The English Learners' Blog

A blog for English learners and their teachers everywhere, initiated in 2010 with the contribution of students from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. More about me on the On-line Profile below. Welcome!

Why Technology Has Not Killed the Period. Period.

A new study finds that the period serves important functions in the very text messages that are supposed to spell its demise

There are punctuation symbols that have largely gone the way of the dodo. But while National Punctuation Day, Sept. 24, may be an occasion to pour one out for the pilcrow, that’s not the case for the period. Despite much yammering about this familiar little dot being on life support, or already dead, the period is here to stay for the foreseeable future. And a new analysis of text messages—a medium that is supposedly spelling the period’s demise—helps illustrate why.

“Periods are not dead,” says computational linguist Tyler Schnoebelen, who turned to his own trove of 157,305 text messages to analyze how the final period—a period at the end of a thought or sentence—was being used and shared his initial results exclusively with TIME. “They’re actually doing interesting things.”

These were messages that he sent or received over a period of about seven years with about 1,100 other people, and while he did notice that many of those texters severely declined in their use of periods over that time, he also found that there are a lot of reasons people are still double-tapping their smartphone screens. (Schnoebelen presents the caveat that this, of course, is just one man’s social network, but it also happens to be the largest linguistic analysis of SMS texting done to date, he says.)

One reason is structure. We’ve all gotten that loooooong text from a rambling friend, or jilted lover, or parent who apparently believes there are prizes to be awarded for Most Letters Used In a Single Sitting. Schnoebelen found that the lengthier a message was, the more likely it was to end in a period. While only 13% of messages that were shorter than 17 characters (about this length) ended in a period, 60% of messages that exceeded 72 characters got the period treatment. That’s about half the length of a maxed-out tweet.

Longer text messages, like news articles and novels and legal filings, need more punctuation and will continue to need it “because people would get lost without it,” as Schnoebelen puts it. And there is a natural tendency towards parallelism: If the text was long enough that we needed to use periods within it, it feels natural to plop another one on the end, even if text bubbles themselves often act as their own visual “thought stops here” indicator.

Schnoebelen also found that a period can be a signal of emotion. There has been much ink spilled about how the period, once neutral as water, now makes texters seem angry, irritated or insincere. And it certainly can connote all those feelings. Linguist David Crystal, who has lamented that his comments about language change got overblown by news outlets wishing the period better luck in the next life, gives a fine example:

John’s coming to the party [statement of fact]
John’s coming to the party. [Oh dear!]

But that gravity can also be kind, expressing sincere empathy when something bad has happened to a friend, or conveying the sincerity of your own feelings. Periods can help minimize the risk of looking careless or being unclear. Texts ending in a period, in Schnoebelen’s analysis, had a disproportionate amount of the words told, feels, feel, felt, feelings, date,sad, seems and talk. By contrast, many of the words that tended to show up in texts that did not end with a period were more casual kinds of speech:lol, u, haha, yup, ok, gonna. (lol, it’s worth noting, is arguably used as a form of punctuation itself sometimes, like emoji.)

As the world of people we text with continues to expand, from just our closest friends to our colleagues, our distant relatives, businesses, customers, and so on and so forth, punctuation such as the period will help distinguish the registers we use. Because it’s not just whatever medium we’re using that determines how formal our speech is: it’s also who we’re talking to on whatever medium. “Punctuation is a way to convey standardness,” Schnoebelen writes. “Not everyone who texts with you wants to be (or thinks they can be) colloquial with you.”

By contrast, he discovered that one of the more unlikely places to find periods was bouts of sexting. Much as a query like “Pardon me, but might I remove your pants?” would seem out of place in most bedrooms, so too does assiduous punctuating have potential to ruin the mood.

National Punctuation Day is a day meant to celebrate these marks and signals that we sometimes misuse or abuse or take for granted. And one of Schnoebelen’s findings suggests how much more they are than mere organizing splotches and lines. He found that people, at least in his texting world, often mirrored each other when it came to final period use, reflecting back the same kind of style of whoever wrote the text. That means, in their small ways, periods can help build relationships and underscore group identity.

Sure, a complete absence of punctuation could serve the same purpose. But this finding also suggests that so long as there are people using periods, there will be other people sending them right back from whence they came, coming full circle.

