Eat That Frog!

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” – Mark Twain

“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” – Mark Twain

So, what did Mark Twain mean when he spoke of eating frogs? Frogs represent the most important, difficult or boring task you have to do but are most likely to procrastinate on. In order to be productive and get these tasks done, one has to eat the frog first thing in the morning, i.e. do the most important task first. If you don’t start with those tasks, you will in all likelihood keep procrastinating, which in the end will only cause stress. Once it is completed, the day can only get better. If you have two frogs to eat, start with the biggest one as quickly as possible without thinking about it. The more you think about it, the more daunting it will seem and the likelihood of procrastinating increases.

The best way to use this technique is to make a list of all the tasks you need to do the following day and then doing the most important one first thing in the morning. Completing a difficult task gives a person a sense of accomplishment, releasing endorphins and dopamine which in turn motivates you to do the next task and achieve more. By doing this every day, it will become easier until it becomes a habit. So, go ahead and eat your frog!

Based on the book “Eat that frog!” by Brian Tracy

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The singularity…

The Singularity

Definition, well, it’s the state, fact, quality or condition of being singular. In the physics and mathematics realm, it takes on a more interesting interpretation. It is defined as the point at which a function (something) takes an infinite value. “How is this of importance?” one might ask, well, with the way our intellect is increasing, we are approaching a time when we will become “singular”. As Ray Kurzweil says, “From the moment we picked up a stick to reach fruit that was too high to reach by hand in a tree, we have been creating and using devices to help us get to “some point”.
This is when things get interesting! Many devices have been made over the years and most if not all have all wanted the “top spot” for getting us to this “point” singularity talks about. Genetics, Nanotechnology and Robotics are the fields that are basically pioneering our nearing this point with research showing that it is now possible to “modify” DNA as you would a song to make it sound better.
Back to the singularity, if you’re alive and reading this, you probably know how smartphones have become drugs! Yes, DRUGS! However, there are good drugs and bad drugs. The terminology “good” and “bad” being largely based on the usage. Cyborgs (short for cybernetic organisms), yes! I said cyborgs, is a being with both organic and biomechatronic body parts. Where on earth is this going? Hmmm…. Well, think about it this way, if your smartphone, which is as powerful as a 70’s supercomputer, is considered “part of you” does that not make you a cyborg? If the ability to get almost every bit of information available to man is but a ‘tappity tap tap’ away, are we not “robots”?
Okay, so maybe we’re not robots…..YET! But, there have been advancements in artificial intelligence that suggest that we will be able to engineer fully functioning robots that are capable of doing everything we can if not more. There have also been advancements in the ability to view what is happening in our minds using devices we have created. What does this mean, well simply put, at some point we probably won’t need to pull a smartphone from our pockets, we could basically get it from the “cloud” using our minds. This might sound bad, but it really isn’t because it means we’ll be smarter and capable of solving many of life’s humps and bumps so many of us encounter. What I consider bad about this is that we cannot comprehend infinity and as such have no way of knowing what the outcome of all our advancements will be.
This brings us to the ethics part. For the modification of genes, there has to be some sort of agreement between people of all nations and some sort of governing body. This would mean that the human race would evolve to a “different being” and as such new parameters on acceptable conduct would have to be set. This would raise questions about religion and politics, topics generally best avoided in public or social settings, and how to try and “unify” our beliefs and views towards ourselves and each other.
The Bible says, in Revelations, that at the end of days, the beast will come and exalt (it)self (this is me trying to be politically correct) over everything that is referred to as a deity by all religion and will render all other religions mute. Hmmmmm…..
Often I come across things that paint pictures as the one I’ve tried to paint above and I sometimes feel like ignorance is bliss!
But sometimes knowledge can set you free and if this is knowledgeable, well you decide what to so with it

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Lecturing: The Teaching Assistant Experience

Last year, I started lecturing a course on Personology, which is orientated around the personality and behavioural tendencies. There were a few things that I struggled with when embarking on this new form of employment.

The first was sounding bold and exciting, when trying to stick to the course work. This is a dilemma I have only started to get a handle on this year. I learned last year that no ‘one wants regurgitated information. It’s boring for the students and it’s boring for you, the TA. My advice here is to stray from the textbook and only deliver the main points and then flesh out details by using outside sources and of course personalized examples.

The second is some students are rude. They will leave because they forgot a pen at home, or didn’t bring the slides. You can think of the most trivial opportunity and some students will pounce at it like a kitten after a string of wool. Truly, do not take this personally. These students are in the minority. Surprisingly, a lot of the students take a course because they are interested in it and for those students, as well as the TA, class can become both intellectually stimulating and fun. These students will ask questions in class and try and engage in intellectual debate – often some of the questions are sporadic and seem a bit irrelevant, but this is where the TA can foster a fertile environment for learning, by relating these question to the relevant work.

