Do you procrastinate? How to gain the upper hand, with psychologist Adam Grant

“I CAN’T!  I just can’t work on it, right now,” complained the daughter of a lifelong friend: “The deadline is still a week away. I’ll feel more like it, tomorrow,” she said, thwarting her mother’s efforts to get her to work on a major school project. 

My friend recently confided that “the hardest part of raising teenagers is getting them motivated to do their homework.” She described her efforts to discipline, cajole, even bribe her teens into staying seated, reading, thinking and doing the homework set before them.

Of course procrastination for everyone, and for teenagers in particular, has been exacerbated by our pandemic times: repetitive school closings, barriers to online learning, the effect of social isolation, and lack of a clear “end in sight” to Covid-19 could undermine the motivation and energy of the most diligent.

Procrastination, as discussed by psychologists for generations, is the crutch of people whose standards are too perfectionist to let them straightforwardly “get their work done.” While putting off work may seem to be an issue of time management, psychologists tell us that it’s really a striving to avoid unhappy emotions that arise from our work. By putting off work, procrastinators hope (delusionally) that the problem will go away or somehow later get easier to manage.

And of course that rarely, if ever, happens.  As Wharton psychologist Adam Grant wrote last spring, in The New York Times (NYT), procrastination is really a failure to manage our pain.

Grant cites the case of the sci-fi humourist, Douglas Adams, who in the early 1980s struggled mightily to progress with writing the fourth installment of his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He took repeated baths, where he sometimes found that inspiration struck; and in desperation, went on a solo writing retreat at a country manor (where he got very little done). Eventually, his fourth book was only finished when his editor booked a hotel suite and sat with him, watching him type, day-by-day, until “after a couple of weeks, the manuscript was done.”

Psychologists Timothy Pychyl and Fushia Sirois have published their findings that procrastination is about “avoiding negative emotions” and not about being “lazy” or “avoiding work,” as people often assume. A task can stir up feelings of anxiety, confusion, even boredom. Escaping it may make one feel better today, but the task inevitably looks even worse tomorrow, “along with  the unshakeable (and accurate) sense that one is “falling behind.”

Procrastination is ultimately self-sabotage. Negative feelings are never dispelled by fleeing what triggers them. Grant refers to different strategies that people use “to end self-inflicted pain.” Douglas Adams, in Grant’s estimation, suffered from “neurotic perfectionism,” being his own “harshest critic,” editing and evaluating his writing as he composed it, throwing out drafts in production phase (although writers such as Daphne Gray-Grant have analyzed that practice as another process of self-sabotage).

Canadian novelist, Margaret Atwood, whom Adam Grant interviewed for his NYT article, has similarly allowed procrastination to take over. He writes: “For three years, she could not mark a page or screen when thinking about The Handmaid’s Tale,” telling Grant that its premise seemed to be a “mad idea” and that her avoidance was mere “laziness.” And the book became an international bestseller and secured Atwood’s reputation as one of the world’s leading novelists.

Grant distinguishes these “neurotic perfectionists,” from “productive perfectionists.” Why? The latter “aim high, based on their own standards, not out of concern about what others will think.” He writes that “when a draft disappoints [them], instead of beating [themselves] up,” they try “self-compassion: They remind themselves that they are human and that everyone procrastinates sometimes.” (I recommend psychologist Kristin Neff’s

groundbreaking work on self-compassion, discussed in an earlier posting.) Forgiving ourselves for our imperfections, and for escaping to procrastination in the first place, makes it easier to get back to work and to avoid recurrences of procrastination.

Grant teaches us two additional coping strategies, for when procrastination kicks in:

(1) We can be productive by working with our circadian rhythms (“night owl” or “morning lark”), so we tap into our most productive times of the working day. We’re better able to handle challenges when our minds are sharp.

(2) It can also help to ask a friend or relative to assist, even if they do no more than sit nearby and do their work. Grant reports that working close to a productive person has been shown to intensify one’s own productivity “by as much as 10 percent.” Part of the pain we flee when we procrastinate is that working alone can feel lonely and the work, deeper and greater than we are. Sitting near or imagining one’s reader, viewer, or interlocutor nearby “can bring focus and meaning.”

Trying to efface procrastination altogether is not, however, realistic: “There will always be undesirable tasks that conjure unwanted emotions,” Grant says. But “avoiding those feelings is a habit we can work on breaking.”

