Monthly Archives: August 2013

Why Does My Nose Run and My Foot Smell? have taught English as a Second (or 3rd or 4th) Language for more than 20 years and I have to say that I love teaching English and never get tired of it.

But it is not easy because the English language is not easy. Native speakers forget that sometimes, but non-native speakers never do.

About 20 years ago I came across and article in the magazine “Reader’s Digest” that I have enjoyed greatly over the years. The article was entitled “Our Crazy Language” and was a condensation of a book by Richard Lederer entitled “Anguished English.” It is a great read if you enjoy literature and English. These are some of the highlights of the Reader’s Digest article, so I guess you could say that this is a condensation of a condensation of the book by Lederer.

I promise you’ll get a chuckle out of this.

English is the most widely used language in the history of our planet. One in every seven human beings can speak it. More than half of the world’s books and three-quarters of international mail are in English. Of all languages, English has the largest vocabulary—perhaps as many as two million words—and one of the noblest bodies of literature.

Nonetheless, let’s face it: English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, neither pine nor apple in pineapple, and no ham in hamburger. English muffins weren’t invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candy, while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat. If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

In what other language do people drive on a parkway and park in a driveway? Recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same thing, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? How can overlook and oversee be opposites, while quite a lot and quite a few are alike? And where are the people who are spring chickens or who actually would hurt a fly? I meet individuals who can cut the mustard and whom I would touch with a ten-foot pole, but I cannot talk about them in English.

You have to marvel at a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which your alarm clock goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race (which, of course, is not really a race at all). That is why, when the stars are out they are visible, but when the lights are out they are invisible. And why, when I wind up my watch I start it, but when I wind up the essay I end it.

Don’t Cower, Get Superpower Willpower is willpower?
One of the simplest definitions of willpower is, “Controlling your behavior; doing things you should and want to do, and NOT doing the things you shouldn’t and don’t want to do.”

Facts about willpower
Some interesting facts have come out of the latest research on willpower.

  • Willpower is like a muscle in 3 ways.
  1. If you don’t use it, over time it will “atrophy” and grow weaker.
  2. The “power” of willpower will deplete. If you use it too much in one day, it will grow “tired” and weak like your muscles feel after too much exercise.
  3. Over time, you can build it up with use, like you can build muscles. Willpower becomes stronger with use.
  • Willpower is not fixed at birth. You’re not born “with” it or “without” it.
  • Not something one person has and another doesn’t. We all can develop willpower as we exercise it.

Important steps to exercising willpower

  • Delay gratification. Look at the long-term good and not the short-term pleasure.
  • Use “I want power.” Kelly McGonigal, in her book, “The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works” says that we need to use “I want power” instead of willpower. Set a goal for what you want to accomplish and think of that instead of what you are giving up. Don’t think, “I have to give up chocolate cake,” think, “I want to be 10 centimeters smaller in my waist, feel better, and healthier.
  • Goal-setting. As we’ve discussed before in this blog, probably the best way to accomplish anything is to set a clear, achievable, and measurable goal. The same is true with exercising willpower.
  • Set a regular schedule. As I said above, if you use too much willpower in one day, it will become fatigued and weak, like a muscle. One way to not be forced to exercise excessive willpower is to create habits and schedules that will take you away from the problem areas so you don’t have to “use up” your daily allotment of willpower.

Other Practical tips that help build willpower

  • Do the hardest thing first while willpower is strongest.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Believe it or not, getting enough sleep helps us exercise willpower better.
  • Have and keep a good attitude. A bad attitude drains willpower; a good attitude builds it.
  • Get plenty of exercise. This may not seem obvious, but exercise also contributes to developing willpower.

The good news is that if you have felt like a failure when it comes to exercising willpower in the past, it is never too late to take some of these steps to help yourself build willpower and accomplish the important things you really want to do.

Embrace Uncertainty researchers were conducting a study and were interviewing people on the street. They asked one man, “What do you think of uncertainty and indifference?”

His reply was, “I don’t know, and I don’t care.”

We all have to live with uncertainty. Marc Schoen in his book “Your Survival Instinct Is Killing You” has this to say: “Uncertainty is inevitable. It’s human nature to find uncertainty very unsettling, and as such it’s also human nature for it to create high levels of agitance within us. As we wrestle with uncertainty, we struggle to find ways to manage it— and many attempts can worsen its effects.”

And yet, many times uncertainty can help us because it forces us to resolve problems and to accomplish more than we we would otherwise.

“Uncertainty avoidance” was one of the five cultural dimensions Gert Hofstede reported in his landmark research a few decades ago. There is both a personal and a cultural aspect to uncertainty avoidance.

Some people are, by their very nature, more adventurous and enjoy uncertainly to a great degree. Research has shown that this is both a function of nature and nurture.

Cultures and societies as a whole also tend to embrace or avoid uncertainty. Cultures that embrace uncertainty tend to be more relaxed, feel comfortable in changing environments, have fewer rules, and are more tolerant of change. Some of these countries are: USA, UK, India, China and Indonesia.

Cultures that avoid uncertainty tend to be more rigid, emotional, plan things step-by-step, and have a lot of rules. Some of these countries are: Greece, Belgium, Italy, Russia, Korea and Mexico.

One of my favorite movie quotes comes from “The Hunt for Red October” when Admiral Painter and Jack Ryan are discussing the Russians. Ryan asks if the Russians have a plan and the Admiral replies, “Russians don’t take a dump, son, without a plan.” Uncertainty avoidance!

To illustrate the differences, think of Germany and England. Both cultures are fairly similar, but Germans tend to be much more uncertainty intolerant. Thus, they plan and develop programs and systems to a much greater degree.

What do we need to do about it?

At work in a multicultural situation, we need to:

  • try to accommodate our coworkers who are less tolerant of uncertainty than we are;
  • learn the rules for cultures where uncertainty is avoided; and
  • communicate better with coworkers who have different levels of uncertainty avoidance.

Personally, since uncertainty is part of life, we need to constantly deal better with it. How? By embracing it and not fearing it. Our motto should be: “Embrace Uncertainty.” Constantly expand your comfort zone when there is uncertainty.

To quote Marc Schoen once again, “For now, when you do feel a sense of uncertainty, focus on a feeling of appreciation, and teach yourself to value it and achieve a level of comfort with it— despite how you might initially react to it. You can even focus on other areas of your life in which you feel thankful. With practice, this will ultimately recondition your response to uncertainty as you begin to view it in a more healthy and constructive way.”