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Don’t Be Eeyore

Don’t Be Eeyore
Wild Burro

    One of the barriers to a happy, effective life is the way that we create negativity in our daily affairs. We swap stories of adversity — the store clerk that was rude to you, the boss that never recognizes your contribution, the accident we saw on our way into work — as a way of passing time, of connecting with each other. We kick ourselves for procrastinating, avoid colleagues we don’t get along with, gossip about ex-friends who screwed us over, and so on.

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    Hopefully, we’ve learned to put negative thoughts out of our mind when we face a crisis, but what about the more pervasive, low-grade negativity we create and even embrace in the act of working our ways through our lives? A lot of people seem to sabotage themselves not so much by being unable to deal with crises but by creating them out of thin air. How can we avoid being an “Eeyore“, someone who sucks the energy out of a room and out of ourselves?

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    Here’s a few ideas:

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    • Stop saying that! How many time a day do you tell people how tired you are? How often do you say “I’m bored”? When you screw something up, do you tell people around you how stupid you are? Is “I can’t complain” the best response you can come up with to “how are you?”

      For some reason, we feel obligated to undermine ourselves as part of our normal conversation routines. Well, stop. If you’re really tired, bored, or stupid, you’re doing something wrong and need to have a long conversation with yourself — maybe you’re in a bad job, a bad relationship, a bad place in your life. But usually, we’re just passing time — do so with something positive instead. Tell people how excited you are about whatever you’re working on — excitement and energy are contagious and who knows? You might even catch some of it back.

    • Don’t avoid conflict. Don’t go looking for it when it’s not there, either, but when a real conflict exists between you and another person, address it and get it out of the way, a.s.a.p. We can often talk, in-depth, with friends or other uninvolved parties about the problems we have with how someone else works, talks, acts, or just is — but we come up shy about talking about our concerns directly with that person. Not only does this put an additional strain on the relationships, throwing the conflict into a downward spiral until it eventually is unrecoverable, but the work of avoiding conflict usually takes more energy than dealing with it would. So take charge and deal wit conflicts as they arise, before they become a drain on both of your energies, and on those around you.
    • Don’t “but”. Replace “but” in your vocabulary with “and”. “But” is our way out, our excuse — “I know I shouldn’t do this, but…”. “And” doesn’t give any leeway — it demands action, it orders fulfillment. Try to catch yourself on the verge of letting yourself of the hook with a “but”, and see what happens when you put yourself under the thumb of an “and” instead.
    • Stop worrying about the weather. Or anything else you really can’t do anything about. There is a wisdom in the Alcoholics Anonymous admonition to accept the things you can’t do anything about — use your energy to solve the problems that actually arise instead of fretting over the thousands of problems that might happen.
    • Acknowledge and move on. Despite our best efforts, bad stuff happens. Give your mistakes exactly as much attention as it takes to acknowledge and learn what needs to be learned, and then put it behind you. Don’t dwell — dwelling on the negative undermines our confidence and energy and can easily lead to worse mistakes down the line.
    • Don’t be chipper. This may seem contrary to my message here, but there’s a difference between not creating any more negativity in our lives than life itself throws at us and going through life oblivious to the real negativity that does, in fact, need to be dealt with. Life has a way of throwing us curves, and when they come we need all our resources and abilities to deal with them. Don’t avoid dealing with the stuff that needs to be dealt with in a vain attempt to insulate yourself from the negative.

    Mark Twain said, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” We often create and endure more troubles than actually confront us, just through the act of envisioning and fretting over negative scenarios in our heads. It pays, of course, to be prepared, but there’s a point of diminishing returns a point where we are investing more of ourselves into fighting off the troubles that don’t afflict us than we would dealing with the troubles that actually come to pass. We spin these scenarios out of our fears and anxieties about our own shortcomings, not out of a clear-eyed assessment of the world around us. And we feed those fears and anxieties with the thousand little negativities we generate in the course of our daily lives. So try starving the little buggers out, and save the worry for when things really are going wrong.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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