Shortly after my friend lamented her teenage daughter’s procrastination, her daughter asked her to sit with her, while the daughter started that school project–simply to listen to some of her ideas. Within about 20 minutes,  her daughter had found her own productive vein of thought that was far more interesting than the momentary distractions of Spotify and TikTok.

And now it’s your turn: When has procrastination gotten the better of your creative work?

Do you think Grant’s insights could help you to cope with the negative emotions we aim to avoid?

January 2021–Tell Your Story Newsletter (TYSN)

January 2021, Vol 3 Issue 1

Tell Your Story Newsletter (TYSN): Specializing in Entrepreneurial and Organizational Storytelling

Let me tell your story!

IN THIS ISSUE:

ARTICLE 1: Missing out on reading? Writer Christian Jarrett on how to get back to the books

STORYTELLERS’ CORNER:

On Janus words with Mignon Fogarty

SHOP NEWS

ABOUT US

Welcome Mid-January, 2021!

 

With Christmas now past, many of you have expressed relief with the mild temperatures the month of January has so far provided. Such mildness has made weathering the ongoing pandemic much easier. Compromising on the choices we make, so as to overcome the hold that Covid-19 has on us, we can, however, understandably feel weary with the isolation and loneliness brought by social distancing.

In this month’s issue, I highlight the coping strategy of reading, by visiting sensible ways to gain or reclaim it, if you have lost the habit, in our daily lives. Pandemic times make  the library and local bookstores as essential as grocery stores. And in “Storytellers’ Corner,” I visit Mignon Fogarty’s explanation of “Janus words,” which often confuse us with their double and contradictory meanings.

While we are mid-winter, with today (January 18) often described as the “bluest” day of the year, the appreciable lengthening of daylight hours offers us hope, as does the promise of a spring and summer that will bring vaccinations.

Meantime, I wish you the calm, patience (and if need be, downright escapism) that good reading can provide, even if we feel we are trudging along, keeping “one foot in front of the other,” as resilience requires.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth

Principal

Storytelling Communications

www.elizabethshih.com

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Article One: Missing out on reading? Writer Christian Jarrett on how to get back to the books

One of the struggles for at least some creatives during the Covid-19 pandemic is that daily life can feel too frantic for books. Piles of both fiction and non-fiction lie stacked near my favourite reading chair, and yet often remain unread.

In a recent issue of “Aeon + Psyche,” writer and neuroscientist Christian Jarrett recommends habit-building strategies for pandemic-weary, armchair readers, who want to return to reading, for the self-improvement—and sheer joy— that it brings. I turn to those, below.

Like Jarrett, I envy heavy readers who can invest hours daily in the process. I find that a day spent without serious reading feels like a day misspent. I’m sorry to say that I’m not currently a heavy reader, not least because, as Jarrett writes, whatever is happening in the lives of heavy readers, “they’re never completely on their own—they always have their books.”

Twenty-first century life has many of us overwhelmed by the demands on our time, so we buy books with the intention of reading them, but often do not get there. Jarrett says that the Japanese even have coined a word for this condition, call “tsundoku.” A survey of adults in the US revealed that more than one-third wish they could read more than they do. Anecdotal evidence in Canada indicates at least similar, if not higher, rates.

He notes that editors, agents and book award judges—professional “super-readers”—manage to read (or to listen to audiobooks for) as many as 100 titles each month. While that’s not realistic for most of us, Jarrett emphasizes that we need to change our habits, if we want to restore the “attention and time” that reading deserves. Here are his six recommendations:

(1) Give up watching television or other screens for entertainment, so as to immerse yourself in good books—be they fiction or non-fiction. Jarrett observes that today’s reading of screens tends to “show you what’s happening; novels, by contrast, construct those fictions within your mind, allowing you to become anyone, and go anywhere.” Creativity and imaginative release can replace the mere distraction of screen based entertainment. Millennials, take note!

(2) Jarrett warns that those of us who have fallen out of the habit of reading more books can expect to make an effort initially, until the habit returns “without conscious effort and willpower.” Making reading into a habit, even for just “two minutes per day” (I’d recommend 10-15), gives you time to adjust to making reading an “entrenched part of your daily routine.”

Writer James Clear asserts that “a habit has to be established before it can be improved.” Piggybacking reading onto habits you already have (e.g. making it a bedtime ritual) can help you to keep it up. When you “reinforce the association” between reading and a time and place, you’ll become able to do it without thinking about it.

