Pick Your Influences!

The first swallow of the day brought a sense of foreboding. A sandpaper throat accompanied sharp head pains as I moved from the pillow.  Flashes of blue zigzagged across my vision.

Of all the influences in my life, this was a most critical one.  This one threatened my lungs.

Two days later I called the doctor, “We have no appointments available at all,” said the Medical Assistant.  “He’s been on vacation, he’s just back and is overwhelmed.  If it’s an emergency, you’ll have to go to the Hospital.”

Living on the preventative side of health was going to be a challenge.

“Because my lungs are vulnerable,” I said, “I want to make sure I’m doing everything I can to look after them.  I don’t want this to get worse.”  The dread of having to fight for breath put my hiker determination into overdrive.  “I’m too healthy to live gasping for air.”

She lowered her voice and said, “Amy, he’s going to be the doctor-on-call at Emergency on Sunday.  You could see him then.”  Tuesday to Sunday…five days.

Who would dream a foggy brain could be a positive influence?  It gave me an excellent chance to exercise my powers of concentration.  With each chore, I stayed present.  I waited for my fire to catch so I could make sure the door to the stove was shut tight.  I stayed with, and enhanced, the pot of homemade soup until it came to a boil so I’d remember to turn the burner to simmer.  I used a timer repeatedly to bring my wandering mind back to “now”.

I decided to see how this slowed brain would influence my university studies.  I started the lesson that was waiting on the Internet. The material was in written and video form.  I re-read some text that simply wasn’t making sense.  I thought of real life examples to help make it clear.  I replayed some of the videos.  I referred back to my notes frequently.  I worked hard to grab concepts and find ways to “make the knowledge mine”.

Ironically, this course is about “Thinking” (including dealing with myths).  Besides learning how to think critically by using scientific principles and

What do you think this is?

What do you think this is?

questioning, we were taught proven methods for effective learning and long-term memory.  I was applying those techniques and “making those concepts mine”.

At the end of the session, I considered doing the exam later when I felt better, but I wanted to be finished.  I so I began the test.  The questions were not a request to simply recall details in the course material.  They required a bridging of the new knowledge onto other situations.  I had to predict outcomes and rationale.  I took twice as long as usual to finish.

The result?  I aced it.  100%.  This taste of glory made me wonder if I could continue doing this well.

This thought required the use of my new knowledge. I’d have to consider various influences.  Did I think/work differently due to being under the weather?  Was it just good luck?  Was I creating a new trend line for myself? Or could I possibly be exemplary and avoid the “regression to the mean” reality?

My foggy brain influenced well by forcing me to work hard.  Having to work hard overcomes “fluency” which is a state whereby materials are laid out so well that students understand easily and think they’ve “got it”.  Not so!  Science has proven that the harder we have to work at learning, the stronger the guarantee of better results and longer retention.  That’s why I strive to “make it mine”.

However, I have to face the fact that “regression to the mean” exists and I’ll not be staying at the 100% level.   If I’m typical, I will do less well on subsequent exams.  These “lumps of glories” iron out in the long run.  We head towards average because “in the long run, things balance out”, quotes The Prof.  Our lumps of huge success or fame eventually move towards an average.  Isn’t “regression to the mean” another description of mediocrity?

Well, it is a good explanation for beginner’s luck.

To feel better, I reread examples of situations that express “smoothing out the lumps” – heading toward the “mean”:

  • a new star athlete makes the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine – then doesn’t keep up the level of performance and slips back towards mediocrity.
  • a golfer shoots 5 under par one day and makes par the next.
  • a musical band sells 2 million copies of their first album.  Sales diminish with each subsequent album.
  • a team on top of the standings at mid season is more likely to drop in standings than remain on top.
  • a camera left at a site where many accident happens seems to bring down the number of accidents.

The course says, “If a researcher gave a large group of people a test of some sort and selected the top-performing 5%, these people would be likely to score worse, on average, if re-tested. Similarly, the bottom 5% would be likely to score better on a retest. In either case, the extremes of the distribution are likely to “regress to the mean” due to simple luck and natural random variation in the results.”

You may not want to believe those findings.  I don’t blame you.  People want to believe there is a pattern in gambling.  We want to believe that a smaller class size improves student grades.  We want alternative medicines to be effective.  And we don’t want our opinions changed by some myth-busting scientist who has conducted hundreds of tests to prove that this information is not fact.

Ever the optimist, maybe I can shoot for High Average.  Maybe I can demonstrate the skills, abilities and consistency of a Wayne Gretzky who managed to stay high in his standings in hockey.  It doesn’t matter – if I have to face a significant sliding back toward the mean, there’ll be claw marks in the air as I’m forced to let go of 100%.

After all, who wants to be mediocre?  I’ll swallow that as happily as I would swallow sour grapes with a sandpaper throat.

Did you ask enough questions to figure out it's a full puddle - even the rocks are under water.

Would you have said the rocks in the previous photo were under water?  They are.  They are part of the upper portion of this puddle.  We so often think we know what we are seeing.


