Ask the grumpies: getting out of unproductive funks

First Gen American asks:

How do you suck yourself out of an unproductive funk. Do you find that allowing yourself to wallow in it for awhile is actually is more helpful than beating yourself up about being unproductive.

Yes, with the caveat that beating oneself up about being unproductive can sometimes be an important component of wallowing in it.  To get the full wallow a little self-hatred is necessary.

To get out:  Just Do IT.  Sometimes I will ask #2 to remind me about vans by rivers and request a kick in the posterior.

#2 says:  I think the how getting-out part for me has involved meeting people at coffee shops.  I haven’t done much of that recently.  Hard deadlines also make me ridiculously productive.   Unfortunately last-minute deadline blitz is unsustainable, if for no other reason than RSI.

We here at grumpy rumblings love to cross things off lovely lovely lists.  Sometimes even if I can’t be productive, I can write a list about what it would take to be productive.  Then day two I can cross one of the things off the list.  Breaking up tasks into smaller tasks is great for goal motivation.  Doing them from smallest to largest is also good for motivation, though one of us works best when she has an important goal that she doesn’t want to do hanging over her head– it makes all the other tasks on the to-do list seem so much more worthy of doing by comparison.

I guess it depends on WHY the funk.  I have anxiety which I manage with meds and awareness of it.

It’s also important to ATTEMPT to realize that it’s really not so bad once I get going.  Starting is hard! But starting is often the hardest part. Like Boice says, tell yourself to do it for 30 min– if that’s too long, then 10 min, or even 5 min. You can do almost anything for 5 min, and once you’re started it usually isn’t so bad.

What do you do, Grumpy World?

Ponderings on mindsets and intelligence

One of the things that the mindset literature is pretty clear on is that you’re not supposed to praise kids for innate characteristics, but for effort.  They have studies where they measure effort after a kid has been told, “You’re so smart” vs. “I can really see the effort you put in” or something like that.  Outcomes in the next experiment decline for the former but not for the latter.  Later studies suggest cheating goes up when innate intelligence is praised.

And so I’ve been keeping these ideas in mind when raising my kids.  With our first child we even went so far as to (frequently) request daycare and school teachers not to praise hir intelligence, but instead hir work ethic and interest.

And I thought that was the right thing to do until recently.  For the past couple of years, I’ve had an extremely successful student, a young woman, for two classes who has low confidence.  She’s easily one of the best students our program has had and lots of professors agree.  But she has low confidence.  She wanted to go to graduate school.  It took a lot of pushing to get her to apply to top programs that she should have gotten into based on her testscores, perfect GPA, and research experience.

She didn’t get in to any of them.  I’m guessing her essay wasn’t any good (she was too embarrassed to show it to professors before sending!) and most likely they wanted more work experience.  Plus she was on the low end for pure math courses– a few more probably would have helped.  I also wonder if she made the right choices of letter writers.  Maybe her research supervisor wasn’t as effusive about her as the professors in my department are.

Contrast that with one of her friends who is similarly situated except has an extremely high self-confidence (even if she has far less intellectual curiosity).  This friend didn’t apply to graduate school but did get into one of the most prestigious RA positions you can get as a feeder to top graduate schools.

I met the parents of both women at graduation and got an insight into the difference in confidence.  The parents of the second girl thanked me for being a great professor and for giving their daughter opportunities and said they were really excited about her job for next year.  They had normal proud parent reactions as we went back and forth praising their daughter (and me) and discussing her future.

The second set of parents (divorced, so I got this conversation twice) was also effusive in their praise for me, but not so much in their praise for their own daughter.  “She works hard,” “she’s always worked hard,” was a constant refrain from parents, step-parents, and siblings.  But there was something about the way they said it, as if they were excusing the praise rather than accepting it.  This was fixed in my mind when her mom’s response to my praise of her daughter was, “that’s sweet of you to say.”  “No, no it wasn’t,” I said. “I’m from the midwest.  We don’t just say things unless they’re true.”

Maybe I shouldn’t be so worried about the world telling my kids that they’re smart.  They are smart.  That’s just a fact.  (And, to be honest, I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable about being told I’m smart… I mean, yes, I’m smart, but so what.  Praise my accomplishments and things I’ve done, not my innate nature.)

