Top Five New Year’s Resolutions

30 12 2011


According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the top five New Year’s resolutions are:

1. Lose weight / get fit

2. Give up smoking and/or drinking

3. Achieve financial security

4. Spend more time with family

5. Get organised

Yes, sadly, we are not unique, everyone comes up with the same resolutions. And somehow we aren’t all thin, fit, smoke-free, financially secure and living well-organised lives with our lovely and loving families.

The stats also show that 35% of New Year’s resolutions are abandoned within the first week – or not actually started at all.

But some people do make resolutions (New Year’s or otherwise) and succeed. How do they do it?

Richard Wiseman, a psychologist from the University of Hertfordshire is quoted in The Guardian as mentioning two factors…

1. Don’t make the resolutions spur-of-the-moment

2. Break the goal down into smaller steps.

So following on from the recent posting on planning …here are a few suggested steps for consideration.

1. lose weight / get fit: aim initially for ten minutes exercise per day. Drink a glass of water before each meal. Cut portion size. Replace one junk food meal a week with something healthier.

2. quit smoking / drinking: this is one area where cold turkey seems to be the best option. However, you are not alone. There are prescription medications available to assist (ask your doctor if they are suitable for you) and over-the-counter substitutes.

3. achieve financial security: set up an automatic pay deduction for savings. Work out a plan for paying off debts. Set up an investment account / share-market account. Read a book to educate yourself about finances. Write a financial plan.

4. Spend time with family: set a particular time to spend “hanging” with the family. Write a list of activities you can do with the family (that they will enjoy as well). Sit down with the family and ask them what they want to do.

5. Get organised: Write a plan on what areas of your life you want to get organised in, and put in a weekly / monthly schedule of what you will do to achieve this. Perhaps it is one room in the house per week / month.

The steps need to be small, doable but meaningful. They need to build – so you might start with ten minutes exercise per day but build in five-minute increments to half an hour a day. But the most important thing about putting the plan into action is that if you skip it on day or week, that doesn’t mean the entire plan goes out the window. New Year’s Resolutions fail when you see them as all or nothing (one lapse means you have failed) or you allow lapses to snowball (I didn’t exercise yesterday or the day before, so there’s no point in doing it today). Pick up where you left off and keep going. Your plan tells you what you need to do next.

That’s how you achieve your New Year’s Resolutions.

This post is part of a series on goal-setting. Others are below:
Goal Setting – Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes!
Goodbye to old (bad) habits
It’s about the JOURNEY (as well as the goal)
Harvard Business School study….or urban internet myths
Being Accountable
Analysis Paralysis





Steve Jobs’ 11 Rules of Success

25 11 2011

photo credit: Mawel

I have been given this in hard copy so I am assuming the attribution is correct! Nonetheless, interesting lessons for us all.

1. Do what you love to do. Find your true passion. Make a difference. The only way to do great work is to love what you do.

2. Be different. Think different. Better to be a pirate than join the navy.

3. Do your best at every job. Don’t sleep! Success generates more success so be hungry for it. Hire good people with a passion for excellence.

4. Perform SWOT analysis. As soon as you join / start a company, make a list of strengths and weaknesses of yourself and your company on a piece of paper. Don’t hesitate to throw bad apples out of the company. (Blogger’s note: Gotta love a pun!)

5. Be entrepreneurial. Look for the next big thing. Find a set of ideas that need to be acted upon quickly and decisively and jump through that window. Sometimes the first step is the hardest one. Just take it. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.

6. Start small, think big. Don;t worry about too many things at once. Take a handful of simple things to begin with and then progress to more complex ones. Think about not just tomorrow, but the future. Put a ding in the universe.

7. Strive to become a market leader. Own and control the primary technology in everything you do. If there’s a better technology available, use it regardless of whether or not anyone else is using it. Be the first, and make it an industry standard.