(3) Neuroscience has shown for decades that readers benefit from reading: “People who read literary fiction in particular tend to be better at reading others’ emotions and have greater moral sensitivity, possibly due to their simulation of the lives of complex characters.” He reminds us that reading non-fiction also provides cognitive stimulation that protects us from Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia.

(4) Beginner leisure readers who do not have much experience should start with books they enjoy, Jarrett says, so they find the process “entertaining, calming, moving or intellectually stimulating and fascinating.” Trial and error and time may be required for newbie readers find a sweet spot of authors and genres that suits them. Some patience is needed, here, but there are obvious choices to begin with, such as Alexander McCall Smith and Louise Penny (detective fiction). You can always describe your interests to a librarian or local bookseller, who will happily recommend an appropriate author.

Jarrett cites author James Clear on forming a habit of reading: “Read whatever helps you fall in love with the act of being a reader or the habit of reading. And once you fall in love with the habit, then it’s easy. . . Now you’ve got . . . options, because it’s part of your life.”

(5) Jarrett also recommends that we quit reading the books we don’t enjoy and consider re-reading the ones we do. Reading time is too precious to invest in a title we do not like.

(6) Recording our progress in journals can also help, since reporting on the books you have read will deepen the habit. Some readers cultivate their “own sense of self and identity as a reader,” by attending virtual bookclubs, or by joining “Goodreads,” where they can review books they’re reading and learn about new authors whose work can interest them.

As a former academic reader, I enjoy reading or re-reading literary classics and then watching their film adaptations over streaming services like “BritBox” or “Acorn,” or on PBS Masterpiece Classic and Masterpiece Mystery. It can be fascinating to critique the interpretations that film adaptations provide.

While many of my readerly friends and colleagues listen to audiobooks and read titles on iPads or e-readers, I am partial to reading books in their traditional, “hard copy” format. Since I don’t want to grow an unwieldy library in my home (which would turn storage and moving into headaches), I happily use the local library system, with its excellent, online reservation service–and encourage others to do the same.

And now it’s your turn:

Amid these pandemic weary days, do you want to become more of a reader than you currently are? Do any of Jarrett’s recommendations inspire you to get started?

Please tell me about your readerly journey on my “contact” page: I’d be delighted to hear from you.

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STORYTELLER’s CORNER . . . . 

STORYTELLER’S CORNER: On Janus words, with Mignon Fogarty

At the end of last year, “Grammar Girl” and writer, Mignon Fogarty, wrote a blog posting on “Janus words,” which are also called auto-antonyms. (The term “Janus” comes from Roman mythology, where the deity Janus had two faces, one looking forward and another, backward. In common writing, the term refers to something having two contrasting aspects; and, less commonly, to someone who is two-faced or deceitful.)

“Janus words,” then, are words that have two opposing meanings (i.e. “auto-antonyms,” or words that provide their own antonyms). A good example is the verb “to dust,” which can mean both “to add a light layer,” such as when one “dusts a cake with icing sugar,” and “to remove dust,” such as when one “dusts the tables and surfaces before company arrives”).

Fogarty cites “sanction” as another Janus word, as it can mean both “to approve or ratify something” and “to punish or penalize someone.” So too is “chuffed,” an English word that can mean both “pleased or satisfied” (more common) and “displeased or disgruntled” (less common).

Fogarty estimates that there are about 30 Janus words in the English language (others include “cleave,” “trim,” “seed” and “alight”), which add to the challenge of learning  the language for children and for non-native speakers. In most of these cases, one of the two meanings is far more common, but the second is still possible.

Janus words caused me frustration in childhood (verbalized in the 1970s and 80s to my family) that some words “don’t mean what they’re supposed to”–or at least don’t have a single, stable meaning.

They remain the delight of readers as well as literary theorists like Jacques Derrida and Slavoj Zizek.

And now it’s your turn: Do you notice Janus words in the reading and writing of your discipline? Why not share them on my “contact” page? 

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SHOP NEWS:

I am particularly grateful this month to Monica Kreuger, Deanna Litz and Elaine Manytka for leading and running the staySMART cohort of alumni from the Praxis School of Entrepreneurship.

This group of entrepreneurs has been meeting since last fall, to strategize on how to make our businesses more Covid resistant. The 90 minute, weekly seminars, combined with 45 minutes of weekly coaching from Deanna Litz, have been fortifying and inspiring; and the contact with fellow alumni soothing, in these troubled times.

