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New York, New York

Columbia '14 | urbanite | foodie | explorer | aspiring ukulelist | wanderlust 

Thought Sketches

 

 

Filtering by Category: Improvement

The 6 Month Test & Why It's Powerful

Sarah Chang

Every once in a while, I like to take a moment to reflect with what I call The 6 Month Test. I find it incredibly illuminating and motivating to benchmark things into perspective. 

The test is simple -- there are only two questions: Am I a fundamentally different person than who I was 6 months ago? and Is this difference a good thing?

Try it.

Let your mind wander to half a year ago -- What were you doing, working towards, hoping to have? What were your concerns? What did you want to be better at?

Now fast forward to where you are today -- Has there been measurable progress towards those things? Are you now facing a new set of challenges? Are the walls towering in front of you different than those that appeared before? Do you feel any differently?

Most of the time, I'm astounded by how much of a difference 6 months can make.

I'm intrigued by the sheer volume of new experiences I've had, people I've met, and ideas I've come across. It's fascinating to relive how and why these events have impacted me. A few times, I truly question why I said or did X, Y, Z things just a mere few months ago and feel so relieved to have moved beyond that.

If the answer is no, not much has changed, then I also know I've been spinning my wheels and need to be more deliberate in architecting my life or putting myself in situations to be exposed to more opportunities. 

I love this test because it's so revealing. There's no hiding from your progress. The only question more powerful is, "Where do you want to be 6 months from now?"

        

2014: Better Beginnings

Sarah Chang

I've never understood the phenomenon of New Year's Resolutions. Sure, I get that it's a chance to start afresh with a clean slate, but these ritualized promises have become synonymous with bulleting a list never to be unearthed beyond January. Read: People who are successful in achieving their resolution = 8%.

The problem with resolutions is not only that they are overly ambitious (lose 50 pounds, yay?), too vague (drink less, though what is "less"?), or highly specific (anything short of reaching that exact target feels like a failure), but that they fail to account for ingrained habits.

Furthermore, these resolutions don't connect to what happens after they've been accomplished. So you've managed to "become a better person"...then what?

If the result doesn't directly feed into a tangible, sudden gratification, then the driving motivation of that promising ideal doesn't seem that driving anymore.

Instead of creating concrete resolutions, I tend to get more value out of outlining a few general thoughts that inform my day-to-day approach, not define it. They're not new beginnings, just better ones.

Here are a few thoughts for 2014:

  • Focus on increasing precision. I’ve never identified with being purely detailed oriented and don't aspire to. I just finding thinking along broader visions and working on those ideals to be so much more interesting and fulfilling. Maybe it's a compensating mechanism for not sorting out small details, but I do acknowledge the benefits and need for precision. So much value comes from specificity - it’s a practiced skill that needs to be honed. I think part of the problem is that I associate "detailed oriented" with "time consuming", whereas it’s feasible to be both efficient and precise. In fact, the reason why efficiency is even possible is because there's already a high level of precision, reducing the need to double back and fix errors.

    Takeaway: No more rushing through things to get them done. Work on being more precise to increase quality and efficiency.
     
  • Be more in the moment for every interaction. There are so many distractions, everywhere. We're living in a swarm of other people's moments. Admittedly, this gets to me too, and there are just those days when I'm not listening as well as I should, and I'm responding as well as I could. But this is really selfish because these interactions are not one-sided. If we're going to expend time on the interaction or conversation at all, we owe it to others to be attentive and come up with thoughtful responses to what they’re saying. Or else, there’s little to be gained and much to be lost in terms of leaving a less than ideal impression.

    Takeaway: Consistently make a conscious effort to really engage in every exchange. 
  • Stop delaying, eat the frog. I'd like to work on getting past the dread of doing something I don’t want to do. Sometimes it’s just replying to an email or asking somebody for something. But ask yourself: What's going to change between now and then? Often, it’s not even the thing itself but the accumulated emotion of reluctance that prevents me from making a start. As a workaround, I’ll try to ask myself what’s preventing me from doing it. If whatever that hesitation is can be solved with extra time, then I’ll allow myself to wait. But if theoretically a month could go by and I would be left with the same situation to tackle, then might as well start now.

    Takeaway: Look at what's the cause of hesitation. Often it's just prolonged reluctance that makes it seem worse than it really is.