8. People judge you by your performance, so focus on the outcome. Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected. Advertise. If they don’t know about it, they won’t buy your product. Pay attention to design. We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them. Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

9. Innovate. innovation distinguishes a leader from a follower. Delegate. Let other top executives do 50% of your routine work to be able to spend 50% of your time on the new stuff. Say no to 1000 things to make sure you don;t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. Concentrate on really important creations and radical innovation. Hire people who want to make the best things in the world. You need a very product-oriented culture, even in a technology company. Lots of companies have tons of great engineers and smart people. But ultimately, there needs to be some gravitational force that pulls it all together.

10. Learn from failures. Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly and get on with improving your other innovations.

11. Learn continually. There’s always “one more thing” to learn. Cross-pollinate ideas with others both within and outside your company. learn from customers, competitors, and partners. If you partner with someone you don’t like, learn to like them – praise tem and benefit from them. Learn to criticize your enemies openly, but honestly.

And in case you didn’t see it, here is Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University.

“Stay Hungry; Stay Foolish”

Interested in some more salient life lessons for the business world? Try….
Doing the Impossible – the Richard Branson story
The Parable of the Flying Frog
Swimming with Sharks





A dollar of prevention

19 11 2011

photo credit: vectorportal.com

It is a well known principle in primary health care that a dollar of prevention saves $19 of cure. (The principle stays the same, only the numbers change).

This means, in simple terms, that preventing you getting heart disease is a lot cheaper than treating your heart disease. And even if you already have heart disease, preventing it getting worse is also cheaper than the treatments down the track. Despite this, prevention and early intervention does not get the dollars they deserve – they aren’t as sexy and exciting as ambulances and emergency departments and high-risk life-saving operations.

So you will be unsurprised that the same is true in disability and schooling.

Education sets you up for life. Literacy levels and educational attainment are linked to not just educational outcomes and job prospects but also health, life expectancy, drug use, teenage pregnancies, abortion, criminality and incarceration rates – pretty much the whole gamut of social indicators. One of the best things about Australia, in my opinion, is the availability of public education (along with socialised medicine).

But schools are struggling to cope with the increase of high-needs children in the classrooms. Increasing diagnoses of learning difficulties and psychological difficulties mean teachers are sometimes trying to teach to children ranging from severely challenged to extremely gifted – and with a large classroom, you can’t really meet the needs of any of them, not even the “average” ones.

Support services for children with additional needs is woeful, and yet this is the time when putting the additional resources in would make a difference to the lives of these children – and to society in general. Services are generally only available to those with severe disabilities – and yet the model of care offered is more suitable to low-needs kids. For instance, public speech therapy services provided through the schools is often an annual or bi-annual assessment by a speech therapist who develops a plan that is implemented by SSOs (school support officers). While many of the SSOs are highly skilled and passionate about the work they do, they are clinically unqualified and are following a set plan that does not provide one-on-one clinical services and is not responsive to a child’s changing needs and abilities. Those who can afford it pay for private speech therapy and the rest miss out.

There are human rights and equal opportunity issues here. Why shouldn’t every child have the opportunity to make the best they can of their lives, open as many doors and find the opportunities they can. But if the human rights issue doesn’t convince you – well it doesn’t make sense economically either.

A child given additional support services in their formative and educational years will be more likely to reach their full potential, more able to give back to society, become gainfully employed and pay taxes, be a productive, participating, law-abiding citizen. They are also less likely to cost society in terms of ongoing support services in their adult lives, increased health care costs, income support, employment services, and if the worst comes to the worst, law and order and justice services. Which is not to say that every child whose needs are unmet is going to become a criminal – not at all. However the jails are full of people with marginal literacy skills.

Our system looks at the short term – cutting costs now is a political vote-winner. Nobody looks down the track to see the cost to society in the long term.

