Being Cognizant: Celebrating the 5-Year Veggiversary!

A series about the ways I work towards being cognizant through decisions that make me more mentally engaged with various facets of my day-to-day life.

Cognizance (noun): Awareness, realization, notice, knowledge, perception.

On March 1st, I celebrated five years since I started following a veg*an lifestyle!

I am not perfectly inside one dietary box, in that I do not exclusively eat vegan but I do not eat meat and I try to purchase items that are friendly to animals in addition to not eating meat or consuming many animal by-products. It has been a journey for the mind and body as I try to find balance of protein, exercise, iron, vitamins, and satiation. I haven’t been the best at finding this balance, but I have really enjoyed the journey and the way it has caused me to reflect on what I eat more often (and the food blogs I have discovered for vegan baking along the way).

Each year, I celebrate by going to a beloved vegetarian restaurant. For three years, I did this with my vegetarian partner-in-crime before he returned to the omnivorous side, but he joined me each year to celebrate my personal continued commitment to keep vegging out. This year, a different partner-in-crime joined me for a new celebratory location – C.C. and I went to Meet on Main for a late-night vegan dinner!

We shared a plate of Hot Chiggin’ Things before moving on to a bowl of goodies for C.C. and a BLT Croissantwich for myself, followed by a chocolate raspberry crumble (tears of joy).

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Don’t follow your passion – foster it.

My last post was somewhat-obnoxiously but somewhat-accurately entitled “How to Become Better”, and it featured summaries of videos and podcasts that outlined strategies and theories relating to self-improvement. These were not strategies to attain such contentious goals as eating better, achieving mental peace, or weight loss; indeed, the summaries I shared were strategies to connect with external and internal resources for achieving whatever goals you wanted to.

One of those podcasts by Freakonomics Radio featured a woman by the name of Angela Duckworth, who is a PhD in psychology and studies high achievers and the concept of “grit” or stick-to-it-iveness. I stumbled across a New York Times article yesterday that struck a chord with me before I even got past the title: “Graduating and Looking for Passion? Just be Patient.” As I read through the first couple of paragraphs, I suddenly felt that I was familiar with what was being discussed, and checked to see if the author was – yes! – Angela Duckworth.

I highly recommend checking out this New York Times article on fostering – not simply finding – a passion. If you’re similar to me, you have wanted an “ah-ha!” moment for some length of time (I’ve clung to this phrase since a presentation I saw nearly 5 years ago); Duckworth’s article ties back to my previous post and reminds me that I have control over a passion coming to fruition.

One of the most significant takeaways for me was that one might have to go with the option that makes the most sense and is better, not worse, even if it doesn’t seem ideal.

Being Cognizant: How to Become Better

Self- and other-improvement resources from Carol Dweck and Freakonomics Radio.

A series about the ways I work towards being cognizant through decisions that make me more mentally engaged with various facets of my day-to-day life.

Cognizance (noun): Awareness, realization, notice, knowledge, perception.

The title is a little bit off-putting (or perhaps inspiring depending on who you are), but hear me out.

Inspired by the Freakonomics podcast and their recent series of episodes for “Self-Improvement Month” (ongoing), I wanted to share some of the resources that Stephen Dubner and his team at Freakonomics shared with their audience, as well as a concept I learned about in Psychology and my work last summer.

All of these resources bring together concepts and tools for improving your skill at just about anything, increasing your grit/stick-to-itiveness, and reshaping the way you think about your own abilities.


The Power of Yet” (Carol Dweck)

I first learned about Carol Dweck in a childhood and adolescence psychology course, and then again in my work last summer. Her work has changed the way I think about what I can and want to do.

Dweck
Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University

Study: Gave 10-year olds problems that were slightly too hard for them to solve. Some of them reacted in surprisingly positive ways, saying things like, “I love a challenge!” Others felt it was catastrophic and that they had been put up for judgement and failed. Those students performed downward social comparisons next time they faced a difficult task and did not succeed (downward social comparison: comparing oneself to someone perceived as inferior in order to prop up one’s own sense of self).

2 mindsets discussed by Dweck:

Fixed mindset: The belief that one’s abilities are “fixed” and cannot be changed.

Growth mindset: The belief that one’s abilities can be developed through effort/work.

Continue reading “Being Cognizant: How to Become Better”

Being Cognizant: The (Summer) Job Hunt

A series about the ways I work towards being cognizant through decisions that make me more mentally engaged with various facets of my day-to-day life.

Cognizance (noun): Awareness, realization, notice, knowledge, perception.

It’s that time of year for university students: The hunt for The Summer Job.

Or, even more daunting, the hunt for The Real World Job.

Many deadlines have passed already, but it’s not too late to apply some strategies to find that job that will make you some money, keep you occupied through the non-academic months, or move you closer to a career that you aspire to.

