Monday, October 8, 2007

Teach What You Want to Learn

To paraphrase the wonderful writer Anne Lamott, today is one of those days where I feel like the latch on the door is barely holding, when the snarling dogs are threatening to get out.

In other words, today I am working hard to hold on to hope. Hope that I'll achieve my goals, hope that the bad guys don't win, hope that the struggle will be worthwhile.

So today I'm going to try to help you find and hold on to hope. While this may seem backwards--Eeyore trying to cheer Tigger up--I've found that sometimes it helps to teach what you want to learn.

Sometimes this happens accidentally, as when I had to teach Rhetoric 102 to college freshman, despite never having even taken rhetoric. But I learned enough to teach each class, and found that as I went along, I learned rhetorical analysis by teaching it. Of course, sometimes, you seek to understand something--the meaning of a poem, the process for using a piece of software--and so you talk to other people about it, and by trying to explain it, find that you're finally understanding it.

So back to hope. What are you supposed to do when you're not feeling particularly hopeful? When you feel like the clouds keep threatening?

Here are some ideas on how to maintain optimism:
  • Laugh at yourself. My husband has this great way of reminding me not to take things too seriously. Whenever I'm feeling angst-ridden or blue or upset, he tells me to stick my fingers in my ears, touch my elbows together, stick out my tongue and cross my eyes. If I go through with it, I instantly feel better.
  • Recognize that your mood is not permanent. Sometimes it can feel like you'll feel this way forever--blue and cloudy and sad. But you have felt happy and positive before, and you will again. Remember--this too shall pass. All you have to do is get through this low spot.
  • Think of one small thing that will help you keep hope alive. Now is the time when it's most crucial not to try to take on the world--it's much too overwhelming. So think of something small you can do to achieve a goal. Maybe I'll read a chapter out of a helpful career advice book, or send one e-mail to someone who can help you achieve your goal. Think atom small, because this you can do. Action is one of the surest ways to combat negative rumination.
  • Turn to art. Allow the large, powerful emotions of someone else influence you. Read a stirring poem, listen to your favorite power anthem, look at the beauty of a painting or watch an inspiring movie. Open yourself to art's transformative power.
  • Get some exercise. Fresh air and a thrumming pulse never fail to banish at least some of the cobwebs and inspire feelings of self-determination and capability.
  • Play. Goof around. Do you have silly putty? Make a silly putty animal. Do you have pen and paper? Doodle some nonsensical shapes until something takes form. Do you have a dog or a child? Play hide and seek and enjoy the simplicity of a game.
  • Do something nice for someone. This can be as simple as giving your spouse a neck rub or as large as driving donations down to the Goodwill. Serve someone else and that will help you return to feelings of hope.
  • Visualize your goal. Get yourself back into the mindset that you were so excited about to begin with. Once it becomes clear again, you will see the path you need to take to get there.
Okay, I really am feeling better already. Teaching what you want to learn can work. It takes strength to teach, but it gives strength. Whatever you do, don't give up because of something as transient as a mood. You do have power over your own life--not absolute power--but you can shape so much.

After all, talent is nothing without perseverance.


Anonymous said...

Another Suggestion for Dealing with Retrograde Days

Optimism and exhaustion are inversely related. When enthusiasm for something you love is low, sleep deprivation might be the culprit. Going to bed an hour early can make all the difference in how much better
the next day feels.

- Erzsebet

Tiffany Hamburger said...

Sage advice, no question. I need to take this advice more often! :-)