Archive for the ‘what helps me learn’ Category

“Knock, Knock…”
“Who’s there?”
“Interrupting cow.”
“Interrupting c…”

Today,  I finally finished analyzing the data for my teacher training BA thesis. The data was a videotape (an actual, old-school videotape – I’m not kidding!) of a 75-minute process drama session I taught a few weeks ago. Despite the fact that I wasn’t analyzing my own behavior as such, I did have to watch myself teach that specific process four or five times.

Talk about reflecting on your behavior. Eugh.


One of the painful, painful teacher mannerisms I seem to have is that I keep talking long after I was supposed to shut up. Case in point: I’ve given instructions for a small group discussion in roles, and the students have started talking. And then I think of something important about the instruction and shout it out, thereby interrupting everyone’s conversation and/or their chain of thought.

If they managed to start working without that tidbit of encouragement, they would have made it to the end without it, too. Or they would’ve asked.

And that’s another mannerism – answering every single question. Even after the most detailed and thorough set of instructions,  when groups start working, someone asks “so what was it we were supposed to do?” and the group negotiates the rules all over again.

I know this.

However, while teaching the drama process, I seemed to have completely forgotten that there is such a mechanism as peer negotiation. As a result, I watched myself give needless advice over and over again. Another flavor of talking when you’re not supposed to. Augh.

There were more. Oh, the cornucopia of painful mannerisms I noticed in my behavior while watching the video. The fidgeting, the stuttering, the delightful habit of starting each sentence with “umm…”, and all others. Ouch. Ouch.

Reflections, again

It’s often highly painful to watch or listen to yourself on tape. The elegant, sophisticated I transforms into an irrational, unpredictable That. Small quirks turn into monster mannerisms when you see them through someone else’s eyes for the first time.

This is also why it’s so useful to watch or listen to recordings of your speech or other behavior. So much of it is unconscious and automatic that it’s nearly impossible to understand just how extensive some of the mannerisms are.

On the other hand, it’s very reassuring to see yourself acting calm, cool and collected in a situation where you know you were on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

And then there’s the learning part.

By making an experience conscious by reflection, and then finding common denominators between different situations by analysis, you can turn any experience into a learning experience. (I apologize for using that phrase, but it’s really the only expression that truly grasps the meaning.)

Speaking of learning experiences:

A few years back, there was a guy on Late Night with Conan O’Brien who had sold a large percentage of his skin as ad space. In other words, he had taken ads as tattoos on his body for money. It turned out in the conversation that he’d actually received, in total, a fraction of the price that advertisers pay for air time on a Late Night commercial break.

When Conan O’Brien asked him if he regretted doing it, he answered, “No, I mean, it’s been a learning experience for me, definitely.”

And that’s when I felt sorry for the guy. Because honestly, what situation is he learning for? The distant future when he gets a second skin to sell to advertisers? To each his own and all that, but I have to wonder – was he really happy with his decision, or did he just feel he had to say so in front of the camera?

I’m sure he learned something, eventually. It would’ve been interesting to hear what, exactly, had he learned about it, and how he was going to apply his new knowledge in the future.

As far as my own annoying, interrupting cow -erisms, my goal for the rest of the spring is to practice silent listening and concise instructions. Fortunately, I still have some skin left to change my behavior.

Thank you for stopping by again. If you come up with a situation the ad-tattoo guy could be learning for, or if something else struck your insighting-bone, feel free to comment.

Until next time – keep catching those insightings!



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Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t waste energy trying to cover up failure. Learn from your failures and go on to the next challenge. It’s OK to fail. If you’re not failing, you’re not growing.
H. Stanley Judd

When I grow up, I’m going to be a teacher.

By definition, a teacher is someone who helps others do things they are not able to do on their own yet. Or, more specifically, helps others so they could eventually do these things on their own. The entire purpose of a teacher is to make herself redundant. What a career!

Since teachers deal with development, learning, and growth, the question of challenge is often central. In order to learn something, we must first face and recognize a challenge, then find ways to overcome that challenge, and then practice those ways so they become automatic.

The easy way out?

At the uni, there are different kinds of lecturers and professors. Depending on the tutorial group you’re in, you might have to do 15 hours of work or 75 hours of work for the same exact amount of credit.

Fair? Not really, no.

First of all, it’s not fair to the people who do the 75 hour work load for the credits, while the others get their degree with a lot less work.