As a participant in this program, I’m delighted to provide editing services for websites and blog postings, for several fellow staySMART alumni. Special thanks to Monica Kreuger, for making this possible.

Meantime, I continue with my ESL training through Tefl.org and look forward to upcoming months, when I will unroll services of language instruction. Between writing and teaching, I will help new immigrant entrepreneurs and others “to tell their stories in English,” or “to learn  English to tell their stories.”

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Hearty congratulations this month to Monica Kreuger for being named CTV Saskatoon’s Citizen of the Year. Monica’s 30+ years of leadership in entrepreneurial circles and her generosity, profound decency and genius all made it very easy to write in support of her nomination.

Special thanks to Lenore Swystun and Deanna Litz for spearheading that application process.

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  ABOUT US:

Between 2011 and December 2018, Elizabeth Shih Communications chronicled the stories of B2B marketing and communications on the Prairies and across the country.

Effective January 1, 2019, I rebranded as “Storytelling Communications.” I now write marketing and communications documents and lead  workshops that help entrepreneurs and newcomers to Canada to strengthen their businesses or secure better jobs.

Interested in learning more? Please contact me through my CASL-compliant website (www.elizabethshih.com).

After I receive your message, I’ll be pleased to discuss projects with you!

Please visit my website for more information (www.storytellingcommunications.ca).

 

 

On SEO writing (a 2021 revisit to copywriter Henneke Duistermaat)

During a recent virtual networking conversation, a great marketing consultant mentioned that many Saskatchewan start-ups, across all fields, have naively paid (and then lost) thousands of their budgets to flashy, large marketing companies. These companies promise to get start-ups on “page one of Google” search results, without knowing the marketing that local clients genuinely need and that will work to secure real sales.

I write for humans, not primarily for bots. Having my copy appear on page one of Google’s search results, whether for myself, or my clients, would not secure sales. And yet the intrusive noise over high SEO rankings persists, even in 2021. On the issue of SEO, I sometimes worry about creative integrity and always refer my clients to the UK-based copywriter, Henneke Duistermaat.

In a recent blog posting on SEO (https://www.enchantingmarketing.com/seo-writing/), Henneke reminds us that the history of SEO writing began when writing for Google was supposed to be a copywriter’s strict aim. Online writing in those days (90’s, early 2000’s) was stuffed with keywords that made copy “almost unfit for human consumption.” In the 2010s, since Google “becomes smarter every year,” overlap developed between pleasing readers and meeting Google’s demands—but the overlap was still limited.

Nowadays, Henneke asserts, pleasing our readers “makes Google (mostly) happy, too.” Google “doesn’t want [copywriters] to try to beat its algorithm. It wants you to share your expertise, to create trustworthy, authoritative, helpful content—content that delivers what visitors are looking for.” She cites marketer Andy Crestodina who says, “To write for SEO, write the best page on the internet on your topic. If you make the best page on the web for your topic, there are 2000 math PhDs at Google trying to help you rank and get more traffic. If you don’t do that but try to take shortcuts, there are 2000 math PhDs at Google trying to stop you.”

Nowadays, then, Henneke says, if your “blog strategy is clear and reader-focused, you’ll fulfill the basic requirements for SEO, too.”

She shares five steps to write for SEO in 2021:

(1) Have a clear blog purpose, aiming for a topic that “fires you up,” so that you’ll “share your expertise with more enthusiasm.” Here your creativity can shine through.

(2) Use your audience as primary keyword research tool, writing about topics that matter to your readers (their aims, questions, problems, assets they seek), not to bots or to beat algorithms.

(3) Focus on tiny topics, instead of big questions, because the latter tend to be “vague and superficial or unwieldly and boring.” Narrower topics also provide more helpful content to readers. For a blog to be “valuable,” it should mix “a couple of articles about big topics and a lot of articles about tiny topics.”

(4) Write about each topic just once, since more than one post on the same topic compete and Google can’t tell which one to send traffic to.

(5) Write to help your readers “achieve a tiny aim, solve a tiny problem, answer a tiny question, or . . . present an inspirational collection of [resources]” and “optimize (a little) for Google” (www.moz.com/explorer is a free and useful tool to search keywords). Once you’ve identified a good keyphrase, include it in your headline, opening paragraph, in the main body of the post and in its conclusion.  Also, try to add some images in which, as in your URL, you can again insert the keyphrase.

