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Monday, March 24, 2014

Target Size, Progress, and Jeggings

Readers, I think I may have bought jeggings.

Before you condemn me for trying to dress like my daughters, let me assure you that I bought them from a store the fifteen year old would never shop in.  In fact, I’m pretty sure her gag reflex would trigger just looking at the window display. So even though they are denim, and have some stretch, and skinny legs, and a wide waistband – read “girdle” waist - I think maybe they wouldn’t actually qualify as jeggings, more as skinny jeans for the, uh, mature woman.

But I’m not entirely sure. I was trying to be a little French, and I may have gone astray. You see, I just read French Women Don’t Get Facelifts, which dispenses many hints on how to be stylish, and I’m in the middle of French Women Don’t Get Fat. In attempting to implement the secrets of those French women I may have been very hungry when I entered the store. Luckily, I have such body dysmorphia I’ll simply pull on this item of sartorial distinction and have no real idea whether I look good or bad. Those who love me will support me. As, indeed, will my jeggings.

Two steps forward, one step back. Still, that’s progress. And in comfortable shoes. That’s right. Since last I wrote, I have managed to focus on my upcoming Italian “vacation” and buy shoes. The shoes are definitely comfortable. And age appropriate. I know this because the fifteen year old wouldn’t even look at, much less try on anything in the shoe store.

Here is more progress. Despite being down in the dumps, I managed to revise my proposal. Hurrah. I’ve sent it off to a couple of trusted readers, and now I await comments.

I happened to pick up a new book on success and happiness at the library called Before Happiness, by Shawn Achor. He is, according to the book jacket, an expert on happiness, a TED talker, and world famous, though I’d never heard of him. He also has a connection to Harvard, which he mentions on almost every page of his book. He went there, he advised students there, something or other. Harvard, Harvard, Harvard. I get it.

I offer that tidbit as proof of his expertise – since so does Shawn Achor, apparently.

Anyhoo. There was an element of serendipity to the timing of my discovery of this book. In it I did come across a section that seems applicable to my current state of feeling failed. To wit, amidst the exhortations to be positive and to combat anxiety with counter-waves of positive statements and so forth, Achor talks about increasing your likelihood of success at something by increasing the size of the target at which you are aiming. The bigger the target, the easier it is to reach it.

However, if you can’t actually make your target bigger, what can you do to make it seem bigger? Achor refers to a famous experiment with golf holes that proved that golfers performed better when the hole they were putting for was surrounded by several holes smaller than it. The smaller holes made the real one seem bigger. I’ve written about this before.

I really started paying attention when Achor started talking about a related study involving the SATs. This study has shown that the fewer people in the room, the higher their SAT scores were. My first thought on reading this was, Oh, great. My child goes to an industrial strength public high school. Just the other week she took a national French exam and she said the room was so crowed her desk was jammed up against the wall. How’m I going to find her a small room to take that SAT next year?

Bridges to cross, bridges to cross.

The idea behind this SAT phenomenon, according to Shawn Achor, is that when students take the exam surrounded by billions of their competitors, they feel discouraged by the number of them, and their scores reflect that. If they have fewer obvious competitors, they are fooled into feeling less outnumbered, and that confidence helps them perform better. It's like smaller versus bigger golf holes.

How does this apply to my life, and not just to the life I’m living through my children? Thankfully, I do not have to take the SAT myself. Perish the thought.

Well, it does relate. It relates to my down-in-the-dumps-ness. I am feeling like the target for my proposal is very small. There are so many writers out there, so many proposals, that mine seems like a minnow in the ocean. A minnow looking for an agent. This sort of thinking is discouraging. It’s almost enough to make one give up and look for a real job where one could accrue a paycheck and thereby some self-respect.

But I didn’t give up, did I, Readers? No. I revised my proposal. So what I need to do is find a way to make that target look bigger. I’m not really sure what that way is. If you have any ideas, let me know.
Or if you have a good idea for a job, I’d love to hear about that, too.

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