Somewhere on the internet there is a website that demonstrates the link between the social ills – criminality, violence, murder rates, assault rates, high infant mortality, high child death rate, high drug use, high abortion rate, incarceration rates etc, and the seize of the gap between rich and poor. You will be unsurprised to find that the larger the gap between rich and poor, the higher the rate of social ills. The smaller the gap between rich and poor – even if that meant that everyone was pretty poor – the lower the rate of social ills. This pattern holds for countries all around the world, first, second and third world countries, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist.

Putting money into education lessens the gap between rich and poor. You can pay now, or you can pay later, but either way, we all have to pay in the end.





the benefits of study

12 11 2011

photo credit: CCAC North Library

It is that time of year when the universities are madly hawking their wares (in Australia anyway), trying to sign up students for various courses. Education has become a huge business, at all levels.

Usually the benefits of study that the schools, colleges, institutes and universities will tell you are:
– get a better job (and therefore have a better life)
– ummmmm…………
– education is good in and of itself (this argument only works for teachers – they are marketing to themselves).

OK, so they all pretty much say the same thing in their advertising. Despite this, I am a serial consumer of higher education. I finish a degree, exhausted, swearing never to study again. On one occasion I even put a message on Facebook that said “if I ever say I am going to study again, someone please slap me.”

And then a year goes by, sometimes just a few months…..and I am bored. I need something to be working towards. So I sign up for something else, get stuck into it and close to the end, too close to consider giving up, I think “How did I get here again?”

Of course I know the answer – I am not that self-unaware. So in case you are thinking of undertaking some study and want some real reasons to do it, some reasons the universities can’t really tell you, here are a few from me.

1. It’s good to have some “big thing” to be working towards. So much of life is stuff you just do again and again. Housework. Commuting. Housework. You get the picture. The little things you do when you study actually count for something bigger in the long-term. Delayed gratification is an important skill for success in any field of life and study helps you practice it (as this posting on marshmallows explains more thoroughly).

2. Intelligent thought. So maybe it’s just me, but generally I find when I don’t have something guiding my thoughts, I resort to trivia. Like pondering on the pretty lit-up map of proximity to McDonald’s locations in the US that someone sent me recently. Study makes you use logic and engage in new thoughts, new thought patterns, stay on topic. You can’t just wander off and look at the pretty lights.

3. Unlike life, study gives you immediate feedback in a clear unambiguous scale. Yes, marks. I get good marks (Rik from the Young Ones would call me a girly-swat) so this is a nice little ego-boost for me. However in much of life you don’t get clear unambiguous and immediate feedback. You might self-assess “I think I did a pretty good job of that email / job application / craftwork” but it isn’t the same. (Note for mature age students returning to university. A “C” grade is not average, it means credit. Likewise, “D” does not mean you have failed, it means Distinction.)

4. Helps practice other life skills such as planning and scheduling, focussing and concentrating, reading, writing and typing. Of, and thinking, let’s not forget thinking. (A Note on typing: when I went to a girls’ school in pre desk-top computer days, the only students who did typing were those who were destined for secretarial jobs. Those destined for professions were not taught typing. Fast-forward not very long to the introduction of computers and suddenly typing has become an important skill – as ubiquitous as computers, in fact. I just say this because it is interesting and shows how much things have changed in the two decades (oh OK, two and a bit!) since I left high school. I still don’t use the correct fingers on the keyboard though.)

5. This is something that is completely under your control. OK, maybe not completely, but hear me out here. At work, you do what the boss says. At home there are parents, partners, spouses, children to negotiate with and hopefully come to some sort of satisfactory compromise. That’s life! Most uni assignments are you, yourself. You get a topic or a question, then you get to decide how you want to approach it, how much effort you will put in, etc etc. (The exception to this is group-assignments. As I do my study online, this usually involves a lot of negotiation via email, entirely unlike any realistic work situation. None-the-less, the universities persist with it – I suspect because it means less marking.)