Text by 

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Filed under: 4►WRITE, ■ Punctuation Marks, ■ They say... & what they mean is..., ■ They write... & what they mean is..., ■ TIME

Translators Recommend: 7 Tips to Learn a New Language

TED-Ed-language-image

Knowing more than one language is great for your brain. But what’s the best way to learn? TED’s Open Translation Project volunteers share 7 tips:

  1. Get real. Decide on a simple, attainable goal to start with so that you don’t feel overwhelmed. German translator Judith Matz suggests: “Pick up 50 words of a language and start using them on people — and then slowly start picking up grammar.”
  2. Make language-learning a lifestyle changeElisabeth Buffard has been teaching English for 27 years. She says that consistency is what separates the most successful students from the rest. Find a language habit that you can follow even when you’re tired, sick or madly in love.
  3. Play house with the language. The more you invite a foreign language into your daily life, the more your brain will consider it something worth remembering. “Use every opportunity to get exposed to the new language,” says Russian translator Olga Dmitrochenkova. For example, you might label objects in your house in the language, read kids’ books written in it, or watch subtitled TED-Ed Originals.
  4. Let technology help you out. Dmitrochenkova has a great idea: “A funny thing like resetting the language on your phone can help you learn new words right away,” she says. Ditto for changing the language on your browser. Or you can seek out more structured learning opportunities online. Dutch translator Els De Keyser recommends Duolinguo for its approach to grammar, and Anki for memorizing vocabulary with its “intelligent” flashcards.
  5. Think about language-learning as a gateway to new experiences. To Spanish translator Sebastián Betti, learning a language has always been about focusing on the experiences that the new language would open up, from “visiting theme parks, to enjoying cowboy poetry and folk-rock festivals, to learning about photo-essay techniques.” In other words, he thinks of fun things that he wanted to do anyway, and makes them into a language-learning opportunity. Many of our translators shared this advice. For example, Italian and French translator Anna Minoli learned English by watching undubbed versions of her favorite movies, while Croatian translator Ivan Stamenković suddenly realized he could speak English in fifth grade, after years of watching the Cartoon Network without subtitles. So the next time you need a vegan carrot cake recipe, find one in the language you’re trying to learn.
  6. Make new friends. Interacting in the new language is key — it will teach you to intuitively express your thoughts, instead of mentally translating each sentence before you say it. Find native speakers near you. Or search for foreign penpals or set up a language tandem online, where two volunteers help one another practice their respective languages.
  7. Do not worry about making mistakes. One of the most common barriers to conversing in a new language is the fear of making mistakes. But native speakers are like doting parents: any attempt from you to communicate in their language is objective proof that you are a gifted genius. They’ll appreciate your effort and even help you. Nervous about holding a conversation with a peer? Try testing your language skills with someone a little younger. “I was stoked when I was chatting with an Italian toddler and realized we had the same level of Italian,” recalls German translator Judith Matz. And be patient. The more you speak, the closer you’ll get to the elusive ideal of “native-like fluency.” And to talking to people your own age.

This article was adapted for TED-Ed from a TED Blog post by Krystian Aparta published on January 19, 2016 in Interviews

Filed under: 5►LEARN MORE FROM:, ■ TED, ■ Translators

SNOWFLAKES – SCIENCE & ART

Artist Rogan Brown's paper sculptures are many times larger than the organisms that inspire them. Magic Circle Variation 5 is approximately 39 inches wide by 39 inches tall in its entirety. Brown has created multiple versions of Magic Circle, the shape of which alludes to a petri dish and a microscope lens.

Artist Rogan Brown’s paper sculptures are many times larger than the organisms that inspire them. Magic Circle Variation 5 is approximately 39 inches wide by 39 inches tall in its entirety. Brown has created multiple versions of Magic Circle, the shape of which alludes to a petri dish and a microscope lens. Courtesy of Rogan Brown

Do you remember cutting paper snowflakes in school? Artist Rogan Brown has elevated that simple seasonal art form and taken it to science class.

These large-scale paper sculptures may evoke snow, but actually trade on the forms of bacteria and other organisms. The patterns may feel familiar, but also a bit alien. You’re not looking at a replica of a microbe, but an interpretation of one. And that distinction, Brown says, is important.

“Both art and science seek to represent truth but in different ways,” the 49-year-old artist, who lives in France, tells Shots. “It’s the difference between understanding a landscape by looking at a detailed relief map and understanding it by looking at a painting by Cezanne or Van Gogh.”

Brown wants to you to feel something looking at these sculptures.

Last year, he met with a group of microbiologists to plan an exhibition on the human microbiome. He became fascinated by the hidden world of microbes and the strange shapes of pathogens. He was particularly interested in humans’ fear of the invisible microbiological world. That meeting led him to spend four months creating Outbreak entirely by hand.

