I’ve been using Jinny S. Ditzler’s book Your Best Year Yet! for the last several years. Ditzler offered a nice framework in the form of ten questions to look at the past and to plan for the future. She claimed that it would take approximately 3 hours to go through all ten questions. It always takes longer for me, though.
The book is well written. It is fluent but overall the text doesn’t have the depth I would like. I mostly just use the ten questions. Here they are.
1. What did I accomplish?
2. What were my biggest disappointments?
3. What did I learn?
4. How do I limit myself, and how can I stop?
5. What are my personal values?
6. What roles do I play in my life?
7. Which role is my major focus for the next year?
8. What are my goals for each role?
9. What are my top ten goals for the next year?
10. How can I make sure I achieve them?
Going through this process year after year certainly made a difference in my own life. This process complements three aspects of self-direction that I value: learning from the experiences, setting goals that I know I would feel proud to accomplish, and making sure that I do what I want to do.
Several years ago, when I was still working full time, we did a project for our customer. At one stage of the project, we were invited to give a presentation to the customer. After that we had dinner together. It so happened that the hotshot on the customer side sat next to me, a big and somewhat intimidating man but also with the ability to put people at ease. He addressed me very formally and I will never forget the brief exchange between us. He said: “Dr. Tan, how long have you been working at your current job?” I said: “About three years.” Then he said: “Are you sure you have three years’ worth of experience, or you just have three times one year’s experience?” That question surfaces in my mind a lot recently. I am glad to say that for the last several years my answers to the questions 1-4 were quite different each time.
After we are done with our formal education, for those of us who bought in the concept of continuous improvement and made the commitment for the life time personal growth, in one way or the other, we can’t avoid asking the question “How to learn from experience?” I asked Joe Randall about this and he gave me a great answer. In essence, Joe’s idea is to meet friends for lunch and discuss the life experiences. Thanks, Joe.
Upon reflection, I became aware of the three approaches I am using. The first is informal feedback. I observe how other people do things, imagine how I would handle the same challenges in the given situation, compare and learn. The second is to generate my own feedback loop. Before I attempt something, I write down what results I expect to see. This step is to avoid the rationalization afterwards. When I get the actual results, I compare them with my intention and see how well they match. The third is to request direct feedback from people who have the opportunities to observe me.
If you have any other ways to learn from experience, I’d love to hear from you.
Yesterday I asked Kurt what his New Year’s resolution was. He said: “Not to make a New Year’s resolution next year!” For some people New Year’s resolutions or goal setting in general is just nonsense. They are quite settled in life. They know roughly what they want to do and they’d rather let life unfold. For me, goal setting is essential since I have so many interests and it’s so easy for me to drift. I realized that there were two kinds of accomplishments in life. The obvious one is the kind that is very external. If you have this kind of accomplishments, you can point and show people. Here is the book I wrote, here is the degree I got, here is the child I brought up, here is the product I make, here is the paper I published, etc. The less obvious one is a way of life. One example that pops up in my mind is the Root Beer Lady. Trained as a nurse, Dorothy Molter fell in love with the Boundary Waters Canoe Areas and spent her life there as the last legal resident. Molter was a very determined woman. She had to fight the government to win the rights to stay at her own home. Living alone in the wilderness, she had to take care of herself in every aspect. After her death, her cabin was moved and reconstructed in Ely, Minnesotaas a museum. We went to visit the museum last summer. It’s truly inspiring to see how this strong woman had lived her life and her values. There were harshest conditions and challenges; there were also harmony and humor. One of her containers was labeled dehydrated water. Molter’s accomplishment is her life, the way she lived what she believed in and what she valued. Personally, I would place the way of life ahead of the external accomplishments. The later we often have less control over. However, I can always decide what kind of a person I want to be and strive to live in a way that matches that decision.