So that’s it. I have almost finished my third Masters Degree and every time I get a mark back I feel a little self-affirming buzz. When things are tough and you feel unappreciated in the world, it’s good to get that largely objective mark back that says “you’re good at this”.





read-a-holic

23 09 2011

licensed under creative commons by gadl http://www.flickr.com/photos/gadl/91539531/

I am a voracious reader. Always have been.

As a child when I was sent to my room to get ready to go to school, guaranteed I would pick up a book and half an hour later I would still be in my pyjamas.

I can still remember the first reader I had at school. It was called Big and Little, and had a picture of a large and a small child on a seesaw. By the time I had finished Prep (as it was called then) I had read all the readers up to Year 3, and hence I was allowed to read library books for the rest of Infant School. As it was called then.

I still have some of my favourite books from childhood, but as all my children are boys, they aren’t into the same books. Even though I don’t re-read the books now, just looking at the covers can bring back fond memories.

And yes, I am a hoarder. I hoard books. We have six very large bookshelves in our house, jam packed with books. And several baskets, and a large pile next to my bed. I am incapable of walking out of a bookshop without buying a book, and I like to keep the books I have read for future rereading. Occasionally I can be persuaded to loan books to friends, but it has to be a pretty awful book for me to throw it out.

I go through phases with book subjects. For a while there it was fiction – I went through a strong Mary Wesley stage, adore F Scott Fitzgerald, and some of the Waugh brothers (but not all). And of course the incomparable Douglas Adams of Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe and Dirk Gently fame.

Then there was my biographical phase – mostly women writers (plus several on Douglas Adams), but it also intersected with my 1920s phase (biographies of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, the Waughs and the Mitfords featured strongly here).

More recently there has been a pseudo-science phase with Freakonomics, Super-Freakonomics, The Psychopath Test (all of which I loved) and the book from the Blog Dear Raed. Then there was the midlife crisis phase, where I picked books about people who completely changed their lives – One Red Paperclip, Eat Pray Love, Emergency Sex.

Now I am in a French phase. I am working my way through a pile of books about Australians who have moved to France to live for work, love or long-held passion, and the culture shock they have experienced. I suspect this is an extension of my mid-life crisis phase.

I am thrilled to find that my children seem to have inherited my love of reading. One is now found most often with a book in his hand when he should be getting ready for school. Child after my own heart!

Reading is one of the great loves and skills I wanted to hand on to my children. If you can read and don’t find it onerous, then you always have access to information. More important than knowing information, if you can read and you want to learn something, you can. It opens up horizons and opportunities.

I don’t really mind if we are running late for school.

What type of books do you read? Who is your current favourite author?

If you liked this post, you might like Food for Thought: Mindfire.





Thanks goodness I never studied Gatsby

3 09 2011

I love reading. I go through phases of what I love to read – sometimes it is biographies (usually of writers or 1920s artists), sometimes it is Classics, sometimes science and statistics books, sometimes pop culture, sometimes fiction, sometimes short stories. I have a bookshelf bulging with favourites that I reread when the mood takes me, and a pile of books next to my bed that have I haven’t yet read. I find it very difficult to walk past a bookshop, and almost never walk out of one without a new book or two. I am a book-a-holic.

My favourite writers are (in no order)
F Scott Fitzgerald (a sense of place and an economy with words)
Dr Suess (a way with words)
Douglas Adams (a sense of the bizarre)

Every time I reread these authors I find new things I hadn’t noticed before. Several decades and many rereadings on, it is a tribute to the quality of their writing that this is still the case.

I was lucky – oh so lucky – that I didn’t have to study Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby for English classes at school. Without fail, every book we studied at school I have developed an abhorrence for.

This came to mind when a librarian friend was commenting on his favourite book – Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. (Side note – we both agreed we pronounce it “roth” not “rath” as seems to be the fashion now). I have never been able to even pick this book up since we dissected, sliced, diced, analysed it to pieces in Year 11. It ceased to be a story and instead became a series of themes and mechanisms, literary devices and conceits. The beauty of the story was lost.

I had always thought it was just me that felt like that, but my librarian friend agreed that English classes destroyed some books for him as well.

