One Hundred Words

one hundred words

What if you were limited to speak just one hundred words each day? A non-removable metal counter on your wrist tracks the number of words you utter, resetting to zero each midnight. If you dare speak word #101 within each monitored 24-hour period, you are delivered an electric shock. Word #102 earns you a stronger zap, and well, you’d better shut up before the thing gets serious.

This is the opening of VOX, a novel by Christina Dalcher. Oh, and only females are required to wear the “bracelets” which is what the marketers in the book term the shockingly restrictive counters.

The story takes place in the near future; the US President (basically a puppet run by a maniacal religious zealot) has created an “earlier times” culture in America. Women are expected to obey men; women are not permitted to work, they have no access to any reading or writing materials or electronics, and they have no money of their own.

This audiobook fell under the category of thriller which is how I found myself listening to its first five minutes as a sample. Otherwise, I would never have found it as this type of story isn’t something I’d normally listen to for entertainment. It did, however, qualify as a thriller.

VOX (all caps) is a telecommunications term for “voice operated switch.” In Latin, vox popoli translates as “the voice of the people.” In music journalism, it means vocals or simply voice.

I ended up enjoying the audiobook in part because the main character, Dr. Jean McClellan, works (or worked) in the field of neurolinguistics as a cognitive linguist in the DC area. Her specialty had been working for a cure for stroke-induced aphasia. I’ve always found the topic of neurolinguistics (and words themselves) fascinating.

The author Dalcher herself earned her doctorate in theoretical linguistics from Georgetown University, so the book had the feel of “she knows her stuff.” And also, narrator Julia Whelan gives a true voice to each of the characters.

But the story also poked at me to consider this question: If I had just one hundred words allotted to speak each day, how would I choose to use them?

Well, I assume I’d stop talking to the dog. And surely I’d have to relinquish talking to myself. And say goodbye to singing in the shower since the first three lines of I Could Have Danced All Night take up eighteen words. There goes (thankfully) complaining about trivial circumstances.

Perhaps I would begin to hoard my words, being frugal earlier in the day in order to say them all at once in some (albeit short) conversation.

The average number of words Americans speak in a day depends on which study you agree with. Linked In refers to a 2003 study that says the average person uses around 7000 words each day. A University of Arizona professor’s study found that both men and women speak around 16,000 words each day. While that’s a huge differential, either one is still a long way from one hundred.

So now YOU can ponder what you would say in a day’s time if you were limited to just one hundred words. I know this much is true; I would save three words each day to say I love you.

~~~

An overview of the novel by the publisher with an opportunity to listen to the first five minutes of the audiobook

University of Arizona study on word usage

An interesting behind-the-scenes peek at Lauren Ambrose and orchestra at Lincoln Center theater recording I Could Have Danced All Night

 

Great (or Maybe Not) Expectations

expectations

A friend shared the story of attending her niece’s college commencement. In the car on the way home from the event, Auntie remarked to the family in general that she had certainly enjoyed the valedictorian’s speech which had the theme of expectations.

To Auntie’s surprise, her generally sweet and sunny niece harrumphed and then barely audibly snarled the word expectations.

The subject was quickly dropped.

Apparently, that word holds a strong negative connotation for the young woman. I wondered to myself what had been the cause of expectations producing such a negative response from her.

Had she felt undue pressure from professors’ expectations of her? Perhaps she’d majored in a field she wasn’t thrilled about due to family expectations of what she should do. Or maybe she was angry at herself over too many self-imposed expectations. I, of course, am making up these answers. Maybe she was just having a bad day.

The word expectations is common in job performance evaluations. The above-and-beyond winners EXCEED them, most employees MEET them, the “needs help” group PARTIALLY MEET them, and the guy on his way out the door DOES NOT MEET them.

It seems that psychologists generally dislike the word, but mostly for two reasons. One is in connection to having expectations of others without letting them know what they are. In other words, if a wife has the expectation of her husband that he “should” take his clean and folded T-shirts upstairs and put them away but she never clearly states this reasonable request, that’s setting up a possible resentment when he doesn’t take action. (I’m not saying that this happens in our family and I’m not saying it doesn’t.)

The second reason psychologists appear to frown on expectations is when they are unrealistic. If someone who’s in the dating world expects every new date to be a Hallmark movie character, they are setting themselves up for disappointment. Or if someone expects to lose a few pounds but changes nothing in the diet or exercise segment of their lives, then it’s just magical thinking that the pounds will come off.

I actually like the word expectations and I use a phrase to describe what I believe most audiences bring with them to a performance: hopeful expectations.

Consider this: When you’re going to any event (such as a show, a football game, a concert, a lecture, a party, or the circus), you walk through the door with hopeful expectations. Maybe you expect to be entertained, to feel deeply, to learn something, to laugh, to gain information on how to improve, or to be bedazzled.

We attend events expecting to enjoy ourselves. Otherwise, why would we show up?

So instead of New Year/new decade resolutions, I’m going to set hopeful expectations for myself. Here goes. In 2020 I’m hopefully expecting:

  • the people I encounter to be kind
  • to find happiness in each day
  • the blessings in my life to outweigh the struggles
  • that the people I love will love me back every bit as much