No matter what type of accomplishments you set your eyes on, the deep satisfaction in life doesn’t come easily. Many of us know what we want to do and what would give us satisfaction but we just don’t do it. One of the reasons that goal-setting has such a bad reputation is that we mix the goals we are committed to achieve and the goals we might want to consider if we happen to have some extra time or extra motivation. According to Ditzler, every goal in the second category should be crossed out. They are simply distractions and they just waste your time and energy. For the goals that you truly want to give your best, Ditzler’s 10th question is a very powerful one. In the book, she proposed to use a weekly gold time planning session to review the past week and set one goal for each role for the coming week. She has three more questions to help you think about a particular goal during the review session:
1. What’s the next step?
2. Who can provide the support I need?
3. Does the way I see the problem lead to success?
I’ve been using weekly review for several years and it has been one of the most powerful tools/processes to keep me on track. There is nothing fancy and it only takes about half an hour to an hour. During my weekly reviews, I write down my answers to three questions:
1. What did I do in the past week?
2. What have I learned?
3. What do I plan to do next week?
The other trick is to make myself accountable to someone else. This is much harder to do in practice.
Medina said, “The more attention the brain pays to a given stimulus, the more elaborately the information will be encoded – and retained.” Since attention is so important, it will be logical to ask what we can do to arouse and hold people’s attention for the duration that is needed for learning. According to Medina, our attention is related to three broad areas: memory, interest, and awareness. What are in our past--our experiences and cultural background, are gold mines to dig for attention. If we can somehow connect what we want to learn to what we already know, sustaining attention is not that difficult. Interest and attention affect each other. Interest creates attention, as anyone who seriously pursues a hobby knows. On the other hand, marketing research showed that “the novel stimuli—the unusual, unpredictable, or distinctive” can arouse attention and that attention could lead to interest. Both sensory stimulation and emotions pique our awareness. Special sight, smell, and noise could grab our attention, at least for a short time till we find out what it is. In terms of getting and holding attention, the emotions and feelings are the most important influencers. Many people probably would remember how intense some of their internal dialogues were even without any external stimuli. Medina said: “Emotionally charged events persist much longer in our memories and are recalled with greater accuracy than neutral memories—the brain remembers the emotional components of an experience better than any other aspect. Studies show that emotional arousal focuses attention on the gist of an experience at the expense of peripheral details.” In that sense, I deeply appreciate Medina’s teaching strategy. He mentioned that “we are better at seeing patterns and abstracting the meaning of an event than we are at recording detail.” Therefore, it’s better to “start with the key ideas and, in a hierarchical fashion, form the details around these larger notions.” He said that our “memory is enhanced by creating association between concepts.” “The most common communication mistakes: relating too much information, with not enough time devoted to connecting the dots. Lots of force feeding, very little digestion.” Medina is an award winning teacher. Apparently his method works. He has two other insights about teaching and communication. One is about multitasking. He doesn’t believe that we can pay attention to and work on more than one higher level task at the same time. I didn’t find his point well supported by the brain science but I agree with the conclusion full heartedly. You see, I found out that the only way I can enjoy my children and have a positive influence on them is when I can discipline myself to be there with them mentally when I am with them physically. I just can’t divide my attention and hope I can get something else done while with them. Medina said, “The brain naturally focuses on concepts sequentially one at a time.” “Good multitaskers simply have better working memory.” It takes them less time to switch their attention and focus on a new task. Medina
interesting point. He said, “By the time children are 3 years old, the connections in specific regions of their brains have doubled or even tripled. This has given rise to the popular belief that infant brain development is the critical key to intellectual success in life. That’s not true.” This makes sense to me and it certainly relieves a lot of my guilt toward my children. I am sure ear ly development helps, but over a person’s life span, I believe the accumulated, consistent efforts later in life are far more important. Life is forgiving. There is not just one chance.
regions of their brains have doubled or even tripled. This has given rise to the popular belief that infant brain development is the critical key to intellectual success in life. That’s not true.” This makes sense to me and it certainly relieves a lot of my guilt toward my children. I am sure ear ly development helps, but over a person’s life span, I believe the accumulated, consistent efforts later in life are far more important. Life is forgiving. There is not just one chance.
infant brain development is the critical key to intellectual success in life. That’s not true.” This makes sense to me and it certainly relieves a lot of my guilt toward my children. I am sure ear ly development helps, but over a person’s life span, I believe the accumulated, consistent efforts later in life are far more important. Life is forgiving. There is not just one chance.
later in life are far more important. Life is forgiving. There is not just one chance.
later in life are far more important. Life is forgiving. There is not just one chance.