Henneke writes: “the better Google becomes, the more important it becomes to focus on your readers and to deliver what they’re looking for. So use keyword research as a complement to, not a replacement of, understanding your audience and knowing how you want to help them.”

If you fear that SEO threatens to dominate your blogging, follow your curiosity and that of your readers to address their pain points or struggles, “so you know how you can help them.” By doing so, you’ll create valuable, interesting content that “Google’s house of math PhDs” will happily rank well.

Writing here, in Saskatchewan, means your blog posting should not aim to appear on Google’s first page, but instead to be noticed by your readers. Your posting will compel them to read your content closely and to identify you as a resource they urgently need.

And that’s an engaged client (and a likely sale) for you.

And now it’s your turn: Have you lost too much money and time chasing the elusive first page of Google’s search rankings? How might a revised method of SEO, based on original, focused copywriting, work to secure clients for you and your biz?

Farewell New Year’s Resolutions; Hello, Strategic Goals (with Powerful Nature’s Deanna Litz) . . . .

Like most sentient beings on the planet (or at least in the corner of it I call home), I shun the age-old practice of making “New Year’s resolutions” (that no one ever keeps for long).

And yet, discussion about the philosophy behind goal-setting–notably what works and what doesn’t–and when the planning is individualized and specific, can help almost any entrepreneur to excel.

. . . . Or at least it can, if you discuss it with Saskatchewan’s own powerhouse coach, Deanna Litz, of “Powerful Nature.”

In a recent session with Deanna, as a part of Praxis School of Entrepreneurship’s staySMART program (funded by the enlightened folk at Can-Sask Employment Services), I mentioned how a medical practitioner in my life who follows a negative, “my way or the highway” approach, fails to motivate me to keep good self-care (be it exercise, sleep hygiene, and so on).

Anticipating meeting this practitioner early in 2021, was worrying me, as I had lost sight of how, in Deanna’s words, “negative motivation may not be as productive as positive reinforcement.” This is particularly because only the latter gives you energy to keep striving. Furthermore, “celebrating wins and successes as a part of setting goals can get us farther,” Deanna added.

When things happen and we tell ourselves stories about them, it’s much more helpful to tell constructive stories than self-condemning ones. Why? Because these stories affect how we feel about ourselves and become the basis of our identities.

If we practice healthy self-care, for instance, we find the best space from which to explore professional opportunities and to seek alignment with others who may offer them. For instance, to use a perennial example, if “Jill” shows up to a job interview, having good self-care and self-compassion, she feels herself an equal to the interviewer, open to investigating if there’s alignment between that person (or committee) and herself.

On those occasions when an unequal, unfair power dynamic appears (as sometimes happens at job interviews and at medical appointments), we

can better endure because we know our own agency in the exchange.

For me, positively framed goal-setting can make 2021 start more healthily than 2020 ended. A Covid lockdown at my local gym leads me to explore at-home exercise (e.g. online videos); I am returning to drafting “Morning Pages” (after Julia Margaret Cameron) to reduce mental rumination; and I am similarly restoring my sleep by listening to hypnotherapy recordings. When I do these things, I am more present with myself and can also better serve my clients.

Undoubtedly medically based self-care practices are good, but as Deanna says, “self-care is of the whole person,” and not just the one or two parts of one’s body, addressed piecemeal. Any negative “prescription” from a medical service provider fails to recognize the power of our minds and spirits.

As we enter 2021, amid the second wave of a global pandemic, let’s start here! Let’s use the positive (including positive self-care) to deepen our capacity for alignment and engagement with one another, which yield for both sides productivity and abundant contentment.

And now it’s your turn: As a new year begins, what goals are you planning for yourself and your business?  Please share, as I’d be delighted to hear from you. And may 2021 bring you renewed health, contentment and peace.

December 2020–Tell Your Story Newsletter (TYSN)

December 2020 Vol 2 Issue 12

Tell Your Story Newsletter (TYSN): Specializing in Entrepreneurial and Organizational Storytelling

Let me tell your story!

Welcome Mid-December, 2020!

Winter in Saskatchewan came “fast and furious” with November’s storm and heavy snowfall. But after several weeks of mild temperatures, this week ushered in unseasonable cold, as if to reinforce our socially distant,  pandemic friendly, Christmas plans!

