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Advice for students: N’allez pas trop vite

Advice for students: N’allez pas trop vite
Fast

My friend Stefan Hagemann has observed that so many students on a college campus seem to be elsewhere. As I walk around my university’s campus, I understand what he means: phone conversations, text-messaging, and iPod management can take precedence over attention to one’s surroundings. Even without the distractions of a gadget, the sidewalks and quads of a campus sometimes turn into nothing more than empty yardage to be traversed, as quickly as possible, on the way from one class to the next.

I like Marcel Proust’s words: N’allez pas trop vite. Don’t go too fast. It might not be practical to slow down when one has ten minutes to get from one end of a campus to the other. But a college student might benefit in numerous ways from slowing down and looking at and learning about her or his surroundings. Here are five suggestions:

1. Learn about a building, your residence hall perhaps, or a classroom building. How old is it? Who designed it? What style of architecture does it represent? For whom was it named? Did it serve another purpose in the past? What if anything once stood where it was built? A neighborhood? A cornfield? These kinds of questions might spark more general ones: What’s the oldest building on your campus? What buildings retain significant original elements? Noticing old light fixtures, old doorknobs, old signage (painted by hand on doors and walls), and old staircases (their steps worn from generations of shoes) can help you recognize the history that you’re walking through every day.

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2. Give some attention to the monuments and portraits that most students (and faculty) walk past. Commemorative plaques, presidential portraits, class gifts (sometimes in the form of a fountain or gate), memorials to alumni in military service: all these can help you to recognize that as a college student, you’re a member of a community that spans generations of endeavor. I remember studying, as an undergraduate, a stained-glass library window with the university seal, and realizing that students could have been looking at the same seal in the same window fifty years before.

3. Learn some legends. Stories, natural and supernatural, abound on college campuses. Learning some local lore (perhaps through clippings or microfilm in the library) might brighten (or darken!) your experience of campus life. If you’re interested in historical research, looking into such stories might lead you to material for a paper, a thesis, or an article in a campus publication.

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4. Browse through some old yearbooks. They’re likely to be available in the library, and they make for fascinating reading. Yearbooks offer an easy and sometimes poignant way to come close to the lives of earlier generations of college life. Those students who look so young, perhaps younger than you: how old are they now? What did professors (perhaps your professors) look like twenty years ago? Where did everyone go before Starbucks and Subway? A yearbook can help you begin to think about such things.

5. Journey into the unknown. Look into an unfamiliar part of the campus, an unfamiliar building, an unfamiliar part of the library. Academic buildings, especially older ones, are filled with nooks and crannies. You might find a great, unexpected place to study by exploring an unfamiliar part of your campus.

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And by that time, it might be time to get back to work.

Michael Leddy teaches college English and blogs at Orange Crate Art. He is reading Proust’s In Search of Lost Time for the second time.

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[Note: Proust’s remark N’allez pas trop vite was recorded by British diplomat Harold Nicolson, who met Proust at a party in 1919. Proust asked Nicolson to slow down and add detail to his account of the post-war peace conference. The story of this meeting may be found in Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life (1997).]

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Last Updated on August 16, 2018

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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The power of habit

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to make a reminder works for you

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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