Outbreak, which is approximately 58 inches long by 31 inches tall, was exhibited in London in 2014.

Outbreak, which is approximately 58 inches long by 31 inches tall, was exhibited in London in 2014. Courtesy of Rogan Brown

Outbreak took four months to cut and build. Brown writes on his website that the slow process of cutting mimics the "long time-based processes that dominate nature: growth and decay."

Outbreak took four months to cut and build. Brown writes on his website that the slow process of cutting mimics the “long time-based processes that dominate nature: growth and decay.” Courtesy of Rogan Brown

A detailed view of Outbreak shows the delicate forms Brown cut by hand. He says he works with paper because it "embodies the paradoxical qualities that we see in nature: its fragility and durability, its strength and delicacy."

A detailed view of Outbreak shows the delicate forms Brown cut by hand. He says he works with paper because it “embodies the paradoxical qualities that we see in nature: its fragility and durability, its strength and delicacy.” Courtesy of Rogan Brown

He starts each construction by sketching detailed designs and then mocking them up in larger pen and ink drawings. Then he begins to think in 3-D. Each structure is composed of layers of paper, which are stacked using foam board spacers. This floating effect allows him to build a complex colony of organisms that appear to grow beyond the confines of their housing.

In Cut Microbe, that growth is chaotic. The whip-like appendages of the creature branch outward in an invasive way. Those legs, Brown writes on his website, were inspired by the flagella of Salmonella and E. coli, tiny appendages that help the bacteria move.

Cut Microbe, left, was cut entirely by hand. The entire sculpture, right, measures approximately 44 inches tall by 35 inches wide. Brown says it was inspired by Salmonella and E. coli.

Cut Microbe, left, was cut entirely by hand. The entire sculpture, right, measures approximately 44 inches tall by 35 inches wide. Brown says it was inspired by Salmonella and E. coli. Courtesy of Rogan Brown

In Magic Circle, the architecture is more constructive, ordered — there are colonies of intricately shaped forms that evoke the collaborative, constructive network of a coral reef. It also evokes microbes and diatoms.

Magic Circle borrows from the forms of bacteria, microbes, diatoms and coral. Brown needed a laser to cut some of the more intricately designed shapes.

Magic Circle borrows from the forms of bacteria, microbes, diatoms and coral. Brown needed a laser to cut some of the more intricately designed shapes. Courtesy of Rogan Brown

Some of Brown’s work is sliced meticulously by hand using a scalpel. Others, like the one above, are also cut using a laser. The end result is a fragile paper sculpture that borrows from what we can see as well as the artistic imagination.

“We live in a world dominated by science,” Brown says. “Art needs to work hard to keep up or use the language and imagery of science for its own ends.”

Source: Meredith Rizzo, Is This Snowy Wonderland Or The World Inside A Petri Dish?, NPR, December 25th 2015

Filed under: 5►LEARN MORE FROM:, ■ Arts/ Music/ Dance, ■ Biology, ■ Nature, ■ TED

What’s going on under the skin?

This TED-ed series called Getting Under Our Skin is looking at this very topic. Browse through the selection of videos below to learn more about what may interest you. Enjoy the summer, stand up straight, be healthy and get savvier every day!

Filed under: 1►LISTEN▼, ■ Biology, ■ TED

3 Ways to Speak English

Filed under: 3►SPEAK▼, ■ TED, TOPICS▼

Why TED is “cleaning” every single one of our video files — all 1,700 of them

TED Blog

Cleans

By Gwen Schroeder

When you watch a TED Talk, you see a speaker on a stage sharing a big idea. But for us in TED’s post-production department, we see each talk as the final product of a complex recipe. The speaker and their words are the most important ingredient, of course. But there are other, less-obvious ingredients in the video too — like the TED intro, the thank-you to our sponsor, the closing outro video message, as well as the lines of text overlaying the video itself, called “lower thirds,” that contain the speaker’s name, the date and the location where the talk was given.

Recently, though, we realized that we baked in a few too many ingredients. We need a simpler video file with fewer extras tacked on. Which meant we need to remake our library of 1,700+ talk videos without those extras — starting from scratch with the…

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Filed under: ■ TED

TED’s 30th anniversary + TOP 10 moments for women in TED

The article below was published on Glamour, March 5th 2014. Here it goes:

Today, TED announced that Charmian Gooch, an anti-corruption activist who cofounded the watchdog organization Global Witness, is this year’s winner of the $1 million TED Prize. (Gooch will explain on March 18 how, specifically, she will use the money to make her “wish” for the world a reality.) You can watch her incredible TED talk—and read through her detailed annotations—on ted.com. But that’s just one of many TED talks given by women that have inspired us. To celebrate Gooch’s win, and TED’s 30th anniversary (yes, TED turns 30 this year!), we asked Anna Verghese, deputy director of the TED Prize, to curate the top 10 moments for women in TED that we all need to see.