Thirdly, it’s tiring, much more than it would be for a full time lecturer. I suffer from a slight fear of public speaking. This also contributes to the energy drain of lecturing. The solution to this is to make class a fun environment for both you and the student (Also take calming tablets). Watch videos that speak about the relevant work in a humorous way. Talk to your students, as a peer, rather than take a superior position. It is tempting to be an authority figure; however, it is easier to be yourself and bring your personality – not in a way which is overwhelming – into the lecture. Another tip in this segment is a bit more cumbersome, do research on the coursework. By doing research one alleviates the anxiety of question asking, by students, and one can enjoy the work from a participatory perspective.

Mostly – after I overcame the anxiety of speaking to a class of up to 400 students as an expert – I found the experience extremely rewarding. There were students who came to me after class and asked me for recommended readings on the theorists and found my lectures interesting, not only was this a little bit of an ego boost, it helped to see the (some) students as future academics, rather than the Greek Hydra, of question posing and you, the TA, as a metaphorically deflated muscular figure trying to pose as Hercules. To some this whole rendition up just relax, do your homework and enjoy it.

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Motivation Is Garbage

I recently came across a video on Facebook titled: “Why motivation is garbage”. The first thought that crossed my mind was: “What? That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard. Motivation is what drives us to achieve our goals”. With such a bold claim, I was curious. “It’s probably just click bait”, but the fact that someone else shared it online must mean it is something profound.

And it was profound. In the video, life coach and author, Mel Robbins explains that everyone has somehow bought into the idea that motivation is when you feel ready, confident or courageous to make a change or do something you have always wanted to do. The brain is wired to protect us from things we think are scary, overwhelming and difficult, therefore we are never going to feel motivated to do them. We are only motivated to the things that seem easy. She goes on to say that hesitating for just a few seconds is what causes us to procrastinate and postpone the things we want to do. This hesitation sends a stress signal to the brain, which causes your brain to switch to protection mode. This is why you don’t invest in your crazy business ideas, go to the gym, work on your thesis (guilty), pay your bills, talk to that really cute guy/girl, wake up on time (we all can relate to this one), work on your dreams, confront the person who upset you, find a job, the list is endless.

The thing is you are never going to feel like doing those things. Have you ever told yourself you’ll start tomorrow or Monday? Famous last words, right? We all know what we have to do; the problem is how do we get ourselves to do it? Luckily, Mel Robbins has a solution called the 5 second rule. It is a really simple rule, every time you want/have to do something, like go the gym, count down from 5 to 1. When you get to 1, start doing that activity. If you wait any longer than five seconds, your brain will find a way to convince you not to do it. You are basically beating your brain at making a decision. It sounds really silly, I know. Mel even admits that it’s the stupidest thing ever, but it works and she has research to back it up. She did a lot of research on how the brain functions and how this method affects the brain. So there you go, motivation is garbage. Trick your brain in to doing tasks instead.

I highly recommend watching the video! Mel explains a bit more about the functioning of the brain and is much better at convincing people how amazing it is. It’s pretty long, but worth it.

Here is the link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCHPSo79rB4&t=664s

She’s also done a TED talk:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lp7E973zozc

PS. I promise I’m not being paid to endorse her work 😛

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All work and no play….

For many of us, being a postgraduate student have become synonymous with not setting aside time for ourselves given the demanding nature of the degrees which we are enrolled for. You simply must make time for yourself. We all know that those who do this tend to find being a student less stressful and let’s face it: finding something relaxing, stimulating yet exciting to do in Stellenbosch is not that difficult, especially this time of the year. If you do find it a bit challenging or if you just happen to be very selective about how you choose to spend your time, I have outlined some activities which will definitely be worth your while.

InZync Poetry Sessions
If you like spoken word poetry, this is by far the coolest event to attend. The sessions are hosted in Kayamandi at AmaZink Live, organized by Adrian van Wyk, himself a postgraduate student and spoken word poet. A monthly gathering, it provides an interactive space for poets to share their thoughts with an attentive, enthusiastic and diverse crowd. If you are feeling brave, you could also sign up and “spit a few rhymes” during the Open Mic segment. While you mull over and discuss some of the thoughts and experiences shared you can also enjoy scrumptious boerewors rolls and icy beverages served by the AmaZink kitchen. The diverse crowd always guarantees interesting conversations and stimulating debates. For more information about the next session visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/InZyncPoetry/.

kuleka

Koleka Putuma, a young poet who you should make it your duty to listen to

Woordfees
This is one of the most popular and eclectic festivals in South Africa. Aimed at celebrating the arts, the festival provides a platform for actors, musicians, poets and artists to express themselves and celebrate art in all its forms. In doing so, these artists also become catalysts for conversation around South African history, current affairs and future developments. This year’s program is packed with thought provoking discussions facilitated by prominent historians such as Professor Grundlingh, on stage performances by the crème de la crème of the South African acting world, film screenings such as the recently Oscar-nominated “Noem my Skollie”, visual art exhibitions and many other interesting activities. Although some activities are free of charge, most of them require a fee and it is also advised that you book your tickets in advance through Computicket for some of the more popular events. More information can be found on their website http://woordfees.co.za/.

