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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 March 25, 2020

    How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes effectively.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    1. Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    2. Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    3. Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    4. Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    5. Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    6. Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    7. Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    8. Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More Note-Taking Tips

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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