TED-Prize-Charmian-Gooch-Anna-Verghese
2014 TED Prize Winner Charmian Gooch (left), and TED Prize Deputy Director Anna Verghese (right)

“There are now more than 1,700 TED talks—”ideas worth spreading”—available online, many of them by badass women,” Verghese told Glamour. “I’m honored to make recommendations of just 10 of the many talks, from scientists to artists, writers to leaders, that have made me feel smarter and more prepared to take on the world in just 18 minutes or less.” Watch a few to get through the afternoon slump at work, or take ’em all in later. We guarantee you’ll be inspired!

Sheryl Sandberg: Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders 


“This is the talk that preceded [Lean In],” says Verghese. “[It’s] a great, unconventional, persuasive take on the way that women take themselves out of the running for leadership positions.”

Chimamanda Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story


“The young Nigerian author gives a beautiful, elegant, and at times hilarious talk about the danger of believing a single, narrow story about anything or anyone,” says Verghese. “My favorite anecdote: When she arrived at college in the U.S., her roommate asked to hear some of her ‘tribal music.’ Chimamanda pulled out a Mariah Carey CD.”

Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are


“An essential talk for all young women! Cuddy is a psychologist and Harvard Business School professor who explains how our posture and body language shape not only how others see us but how we see ourselves,” says Verghese.

Leymah Gbowee: Unlock the Intelligence, Passion, Greatness of Girls

“The Nobel Prize winner from Liberia shares powerful stories about the unlocked potential of girls worldwide, who are still far from [being] treated as equal citizens,” says Verghese.

Brené Brown: The Power of Vulnerability

“This blockbuster talk came out of one of our TEDx events in Houston,” says Verghese. “Brené’s take on vulnerability—and why it’s essential to our relationships and to our success—has won her millions of fans worldwide.”

Elizabeth Gilbert: Your Elusive Creative Genius


“The author of Eat, Pray, Love offers unconventional advice on how to nurture your own creativity,” says Verghese. “Her advice: Take some pressure off yourself, but never stop creating.”

Courtney Martin: Reinventing Feminism


“A beautifully heartfelt talk, she describes the three paradoxes that define her generation’s question to define the term [feminism] for themselves,” says Verghese.

Angela Patton: A Father-Daughter Dance…in Prison


“The is the amazing and moving story of a group of preteen girls who organized a father-daughter dance in the prison where their fathers were incarcerated,” says Verghese. “I wept.”

Jill Bolte Taylor: My Stroke of Insight 


“Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroscientist who observed her own stroke as it was happening. This is one of the most popular TED talks of all time,” says Verghese.

Cynthia Breazeal: The Rise of Personal Robots

This MIT professor “talks about her love of robots—which began when she saw Star Wars as a girl (R2D2!)—and new kind of intelligent, personal robots she designs,” says Verghese.

Did any of your favorite TED talks by women not make this list? Do you love one of the talks Verghese selected? Share your top picks in the comments below!
Photos: James Duncan Davidson (Gooch); Mike Femia (Verghese); videos courtesy of TED

Filed under: ■ Conference Speakers, ■ GLOBAL, ■ Talks & Conferences, ■ TED, ■ Women

Shh…tresss

Stress. It makes your heart pound, your breathing quicken and your forehead sweat. But while stress has been made into a public health enemy, new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others.

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Kelly McGonigal interviewd by TED Blog (January 8th, 2014)

The Science of Willpower: Kelly McGonigal on why it’s so dang hard to stick to a resolution

It’s the second week in January and, at about this time, that resolution that seemed so reasonable a week ago — go to the gym every other day, read a book a week, only drink alcohol on weekends — is starting to seem very … hard. As you are teetering on the edge of abandoning it all together, Kelly McGonigal is here to help. This Stanford University psychologist — who shared last year how you can make stress your friend — wants you to know that you’re not having a hard time sticking to a resolution because you are a terrible person. Perhaps you’ve just formulated the wrong resolution.

McGonigal has, for years, taught a course called “The Science of Willpower” through Stanford’s Continuing Studies program and, in 2011, she spun it into a book, The Willpower Instinct. The TED Blog spoke to McGonigal this week about how willpower is often misunderstood, and what we each can do to improve it. (We also asked her about today’s talk — Why dieting doesn’t usually work.) Below, an edited transcript of the conversation.