Growing up my family took being smart for a given.  Of course I was smart.  I’m smart but so what.  Being smart isn’t enough (wasn’t enough), it’s what I do with it.  I wasn’t allowed to let my brain atrophy.  I had to keep exercising it.  My mom always told me I needed to keep pushing myself so that I could grow more dendrites.  Working hard would make me smarter.

Early on I really did believe that I just worked harder and had more opportunities than the other kids.  And that’s definitely true– my parents sacrificed a lot to give us opportunities and focused on our academic growth.  My mom picked up a lot of good child rearing techniques while working for Head Start back in the 70s.

But in the past few years since having children, I’ve come to suspect that there’s actually a bit of nature in the equation as well.   Maybe it’s not just in utero health and stimulation as an infant and so on (though these things are obviously important).  I sometimes wonder if gifted kids were just born with a bit more curiosity than non-gifted– and it’s the energy and curiosity that causes us to explore and grow dendrites… or maybe the lower sleep need is what allows more connections to be built, who knows.  Other kids can get as smart, but it’s more of an uphill climb.

Nature cannot be everything.  At university, I see my students get smarter, quicker, and more curious over the 2-4 years that I know them.  That blossoming is amazing.  Taking kids with cruddy high school experiences and fewer family advantages and teaching them to think and aspire and question is one of the most rewarding things that I do.  People really can get smarter.

I don’t want my DCs to feel limited.  I don’t want them to think they’re not capable of great things.  Maybe it is ok to say, Yes of course you’re smart, but what matters is what you do with it.  What matters is what you love, how hard you work, what interests you, what you care about, how much you focus, how many times you try.  And luck, of course, but we can control that about as much as we can our intelligence, which is to say, we can help create our own luck with measured risks just as we can increase our intelligence by focused study*.

I don’t think those short-term lab experiments by Carol Dweck et al. exclude this idea, the idea that you can combine praise for intelligence with emphasis on hard work.  So maybe I’ll go back to doing what seems right to me and not worry so much about how people praise my kids, so long as my kids know that intelligence isn’t everything.  Maybe praising solely effort isn’t the only way to create perseverance.  Maybe a little self-knowledge won’t hurt and will allow them to reach farther so they don’t keep themselves from taking opportunities.

Where do you fall on the praise spectrum?  We know all our readers are intelligent– do you think how you were praised as kids affects your perseverance and self-confidence as adults?  (And in what way?)

*standard disclaimer about extreme situations and not blaming people in poverty or with mental disabilities

The Power of Habit: Book Review

Well, I am sad to say I wasn’t that impressed.  It is definitely written by a journalist rather than by an academic.

Absolutely you should read or listen to one of the author’s many interviews on how he broke his afternoon cookie habit, but once you’ve done that, you really have the substance of the worthwhile portions of the book.

Why do I not like this book that I was predisposed to like?  Well, I don’t trust or believe it.  He uses a lot of examples that I’ve seen before but that illustrate completely different concepts and were set up to illustrate different concepts and don’t actually fit in the way that he’s saying if you look at the original research (plus he’s got the simplified journalist-reported version of the marshmallow experiment based on something that doesn’t really exist rather than the original studies).  Secondly, the narrative often seems more important than the truth.  He doesn’t have a good conceptualization of the idea that correlation is not causation and will force causation where it doesn’t actually belong because that is what makes the story look good.  I suspect he’s done that in some of his reporting of people’s stories as well– they seem too simple, too uni-directional, to be true.

And he is aware of these flaws– rather than footnotes or traditional endnotes, he has chapters of notes in the back of the book sorted by page number.  They’re difficult to connect with the narrative.  But anytime I found myself going, “Wait a minute… that’s not right,” I would flip to the back and there would be an admission that no, what he was glibly saying didn’t actually pass fact-checking.  The government official in question says that yes, although the infant mortality rate decreased, he cannot take credit for it.  (But phrased in a way that makes the official sound humble, which flows with the narrative Duhigg has created about him, rather than as someone who wants to make it clear that correlation is not causation.)  There’s a huge debate about whether or not 12-step programs like AA work, with general scholarly opinion finding that they don’t, which he notes in a note.  For a reporting story about a hospital, he notes again that he’s compiled different stories and has left out the ones that disagree rather than agree with his narrative (but phrased in a way that makes it sound like those who disagree are lying).  Almost every time I thought something was too pat to be true or I knew that the actual research wasn’t so simple, I’d flip to the back and there would be a note admitting that no, it isn’t so simple.

