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Sunday, June 9, 2013

How Learning New Tasks Translates into Confidence That You Can Tackle Any Organizing Project

When I started college this past January, I did so as a student who last went to school half a lifetime ago.  I was wary about my ability to keep up with people ten years younger than me or more.  I had the mistaken belief in my head that I was too old to re-learn (or learn anew) higher mathematics and worried the entire time I was taking algebra that I'd fail the class.  I resented having to take that type of course in the first place, considering that my majors aren't in a mathematical field at all.  But taking the class proved to me an invaluable lesson- I can learn new things just as well as I did when I was younger!  I won't be a raging success in every subject that I take on, but my ability to gain new knowledge and then use it is still intact.  And I believe the same thing applies to everyone and in many situationsI know you might be thinking, "Yeah, right."  But I think that each of you can do whatever it is you want to do with your life. 

I may fail at things in life but it's rarely because I didn't give it my all mentally.  All it took to succeed in algebra was applying myself, something that sounds simple in print but is in reality quite tough to put into practice day in and day out.  When I actually read the lessons as assigned, doing all of the exercises and math problems step-by-step, I was able to retain what I learned better.  So long as I spent consistent time each day studying, filling in the gaps that existed in my knowledge, I not only learned new skills but I became somewhat expert at using them.  I didn't usually enjoy doing the actual work but I was buoyed by the fact that I climbed up the mountain of knowledge a little higher each day.  I realized that I could not psych myself out by constantly thinking, "I can't do this."  I think many students do the same thing mentally and thus give up before they've ever even really tried to master a topic.  I'd never touched a graphing calculator before this class, for example.  Now, I actually know how to write programs for my calculator, besides knowing how to use it to solve algebra!  Was it easy?  Not by a long shot.  But it was and is possible to conquer even the toughest of subjects.  I may not become a mathematical wizard, but I can do the best my brain and body will allow.  I refuse to give in to self-limitations, especially mental ones.  Anything is possible with a will to succeed, solid dedication to learning and tenacity.  Every door I open to new knowledge ends up just opening another door after that yet again, and I personally find this very exciting, one of the most enjoyable aspects of life itself.

So how does this translate to organizing projects or learning new routines to make your life run more smoothly?  It's quite simple.  The same thing that I had to do to gain knowledge about algebra and get good at it is exactly what one has to do when learning new home maintenance routines, organizing or time-management skills.  Very few people are born with the innate gifts of organizing or time-managing perfectly.  It's a set of skills I'd say 90-95% of us have to learn, usually the hard way- through repeating the same steps over and over until they become a part of our very nature.  Look at a ballet dancer for example, who must do the identical warm-up day after day after day, then builds their more elaborate dance repertoire step by step.  To get to the point where something becomes second nature, most of us have to repeat the same routines repeatedly for quite awhile.  No one learns full routines immediately, even when they have an innate talent for a particular task.  Organizing, time-managing and simplifying are about self-improvement, especially early on in the journey, but eventually they blossom out to a point where you'll want to improve even more of the world around you.  They're more important skills than they sometimes seem to be at first, because they end up being needed in every area of our existence.

Thankfully in this day and age much literature has been written to serve as guides on our way to mastering these tools.  I encourage you to seek out such books- there are many great ones out there- and articles about the topic.  There are tons of great blogs on organizing which provide help and motivation.  No, not every suggestion an author makes will apply to you or be a fit for your personality or lifestyle.  But you won't gain knowledge of what works and what doesn't without trying.  It's not better to never try a system because you think it just won't work for you.  There's nothing to be lost in making a solid attempt at something.  The benefits almost always weigh out the drawbacks.  If you try to implement a system, work at it daily and it fails, you'll still get something out of it!  No inventor, scientist or any other great figure of history achieved their major successes without a lot of failures as they worked.  It took many, many attempts to get an airplane off the ground, to get a working telephone, to develop electricity.  Also, many times they'd would discover an item of immense value that came out of the mere attempt to achieve their final goal, often as a sort of accidental surprise.  (Thomas Edison's work is a great example of this.)  Consistent hard work, trial-and-error and just plain showing up to try accomplishing something of importance every day is what serves life best.  You won't learn new skills, get tasks done or achieve anything of great value without taking steps backward.  Nothing and no one in life is a perpetual fountain of success- all great people were willing to take the chance of failure rather than walk away and never try to achieve their goal at all.

Lest you think my experience was nothing but a bed of roses this time, I only did an average job on my algebra tests.  I'm normally a good test-taker but higher mathematics are an exception to that rule.  What made the difference in my final class grade was completing my workshops & homework, showing up and finishing the class out.  I'll admit that I was not doing well on my tests, to the point where I thought I might not get a B in the class (the lowest grade I could get and still pass, in this case).  I was tempted to just say, "Screw it", and not even show up for the last class to take the final exam.  I didn't think I could get a B, I thought I was just not getting the material the way I should've been (considering my many hours of study) and frankly by the end of the semester I was a bit burned out.  But I completed the workshops, the homework, the final exam and the class.  And I passed with a B!  No, my final exam was not a masterpiece, but the mere fact that I tried my best was enough in this case.  Even if I wouldn't have passed, I would still have known that I gave it my all and psychologically, that was necessary to me. 

I encourage you to view the development of your organizing, simplifying and time management skills in the same way.  Stick the path out.  Work on it a little bit every day, even when it's the last thing you want to be doing.  Right about the time you think you'll experience your biggest failure is when you'll often instead get your biggest breakthroughs.  And then, finally, your biggest success will come along.  You cannot look at others who already have the skills under their belt and make negative comparisons about yourself.  I will never be a mathematical genius.  It'll never be something that I naturally grasp easily or have an enormous passion for.  I'm glad there are people like that out there, but my interests lie elsewhere.  However, I'm grateful for the lessons I learned- not so much the math itself, but the incidental stuff.  Having to stretch myself in this way taught me a great deal about my habits and my psyche.  Look at getting organized, simplifying and gaining time management skills the same way.  I know that you'll get farther than you ever dreamed possible if you do this. 

Here's to being an organized minimalist,
Liz

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