First question: why is willpower such a struggle?

It’s a great question. I define willpower as the ability to do what matters most, even when it’s difficult or when some part of you doesn’t want to. That begins to capture why it’s so difficult — because everything we think of as requiring willpower is usually a competition between two conflicting selves. There’s a part of you who is looking to the long-term and thinking about certain goals, and then another part of you that has a completely different agenda and wants to maximize current pleasure and minimize current stress, pain and discomfort. The things that require willpower pit those competing selves against each other. Willpower is the ability to align yourself with the brain system that is thinking about long-term goals — that is thinking about big values rather than short-term needs or desires.

The reason that so many things can trigger that kind of conflict is because that’s the essence of human nature. Modern cognitive neuroscientists see this as the fundamental structure of the human brain — that there are competing systems that think about the world differently and that respond to challenges differently. I think of it as: the immediate self versus the future self. We need both systems for survival.  But a lot of our modern challenges really tempt us to be in the mind-state of immediate gratification, or escaping immediate discomfort. It can be quite a challenge to access the part of you who is willing to take that big picture and tolerate temporary discomfort.

So, given this idea of two competing selves who want different things, how effective are New Year’s resolutions for tapping into the ability to think long-term?

I think it depends on how you go about making your New Year’s resolution. Typically, when people are making a New Year’s resolution, they don’t start with the right questions, so they end up making a resolution that is ineffective. Most people start with the question: “What should I do?” It may not even be a conscious, implicit kind of thing, but they start from: “What do I criticize about myself that it’s time to change?” Or “what is it that I don’t really want to do that I know I should do?” It’s kind of a typical self-improvement perspective. “I don’t really like exercise, I guess I should do it.” Or “my closet is a mess, it’s time to get organized.” “I’ve never had a clean desk in my life, but I think that good people have clean desks, so this is the year I’m going to have one.”

People come up with resolutions that don’t reflect what matters most to them, and that makes them almost guaranteed to fail. Even if that behavior could be very valuable and helpful — like exercise — if you start from the point of view of thinking about what it is you don’t really want to do, it’s very hard to tap into willpower. If there’s no really important “want” driving it, the brain system of self-control has nothing to hold on to.

The kind of New Year’s resolution that works is when you start really slowing down and asking yourself what you want for yourself and your life in the next year. What is it that you want to offer the world? Who do you want to be, what do you want more of in your life? And then asking: “How might I get there? What would create that as a consequence?” When you start from that point of view, then New Year’s resolutions can be incredibly effective. They begin to turn your attention to choice points in your everyday life where there really are opportunities to align your energy and attention in the direction that matters to you. I think most people start from the choice points, without wondering whether this is even the right thing to be choosing. People get to the behaviors too soon, in my opinion.

Any tips for how to find those big things and then narrow them down to specific resolutions?

A very practical way is to ask: At the end of 2014 — on January 1st, 2015, looking backwards — what are you seriously going to be grateful that you did? Is there a change you know that you’re going to be glad you made? What would that feel like? That can tap into something that feels really authentic.

I was just doing a radio interview at one of the NPR stations in New York, and I was chatting with the studio producer. I asked her if she had any New Year’s resolutions, and she’s like, “Oh yeah — to stay fit.” She sounded so not enthusiastic. Then after a few seconds of silence, she said, “I’m kind of thinking about finding a way to play the piano again.” She was lighting up a little more. “It used to be so important to me, and I really miss it. It’s like my soul wants to play the piano again, and it would be giving it back to my soul.” And I’m like, “That’s your resolution! What is this getting fit stuff?”

By the way, you can spend the first week [of the year] looking around. One year my resolution was to focus on being a better mentor, and to look for ways in every professional relationship to do that. You start looking around, and you see every conversation as an opportunity to choose that value and move toward that goal. Just spend a week saying, “If what matters is improving my health, if what matters is spending more time with my family, if what matters is reconnecting to creativity, what choices do I make every day that either could get me closer to that?”

So on those things you feel like you should be doing — the going to the gym or the quitting smoking — is there a way to build your willpower towards those things?