But he didn’t let that interrupt his storylines.

So yes, I think his story about how he broke his cookie habit is useful and compelling.  You can find it in the appendix.  But the rest of the book, not so much.  More disappointing than Malcolm Gladwell.  (Interestingly, I overheard one of DH’s audible books by Doris Kearnes Goodwin while reading The Power of Habit and figured out why academic historians have problems with popular historians… so much attribution without evidence.  It hurts!)  The book is not without value, but many of its stories and conclusions should be taken with a grain of salt.

I do, however, still strongly recommend Willpower by Baumeister and Tierney.  Probably the best types of these books are collaborations with academics and reporters.  (Or occasionally there will be a great book written by an academic who also happens to be a good popular writer.)

My New Mantra

There are many reasons why I quit my previous job.  Among them: teaching was eating at my soul.  Eventually, the job made me physically sick and I hated it, and it made me be a mean person.  Even now I am still purging toxicity from my soul and come off as angry when I talk about that place.  (gotta work on that!)

There was nothing wrong with GrumpyMe 1.0, but it’s time for patches and upgrades.  One reason that I put off leaving for so long was that there are things I love about academia and didn’t want to give up.  My wonderful partner, though, pointed out that I could actually improve on the job situation by finding a job with more of the things I like and less of the stuff I don’t like.  He pointed out that, instead of giving up my academic identity, I could actually become the thing that is now my new mantra:

A BETTER VERSION OF MY WORKING SELF.

Some of the ideas about how to be a better working Me come from when I thought about my ideal workday.  (Awesome side note: in that post I said that at last year’s conference I had met a new friend/collaborator and talked with her about what we could do together.  At this year’s conference, we presented that research!  Our paper is under review.  Hurrah.)

I don’t know yet what kind of bug patches and upgrades I will eventually find.  (I do know that it involves never ever teaching ever again.)  I do know the things that give me energy, those that make me lose track of time (learning something new!  reading books!).  I know that I can’t stand cubicles.  I have optimism about finding something decent.

In working towards a new, research-based career, I have been networking pretty hard.  Recently I had the pleasant surprise that, when asked to list up to 5 references in a web application, I found myself with 9 or 10 people I could list as references who would all say excitedly good things about me, and I could choose among them.  Go me.  Only … uh… 9 years post-PhD and I’m getting good at my career!

Do you have a work-related mantra?

What motivates me after tenure

I was just at a conference where I get to hang out with lots of my friends.  Some of us got to talking.  They’re generally at better schools than I am and have longer and better CVs than I do.  But I’ve got tenure and they don’t have it yet.  And we were talking about trying to get stuff published and trying to find time for work… and they asked me why I care where I publish or about how much work I do because I’ve got tenure.  My school doesn’t expect as much as theirs does.  (And I have a higher teaching load and more service and a smaller salary…)

But I was never really motivated by the tenure expectations in my department.  I placed lower on the job market than most folks in my cohort, and I’ve always thought that if I did what I want and then didn’t get tenure then I’d finally be able to move to Northern California and at least live someplace nice.  I’ve always figured that if I stopped liking it, I could just leave.  If I’d gotten an offer at one of these better schools maybe I would have been more nervous, I don’t know.  (And, since getting here, the school has made a lot of really good hires, including mid-level hires with amazing CVs, and I am no longer under-placed.  I’m placed!)

What motivates me:

1.  I want to do good work.  I answer interesting (to me) questions.  I tell good (theoretical) stories with (empirical) evidence.  My work is important and it’s fascinating.

2.  People are doing things wrong and I want the profession to do things right!  Efficiently!

3.  It is a crime that nobody is answering these important questions.

4.  I kinda do like the fame and fortune aspect.  Gotta admit it.  And they give me just enough of a taste of it to make me crave more.  More.

5.  I like to watch things grow.  I want my department to do well, my school to do well, my little corner of academic research to do well.