However, I think the ones doing the 15 hour work load are getting unfair treatment as well. By letting the students get away with a minimal work load, the professor is not giving them enough of a challenge. As a result, they learn far less than the other group.

When the 15-hour students then graduate and get out into the real world, chances are they know substantially less than the 75-our students. As a result, they’ll have to put in more effort to learn the same information while working. For a job as gruelling as the teaching profession, it’s a huge effort to keep the lessons rolling while you try to internalize the more conceptual stuff you missed out on during your studies.

Of course there are those who celebrate the chance to sweep in easy credits and spend their time with other things. Personally, though, I’m grateful I’m in a group where the professor really makes us work for our credits.

By making us read the necessary material and report it in the form of practical tasks, she prompts us to try ways of overcoming this specific challenge before we submit anything to actual students. In the safety of the classroom, we get to give each other feedback and pay attention to the things that need tweaking. That way, we’re a lot closer to having these processes be automatic and effortless.

The Zone of Proximal Development

One of the big concepts in our current Finnish teacher training is the sociocultural theory of learning. From this perspective, learning is a social task that happens both within and between individuals.

For me, the most interesting concept of the entire sociocultural context is Lev Vygotsky’s idea of the Zone of Proximal Development.

The basic idea is that whatever you can do with help today, you can do on your own in the future.

The Zone of Proximal Development is activated in social interaction, which is a logical explanation to the old adage “Two heads are better than one.”

The challenge can’t be too overwhelming, or the learner cannot perform the task even with the help of a teacher or a peer. There has to be some challenge, though, for the aspect of development to activate.

For me, the social support zone extends to any other type of learning as well, not just to language learning. It’s easier to venture towards the outskirts of your comfort zone if you have support. You might need someone who already feels comfortable on your Terrifying Zone, ready to support you while you take your first tentative steps.

If you’re venturing on to previously uncharted terrain, that’s also way more secure when there’s someone there to hold your hand –even if they don’t know where you two are going, either.

And then there’s failure.

Which you will undoubtedly face whenever you try something you’re not already good at.

Edison is quoted as having said, “I haven’t failed, I’ve found 10,000 ways that don’t work”.  The bigger the challenge, the more ways you probably need to try before finding the one that solves your problem.

Again, thanks for stopping by. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments, and until we meet again – keep catching those insightings!



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Feedback is the breakfast of champions.
Ken Blanchard quotes

I found a late Christmas present for myself: a book on The Alexander Technique by Missy Vineyard. Immersed in it all weekend long, I’ve several times felt the need to put down the book and go stand in front of a mirror. Getting the full hang of the Technique without a teacher is naturally very difficult, but seeing as Alexander himself managed to get somewhere with the help of a mirror, so can I.

One of the most powerful realizations that has come to me while reading the book is the notion that my body sometimes thinks wrong is right and right is wrong. Case in point: I’m standing in front of the mirror, trying to correct my posture, and I constantly feel like I’ll tip over on my face, even though I can see I’m standing up straight.

Or I notice I lift my shoulders as I inhale, even though I know my lungs don’t need to expand into the space occupied by my shoulder muscles.

This is difficult, of course, since I’d have to have a set of full-length mirrors to see myself from every angle without straining my neck and changing my posture. This is why it’s useful to have a real Alexander Technique teacher to give you feedback on the process.

Human mirrors

One of the courses I’m taking involves evaluating and grading students’ performance. We’ve had interesting discussions about all the aspects that influence the grade a student gets – from their performance to the features of the exam to the alertness of the teacher grading the exam to the gender of the student to the overall grading culture of the school.

All the external things aside, the grade should ideally function as a device of feedback, both to the student and the teacher. If the student gets a C in English, it says something about the way he or she has been studying – the time and effort as well as studying skills – not just the natural aptitude he or she has for the topic. If the entire class gets a D after a certain course, it says something about the teaching, too.

Personal and interpersonal factors distort the mirrors. A teacher who thinks girls are hopeless at physics might give female students a break and grade their exam more leniently than the male students’ exams. This could have two outcomes.

One, the female student feels hopeful and inspired and takes a sudden interest in physics. Two, the female student falsely reasons that there is nothing wrong with the way she studies physics, and changes nothing.

When I was in high school, the second course of physics I took was course number five, wave physics. I loved it. I totally got what the teacher was saying, I understood the concepts and how they linked, I learned how to tune a guitar based on what I learned about sound wave interference. I totally rocked.