~~~~~

Forbes article on unrealistic expectations

Example of performance evaluation ranking

Experience With a Capital E

changed by an experience

Note-taking is in my DNA. I just can’t help it. Whether I’m listening to a TED talk, attending a live presentation, or watching a YouTube or Udemy training, I retain the message stronger and longer if I physically take notes.

Sometimes I even take notes in church. Although our church’s sermons can be found online, if I hear something on Sunday that speaks to my soul, I’ll jot it down at the top of the bulletin. Such was the case with one of Father Ben’s recent sermons. He posed this challenging question: What if we are left unchanged by an experience?

Go back and read that again. Say it out loud. Because it is profound.

Our time is one of our most highly prized resources. We don’t want to waste it or use it on something we will regret. So when we invest our time in an experience, subconsciously we are looking to be changed somehow by that experience.

It would be impossible, of course, to have every one of our experiences be an earthshaking one. But consider that when we hear beautiful music, we may embrace a sense of calm. If we listen to an uplifting podcast, we may experience motivation to make a change. Spending quality time with family or friends can fill our hearts with joy and peace. An hour’s worth of playing with children reminds us that it is indeed freeing to act silly and that it feels great to laugh out loud with others.

A major experience such as a vacation to the Grand Canyon can change us by shifting our perspective to WOW! And those terrible experiences where we wonder if we can ever get past them? Well, those change us as well.

Most of us tend to live life at such a hectic pace that we don’t consider how we are changed by the experiences in our daily activities. Can we slow down just a bit to consider them, to look for them, to ponder them?

Now that the winter weather is here (at least in Virginia), I begrudgingly take the dog out for the cold, right-before-bed pee time. Instead of muttering please-hurry-up-and-go-NOW comments to the dog, what if I would lift my face to the night sky and look at the moon and the stars? That experience of resentment could be transformed into one of gratitude for living where I can truly see the night sky.

I’m convinced if the world would apply this standard of looking to be changed by each experience, the genre of reality TV would cease to exist. And maybe we’d stop watching political rhetoric and the daily sensationalism of what used to be actual news.

Obviously, I was not left unchanged by the experience of Father Ben’s sermon. And if this post has resonated with you, well then neither are you.

Did Sister Hugs Nail It?

sister hugs

We see many worthy quotes on Facebook. Some inspire us to be kind not only to others but also to ourselves. There are those that remind us that we’re never too old to dream big. Some make us smile, some provide encouragement, and a few make us think.

One of my favorite Facebook sources for inspirational quotes is a site called Sister Hugs. They don’t write all their own material; sometimes they repost from other sites. For instance, on October 23 they shared from “Hippie Peace Freaks” a photo of brilliantly red autumn leaves with this statement: The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let things go.

I do believe their October 27 post is my favorite. It packed a wallop of a message in eight one-syllable words: “One Day or Day One…it’s your choice.”