One of the things I always encourage people to do is to not try to do things alone, and to start outsourcing their willpower a little bit. If it’s exercising, you should be doing it with a family member, a friend, a co-worker. Or sign up for a series of classes after work. Because then, it’s like a bigger pool of possible willpower. If you’re exhausted after work, and you normally would say, “Screw it, I’m going home,” if there’s somebody who is going to meet you in your office, and say, “Hey, aren’t we going for a walk now?,” it doesn’t matter if you feel like it in that moment. There’s going to be a bigger pool of motivation that will support you through when you’re feeling most exhausted or least motivated.

Another thing I encourage people to do is — if there’s a behavior that they put off or don’t do because of anxiety or self-doubt or because it’s boring or uncomfortable — bribe yourself. If you hate exercise but truly, truly want the consequences of exercising, you should give yourself permission to do whatever you don’t want to let yourself do — like read trashy gossip magazines, or download a whole series of a TV show that you can plop on in front of you on the treadmill. As long as it doesn’t conflict with your goal, then you should go ahead and pair the thing you don’t want to do with a reward that you might otherwise not give yourself permission for. That can be very effective for beginning to prioritize and make time for things.

Also, give yourself permission to do small steps rather than think that there’s an ideal you need to meet. I wrote a review paper about two years ago showing that you can get pretty much the same health benefits from doing 5 to 15 minutes of exercise a day as from an hour. There are a lot of things like that, where we think, “I won’t get my novel done unless I can put aside a whole weekend to write.” Well, you could create a novel in a paragraph a day. So I encourage people to think: what’s the smallest step that they could take that is consistent with their goal? And not necessarily worry about whether they believe it’s sufficient.

That is actually very freeing.

New Year’s resolutions can be fun! If you think of them like a science experiment, you can always learn something from a resolution.  A lot of times, people aren’t willing to learn the lesson — and sometimes the lesson is that you think you want to change this, but you don’t really want to, and sometimes you don’t need to. That sometimes we look for the things we think we can control.

It’s funny how this happens sometimes even when we go after the things that really are core to our identity. I did this New Year’s resolution makeover once with this woman who had made the same resolution year after year to become a better cook, because she thought that’s what good moms and good wives did. She was a terrible cook, and she didn’t want to learn how to cook. That’s a mistake people make, is they think they’re just going to fundamentally change who they are with a resolution. “I’m going to become a morning person.” “I’m going to become a health nut.” “I’m going to become organized.” The best resolutions are ones that strengthen something you already are, but you may not have been fully investing in.

Derek Sivers: Keep your goals to yourselfDerek Sivers: Keep your goals to yourself I wanted to ask about the idea of working with other people and outsourcing willpower. Have you ever seen Derek Sivers’ talk on TED.com? It’s called Keep your goals to yourself and it suggests that people are more likely to achieve goals if they keep them private.

There is some data that suggests you might feel like you have accomplished your goal if you can create a public identity as somebody who is pursuing that goal. And I have overwhelming feedback from my students in my Science of Willpower class that, if they actually can truly create the identity — that they really sense that “I am someone that trained for a marathon,” or “I am somebody who is committed to this” — that it actually makes it easier to make choices.

People are really interested in creating habits, and there’s so much excitement now about habit design. Habits are really, really hard to create because they require complete automaticity. You need to basically be making choices in the absence of any motivation and it takes a long time to get that in place. But when you have a value or commitment, that’s something different. It can be a conscious choice that when you’re in a restaurant — if your identity is as somebody who takes good care of your health — then that becomes a default way to make a good choice in that moment. Anything that you do to create that identity can actually make it easier to make choices that don’t feel like deprivation.

That’s one side of that research. Then there’s the whole other side of how social support and pride can support having more strength to move towards your goals. If you know that other people are paying attention to you, and you know that you’re going to be able to celebrate your success — you’re going to be able to post on Facebook that you actually did run that marathon, or even that you just made it to spin class, or whatever your version of that is — that anticipating that social sharing is very motivating for people. It’s more motivating than even success in itself. The self-savoring is not as motivating as knowing you’re going to be able to savor a success with somebody else. Then when you hit the wall — when you experience setbacks — social support encouragement is also so important for getting back on track.

I think that from top to bottom, making your resolution social allows you to access different supports, both internal and external. One more reason to go public — being a role model for someone. People will do things when they know that they’re inspiring change in others. It’s a natural progression that you see in many areas — whether it’s people who are recovering from addiction, or someone embarking on a physical challenge. This is what people naturally do.

Sandra Aamodt: Why dieting doesn't usually workSandra Aamodt: Why dieting doesn’t usually work And did you see Sandra Aamodt’s talk, Why dieting doesn’t usually work?

Yes! My talk was right after hers at TEDGlobal 2013. I remember basically agreeing with everything she said.