Then I took the exam, and got an F.

What I had failed to realize was that you can’t study physics the same way you study history or psychology. You need to remember formulae and be able to calculate the numbers that prove your point. If the teacher had given me a D for trying, I probably would never had studied extended physics all through high school.

Incidentally, I did retake the course a year later and got an A-. By then, I had learned the necessary skills to study physics in high school. I needed the feedback so I could develop myself.

Are you here to educate?

In purely behavioristic terms*, we teach other people how to treat us. If we never object when our friends blow off a date at the last minute, they will learn that we don’t mind them doing so. Response to the stimulus, or feedback, is very important in interpersonal relationships as well.

*There are naturally plenty of other mechanisms to learning as well, and I’m certainly not advocating it’s a purely stimulus-and-response process. 🙂

There is a fine line between giving actual honest feedback and teaching someone a lesson, though.

Say a friend calls me thirty minutes before we were supposed to meet for coffee, and tells me she has made other plans. Again. I feel hurt, neglected and unappreciated.

If I want to give feedback, I’ll tell her I’m feeling hurt, neglected and unappreciated. Or that I don’t appreciate her behavior and I’d like her to change it, please.

If I want to teach her a lesson, I’ll act as if nothing is wrong, take a raincheck on our coffee, and then call her to cancel thirty minutes before we’re supposed to meet. By doing so, I’m hoping to make her notice how bad it feels when someone blows you off.

Except that they might already have other plans again. Or they might be all right with sudden schedule changes and happily agree to cancel the date. Or they deduce that since I’m doing this too, it’s perfectly all right to keep on doing it. In which case my lesson is a complete waste of time and effort, and I’m worse off than when I started.

Trying to force empathy is never a good strategy. Being open and honest about the way you feel and being consistent about the way you react to someone’s behavior are more likely to get you somewhere. If they aren’t here to be taught, don’t try to force realizations on them.

If I told my friend I couldn’t accept her behavior and she ignored me, I could just tell her I didn’t want to set any schedules to meet up with her. That consequence might spark a real learning experience that would result in a changed behavior.

Again, thank you for stopping by, and until we meet again – keep catching your insightings!



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It’s like liquid math. Only you don’t have to understand it to have it work for you.
Havi Brooks

Shiva Nata is a mind-bogglingly difficult system of forms that is based on eight basic arm positions and all the possible combinations and configurations of those positions.

When you’re doing it wrong, you’re doing it right.

When you’re doing it right, it’s time to up the stakes.

And there’s no way you’ll ever get to a level where you’re done.

For some time now, I’ve been hooked on it, both for the physical aspects and the mental ones. Activating your entire body and rewiring your brain? Brilliant.

How I started?

First, there was Havi’s blog.  Or that’s what I found first. Eventually I found my way to the Shiva Nata Starter Kit page, and read it at least five times during the course of a week before I was finally brave enough to invest in it. Sure, it was a bit of a splurge on a student budget, but I figured I’d get it for myself for an early birthday present.

Background: I’m not what you’d call an athlete. I used to do folk dance for ten years, and I guess that taught me to isolate arm and leg movements, but other than that, I was far from graceful. In fact, just the previous year, I’d given myself a concussion as I hit my head on a wall.

In other words, the prospect of gaining more grace and coordination was very welcome. I was also as flexible as concrete, and I have a genetically wonky back that requires daily attention and exercise. Which I was skipping. And reaping the *ouch* benefits.

Since the DVD took a few days to ship, I started out with the printable arm position sheet and level 1 sequences.

There I was, standing in our kitchen, arms sticking out in weird positions that I never knew my shoulders could bend into, trying to remember the next movement, feeling my brain boiling. Brilliant.

The thing that stuck with me from the starter kit was the permission to only do five minutes. Especially when I did it without the DVD, five minutes of trying to remember how the sequence went was plenty.

With the DVD, I could outsource the remembering process and was able to do ten or fifteen minutes before I felt my brain and arms were about to fry.

Meditation and journaling

Doing Shiva Nata also introduced me to meditation – something I’d been too jittery to do before. I mean, sitting still for five minutes and breathing and not thinking about anything? Yeah, right.

The recommendation was that after doing a practice of Shiva Nata, it’s wise to take a few moments to sit still and let everything absorb and connect.