I know. Ouch, right? We all have these goals, dreams, projects, plans, and ideas floating in our heads. And one day, we will get to them. We hope.

Throughout my life, there have been countless times I’ve said, “One day I’m going to…” And yes, some of those plans and dreams have become realities. But because I said one day instead of day one, I missed out on the full range of enjoyment of the accomplishments. There is no making up for lost time. And the older we are, the truer that last statement seems.

Since I strive for honesty and transparency with my readers, I need to confess that there are plans and dreams still on my one day list. As in, one day I would like to create podcasts of my blog posts so my readers can listen to them in addition to reading them. And one day, I want to publish the two children’s books I wrote years ago.

What exactly changes our path from one day to day one? Is it commitment? Getting rid of excuses? Goal planning? Learning what you need to know to start? Having the time/energy/health/money to take action? Following Nike’s advice and just do it?

I never have all the answers and tonight is no exception. The 7 Steps link below has some good ideas, and I would love to have you comment on what has worked for you.

And then go hug your sister.

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Interesting Podcast Statistics

7 Steps to move forward with your dream

 

The Soft Skill of Writing Thanks

My sister Barbara told me today that it’s up to her and me to save the lost art of writing thank-you notes. Although our other sister Beverly and my best friend Betsy are just as diligent at sending hand-written thank-you notes. And I know there are well-mannered others out there, but let me ask you something: When is the last time you received an honest-to-goodness real thank-you card in the mail?

Often in today’s electronic communications, we don’t even see the word thanks but rather just TY. What, our fingers are so tired we can type just two characters instead of six?

Last year a business friend attended his younger cousin’s wedding. The cousin couldn’t afford a videographer for the event so my friend (who is very good at filming videos) recorded the event as well as many highlights of the reception. He then spent much time editing to produce a lovely memory of the special day. My friend mailed it with a card saying he hoped his cousin and her new husband enjoyed the special gift.

He never heard one word back.

When I managed a department and interviewed applicants for an open position, those who sent me a follow-up sincere note of thanks citing some portion of our conversation earned two bonus points. Those who emailed me a run-of-the-mill “thanks” got half a point. And those who sent nothing? Well, how much stock could I put into their resume claim of “excellent written and verbal communication skills”?

In January the site FrugalFun4Boys.com posted a list of “40 Old-fashioned Skills for Kids Today.” The list of “how-to” items included: find a book at the library, ask questions to get to know someone better, sew on a button, balance a checkbook, read a map, and yes…write a thank-you note. A link to the complete list is below.

A heartfelt thank-you note means so much. I encourage you to join the sisterhood/brotherhood/personhood of thank-you note writers and help recapture this art form.

Oh and thank you very much.

~~~~~~~

Forty “Old-Fashioned” Skills for today’s children

The Sisterhood of thank-you-note writers

A teacher’s perspective on hand-written thank-you notes

Writing is a soft skill that can help you professionally

 

The Hostess With the Mostess

Hostess of a dinner party

An episode of the old sitcom All in the Family had Edith very nervous about her role as hostess of a Tupperware party. She fretted about the embarrassing role she had played in a Christmas pageant as a third-grader. As a manger cow, her one line was to have been, “Moo moo, I hear people coming.” But while waiting to deliver her line, she looked out into the audience and saw her little brother picking his nose. Her spoken line turned into, “Moo moo, my little brother is picking his nose.”

I’ve linked that specific show below for you. Fast forward to the 20-minute mark if you want to see how Edith does as hostess of the Tupperware party. Let’s just say it’s not pretty.

Fine hosting is an art skill that leaves each guest feeling as if he or she is the most important person in the room. It’s not about having gourmet food or fine wine; the key is helping your guests feel welcomed and wanted.

I’ve known perfectly nice and intelligent people who make lousy hosts.

A few years back my husband and I attended an outdoor informal dinner that began at sunset of a gloriously warm fall day. But as the sun left us, it took its warmth with it. While I wasn’t actually cold, I was uncomfortably chilly, having given my wrap to another guest who had recently recovered from an illness.

After a while, the host excused himself from the table to go into their house. He came out with sweaters. But just for his wife and himself. It took every ounce of my good manners to restrain myself from saying, “Are you kidding?” Even if the couple didn’t want others wearing their sweaters or jackets, he could have offered blankets, throws, or even large towels for the guests to drape around their shoulders.

More recently we attended a party at a local restaurant. The host and his wife were retiring to Florida and had invited 30 or so friends from various aspects of their lives to gather together to say goodbye. When we arrived, our hosts were deep in conversation with one group. So no one welcomed us or provided any structure as to how the evening would progress. Guests were left to wander around asking each other the same question: “So how do you know Stan and Marcy?”

Appetizers arrived after forty minutes but with too few plates and no napkins. Since our hosts weren’t front and center, another guest spoke to the staff to remedy the situation.

As people began to leave, the hosts extracted themselves to give hugs and say goodbye. My less-than-ladylike comment to my husband when we got to the car was this: “That was one weird-ass party.”

At church the following day, I had to just smile when Father Ben preached on the topic of Jesus shaking up the status quo at a dinner party. WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) indeed!

