that, on average, about a third of the students ask for it.

Here’s the kicker: the students who ask for the reading list in advance are usually the ones who end up with an ‘A’ in the class.

So how do you get an ‘A’ in a class? Be the kind of person who wants the reading list in advance.

Why I live close to work

I’ve never been particular about where I live; cities, suburbs, rural areas, it doesn’t matter. But over the years I’ve become intent about how close I live to work. It needs to be within walking or biking distance.

Yesterday a friend told me about a book she’s reading that details the rise of the automotive industry. Back in the 1950’s, auto companies would purchase train lines just to demolish them. Without the competition from public transportation, more and more people were forced to buy cars — a significantly more expensive option.

The tragic results can be seen in most cities today. Seth Godin recently wrote about it on his blog:

“How much does it cost you in tolls to drive across town? In most cities, the answer is nothing.

How much does it cost you to take a bus or subway across town? In most cities, if it’s available at all, quite a bit.

How did that come to be?

Mass transit is safer, cleaner and more efficient. It gives more people more access to work and amenities. A city with great mass transit works better for more people. Even those that don’t use it. It’s at least a useful public good as the streets are.

It’s technically easy to put tolls all over a city, wastes no time, and it’s economically efficient to make it incrementally free to hop on a bus and expensive to drive a car.

So why haven’t we? Why, in fact, are we going the other direction?

Because we like the status quo.

Because there’s familiar profit in the car-industrial complex. The extraction industries, the manufacturers, the dealers, etc. It’s an ongoing, widespread income stream. This generates cash to pay lobbyists and others to create a cultural dynamic in favor of the status quo.

It turns out that it’s pretty cheap to buy outcomes that benefit a minority. And business loves a bargain.”

There’s a better way that saves significant money over the course of a lifetime.

Start here: Curing your Clown-Like Car Habit

Then this: Car Strategies to Cut your Costs in Four (or more)

Doubling your odds of success

“When I speak to young people on the topic of success, as I often do, I tell them there’s a formula for it. You can manipulate your odds of success by how you choose to fill out the variables in the formula. The formula, roughly speaking, is that every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success.” ~ Scott Adams, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

Here are two skills you can start with right now:

Public speaking – stop using “um,” when you speak. “Um,” is an unconscious vocal projection rooted in the fear of sounding dumb. Ironically, “um” makes you sound dumb. Practice being comfortable with the silence instead. People will think you’re more intelligent and persuasive.

Writing – you’re already texting, Snapping, and writing captions all the time. You might as well do it with coherent sentence structure and proper grammar. Here’s a good place to start learning how to be a better writer.

Other skills that will double your odds of success:

Foreign language
Persuasion
Conversation
Overcoming shyness
Technology
Design
Accounting
Psychology