So her idea — that the brain seeks to keep weight stable over the long-run, and so dieting can often backfire because it makes a person so focused on food — fit with the research you’ve looked at on willpower?

There are two things she said that really stood out to me, and that I agree with very seriously. One was that she talked about the importance of being kind to yourself. She made the point that self-compassion is much more motivating than self-criticism. That’s very important. When I first started teaching the Science of Willpower, it was the thing nobody believed — researchers and psychologists and writers have done a great job of getting this message out, because I don’t get near the resistance I used to get to the idea. And still, it’s so amazing how many people believe that they are more motivated by self-criticism and shame than anything else. They aren’t really paying attention to the effect on their behavior and choices when they are that hard on themselves.

The other thing I remember Sandra saying was about the futility of trying to lose weight. And that’s absolutely right. Whenever I’m in any situation where people are asking me to talk about losing weight, I always try to change the language to creating health because you cannot control weight. It’s exactly what Sandra said — the brain and the body, they will fight you. Losing weight is almost always a consequence of making good choices — but it’s not always a consequence. You can make good choices and not lose the weight. The most important thing in Sandra’s talk was the idea that making the healthy choices is going to give you the consequence of health, even if you don’t lose the weight.

She showed a really interesting graph of four health factors — eating fruits and vegetables, exercise three times a week, not smoking, and drinking in moderation — and how, if people who are overweight do just one of those things, their risk of mortality lowers to the same level as a normal weight person.

I hope TED has more talks from obesity experts, because nobody knows this research about how weight doesn’t predict health. There’s so much important science out there that people are not paying attention to. That was my favorite part of her talk.

Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friendKelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend To bring it back to your TED Talk, How to make stress your friend, it sounds to me like what you’re saying about willpower is related — that it’s not so much whether you have willpower, but how you think about willpower.

I’ve been joking about that — that my work has always been to basically take an inner experience that people reject, force them to accept it and understand it, so that they can make peace with it. One of the reasons why I teach this Science of Willpower class and wrote the book is because I kept hearing from people that they felt like they had no willpower. They thought they were the only ones and that their willpower struggle was uniquely wrong with them — they were so lazy, they were so stupid, they were so hopeless. They didn’t understand the fact that we all experience willpower challenges. It’s part of what it means to be human.

It is similar to the way that I’m now trying to help people appreciate stress, and understand that this is human and that it can help us. It’s not always helpful, but there are aspects to it that, when we can make friends with it, we have a lot better chance of using it to good ends. I feel the same way about willpower. When you understand what a craving is and why it’s there, you can also appreciate the part of you who can make a different choice.

One of the big lessons from The Science of Willpower is if you really fight the inner experiences, it’s not going to end well. If you decide you’re going to fight cravings, fight thoughts, fight emotions, you put all your energy and attention into trying to change the inner experiences. People tend to get more stuck, and more overwhelmed. When you try to control the things that aren’t really under your control, you get to feeling more out of control. Whereas where you really have the freedom is in your choices.

That’s very similar to stress. If you think you can’t feel stress and that stress is always going to be toxic, you’re magnifying any of the toxic aspects of stress. By fighting stress, you’re making stress worse.

So, make friends with the fact that you can move towards goals that are really important to you?

Yes. Willpower is about being able to hold opposites. So I can feel the emotion, I can feel the craving, and at the very same time, I just make my awareness big enough to hold my commitment to make a different choice. Your ability to hold those opposites is what gives people willpower over time.

Filed under: ■ GLOBAL, ■ Happiness, ■ Stress, ■ Talks & Conferences, ■ TED, TOPICS▼

TED Talks Pinned: Speaking of HapPINness

Recipes for feeling happy? Browse through the talks & sites below and decide what suits you best.

■ ■ ■

■ Stay in the moment

About Matt Killingsworth’s TEDTalk

When are humans most happy? To answer this question, researcher Matt Killingsworth built an app, Track Your Happiness, that let people report their feelings in real time. Among the results: We’re often happiest when we’re lost in the moment.

About Matt Killingsworth

Researcher Matt Killingsworth designs studies that gather data on happiness. While doing his Ph.D. research at Harvard, Killingsworth invented the Track Your Happiness app.

He’s now a Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar examining such topics as the relationship between happiness and the content of everyday experiences, the percentage of everyday experiences that are intrinsically valuable, and the degree of congruence between the causes of momentary happiness and of one’s overall satisfaction with life.