If the media’s obsessive coverage of Covid-19 (excluding so much other, important news) threatens to overwhelm you, or if this time of year is difficult for other reasons, please visit to the American Hospice Society’s menu on “surviving Christmas,” which I featured in the past two December issues of this newsletter (2019 and 2018).

In this month’s issue, I visit some of the teachings of Buddhist monk, Pema Chodron, whose insights help me cope with pandemic fatigue.

In “Storytellers Corner,” I visit the perennial grammatical issue of whether or not we can end sentences with prepositions (with a nod to “Grammar Girl,” Mignon Fogarty).

While it feels painful to miss seeing those outside our immediate “bubbles,” I hope that this Christmas/Hanukkah season allows you time to rest and recharge body, mind and soul. And that this time renews our awareness of the many blessings we do have, that are so easy to forget.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth

Principal

Storytelling Communications

www.elizabethshih.com

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IN THIS ISSUE:

ARTICLE 1: Pema Chodron: Some insights for pandemic times

STORYTELLERS’ CORNER:

Should you end a sentence with a preposition? 

SHOP NEWS

ABOUT US

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Article One: Pema Chodron: Some insights for Pandemic Times

When the world seems most off-kilter, vulnerable to the force of this international pandemic, Pema Chodron reminds us to turn inward, befriend our inner selves and let go of what we do not need.

The Buddhist nun (b. 1936) has been cited by people as diverse as Oprah Winfry and Seth Godin, as an “essential life-force” of human experience. I recently recovered Maria Popova’s notes, from a month-long meditation session some 20 years ago, held at the monastery where Chodron is a founding director. Chodron trains others to practice mindfulness through meditation, “to remain wholeheartedly awake to everything that occur[s] and to use the abundant material of daily life” as a “primary teacher and guide.”

In times of crisis and stress like the one we are in (where the media provide a far-too-steady diet of Covid-19), combining solitude, nature, meditation and a monastic life enables us to reflect on how to “be oneself without embarrassment or harshness.”

In such books as When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (2016), Chodron says that rather than seeking human perfection in thought or argument, we would do well to recognize that “our neurosis and our wisdom are made out of the same material. If you throw out your neurosis, you also throw out your wisdom.”

Instead of judging ourselves for our shortcomings, Chodron says, we should “make friends with ourselves” and so find “a sense of warmth toward oneself.” Self-criticism is not purposeful. Self-acceptance, befriending ourselves and our world involves acknowledging “not just the parts we like,” but all of us, seeing that we can learn from all of it.

In one meditation, Chodron explores how precision, gentleness and letting go are related graces: “If we see our so-called limitations with clarity, precision, gentleness, goodheartedness and kindness and, having seen them fully, then let go, . . . we begin to find that our world is more vast and more refreshing than we had realized before. . . . The key to feeling more whole and less shut off and shut down is to be able to see clearly who we are and what we’re doing.”

Simple applications could be putting down all of our screens and taking long walks in nature and the outdoors. (In some ways, pandemic life has forced us to do such things.)

Chodron urges us to avoid aiming to please other people, and that we should not try to improve ourselves by exposing our own “ignorance, unkindness and shut-downness.” When plenty of business gurus endorse changing oneself, she observes: “The problem is that the desire to change is fundamentally a form of aggression toward yourself. . . our hangups, unfortunately or fortunately, contain our wealth.”

This is not license to be self-indulgent or settle for mediocrity, but an injunction to “gently let go” of our imperfections, rather than forcefully trying to expel them.

When we face fear or depression, such as in our current pandemic, Chodron finds freedom lies in “getting to know [that feeling] completely,” accepting it, without judgment and “learn[ing] how, once you’ve experienced it fully, to let go.” No, we do not want today to die of Covid-19, or for our loved ones or friends to die. But Chodron wants us first to sit with the limitations of human life without trying to deny them.

We can learn to view ourselves with “loving kindness,” such as through breathing practices that help us to “let go” of our ruminative lives, our epidemic of hurrying and our efforts of getting and spending (especially in the Christmas season). The “4-7-8” breathing exercise, developed by Dr. Andrew Weil draws on Buddhist meditation (see article one of  last October’s issue, “Remember to breathe”).

To be “fully present isn’t something that happens once and then you have achieved it,” Chodron says: “it’s being awake to the ebb and flow and movement and creation of life, being alive to the process of life itself.”

Whether or not one follows Buddhist teachings closely, most of us can find value in expanding our capacity for self-acceptance and the acceptance of others that it allows, as ingredients for peace.