(Wellness Report:  I’m still not at my usual level of good health. I did go to Emergency at which time my Doc put me on antibiotics.  He thinks I had pneumonia and came through with Bronchitis, but he had no test results at that time to back his diagnosis.  I have a follow-up appointment in a week.)


15 thoughts on “Pick Your Influences!

  1. I hope you’re starting to feel better. I’ve just finished my second lot of antibiotics and steroids and still it’s not gone away. I’m determined not to have any time in hospital this year. I have to make my brain force my body to believe that too.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • Keep a good positive attitude, David, and do good things. The Neti Pot is invaluable – it helps keep the infection from taking a strong hold. I also steam with good ol’ Vicks.

      I’m getting out for a walk with my Walking Buddy today. Two weeks is a long time to be out of sync. Dawn twisted an ankle so we’ll be on par. She’s usually good for a FAST walk, but not for long. I like pacing myself and stretching it out. So we compromise…she’s patient on the hills as am I near the end of the walk.

  2. Good job. Very good writing. Great pictures. I thought initially that the first picture was in fact a shoreline. The other picture showed clearly that those rocks were submerged. What can we actually see? Heck, I don’t know. Notwithstanding the powers of observation I have to say how that you did in fact show me an “Idea”. Thanks.

    • We know the old chestnut “we see what we want to see”. This course is showing how much, and how subtly, we do that. Plus it’s so hard to “unsee”. This explains why my siblings and I have such varied views of some family incident. And, of course, we’re all right…that IS what we saw. It’s a matter of remembering the other person is validly describing what was evident to him/her.

      Half way through and I’m already much more open to other points of view – because (I can’t believe I’m saying this) there’s a valid reason to listen to another angle – it’s their perception! I don’t have to be working to convince anyone of mine!! Phew!

    • Managed a good walk today without missing a breath, Charles! Lots of mixed weather, but it’s not a deterrent. Poured while we walked and the sun is now shining brightly. Did you hear about our 6.7 earthquake on northern Vancouver Island? Seems the people on the mainland to the East felt some effects, but haven’t heard of any to the South. One black cat, however, behaved like “velcro” when I think of the time of the quake.

  3. I’m glad you managed a visit with your doc. I hope your feeling much better, Ms Smarty Pants! ;-} Congrats on that 100%. Those always feel good…till, like you said, the next exam comes in. Bask and enjoy, But don’t get sick just for the grade.

    • Linda! You’ve been so much on my mind today. Have you visited this website: http://woe.ucdavis.edu/ “Writing on the Edge, an interdisciplinary journal focusing on writing and the teaching of writing, is aimed primarily at college-level composition teachers and others interested in writing and writing instruction. It is published at the University of California at Davis and appears two times a year-in spring and fall.”

      I looked at their “sample articles” and loved their interviews with writers. It makes me realize how much I would love, and do need, a “group” of fellow writers.

      • Oh how sweet of you. You know, I’ve had my nose solidly up against the keyboard, but not in personal writing. I will have to check out this site. There’s definitely much to be said about writers’ groups, especially if you find a good one.

  4. Oh my….you poor thing. Hopefully you’re on the other side of it. I spent 3 weeks doing bronchitis and still haven’t gotten quite back to normal. *sigh* Stuff seems to kick my butt lately.
    Oh but that 100% musta felt sweet. Savor it. And get ready for the next round. It seems to be a good thing, this “stretch”.

    • I’ve been able to do just that…seems the University took the Easter week off so I’ve been given another week to savor! Hope you are better, Mel – 3 weeks is way too long. I do core muscle exercises every morning which requires different breathing. I think that has been good for my lungs! Plus I wore a surgical mask when I mowed my lawn so hope I’m heading for a good recovery. According to people around here, this thing tricks – you think you’re all better and it returns with no mercy.

  5. Since this post was written a few days back it is my hope that you are feeling much better. This brought to mind the eye witness reports of robberies or accidents where all were present but the accounts are different.

    • Thanks, Dee, I had a 2 hour hike today and mowed my lawn/did yard work a couple of days ago so I’m much better. But it’s cold for this time of year. On our walk today, we gave up after two hours because it began to really pour rain. Good to get home to a hot shower, but the fresh air and exercise can’t be beat.

  6. Sorry to discover that you’ve been under the weather, Amy, but glad to read that you’re on the mend . . . all strength and swiftness to that! Love your images too – yes, you had me fooled 🙂 Your opening sentences gave me goosebumps, since reading a pearl of wisdom from Wallace Wattles recently to “not do tomorrow’s work today”. It’s astonishing how helpful that has been. XO

    • Much better now, Naoms. Thankfully, I’ve come through this with much less tribulation than most – it’s a very popular bug around here.

      My opening line promised more interesting content than was delivered, I’ll admit. While I’m taking these two courses, things are popping continuously and haven’t yet settled. So writing about it helps. You know how “teaching” facilitates learning! It’s one of the reasons you are such a great photographer – you have the patience to teach.

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