~~~~~~~~

All in the Family Series 5, Episode 8

Father Ben’s Sermon Sept 1, 2019 “Who is At Your Dinner Table”

Say It Again, Sam

word laziness

image by Timothy Paule II on Pexels

I received my weekly report card from Grammarly yesterday. If you don’t already know, Grammarly is (according to their own website) “an online grammar checking, spell checking, and plagiarism detection platform for the English language developed by Grammarly, Inc.”

Even though I consider myself above average in spelling, punctuation, and word usage, I use Grammarly as a second set of eyes.

But you know that little dog that you just can’t trust NOT to nip your fingers or ankles? That’s how I feel about Grammarly. I use it, but don’t trust it 100% since sometimes the suggestions it makes are flat out wrong.

My recent report card (which compares my writing to every other person who uses the program) stated I was:

92% more productive, 82% more accurate, and that I used a whopping 95% more “unique words.”

I’m most happy to see the percentage of unique words. Why? Like many people, I can slip into being a word-lazy person in my writing and speaking.

As I wrote in my June 2018 post Searching for Just the Right Word, it’s oh-so-easy to slip into our own private reservoir of words we’re comfortable using. (Did you notice how the phrase reservoir of words was more entertaining than if I had said group of words?)

Some years back there was an article called Is Google Making Us Stupid? The jury is still out on that one, but I believe the Google keyboard for Android (called Gboard) is adding to our word laziness. This is due to its predictive nature. It remembers phrases you’ve used before and offers them up for you to choose instead of typing the actual words.

As an example, if I am texting someone and type “I hope that you are” it offers a choice of next word(s) of “having” or “doing well” or “well.” When I choose “having” and add “a” then it offers the adjectives “great” or “good” or “wonderful.”

No wonder our messages sound like blah-blah-blah.

With the recent back-to-back mass shootings, some people were upset with those who posted the phrase “thoughts and prayers” in response to social media articles about the horror. While thoughts and prayers is a sincere response from many, the rampant overuse of the phrase has made its online response seem meaningless.

You don’t need to be a professional writer or speaker to pepper your spoken or written words with out-of-the-ordinary ones. There are some how-to suggestions in my former post I’ve linked below.

I’m going to issue a challenge to my readers: The next time you want to wish someone a happy birthday (whether in person, or on social media, or by an actual birthday card sent in the mail), say or write something other than the words Happy Birthday. And no, the happiest of birthdays is not an alternative.

Even if you say or write just one sentence, make it personable; say something fantastic.

And by the way, did you know the original late 14th century meaning of the word fantastic was this: existing only in imagination.