Web Resources

Related TEDTalk: Dan Gilbert on “The Surprising Science of Happiness”

■ ■ ■

■ Slowing Down

About Carl Honoré’s TEDTalk

Journalist Carl Honoré believes our society’s emphasis on speed erodes health, productivity and quality of life. But there’s a backlash brewing, as everyday people start putting the brakes on their modern lives.

About Carl Honoré

Carl Honoré is the author of In Praise of Slowness, which dissects our speed-obsessed society and celebrates those who have gotten to slow down. Honoré is an advocate of the Slow Movement, an effort by those all over the world to decelerate the pace of their lives, with everything from “slow cities” to “slow food.” He’s also the author of the book Under Pressure.

Web Resources

■ ■ ■

■ Less = HappIer

About Graham Hill’s TEDTalk

Can having less stuff, in less room, lead to more happiness? Writer Graham Hill makes the case for taking up less space.

About Graham Hill

Graham Hill is the CEO of LifeEdited, which works with developers to market buildings that embody small space living. Hill is also the founder of TreeHugger.com, which aims to push sustainability into the mainstream with a design-forward style.

Web Resources

■ ■ ■

■ Misfortunes, Stops on the Road to Happiness

About Dan Gilbert’s TEDTalk

We’re doomed to be miserable if we don’t get what we want — right? Not quite, says psychologist Dan Gilbert. He says our “psychological immune system” lets us feel truly happy even when things don’t go as planned.

About Dan Gilbert

Psychologist Dan Gilbert is the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, where he runs the Hedonic Psychology Laboratory. He’s the author of Stumbling on Happiness. In the book, Gilbert argues that our beliefs about what will make us happy are often wrong. In the same way that optical illusions fool our eyes, Gilbert says, our brains systematically misjudge what will make us happy.

Web Resources

■ ■ ■

Be Grateful

About David Steindl-Rast’s TEDTalk

We all want to be happy, says David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk. And happiness, he suggests, is born from gratitude. An inspiring lesson in slowing down, looking where you’re going, and above all, being grateful.

About David Steindl-Rast

David Steindl-Rast is a Benedictine monk who writes about gratefulness. Since 1953, Brother David has been a monk of Mount Saviour Benedictine monastery in New York, dividing his time between hermitic contemplation, writing and lecturing.

He was one of the first Roman Catholics to participate in Buddhist-Christian dialogue, and is the author of The Ground We Share, a text on Buddhist and Christian practice, written with Robert Aitken Roshi. His other books include GratefulnessThe Heart of Prayer and Deeper Than Words. His most recent book is 99 Blessings. He’s the co-founder of gratefulness.org.

■ ■ ■ Source

■ ■ ■ Links to be added

Filed under: ■ GLOBAL, ■ Happiness, ■ How to Live, ■ Talks & Conferences, ■ TED, TOPICS▼

Teacher’s Homework – [1.] A Matter of Taste

Saltwater Taffy

Oh, yes, believe it or not, teachers also have homework, and yes, it is homework they mostly give themselves after getting inspiration from their students. My homework today is, as the title hints, a matter of taste, and I would like  to start with one of the five, namely the sweet taste. This post comes with a warning for all of you out there with a sweet tooth.

It all started from the innocent little word chew, plural chews, the category of sweets which includes candy like Toffee and the traditionally American Saltwater Taffy. I hope I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew with my topic, so I’ll reveal the red thread that led me to the “candy store online archives”, on the world wide web.

Without further ado, let’s click to find out:

Kitchen Utensils 1

1. Why is it called Saltwater Taffy?

2. How is Saltwater Taffy made?

Kitchen Utensils 2

3. Which utensils are essential for baking something sweet in my own kitchen?  

4. Where can I listen to and learn from great cooks about the art of baking?

Kitchen Utensils 3

5. How about an apple cake?   Sounds easy when you hear Deb Perelman pull up her sleeves and get on to baking it on this BBC podcastDeb's Apple Cake

6. Who is Deb Perelman and what connects her to the Smitten Kitchen?

7. Where can I find some pics of the best British sweets? The Telegraph has the answer

8. What about some traditional American treats? Or top 10 desserts?

9. Mmm… and Polish ones? Polish Krowki - Milk Toffee Candy

10. …Or RomanianSavarina

Oh, my, and this is just the beginning…  The rest coming up soon!

Adios, everyone!

Filed under: 5►LEARN MORE FROM:, ■ BBC, ■ Cooking, ■ England, ■ Podcasts, ■ Poland, ■ Radio Shows, ■ Romania, ■ Taste, ■ The Telegraph, ■ USA, ►12.OFF THE MAP▼

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