Here are 3 steps for preparing to land that job:

1.) UPDATE THOSE DOCUMENTS.

Résumé: Before you do anything else, set yourself up for easier success by getting your résumé updated, spell-checked, and bolstered. Visit with a friend to go over the general flow of your document. Keep it to 2 pages maximum unless otherwise stated in the job description. Keep a longer document to draw experiences from that you update and refine depending on the job you apply to. Always make a new résumé for every new job you apply to. Be sure to have the following components, ideally in the following order:

  • Bold heading, where your name is large and in charge and your contact information can easily be found (include a LinkedIn URL if you’ve got it).
  • Highlights of qualifications (or “key competencies” or “highlighted skills”) section that highlights what you want the employer to see first and foremost. Use qualification from the job posting as a guide. Include languages that you can speak well.
  • Education section. If you’re in university, exclude high school information UNLESS you have relevant international schooling or higher-level (e.g., IB) high school education. Note your major/minor, honours status, and anticipated graduation date if applicable. Throw in some “relevant courses” if you think the employer would be interested (key word being “relevant”).
  • Experience. This can be strategically divided into multiple sections, such as: Relevant and Additional Experience, Volunteer Experience, Community Experience, Relevant Project Work, Lab Experience – it all depends on the needs of your employer and what you want/need to highlight. I opt for the Relevant and Additional Experience route, but may refine those sections as my experiences grow and become more specialized.
  • (Optional) Hobbies/Interests. If you’ve got room at the end, include a bit about yourself that isn’t necessarily related to the job you’re applying to!

Cover letter: This one simply must be individualized every time for every job. Your standard cover letter tips online will probably tell you to do the following:

Say hi, tell them your name and what you study/studied and where, where you found out about the job, and how excited you are to apply. THEN you’ll use a paragraph or two to talk about your past experience in more detail, elaborating on what the résumé said. Then you’ll wrap it up with a thank-you and a “hope to hear back from you” sort of sentiment.

All of that is great, BUT… It could be more exciting. I encourage people to think of their cover letter as the way to make the employer want them not only for their skills, but for them, as an individual. Picture that you and someone else are both applying to this job with identical résumés and skill sets, and this cover letter will make them want you over the other person because you are great and truly desire the job more or would make more use of the opportunity. Don’t feel like you’re 100%, or even 50% qualified for a job that you really want? Use the cover letter to talk about how great of a learner you are, what your career goal are and how they align with this opportunity, or how passionate you are about the employer’s mission or values.

Instead of the above example, use the following components to create your cover letter masterpiece:

Say hi (by name, job title, or To Whom It May Concern). Open with a memorable statement about yourself that connects you to the company/position being applied to (e.g., “As a connector of people and ideas, my greatest fulfillment comes from solving problems for others.”). Then say something about the company/position and how you FIT into that puzzle/concept (e.g., “Your company’s goal to leverage the power of people to unearth the potential of others through innovative problem solving is a framework that aligns with my natural abilities to connect with individuals and find solutions to their problems.”). Then, tell a story. Any story that is slightly connected to any of the following: How you became interested in your career goals, the first time you realized what you wanted to do with your life, the moment you realized your “path” didn’t make sense anymore, the connection you have to the company/employer and how that developed, or something else that explains why this job makes sense for you and why you make sense for them as an employer. Then, wrap things up with a nice “thank-you for your consideration” and tell them that you would love the opportunity to meet in-person to discuss your qualifications OR that you “look forward to hearing back from them” – end on a confident note! You presented them this document because you think you could do this job. Use language that shows you are confident.

I believe in you!

2.) RESEARCH AND COMPILE A LIST.

Get online and find those jobs! Compile a list (save them to bookmarks, make a word document, write them down, save them to a list through a jobs site, etc.) of the positions you are interested in. Check multiple websites if you are open to ideas. Use keywords that will help filter out locations, positions, employers, and job categories that you aren’t interested in applying for. Save all of the positions of interest somewhere.

3.) PRIORITIZE AND APPLY.

Now, go through your list using a variety of qualifiers to prioritize your list of possible jobs to apply to so that you apply to the most important ones first:

  • Application deadline: The sooner the deadline, the sooner the application must be completed and submitted.
  • Position: Prioritize the type of work you want to do most.
  • Job type: Part-time? Full-time? Seasonal? Use these if applicable to decide what ones are more in the range of what you desire in your job.
  • Feasibility: I tend to avoid using this as a major qualifier, because I believe that you can be capable of taking on a role even if you aren’t fully qualified based on the job description (really, that description outlines their ideal candidate, not the most realistic and likely one). However, for you, it might be worth prioritizing the feasibility of getting certain positions for a variety of reasons (location, qualification, desirability, work atmosphere, etc.), especially if you are narrowing down a large list of applications.