     
  • Be more deliberate in choosing what I admire. Because there aren't too many things I'm easily impressed by or admire, I tend to very actively try to emulate the things or people I am impressed by and have deep respect for. What I admire, in turn, explicitly determines the way I think, the values I have, and what I aim for. If this is so, it's worth understanding why I admire X, Y, Z, and making sure that these are really the things I should look up to.

    Takeaway: Understand where motivations are coming from and be conscientious in choosing what you want to be influenced by.

     
  • Get better at talking about myself. I prefer talking about ideas to talking about myself, but the latter is an equally important skill to have. That is, when it's called for. In fact, in social psychology, it's termed self-disclosure, one of the primary ways to build trust and bond with others. I think it's something some people don't find very natural because other than making others laugh, there seems to be a lack of purpose in telling a story. Perhaps highlighting the takeaway to facts or stories I share will make it more obvious why I'm talking about them, and it would remove the layer of superficiality that comes with the territory of making oneself the primary topic of conversation. 

    Takeaway: There's value in breadth of conversation, even when it doesn't seem immediately applicable. It's these shared experiences that highlight relatability and become most memorable.
     
  • Stay in touch with people more. This one is simple. People are important - it's really not the place you live or what job you have, but the people you share these morsels of life with. Sometimes people who mean much to you drift in and out, and it's unfortunate we let them drift out so far. Maybe it's about being better at reciprocating and creating opportunities to connect rather than relying on spontaneous interactions. But either way, no effort is no excuse.

    Takeaway: Make a better effort to reach out to people who are losing touch, especially if geographic circumstance is to blame.

     

Here's to an improved 2014! Feel free to hold me to these. 

        

The Benefits of Staggered Learning Curves

Sarah Chang

How many times have you wanted to learn something new -- play guitar, learn a language, pick up photography -- only to lose interest after a few weeks of concentrated interest?

Something I’ve been thinking about recently is organizing everything I’m learning into a matrix of staggered learning curves. It comes from the basic idea of the Four Stages of Competence, but instead of tracking progress for a single task, it’s more fitting to apply the theory to everything I’m learning concurrently

The model uses the theory behind the Dunning-Kruger effect (the idea that you know so little about something that you don’t know how bad you are, and dangerously, think you’re better than you actually are) to illustrate a ladder of competency: 

  1. Unconscious incompetence: you’re so bad don’t know how bad you are 
  2. Conscious incompetence: you’re at least good enough to know how bad you are
  3. Conscious competence: you’re only good with deliberate effort
  4. Unconscious competence: you’re so good it becomes second nature
Matrix.png

 

Taking it a step beyond what the ladder categorizes and applying it in useful ways, ideally my goal is to be at a different stage in each competency level at any given time.

For instance, I picked up ukulele five months ago and am at third tier of conscious competence, whereas my design skills as of two weeks ago are barely emerging out of the first stage of unconscious incompetence. 

I’m finding that it’s a good way to manage progress across several areas at once, and you can easily assess where you’re at in terms of progress and estimate how much longer it will take you to reach a final level of mastery.

There are so many benefits to measuring progress this way:

  1. It’s staggered growth. You’re creating a more systematic approach to control how quickly you’re advancing in any given area. There’s more consistency, predictability, and relative measurement of progress.
     
  2. You’ll reach unconscious competence fairly consistently after certain intervals of time (though this can be several months). This leads to sustainable, predictable periods of feeling the “high’s” of accomplishment that encourage you to keep learning things with a long-term perspective. 
     
  3. It minimizes the frustration of learning something new. It’s often easy to get disheartened in the beginning when there’s a large amount of resistance when facing a steep learning curve. If you spread out when you start learning several new things, you’ll be able to avoid being stuck at the bottom of the curve for all the things at once (as well as the disappointment that comes with it).
     
  4. The learning process is smoother if you’re adding new skills and diversifying what you’re doing day-to-day. There’s less room for boredom, and you won’t tire as easily of doing the same activities, again adding to the longevity of trying to learn and master something new.
     
  5. If at any point you take a hiatus, there’s enough accumulated experience in any given new skill so there’s something to pick back up in the future

I've found this way of thinking of every new skill, interest, or hobby I'm starting to be really effective in avoiding burnout, lost of interest, and general die-down of motivation after the first few days

Skills (or more aptly, lack of skills) in the first two stages really are not that useful or anything to speak of, so it's important to be able to push beyond the point when everyone else gives up because it's "too hard". Only after that will you transcend the boundary to contribute something both valuable and interesting.