6.  Ambition.

7.  And maybe just a bit the fact that I may need to be mobile some day, for example, if DH’s job situation changes.  And I kind of like being able to occasionally get grants to pay for RA work and summer salary.  And if they ever cross a line, I can walk and I’ll be in demand somewhere.

I used to be more motivated by being under-placed.  Sort of an, “I’ll show them!”  But I’ve kind of shown them, and, like I said, I’m no longer underplaced.  So #4 has replaced that entirely.  I probably worked a little harder when I was rage-researching, but it’s much more fulfilling to be love-researching instead.

#2 and #3 above bring me more self-confidence.  They help me talk up my work in ways that #1 doesn’t.  More of that contrarian aspect to my personality showing through.  #4 and #6 sometimes give me less self-confidence.

 

The answers of #2 revolve around research.  And then quitting.

What motivates you to work hard?

Should you submit to the top journals?

Let’s assume you have a paper that you think is eventually going to land at a top field journal.  Should you aim higher (a general journal) first and then let it filter down the impact ladder, or should you just submit places you think it’s going to end up?  Should you start with a submission to a GLAM journal?

Viewpoints:

1.  No.  Only submit your best stuff that you think belongs there.  You only have a few shots at getting into a GLAM journal and you don’t want to use them up with crap.

2.  Yes.  Have you read the GLAM journals?  Yes, there’s super amazing wonderful stuff in there.  But there’s also a lot of crap that isn’t as good as your field journal stuff.  It’s a random numbers game with each of your papers having some underlying probability of acceptance.  If you never play, then you’re never going to win.

3.  Yes.  Submitting to top journals is a learning process.  You get feedback from the editor and/or reviewers on how to improve your paper so it will actually be able to land where it belongs.  This is especially important if you don’t have a lot of local people to give you feedback.

4.  No.  You may end up getting the same reviewer who already rejected you for a lower tier journal and they’ll be biased from having rejected you before.  Or they’ll just submit the same rejection as before even if you’ve changed the paper.  (On the other hand, if they do reread the paper, psychology suggests they’ll like it better the second time.)

5.  Yes.  The answer is always yes.

6.  No.  Why do you care?  You have tenure.  Just submit it the place where it’s going to get in right away and get it published so you can move on to the next thing.

7.  Yes.  You have tenure.  That means you can afford to follow long shots.

8.  No.  The patriarchy and the unfairness of it all means that your paper needs to be much better than the connected white guys’ papers are before it gets published in a glam journal.  Don’t waste your time.

9.  Yes.  If you never submit, you will never get published there.

10.  Yes.  If you submit good stuff, then the editor and referees may remember that you’re working on good stuff, even if it’s not of general interest and they will be more likely to remember to send opportunities your way and to cite your work in their own work.

Academic readers:  What do you do?  Do you submit one tier up from where you think you’ll place or do you start right at that tier?  What *should* you do?  Do you follow the same advice you give others?  Non-academic readers:  Should you generally aim high or go with the safer choice?

 

You'd BETTER be pleased to inform me

Getting some kind of exercise routine

In cooler climes, summer is the best for exercise and getting into shape.  Being outdoors and doing stuff naturally causes activity.  It’s fun and effortless.

Living in the South, summer is the worst.  Three months of slinking from air conditioned car to air conditioned building and back again.  It’s awful awful awful.

In the summer I’m a living example of how one can be a good weight but woefully out of shape.  I may be reasonably thin, but there’s no way I’m healthy.

I know some things about myself.  I’m basically lazy (this is one of the reasons I stuck with math so long– mathematicians are basically lazy).  I have next to no willpower.  I overheat easily.  I get rashes when I sweat.  I’m also allergic to most of the plants outside, including grass (I was tested!).  I find most exercise interminably boring.  If I sign up for a class I’m going to understand sunk costs and just not go because the discounted value of my time at the point of going to the class is always going to tell me that I should skip, even if it’s better for me in the long run.  (And it’s not one of those things like work where I might avoid starting but then I enjoy it once I’m actually there.  I hate exercise classes with a lazily violent passion.)  Also, team sports give me bad flashbacks in addition to not being fun and taking time away from my family.