Then you need to start ticking off boxes! Get through those applications. Tailor each one for each job. Make yourself want those jobs and make those employers want you.

 

Good luck!

Being Cognizant: New Year’s Resolutions

A series about the ways I work towards being cognizant through decisions that make me more mentally engaged with various facets of my day-to-day life.

Cognizance (noun): Awareness, realization, notice, knowledge, perception.

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It’s that time of year when small talk turns to the question, “So, did you come up with any new year resolutions?”

I like this time of year, because people often take some time think about themselves in a positive way, or at least with a growth mindset:

“I am going to start exercising regularly!” 
“I am going to have a green smoothie every day!” 
“I am going to stay on top of my readings this semester!”

(That last one was a joke, of course.)

While I do love goal-setting – a post on that is upcoming – I am not personally a fan of New Year’s Resolutions due to the way that they are typically approached by the goal setter.

“Why, Katie, would you not support one’s desire to make positive changes?” asked Seriously Irrelevant Holiday Cat.

Well, the thing is, I think that setting a goal with such a specific start date and not creating measurable steps to achieve it can be a dangerous activity, at least by way of achieving your goal and feeling confident in yourself.
New Year’s resolutions often involve making a significant change right away at the beginning of the year, on the first day, and making that your new standard to meet (e.g., no more candy, or 30 minutes on the treadmill three times per week). This, in my eyes, is a recipe for disaster, for a number of reasons.
The dawn of the new year: What are your goals?
Firstly, you are not easing into your goal.
You may be introducing a change in your life without gradually doing so, and this can make it difficult to stick to in the long-run (or even the short-run). If you choose to go with a 30-minute treadmill jog for the new year, you might find that it is incredibly difficult to accomplish this even once if you are not regularly doing something in this realm already. It can be disheartening to feel that your goal is not accomplishable because you were unable to achieve it right away. Creating a plan that involves building up to your goal over time using baby steps is a more sure-fire way to eventually attain a specific goal with a measurable outcome.

Secondly, you have decided to start achieving this goal regularly on a particular date.
It’s great to set a deadline for yourself to begin working on a goal, but if your goal is lofty or something you are not accustomed to, you might find that once your deadline has passed… the motivation to pursue the resolution has also passed. Setting a deadline to begin working towards a goal is a better idea, rather than setting a deadline to begin achieving this goal on the regular. Reframing your thinking to, “Over the course of this year, I hope to work towards X,” is more powerful than, “Tomorrow I am going to begin regularly achieving X.”

Thirdly, your goal may be based on a perceived defect in yourself.
I am particularly wary of any resolutions that involve appearance, such as losing X number of pounds, getting a six-pack of abs, or attaining a size 0 in clothing (for women’s clothing, because apparently women should aspire to be nothing). These goals will lead to a sense of failure or incompetence if you are unable to achieve them and are based on physical attributes that may be outside of your control, which is a sign that you should not set the goals with this sort of language (or perhaps avoid setting these goals at all). If your appearance is going to be a part of your resolution at all, the goal itself should be within your control (such as healthy eating and exercise), whereas a change in appearance may be a by-product of that goal (such as increased muscle tone or loss of unhealthy fat). Further, any goals that are attempts to improve yourself for others? Make sure that you setting goals for yourself and that you are intrinsically motivated* to achieve them in the long-term.

If you are making New Year’s Resolutions this year, consider these three common barriers to achieving goals that you set for yourself and take the time to make a plan of attack for eventually succeeding in making the changes that you want to see in your world.


*Intrinsic motivation: Motivation that comes from within oneself, that originates from the individual, rather than coming from an external source (which would be extrinsic motivation).

Being Cognizant: Scheduling


A series about the ways I work towards being cognizant through decisions that make me more mentally engaged with various facets of my day-to-day life.

Cognizance (noun): Awareness, realization, notice, knowledge, perception.

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My memory for dates and significant events is strong – I even remember the minor details and events that would probably be best to forget. However, when it comes to remembering to bring something to a friend or not forgetting to attend a spontaneously-planned meeting, my memory has a tendency to fall short.

Cue: Calendars, to-do lists, reminders.

I am not sure if my love for scheduling has resulted from my affinity for organization and efficiency, but I do know that seeing a week of scheduled events, meetings, and study times really helps me focus myself and prioritize what needs to be done more effectively.

While I do not advocate for scheduling every minute of each day to accomplish what needs to be done, I do advocate for the use of visual cues of goals and tasks in order to make one accountable to oneself in accomplishing those items. Visual cues may come in the form of:

Calendars (digital or physical)

I have begun using Google Calendar in tandem with my computer and phone iCalendar to track my daily schedules. During the weekdays I find them particularly useful because, as a student with a part-time job and extracurriculars, I have a lot of unstructured time. I need to use that time for studying and self-directed projects for my extracurriculars, and I may neglect it those items if I do not structure them into my calendar and make myself accountable.