If you lack time for yourself and quiet contemplation in this crisis-weary world, please consider picking up one of Chodron’s books. Additionally, mindfulness meditations pertaining to her teachings are made accessible by the Buddhist teacher, Sam Harris, in his book, Waking Up:A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion (2014). These he has adapted to a website and even a cell phone app.

And now it’s your turn: Do you treat yourself with loving kindness, especially in pandemic times? Will our seeking spirituality find a way forward without fear?

Please share your insights with me on my “Contact” page. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

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STORYTELLER’s CORNER . . . . 

STORYTELLER’S CORNER: Ideas, Stories, Riddles and Jokes on Writing and Editing . . .

Should you end a sentence with a preposition, asks Mignon Fogarty?

Just as many of us were taught in grade two not to start a sentence with “and” or “but” (practices long ago overturned as pedantic), some writers and readers still believe that we should not end sentences with prepositions.

Mignon Fogarty, the American writing coach who brands herself as “Grammar Girl,” recently blogged on this very point.

To review (for non-grammarians), a “preposition” is a word that creates a relationship between other words, usually dealing with space (e.g.“above,” “by,” and “over”); and time (e.g.“before” and “after”).

Here are two examples of these, respectively: “The nightstand is by the bed,” and “We had dessert after dinner.”

So long as the preposition is grammatically needed (unlike in the phrase:“The diver jumped off of the deep end”), it can legitimately fall at the end of a sentence. So it’s acceptable, as Fogarty says, to write “What did you step on?” instead of “On what did you step?” (Note that the latter sounds stuffy and pedantic.)

Fogarty says that prepositions often fall at the end of sentences in which phrasal verbs are used—verbs that are made of multiple words that usually include a preposition. For example, “I wish she would leave it off.” Or “You should cheer up.”

Other sentences without phrasal verbs can also end with prepositions and are also valid: “I want to know where he came from” is much more readable than “I want to know from where he came.” Fogarty says that one exception would be when writing conservative documents like cover letters (i.e. job applications), when it would be safer to avoid ending sentences with prepositions.

However, in virtually all other cases, ending sentences with prepositions will make them easier to read.

Consider the story that Sir Winston Churchill famously refused the rule against preposition use, saying: “This is the sort of pedantry up with which I will not put!”

Do you have an idea, riddle or joke on any aspect of writing or communications? Please share it with me; I’d be delighted to use it in an upcoming issue. 

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SHOP NEWS:

Attending last week’s virtual graduation for the Praxis School of Entrepreneurship’s 2020 students was inspiring! The graduation (on Zoom) allowed me to write copy behind-the-scenes, and so to collaborate with Little Ox Film Company (videography lead Megan Kent) and Christina Cherneskey Communications (podcasting and virtual event management).

Thank you to the alumni, friends and family who attended and shared their wisdom and experience. And thanks especially to the Praxis Team (Monica and Brent Kreuger, Deanna Litz, Elaine Mantyka, Silvana Cracogna) for spearheading this first-ever online grad for Praxis, with all of their ideas and effort.

I look forward to further collaboration in 2021, to continue to commemorate the achievement of 30 years in entrepreneurial education!

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Special thanks also this month to entrepreneurial coach, facilitator and all-around amazing woman, Deanna Litz. Deanna leads Praxis’ “staySMART” online group that keeps  entrepreneurs like me grounded and supported through pandemic times, by group discussion and one-on-one coaching.

I highly recommend Deanna as a business coach: read more about her services on her “Powerful Nature” website.

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Heartfelt thanks also go to the staff and owner/operator of Persephone Care Home in Saskatoon, who provide empathetic care and comfort to seniors during this pandemic-centred holiday season, when social distancing from family and friends is compulsory.

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 ABOUT US:

Between 2011 and December 2018, Elizabeth Shih Communications chronicled the stories of B2B marketing and communications on the Prairies and across the country. 

Effective January 1, 2019, I rebranded as “Storytelling Communications.” I now write to help small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) to secure more sales by communicating more effectively; help economic immigrants to improve their language skills and secure better jobs;  and I write the legacy stories of major companies.

Interested in learning more? Please contact me through my CASL-compliant website (www.elizabethshih.com).

After I receive your message, I’ll be pleased to discuss projects with you!

Please visit my website for more information (www.storytellingcommunications.ca).