15913

This talented individual will be providing some comic relief at this year’s festival

Back your Boytjies!
Stellenbosch University is home to one of the oldest and revered rugby clubs in the country, known for molding excellent rugby players, whose talents are on display every year during Varsity Cup. Prominent names in the game such as Gio Aplon, Juan De Jongh, Breyton Paulse and Jean De Villiers, are all alumni of the prestigious Stellenbosch Rugby Club. It is hence essential that you go out and support the boytjies during Varsity Cup and expresses some sympathy towards their opponents, however reluctantly. Tickets and shirts are available in the Neelsie.

rugby

Our Boytjies in action, no doubt dominating the game (if you listen carefully you can hear their opponents wailing in the distance… Shame.)

The Botanical Garden and J.M. Marais Nature Reserve
Whether you need some quiet time, a place to escape to where you can finally start reading that novel or if you’re simply interested in admiring the diverse collection of flora Stellenbosch has to offer – these are sanctuaries which will fulfill each one of those needs. The Stellenbosch Botanical Garden is the oldest university botanical garden in the country. It is home to several indigenous and introduced plant species, as well as the popular Katjiepiering Restaurant (which borrows its name from the fragrant Gardenia jasminoides plant, more commonly known as Cape Jasmine). The restaurant serves delicious light meals and thirst quenching beverages. Entry is free!

botanical

Enticing, isn’t it?

A stroll through the J.M. Marais Nature Reserve usually proves to be very relaxing (but it could become stressful if you come across some of its slithery, yet tolerant residentssssss…). You might also make a few furry friends along the way. If you find yourself in the very fortunate position of having a significant other, the lush green lawns are populated with shady trees which makes for an ideal picnic setting. What I do know though is that this is an ideal trail for that early morning/late evening jog! And that walking the labyrinth is only a good idea if you do it slowly. Access is free. Check out their Facebook page for some useful info: https://www.facebook.com/Jan-Marais-Nature-Reserve-516681321711688/

nature reserve

Relaxing, no?

Enjoy!

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The postgrad: An unexpected journey

“We are plain quiet folk, and I have no use for adventures. Nasty, disturbing, and uncomfortable things.”
― Bilbo Baggins

There are times when I prove to myself that I care about my general well-being. Registering for a PhD probably wasn’t one of them. Having just obtained my MSc, a looming sense of regret haunts me for jumping straight into a PhD. It is orchestrated by the familiar symphony of self-doubt, including hit titles such as “You are not prepared for this”, “Three more years, seriously?”, “It’s going to be hell” and my personal favourite; “What am I doing with my life?”.

I often feel like Bilbo Baggins in Tolkien’s wonderful novel “The Hobbit”, who was offered the opportunity to do something truly meaningful with his life by a great wizard (basically the fantasy genre equivalent of a Prof), if he would only leave the comfort and predictability of his normal life behind. I could probably settle down, find a job and sit in traffic each morning meticulously planning my 2 week leave, but I’ll always think to myself “What if?”. What if I continued with cancer research and made a truly novel contribution to the field? What if I was really on to something? Even worse, what if I end up being that guy who tells everyone the sad story of how someone else got credit for his ideas? The classic album of self-doubt will keep playing in my head regardless, the songs will just be in a different key.

After reading many PhD survival stories, one thing became apparent. The students were usually intellectually capable of completing their aims, but failing to take care of their mental and physical health was most detrimental to their research. Spending every waking minute doing experiments, writing articles and reading anything related to your research interest leaves little time to even contemplate eating healthy or even worse, doing exercise. As a result, the lack of sleep combined with the constant anxiety manifests as depression and lack of motivation. Tunnel vision ensues and you lose track of the bigger picture at hand, which makes the whole experience feel worthless.

There will most definitely be times when one has to place your life on hold in order to meet deadlines and complete your thesis. However, you cannot expect yourself to function under burn out over the course of 3-4 years. Fortunately, one can easily maintain a moderately healthy state of mind if there is a solid routine to fall back on. Even though I used to mock people who valued exercise above everything else, I have come to realise the great value of being physically prepared to function under exertion. Cultivating the habit of meditating or stretching for 5 minutes each morning and doing some moderate exercise in the afternoon (jogging, walking, weight training) can be the difference between giving up and success. Research has shown that whether you are under physical or emotional stress, your brain reacts to the release of cortisol (the common stress hormone) in much the same way. Therefore, if you condition yourself to operate under these conditions on a regular basis, you will be able to function under stress more efficiently. This goes further than just the work environment and can improve emotional decision making as well.