He had had the luck not to study Steinbeck’s book and hence he still loved it. I am grateful not to have studied Gatsby.

Fast Fact: The latest 60 Minutes / Vanity Fair Poll found that 65% of people surveyed could not identify who Harper lee was. This despite being given four options (including the correct one) to choose from. She is of course the Pulitzer-prize winning author of To Kill a Mockingbird. So I did learn something in English class!

If you like this post you might also like Old Dogs and New Tricks.





Old dogs and new tricks

27 08 2011

Adult learning is a bit of a holy grail – so much research, so little of it put into action.

While the research often demonstrates that the type of learning that is provided in a school-like environment does not suit adult learning (and might not suit children either), none-the-less, we persist in providing school-like environments for adult learning.

My experience as a university lecturer is that adult learners are often very motivated. They know why they are there, they may have chosen to give something else up to be there (free time, course fees, income). They have often chosen what it is that they want to study so they are interested in the subjects. The mature-age students often blitzed the straight-from-school students. They didn’t stand a chance against that level of motivation.

This is supported by the literature, which characterises adult learners as:

•Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
•Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
•Adults are goal oriented
•Adults are relevancy oriented
•Adults are practical
•Adult learners like to be respected
(Knowles 1970)

So what works for adult learning?

1. Trial and error. Studies demonstrate that adults retain lessons learned the hard way – through making mistakes and understanding the context and reasons for failure. Errorless learning doesn’t “stick”.

2. And on a similar vein, <a href="http://psychcentral.com/news/2011/08/23/see-do-act-imprints-brain-memories/28846.html&quot; title="experiential learning ” target=”_blank”>experiential learning works best for adults, even when it isn’t about making mistakes. Adults are better at remembering things they do (what you did yesterday for instance) than things they read or hear.

3. Observation learning works if there is intention to do the same action. This is similar to the way visualisation works on the brain and on muscle-memory. If the intention to do the action is there and is translated to the motor system rather just the visual system of the brain, then the memory is more likely to embed.

4. Adult learners need to understand why. They tend to resist having ideas and thoughts impressed upon them – as collaborative learners they want to sort through the information and come to their own conclusions.

5. Adults bring their life experiences with them to training or education. They want to use this knowledge and build upon it. They have a lot to offer but also a lot to lose.

6. Generally, adults are in education or training for a specific purpose, They want what they learn to be relevant and practical. They will challenge if it doesn’t seem like it would work in real life.

7. Adult learners have different barriers facing them. They may have job demands, family responsibilities- or commonly, both. Adult education is one more thing they need to juggle in their busy lives. And it is not just about time – it is also about concentration levels and memory space. Let’s hope they are motivated to prioritise their education – but recognise that sometimes they will need to pay more attention to another area of their life.

Some excellent resources are available on the net. One I recommend is :Medscape (you will have to sign up for a free account to access the entire article)

So finally – as someone who seems to be proppin up the university system with my ongoing study and resultant fees debt – what works for me?

– flexibility

– short-term subjects. 10 weeks per subject works beautifully with my busy life

– no group work – I haven’t managed to get out of the group assignments but continually find them frustrating. It is very difficult to get a group of extremely busy adults together to do an assignment, even in the online environment. And there are always passengers – I think everyone knows that.

– really clear instructions. I don;t have time to work out ambiguous instructions, I want to be able to enterall the due dates in my diary and get down to it.

– relevance of subjects – one of the compulsory subjects aI have done for my MBA is finance – which turned out to be about calculating current and future values for bonds, shares and other investments over a series of differnt conditions. As I don’t work in the finance industry and have never had to deal with bonds,this wasn’t very relevant. Happy to do the accouting and economics subjects, still think the finance subject should not have been compulsory.

Well that’s my two cents worth as both a repeat adult learner, and a former lecturer.

What is important to you in education?

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You might also like “Thank goodness I never studied Gatsby“.