So yes…make it fantastic!

~~~~~~~

Lifted Up post “Searching for Just the Right Word” from June 26, 2018

Understanding predictive keyboards

Grammarly’s post on the top ten overused adjectives

Graphic from GrammarCheck.net

Five Bucks, Two Hours, and Three Minutes

Five Bucks Two Hours Three Minutes

Image by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay

Legendary Stanford professor Tina Seelig posed the following assignment to teams of students in one of her classes: How profitably can a team run a (very) short-term business with $5 in seed money?

The team could spend as much time as they wanted in the planning stage, but could actually “operate” the business for a total of just two hours. They had from Wednesday afternoon until Sunday evening to complete the project because by Sunday night Seelig expected one slide from each team detailing what they had come up with.

At Monday’s class, each team had three minutes to present their project to the class.

After you read the question in bold, I want you to stop and close your eyes to consider your response: What would YOU do to make money with five bucks, two hours, and three minutes? (Go ahead. Close your eyes and think creatively. I’ll be right here when you get back.)

If we’re being cognitively lazy, we might say to use the $5 to buy lottery tickets and hope for the best. (The older we are it seems the easier it is to jump on the first answer that comes to us.) Seelig says another common response when she poses the question to adult audiences is, “Set up a lemonade stand.” But how much lemonade could you sell in two hours? There’s not much profit there.

The creative responses from her students will blow you away.

One group, recognizing the frustratingly long wait at college town restaurants on Saturday nights, booked early reservations for two at a number of the restaurants. As their expected arrival time got close, they’d approach couples at the end of the line and sell their reservation for $20 each. If the restaurant had handed out pagers to the folks in line, the team now had another spot to sell to people who were farther back in line. Within the two hour period, this team generated a few hundred dollars.

Knowing how many bicycles are used on campus, another team bought a tire pressure and a pump for air. Setting up in front of the student union, they offered to check bicycle tire pressure for free, and if it was low, charged $1 for adding air. Then when they saw how grateful students were to have this service so handy, they asked for donations instead. They too made a few hundred dollars in the two hours.

The highest profit generated by one team was $650. Before this team did anything, they evaluated what resources were available to them: five bucks, two hours, and three minutes. They determined that the $5 and the two hours would restrict them; both are very limiting. The students recognized that the most precious asset in their hands was the three-minute timeslot.

They “sold” the three-minute slot to a company that wanted to recruit the students and created an infomercial for that company. That is what they played during their three-minute presentation time.

Seelig says she used this exercise to demonstrate what you can do with an entrepreneurial mindset. But she wanted to make sure her students learned that financial reward isn’t necessarily the primary value over everything else. So the next time she ran the exercise, instead of $5, the students received ten paperclips. (She had been inspired by the story of Kyle MacDonald, link below.)

If you want to read how her students assigned amazing value to paperclips, you’ll just have to buy Seelig’s 2009 book What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20.

~~~~~

Seelig’s website

Kyle MacDonald story

Hocus Pocus, Can You Focus?

focus

Image by Pixabay

Last Saturday’s post centered on multitasking being a myth. If you missed reading that post, there’s a link to it at the end of this article. I have since found two great quotes on multitasking; one is from last year and the other is a couple thousand years old.

“99 percent of us cannot multitask.” ― Daniel H. Pink, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing

“To do two things at once is to do neither.” — Publilius Syrus (born in 85 BC)

For those of you who remain adamant that you are successful multitaskers, I hope you tried a test similar to the one mentioned in Molly Fletcher’s post. As a reminder, here’s what she said:

“Around this time, I was trying to defend my multitasking habits to a friend who is an expert about how people use energy for success, and she interrupted me.  “OK, Molly, try this,” she said, handing me a notecard.  “Write the alphabet while you give me directions from your house to your daughters’ school.” I got past A, B, and C, but after that, my brain was scrambled. By D, I was done.”

One of the scariest aspects of multitasking involves using multiple devices. (For instance, watching TV while working on your laptop) In research conducted by the University of Sussex, MRI brain scans were performed while people used multiple devices simultaneously. The theory used to be that cognitive impairment from multitasking was temporary, but this latest research proved otherwise. These multitaskers “had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region responsible for empathy as well as cognitive and emotional control.”

The last point I’ll make is that multitasking can become addictive. We can get so accustomed to doing this, then moving to that, then switching to something else, that when we actually need to focus on one activity for an extended period, it can feel boring. We get twitchy. We need something else to do! Well, not really, but our brains have gotten used to the “excitement” of jumping around inside our heads.