For me, it’s also something I need to even out my focus so I’m able to communicate with others without snapping. If someone (read: my darling fiancé) interrupts me during my Shiva Nata sequence and asks me a question, I’m literally so focused on the practice that I can’t answer him in polysyllabic words.

In addition to the sitting-still-and-absorbing (or what the more enlightened ones call meditation), I’ve started journaling after the practice as well. Whatever comes up, I write down. It helps me catch the ideas and insightings whirring in my head and put them into a form I can process further.

Where am I now?

I won’t even go into the spectacular pattern-busting powers of Shiva Nata. You can read all about that from the spectacular Havi Brooks herself. Spectacular.

As far as patterns go, though, I have managed to create myself a morning practice of Shiva Nata, yoga, meditation and journaling. So much so that I feel I can’t really function before I get a few starting positions done. Kind of like a morning cup of coffee for some people.

Whenever I’m stuck with a brain project – blogging, studies, writing – I take a few minutes to do a few starting positions from level 1 or 2 followed by a few minutes of sitting down. More often than not, I get a *ding* insighting about the project when I get back to work.

So far, I haven’t had a life-changing, mind-blowing, *BOOM* epiphany or insighting during my practice. Instead, I have these little *ding* *ding* insightings more or less every day. Some I blog about. Some I talk about with my friends. Some I only journal about.

I do get scaredy-pants about the practice as well. Skipping days or doing sequences that are not holy-baloney difficult.

The cool thing is I can often catch myself mid-process. I can see the motives for skipping or procrastinating – in this and in other things – and I can try to be all accepting about it.

And my back sings the praise of Shiva Nata. All the standing-on-one-leg-waving-arms-around stuff really targets your core muscles, y’know? The yoga helps too, of course. I mean, I’ve actually learned to like yoga. Imagine that. 🙂

I don’t think I’d ever started blogging, either, if it wasn’t for Shiva Nata. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to put myself out there, or the security that I can come up with things to write about several times a week.

Incidentally, before I started crafting today’s post, I did a few starting positions of level 3 with square feet, and got royally lost. Halfway through one cycle I realized I was doing something terribly wrong. My reaction? “Yess.” For a recovering perfectionist, this is a big deal.

I’ll try and write about my Shiva Nata practice (that word still sounds so official) as I progress.

In the meantime, if you want to read more, I recommend visiting Havi and James, who are both totally awesome. And cool enough to call themselves Shivanauts* – I’m still wrestling the we’re-not-worthy syndrome with that. Say hi from me if you decide to pop over for a visit. 🙂

*a term that makes me think of a four-arm Shiva statue with a space helmet. Funnily enough, when I started doing Shiva Nata, my fiancé called it “the astro dance” without ever having heard the term. I might be the only person in the world who finds that funny.

And until we meet again – keep catching your own, possibly Shiva Nata -inspired, insightings!



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reflection (Merriam-Webster online)
– an instance of reflecting; the return of light or sound waves from a surface
– the production of an image by or as if by a mirror
– something produced by reflecting; an image given back by a reflecting surface
– a thought, idea, or opinion formed or a remark made as a result of meditation
– consideration of some subject matter, idea, or purpose

One of the big words in Finnish teacher training today is the reflective process. Whatever you do, whoever you meet, wherever you go, it’s essential to reflect upon the experience to develop yourself as a teacher.

For the first few years of my studies, I saw the reflective process as a nuisance, especially since it often involved writing a reflective journal about this, that and the other. More often than not “reflection” translated freely into “producing the kind of jargon the lecturer probably wants to read”.

For the most part, though, the problem with the reflection process was not the thinking back and writing itself – it was the lack of a proper mirror. Not having good questions to reflect my experience on was like trying to put on makeup and using a spoon as a mirror. Sure, you’ll get something down, but you know you’re not seeing the whole picture

Experiential learning

Reflecting on experience is a central part of the experiential learning process, which is the main way of learning through drama activities. It’s no surprise, then, that the whole experience-reflection-conceptualization-modified experience circle has become clearer during the fifteen months I’ve now been studying drama education.

The important thing in the reflection stage, however, is to have the right kind of mirror. With questions that support the focus of learning, the teacher can guide the participants into fabulous insightings about the ongoing drama process and its themes. With misguided questions, though, the teacher can undermine the ongoing drama process or leave the participants wondering about the purpose of the activity.