So who knows, maybe cultivating healthy habits is all I need to survive this PhD. That and a magic ring to help me disappear when times get tough.

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In between MA and PhD

It happened, I am not sure when. I find myself traversing an ocean of doubts. There is a quality of being lost that frays at me. The doubt waves lapping and wearing me thin. Each wave pushing and pulling me somewhere. In what direction, to what location, I know not.

People are oft drowned by their doubts, overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of them. But there is a miniscule resilient piece of me, which holds that to be human is to be part God. The half of me which is mortal and exhausted wishes desperately to succumb to career oblivion, where work is toil in exchanged for solely monetary value. The demi-god, however, will not. This piece of being human is an inextinguishable passion akin to an eternal flame and I know that given time, recovering my agency and direction, I shall swim to the shore of PhD and conquer.

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Poetry is truth

Your life is right now.
It’s not later.
It’s not in that time of retirement.
It’s not when the lover gets here.
It’s not when you’ve moved into the new house.
It’s not when you get the better job.
Your life is right now.
It will always be right now.
You might as well decide to start enjoying your life right now,
because it’s not ever going to get better than right now…
Until it gets better right now!

~ Abraham-Hicks ~

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How to stay motivated

 

At times, it is difficult for even the most motivated of people, to work through the monumental drudgery that afflicts you after a certain time period – seemingly endless – in Postgraduate. Your days flow past you like monotonous waves that never attain high tide status, and the rock that was your motivation is been slowly worn away with the relentless lapping of a dull and tedious work load. I am not saying that this is how you feel all of the time, but I think this is a state that most postgrads can relate to, apart from a highly enviable minority.

 

This Postgraduate slump can manifest with symptoms such as irritability, constant fatigue, restlessness, tiredness, unproductivity and the ultimate dread- writer’s block. I will confess to feeling some of these symptoms at various points of my postgrad. There are some days were all the symptoms merge and culminate into a sort of hopeless listlessness. These are some of the effective combative methods I have used.

 

  1. If you don’t feel like it, don’t! There are some days were you can force yourself into productivity and others were you stare aimlessly at your computer screen. If you believe that you may be having a day such as the latter, just go do your thing! What I mean by your thing is, that thing you enjoy, whether it’s listen to music, podcasts, 9gag, hiking, knitting, archery etc. In other words that thing that is a hobby, but also relaxing.
  2. Sometimes you need more than a day. Sometimes I found for the more extreme bouts of postgrad listlessness I would need a week. Just take care that you don’t fall into a bad routine, were you struggle to get back into work. I find a week is usually a good break and often can re-inspire you to work, anything longer and I start developing bad routines.
  3. Exercise a couple of times a week! I actually find that this sometimes helps me have sufficient break midday, without disrupting productivity, but providing a break and refreshment.
  4. Eat right most of the time. Eat veggies and tons of protein. It helps with concentration and you just feel happier when healthy. But every now and again eating a big bag of chips, a box of biscuits, and a slab of chocolate, while drinking milo with minuscule marshmallows makes you feel better to. Have those days guilt free when they do happen and saddle up and soldier on tomorrow.
  5. Don’t totalize! It just doesn’t help!
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The Five Uncommon Habits Of Highly Productive People

Dom of Mischabel

The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones ― Confucius

Accomplishing a big goal—like writing a thesis requires consistency: making a habitof chipping away at your ‘mountain’ every day is a powerful and sure way achieving your goal.

So how does one make productivity a habit? Lauren Moon suggests five steps which highly productive people use: Firstly, make timeboxes. Timeboxes are partitioned periods of time in your day which you devout to your goal. This has a two-fold effect: it forces you to set apart time for your task (rather than procrastinating) and also limits the amount of hours you have to accomplish your goal (which forces one to cut out the superfluous tasks).

Secondly, Lauren Moon proposes giving yourself grace when you fall short. It is vital to understand that there are times where you will fall short—and that this should not lead to defeatism. Acknowledge that you did not meet your goals for that week, address the issues which caused it as best you can, and move on!

Thirdly, create margins for your timeboxes. No plan is perfect, hence the need for creating margins—preventing one unfortunate contingency from disrupting your schedule.

Another essential habit to nurture is to that of a balanced day: we have needs which extend beyond just writing our thesis. Make a point of getting out and about with your friends and family, enjoy a run or some physical activity so that you can return to your task with a fresh perspective as well as more energy.

Lastly, Lauren Moon suggests visualizing your finish line for each day. This is something which top athletes do: it helps you focus, be motivated, be prepared, and thus conquer your mountain.

Reference:

Moon, L. (2015, June 4). The Five Uncommon Habits Of Highly Productive People. Trello.

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