Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dysfunctional Eraser Syndrome.

At practicum, I do these assessments which often require us to give the child a pencil without an eraser. The instructions go something like "you'll be using a pencil without an eraser, so if you make a mistake, just cross it out and put the correction beside it." The idea is that we want to be able to see their thought process if they do end up changing their mind about an answer or step in a problem. It's fascinating to me, however, that the kids completely ignore that sentence in our instructions. No matter how worn down the eraser is (and trust me, they're nearly -- if not completely -- flat, because that's the point!), the child will try to erase anyway. Usually it's not very effective, but something about that ability to make even part of the incorrect answer go away is enticing to them.

This may be reaching a bit, but I started thinking about this and came up with the idea that it is sort of an allegory to our need to cover up our mistakes. People tend to be embarrassed by things they do wrong, and would much rather obliterate all evidence than have to face what they did each time (especially if they, in the end, were able to correct it!). When given a choice between crossing things out and erasing, most people choose erasing (admittedly, this is also because it looks neater). So, do kids pick this up from us early on? Is that was the erasing as much as humanly possible with these sad, meant-to-be eraser-less pencils is all about? Or is it just one of those childhood quirks that I find so great? Well, either way, it's entertaining...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Just Say No.

I have this problem with saying no to people, which I have always known, but lately, it's become more and more obvious to me (perhaps because it has also been more frequent??). In my head the words "no" form loud and clear, but some how the signal from my brain to my mouth gets confused and it comes out as "no problem" instead. This is specifically a problem with many of my friends, but the problem also extends to advisors and other people in authority positions (e.g. practicum supervisors). In most cases, it's not a big deal to help out or do whatever they've asked, but it's more of a principle thing. And training, if you will, for the bigger things, which I am still often unable to say no too. Enter my problem of getting myself over committed in projects and extracurricular activities.

So, I turn to my faithful readers to ask for suggestions... graceful (or even just effective) ways of saying NO! to people who ask for my time, energy, work, and anything else I don't really want to give.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Be Careful What You Hypothetically Decide...

A while ago, I had a conversation with a friend that was part of a series of those random hypothetical questions. "If you could only have one song for the rest of your life, what would it be?" Of course, this is a near impossible question to answer for anyone who has any remote interest in music. And for the two of us, who are both quite into lots of different types of music, it was definitely hard. We both like various songs/genres depending on our mood at the time! But you can't factor in moods in a question like that. So, I finally decided, if really pressed, I would have to choose "Collide" by Howie Day because I often listen to the song as I am going to bed because it helps me fall asleep.

Yesterday, I went out for a bike ride and discovered that my ipod mini was broken. It will turn on, but the 'menu' button won't work and since I had my ipod set on repeat, it is stuck on one song. The song? Collide. It struck me as funny that the song I identified as the one that I chose really is actually the only one I can listen to now! I was annoyed at first, but I decided if it was going to be stuck on one song, I guess it really is good that it was this one... at least I can sleep!

Sunday, September 7, 2008


I find myself seeking inspiration for various things on a fairly regular basis -- research projects, motivation for my classes, decisions in my personal life, and just day-to-day existence during those rougher weeks. Since it is beginning to look like this semester is going to be one long string of "those rougher weeks" I figured it would be a good time to stock up on some inspiration. Of course, whenever I actively seek out inspiration, I almost always come up empty handed. What I always forget is that when I stop trying so hard (looking for inspiration as well as pretty much anything else), it seems to magically fall into my lap. Even knowing that doesn't make it easier to just let go, be passive, and wait for inspiration/change to arrive. But I am inevitably rewarded when I least expect it.

Today's dose of inspiration comes in 2 parts. Neither are particularly earth-shattering, but both managed to strike just the right chord at the right time for me.

I. A friend of mine is a high school English teacher, and this morning (over one of the most amazing dishes of French toast I have ever had!) she told me about the first assignment she gives to her kids: Write 50 things that are true about you. Then she has them turn those things into a "rambling autobiography," in which no sentence can have anything to do with the one before or after it. The idea is that she can teach about sentence structure and the different ways to make words have an impact in a fun way. The bonus is, it also serves as a way to get to know her kids without having to do the trite ice-breaker activities. I loved the creativity of the assignment and it also made me think about what I would write in my own rambling autobiography... suddenly, inspiration! I want to write again... not just journal article-style methods, results, and discussion sections, but real creative writing.

II. A friend of mine posted this fantastic poem on her blog that was given to her in a class. Ironically, it goes right along with the autobiography theme. She says "The poem talks about having the self-awareness to recognize the reality of the situation, the humility to admit your own mistakes, and the fortitude to change your behavior as a result." Again, the timing was just perfect and struck a chord with me. Love it, love it, love it.

Autobiography in 5 Chapters
by Portia Nelson

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost...I am hopeless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in the same place.
But still, it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it there.
I still fall in...It's a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

I walk down another street.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sunk costs: revisted

A friend of mine and I got into a discussion the other day about sunk costs and my use of it in my previous post. Basically, she told me that her business-major boyfriend told her that economically speaking, I used the term incorrectly (which I realized at the time -- those darn societal figures of speech never seem to be quite accurate, huh? :-) ). Anyway, it sparked some interesting discussion all around about decision-making theory. The funny thing is, even using the correct definition and the critiques that came up in these discussions makes it seem all the more applicable for me. The idea of sunk cost, it seems, is kind of stupid because regarding an investment as a sunk cost basically implies that previous actions have no bearing on future actions. In smart decision-making, you take into account the history when making your decision about the future. To regard everything that has happened as a "sunk cost" and stick with the endeavor anyway because you've invested "so much" in it is basically akin to throwing good money after bad.

So, as a New Year's Resolution to myself (and all of you reading!), I'm making it a goal and a Priority to stop throwing good money after bad. So to speak.

(P.S. Yes, I did say New Year's Resolution... being the perpetual student that I am, I tend to re-evaluate things based on the academic calendar, rather than -- or really, in addition to -- the new calendar year. Like I said, it's the perpetual student in me :-)).

Ethics by Spiderman.

"What gives you the right to change people's lives?"

This question was posed to me (and others) in my Ethics class this morning. It's interesting because one of the answers was that psychologists have societal prestige and assumed competence. Even as graduate students in training, people often assume a lot about our abilities to assess and practice. At practicum, we often question whether we know enough or are trained enough to really be doing what we're doing (this is especially true for placements where we are doing treatment -- read: therapy -- in my program), but clients rarely question our competence.

Basically, the message boiled down to a favorite line of mine (yes, from none other than our favorite superhero - Spiderman!) "with great power comes great responsibilty." The message was not a shock, but the idea of how much power we really have as psychologists was something that really started to hit home. I've obviously considered it before, but I think that this Ethics class is going to actually make me think about a lot of things more deeply than I have before.

Let's just say this is a welcome opportunity at the moment and really couldn't have come at a better time...