As a drama-teacher-in-training, it sometimes feels awkward to ask direct questions about the exercise we just did. Well, everyone knows what we just did, right? It’s still important to ask the participants to verbalise or otherwise transform what they experienced – draw, dance, sing, mime – to gain new points of view into the issue. Furthermore, if there are twenty people participating, there are twenty different experiences, which can then enrich each other if discussed out loud.

After the reflection stage, experiential learning entails some kind of an analysis or conceptualization stage. This is where the experience meets my mental theory of the realm of that experience – learning, teaching, India, group dynamics, photosynthesis, stress tolerance, communication, whatever.

If I have experienced something new and unusual, I will have to change my theory to accommodate the new information. Based on the modified theory, I then go on to new experiences in the same realm, hopefully a bit better prepared to meet the challenges.

The mirror problem

The reflection stage is very important in the entire process, because it determines the conscious information we gather of our experience. This is why the questions – the mirror that reflects the whole picture – are so central. With the wrong questions, we might interpret the whole situation in a twisted light.

This is especially true in an educational setting, because the teacher more or less guides the participants’ conclusions with the questions she sets.

There is also a distiction between introspective questions and theme-oriented questions. Regardless of the process at hand, introspective questions are often useful as they chart the participants’ experiences of themselves during the activity. Theme-oriented questions, then, are the ones where a teacher must really pay attention.

Last weekend I conducted my very first process drama on the themes of belonging in a group. With a different set of reflective questions, though, the same basic process could easily have focused around how detrimental cult religions are, or around communication patterns in friendly or hostile contexts. Quite different learning processes might have taken place.

Everyday experiential learning?

Anyone who has ever done a bit of self-work recognises the basic structure of experiential learning.

Huh, I seem to have devoured half a bag of chips. Why did I do that? Because I was tired and hungry. Why was I tired and hungry? Because I skipped lunch. Why did I skip lunch? Because… and so on, until we get to the a-HA! moment.

It seems I get cranky and lethargic if I don’t eat, which makes me skip all kinds of duties, including lunch and deadlines. At this stage, the hypothetical example person (ok, you guessed, it’s me) would be well advised to somehow accommodate this piece of information into her theoretical framework of, say, health, well-being, and productivity.

The most useful tool in self-work are, of course, introspective questions. Figuring out what I think of something or why I choose to act like I do is highly useful, because that helps me address the stuff I’m self-working on in a deeper level. Root Cause Analysis – asking ‘why’ five times – could be a useful tool as far as introspection goes.

Theme-oriented experiental self learning is of course possible as well. In that case, reflecting on the pros and cons or the details of successes and failures of your experiences might do the trick. I think I’d get someone more knowledgeable to help me out at first, though. It takes a bit of experience to be able to ask useful questions about any skill.

Note to self: use experiential learning skills to regain the basics of playing guitar.

As always, feel free to comment and reflect upon this and everything else – and until we meet again, keep catching your own insightings!



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The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine.
Mike Murdock

After a week of complete and utter relaxation and no obligations whatsoever, you’d suspect I’d be jumping at the chance to get going with all the interesting stuff I have to finish for my January deadlines. Fun, right?

Not so much.

Instead, I’m having real difficulty with dragging myself out of the sugar coma induced by all those boxes of chocolate we got for Christmas. And the luxury of staying up late and sleeping till noon.

Nothing like a change of scenery to break a routine

Not surprisingly, this is all due to the fact that during this past week, most of my daily routines got obliterated. Not that I had many to begin with, but I was quite happy I’d established a morning Shiva Nata-yoga-meditation practice and an evening journaling practice. Not to mention the mind-your-eating-rhythm practice and the other normal-life sustaining habits.  Funny how it only takes a week to flush all that down the drain.

One reason for this is that I spent a few days at my parents’ house, so I didn’t have the same prompts for my routines as I would have had at home. After I came back home, though, I didn’t have that excuse anymore.

Instead of routines, then, what have I been up to? Glad you asked. I spent the past week in Project Wonderland. You know, forgetting everything else because This Thing Here is so interesting and fascinating. I have, for example, four knitting and crocheting projects that I worked on this past week, out of which I finished one and started two. Other projects included The Boxing Day Visits, playing board games with the family for 3 hours, and watching Batman Begins DVD-extras until 2 a.m.

To me, one of the appeals of the holidays is the fact that holidays break the normal routine and allows people to spend time on these kinds of projects. I’m wondering, though, if there’s a way to incorporate the fun projects into my daily routine somehow, or if that spoils the magic. Then again, if my routine includes fun things, it might well improve my everyday life?