Have you ever wondered why I place my links to additional reading, studies, videos, etc., that support my blog AT THE END of each article? I’m trying to help you pay attention; I’m not creating any distraction that will take you away from my post. It’s true:  I don’t want you to multitask by leaving my post and going to other websites when really, what you want to do is read and absorb my words.

I realize that doing this likely looks odd or non-techy if you compare my post to nearly everything else online, including the Forbes link below. Other writers insert links throughout an article to support various points. Remember the green light/red light analogy from last Saturday’s post? You stop reading the initial article when you click on a link. And that linked article likely has its own links, so you may end up forgetting about where you started.

Clicking on one link after the other is going down the proverbial “rabbit hole.”

We need to stop the mental running and just focus.

Compare the power of the sun to that of a laser used in surgery.

We are able to survive the sun’s tremendous energy effect on our planet because that energy is spread over our spherical earth with a total surface area of about 197 million square miles.

From MedlinePlus.gov, a laser is a light beam that can be focused on a very small area. The laser heats the cells in the area being treated until they “burst.”

Focus gets things done.

~~~~~~~~

Last Saturday’s Post Multitasking (is) for Dummies

Multitasking changes your brain

GE video called The Power of the Sun

Multitasking (is) For Dummies

multitasking

Image by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay

The ability to multitask is usually portrayed as a badge of honor. On the job seekers website Indeed.com, there is actually a category titled Multitask Jobs.

LoveToKnow.com, provides this description of a multitasker:  “People who are able to multitask have the ability to perform several tasks nearly simultaneously. If you watch someone who is a multitasker, you’ll notice that the person has a certain rhythm to her work and is capable of changing tasks without a break in that rhythm.”

Well, gosh. Who wouldn’t want to hire THAT person?

Much like an urban myth, multitasking isn’t a reality. It’s that we’ve heard it talked about in such a positive way for so long that we’ve just come to believe it’s a good thing.

Study after study now shows that we don’t really perform multiple tasks at the same time; we simply shift our focus from one activity to another, and then back and forth. One expert calls it a “green light/red light” switching activity done over and over again.

There are many problems associated with this constant shifting of focus. A primary one is that when we fail to focus on just one activity at a time, productivity suffers. When we temporarily stop doing activity A to do part of activity B, there is lost time as we make the switch. Then when we go back to A, there’s another loss of time. It may not seem like much but think about a typical workday that is spent starting/stopping between multiple projects. Listen to how we speak to ourselves when we switch: “Now, where was I?”

People believe they’re getting more done by multitasking when the science says not only is less done but it also produces lower quality work.

In his book Learn Better, Ulrich Boser advises that multitasking while trying to learn something hinders your ability to absorb the new information because it “drags on short-term memory” and keeps us from gaining an understanding. So it’s a bad idea for kids to listen to music (or text or check social media) while doing homework or studying for a test. Boser also cites a study where adults who took online classes WITHOUT any background music absorbed 150% more of the information than those who had background music playing.

This ties in with my own public speaking recommendation regarding PowerPoint or other visual aid. When (as the presenter) you show a slide to the audience and you’re still talking, the audience is hovering in that no-man’s land between listening to you and taking in what’s on the slide. Asking our audience to multitask means either they don’t hear us or they can’t absorb the slide 100%.  My best advice is to shut up and let the audience soak in the meaning of the slide. Then change the screen to black as you resume speaking.

About the only time we can do two things at the same time is when one of them is passive, one is mundane, and there is no risk involved. Here’s a good example: I listen to fiction through earbuds while I’m standing at the sink peeling potatoes. The task is mundane, the listening is passive, and I’m not going to hurt anyone with my potato peeler.

My word counter tells me that when I completed that last sentence, this post was at 586 words. Since Mr. Boser says we learn better in smaller doses, I’m going to continue this topic in part two on Tuesday.

~~~~~~

Great article by Molly Fletcher

Self-test on switchtasking

Article from Entrepreneur.com

Article from Forbes.com

Article from Inc.com