I like swimming.  I like leisurely walks with the family.  If we lived some place with altitude, I would enjoy hiking (I would be super healthy if we lived in Northern California).  Biking isn’t bad but it isn’t particularly safe where we live (and I, um, don’t own a bike).  I like walking to get to places, but we live in a suburban wasteland and I have no desire to attend Catholic church and I switched dentists.  I dislike having to shave if I can help it (and some of my professional colleagues live in my neighborhood so I can’t just go around unshaven without getting a reputation at work).  We do have a pool in the home owners association and a nice park with playground equipment and a little forest with a stream and nice walking paths, both within walking distance unless it’s really hot outside and then by the time I get there I’ve wilted.

And we’ve got some constraints.  The temperature is ok for walking outside before 9am and after 7:30pm.  (#1 is lucky.  #2 is in a place where it doesn’t cool down much at night and the hottest part of the day is 6pm for some reason.  #1 is not lucky– it’s actually hotter where she is, but she’s gotten more used to it.  Checking the weather *right now* it is exactly the same temperature both places.)  The kids have to be out the door pretty early in the morning (with me doing half the chauffeuring, which ends at 9:20 when I roll into my office parking lot) and me getting up earlier to exercise is not going to happen, not if I want to have any semblance of a brain for work throughout the day.

If I’m going to start exercising more regularly, I need to do two things:  1.  I need to make it easy to exercise by removing all impediments to exercise and 2.  I need to make it a routine.  The best way is to get other people in the house to nudge me, but I can’t just rely on them because past experience has shown that it’s all too easy to say, “oh no, you guys go without me,” or “oh, no you go ahead and play that video game, we can do this some other time.”

I owned two swimming suits.  One I got in college.  The other one I got right after my 7 year old was born.  I figured I could buy a new swimsuit or two at this point.  Because I hate shaving, I got a rash guard top, which is pretty cool.  Then I hit Land’s End’s 40% off swimsuit sale and got a skirt to go with the top and another suit that’s a dress.  I’m liking these old-fashioned suits and the rash guards that are in style.  I’m not sure anybody actually wants to show as much nether-region area as standard swim-suits show, especially those of us who don’t wax.  (#2 reminds about radical self-love.  #1 points out that radical self love has nothing to do with indecency.  She can love showing her partner part of her body but not want to show that to her neighbors and colleagues.)

Also as I’ve been forcing these nightly walks, I’ve noticed that my two pairs of sandals are pretty worn down and not so comfortable for exercise.  Putting on my hiking boots this time of year is out of the question.  So I bought some Chacos.  I’m bad at deciding, so I’m like, I want them in black, what is their most popular black sandal in my size and got that.  Hopefully 7W fits… I’m much better with the European sizes and shoes than with the US sizes, but I’m somewhere in the 7-8 range.  Update:  I bought the wrong shoes– wasn’t careful about making sure I got a woman’s size 7…. I’m definitely not size 9W!  Luckily Zappos really does have a super easy return policy.  I’m going to try to hit a shoe store the next time I’m in a city.  If I don’t make it I’ll try Zappos again.

So, impediments have been removed.  The routine thing is still a work in practice.  When it rains, the routine disappears as if it never happened and even if it’s nice the next day we completely forget to go out.  About a week later we’ll get started up again on the walks.  Fortunately DC2 loves the pool and reminds us to go in the morning on weekends even if we forget.  And ze makes us stay longer than we would otherwise.

Anyway, wish me luck.  My goal is to be less winded when I do the least amount of physical activity.

UPDATE:  I’m really not looking for, “You’re doing it wrong” and “You’re not doing enough” advice right now.  Really, I’m not.  Because if I hear that enough I’m just going to stay sitting in the a/c in a chair, hitting reload on the internet because seriously, why bother at all?  Please feel free to share what *you* do, but don’t tell me what to do.  (If you do need to tell someone what to do about something, check out the previous post and give me your thoughts on window treatments.)

UPDATE 2:  No, seriously, I DO NOT WANT ADVICE.  Share your experience, but don’t give me advice on this topic.  (Again, I do want advice on window treatments in the previous post.)

If you do regular exercise, how do you keep yourself doing it?  What about those of you who hate most exercise?  Do you do it anyway?  How?

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