Project vs. Routine: Journaling

Take journaling. I used to approach that with a project mindset, grabbing my journal whenever something emotional or interesting happened. I’d spend hours writing, first detailing the he-said-she-said background story before I got to reflecting on what I thought and how I felt about the whole mess. The good thing was that I really got to see the big picture when writing. The downside was that I’d get guilty if I hadn’t written in a long time. I also had to wait for a “sufficiently big” topic to write about.

This fall, I started journaling every evening. My goal was to write at least one sentence every evening before I went to bed. For the entire fall, I managed to keep up the rhythm, and if I forgot to write one evening, I’d take it back the next. In hindsight, it’s a good thing I kept writing, since I probably wouldn’t remember much of the past fall otherwise.

Learning, Projects and Routines

I started to think about this whole project and routine distinction with respect to learning, since I’ve always been a project learner as well. The more I immerse myself in something new, the better I get the hang of it. Spending three weeks in Poland will definitely get you a better grasp of Polish than spending the same number of hours studying Polish.

Routines come up in the maintenance stage, though. When you come back from the three-week trip to Poland, it’s worthwhile to create some kind of a routine around using Polish. If you don’t, the skill will deteriorate fast.

A project start will also give you better momentum with maintaining the routine for the three-four weeks it takes for a habit to form. Starting out with a routine might get you started, too, but chances are you need more external motivation when trying to maintain a routine as a beginner. It often takes a while before you actually start to enjoy an activity in itself – exercise, studying a foreign language, writing…

The word “routine” might have nasty connotations to some people. What I mean by “routine” is “something that you do regularly and that feels like a natural part of your day”. Nothing about mindless, robotic, passive or involuntary. In a way, routine (to me) is a placeholder in your day – you can fill it with any number of items from the broader topic.

For instance, when I had my journaling routine (and I hope to revive it soon), I might describe my day on Monday, reflect on my feelings on Tuesday, anticipate tomorrow on Wednesday, sketch a blog post based on a true event on Thursday, and so on. I could write for three minutes or for thirty. The key was to get going with the activity, nevermind the actual tasks I performed.

Hoping this will inspire all of us (read: me) to get going on a wonderful set of routines for the following year!

Thanks for stopping by, see you around – keep catching those insightings!



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This is a series of posts about motivation, based on Richard Ryan and Edward Deci’s Self Determination Theory. In each post, I will talk about one of the three key needs that are linked with intrinsic motivation: Competence, Autonomy, and Relatedness.

It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Situation: I’m in the middle of battling a severe case of demotivation, and I’ve summoned the Three Motivation Musketeers – Competence, Autonomy, Relatedness – to my rescue. In the previous posts, Competence and Autonomy have been doing a good job with battling the Monstrous Demotivation Monster, and Relatedness is about to step in to finish the task once and for all.

For some reason I get a real kick out of reading people’s Twitter updates and Facebook status reports. Especially if I’m surfing Twitter and Facebook to avoid doing that-thing-I-should-really-be-working-on. Or in the procrastination vocabulary, if I’m “just about to get started” on that. It’s a lot easier to take on my own demotivating task if I know there’s someone else out there battling theirs at the same time.

And oh, the joy of being able to update or report an achievement! Even if no-one actually comments, I know someone somewhere knows what I’ve accomplished! Yay me!

To me, the power of Relatedness is three-fold. First, there’s the support and acknowledgement that comes from belonging to a like-minded group. Second, there’s the all-important accountability. And third, there’s the more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts idea of pooling your brain power.

1. Belonging

Everyone has an experience of a class, a course or a study group that just clicked. The atmosphere was positive and supportive, and everyone seemed eager to pitch in and do their part. The teacher knew the topic, and was approachable and fair.

Did you feel motivated about the topic of the course or class? Well, duh.

A supportive, trusting environment enhances motivation, because it decreases the amount of energy we spend on being afraid. Whenever I enter a new group of people, be it for school, work or some extracurricular activity, I spend the first few sessions being afraid of making a complete fool of myself.

That eats up a whole bunch of energy I could be spending on other mental processes, like, say, learning.

The teacher (or group leader) plays an important part in this equation, since it’s their responsibility to create a supportive atmosphere in the group. Noticing each student, receiving their remarks with respect, and encouraging positive communication are strategies a teacher can use to create that atmosphere.

Participants are responsible for the group dynamics as well – depending on their age, of course. If a sandbox fight breaks out between five-year-olds, I’d look to the caregivers watching over the situation.

Poor workplace dynamics, though, can’t be blamed solely on the boss, although management does have a big role in creating the group culture of the company. If ten adults notice a problem and none of them does anything about it, there are ten people responsible for letting the problem exist.

So how does all this translate to my battle with the Magnificent Demotivation Monster?

Relatedness is already going through my list of friends, trying to figure out who to call. No matter what the task, I’ve already got a context-independent circle of friends who might well take the time to listen to me rant. If one of them can actually help me out with the task, all the better.

What I mostly need from Relatedness now, though, is the knowledge that I’m not alone. There is someone out there who knows what I’m battling with and cares.

2. Accountability

This is a biggie for anyone who has ever tried to change a habit. Tell one person, or no-one, about your attempt to quit smoking, and you might or might not succeed. Tell fifty people that you’re going to quit smoking, and it’ll be a lot harder for you not to make it.

This, again, boils down to the “not wanting to make a fool of myself” emotion. I don’t want to seem like a person who doesn’t live up to her promises. If I’ve told ten people I’m quitting, I’ll rather shudder through a meeting with them than sneak out for a cigarette. The more people I tell, the less people there are that don’t know, and the more I have to keep to my word, if only to protect my reputation.

It’s also about not wanting to let people down.

Did you ever have a teacher whose lesson you never wanted to miss and whose exams you always wanted to ace, so as to not disappoint the teacher?

In truth, the teacher’s emotions probably didn’t revolve around your success in that particular subject. Sorry to burst the bubble. The main thing is, though, that you thought they did. And that thought kept you working on the project more than on any of the other projects combined.

And by you, again, I mean me. In high school, I did extended physics mostly for this reason. Which is awesome, since I would otherwise never have taken physics seriously. 🙂

So to get Relatedness in your corner on this one, can you come up with someone you really love and respect, and then tell them you’ll be finishing this project by such and such date? Maybe promising them a weekly update on how you’re doing and what kinds of problems are coming up? And then buying them a cup of coffee and lending your ear to whatever it is they want to talk about?

3. Brain power

Sometimes I’m struggling with a task, a translation text, an essay or a project and can’t seem to make a dent in it. The whole thing is full of knots that are tied up into other knots and the whole thing is icky and nasty. I then complain about it to someone, who asks me two questions and points out a loophole I’d missed or a fact I’d forgotten. *ding!* I’m back on track in no time at all.

You can only do so much on your own. When you’re working with someone else, there’s a lot more brain capacity available and more pairs of eyes to pay attention to detail.

You know how you sometimes watch a game show where the contestants have already made it to the second or third stage of the competition, and then start making stupid mistakes? And you’re sitting on the couch going “I can’t believe that idiot is about to lose zillions of dollars by not knowing that stuff!!“? And nearly dialing the “sign up for our game show here” number because you’d certainly win the zillion dollars?

Chances are they know that stuff. It’s in there somewhere, and when they’re watching the show later they know they knew it. At the time, they were just using a lot of their brain power on thoughts like “I hope I don’t screw up” and “I wonder if Mom is watching” and “Oh man, did I just swear on TV?” and “Geesh, that game show host looks like a leprechaun“.

The same phenomenon happens in improvisation games all the time. The person whose turn it is blanks out completely, while the others have a thousand ideas for that particular association. When everyone gets to chip in and blurt out an idea, the story starts to evolve fast and no-one has sole responsibility for the result.

When a group of people pool their brain power on a task, it’s likely that they’ll not only get it done faster, it’ll be better than any of them would have managed on their own. Embracing the collective responsibility for a task will also increase the chances of better group cohesion and mutual accountability. Relatedness has just scored a hat trick on this one and is taking his bows as we speak.

One for all and all for one

Like the original Three Musketeers (or my favorite spin-off, Musket Hounds), these three Motivation Musketeers are awesome on their own. They totally rock at what they’re good at, but they do have some weaknesses. Their best performance, then, comes when you get all three together in your corner.

It would be arrogant to say this is all you’ll ever need to know about motivation. This goes a long way, though, and especially if you have a basic inventory of actions from each of the three Musketeers, you can really develop your self-motivation skills.

Again, if there’s anything that popped up for you while reading this series, I’d love to hear your comments. Until we meet again – keep catching your own insightings!



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