One of my personal pleasures is writing physical schedules in my agenda – I enjoy pen-to-paper writing and like to cross-reference schedules this way and generally write specifics about school assignments in there as well.

To-Do Lists
http://www.computertimes.com/boogieboard_files/image004.jpg
Have you ever heard of the idea that if you write down your goal and put it somewhere that you will look at it every day, you will be more likely to accomplish it? I like to think of my to-do lists as miniature versions of this, in that by writing down the tasks I want to accomplish that day, I will see them and feel more accountable to myself to finish them. My favourite part of physical to-do lists is, without a doubt, crossing items off or putting a check mark next to them upon their completion! It is worth trying a to-do list out for that reason alone. 
The device I use for lists is my Boogie Board by Brookstone – a gift from New York I received last year and have used time and time again ever since. It is a digital notepad that you can clear with the push of a button once your list is done. When I am not using my Boogie Board, I am a huge fan of sticky notes being placed in locations that will catch me at a time when I am most able to accomplish my task. For example, writing “UPDATE YOUR BUDGET!” on a note and sticking it to my computer so that I see it when I next use my laptop.
Reminders

Unfortunately, I have become all-too reliant on my phone for providing me with reminders about tasks and meetings and all of those little things that don’t DEMAND to be remembered. However, I do appreciate that I have such useful tools to lean on! The iPhone Reminders app is one of my more frequently-used tools, but I also set notifications on the events I create in my Google calendar to pop up on my computer and phone so that I don’t miss out. 
My rule with reminders is: Never say that an item is complete until you have ACTUALLY completed it. Sometimes my notification pops up and I think, “Right! I’ll do that in a few minutes,” only to forget to do it within a few minutes, thus leaving it entirely incomplete. To avoid doing this, I “snooze” reminders until I have 100% completed the task.

Being Cognizant: Alcohol

A series about the ways I work towards being cognizant through decisions that make me more mentally engaged with various facets of my day-to-day life.

Cognizance (noun): Awareness, realization, notice, knowledge, perception.


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I’ve had a fairly active social life over the past three months.

This is a significant change of pace after a good two or three years of going-out dormancy, for the most part. I took pleasure in the recluse lifestyle and recoiled at invitations to stay out past 11:00pm – 11:00pm is when one should be lying down in bed, not getting down on dance floors.

Three years ago I took full advantage of the part-time employment schedule and spent many a night out on the town, and experienced little distress when this changed. However, these past months have reminded me that I have a dancing bug inside me that infects me with pleasure and wiggling hips when it is awoken. Often, this bug is triggered by a few drinks in preparation for going out.

I consider myself to be a health-conscious individual: I go to the gym regularly, I eat my fruits and vegetables and protein and all of that good stuff, I drink whole lot of agua, I avoid overly sugary things (80% of the time). However, alcohol is something that defies all of these other principled decisions I make for my body and mind – it is not healthy in any way! So, if I am to consume it – especially in more-than-just-social quantities, I take care to do it with cognizance.

1. WATER. I drink water most of the day every day all the time – I do not stop when there is alcohol. At least every two drinks I throw back a full glass to keep my body hydrated and to prevent terrible headaches and nausea the following day. Alcohol does not exactly quench thirst, and water helps to counter its effects to a degree.

2. MOVE. Most of the time, I don’t want to bother having any alcohol if I am not going to do a great deal of moving around – walking all over the place is one way to do it, but my favourite is to dance. Sitting down and drinking can be fun, but it often leads to unexpected levels of intoxication and it just sits inside you and doesn’t go anywhere! With water and movement I keep the alcohol moving through me and often avoid rough mornings. Plus, dancing is basically leg day at the gym AND cardio combined – I actually refrain from exercise on days when I am to go dancing later, because my muscles will be sore.

3. STOP. Eventually. There comes a time when I can just ride on the energy level that I’ve reached, and drinking anything additional will make me sleepy or sick. It is a rare scenario when I don’t recognize that I have reached a certain point, so I am usually in a perfect position to stay pumped throughout the evening and then fall quickly asleep upon arriving safely home.

4. OBSERVE. Keeping an eye out for weird or dangerous people is a key component of drinking alcohol, in my opinion. People might assume you are vulnerable if they recognize you’ve been drinking, and may try to take advantage of you in any number of ways – so watch out. For yourself, your homies, and even that stranger across the street/dance floor/parking lot that you notice is in a situation that doesn’t look comfortable or normal.

5. REST. Take a day! I give myself at least half a day after a night out to drink water, eat a good breakfast, and just sit or lie around before I do anything too strenuous. Sometimes I’ll take a whole day off from doing anything too demanding, just to give my body time to recharge. However, going for a jaunt to the gym or a jog around the neighbourhood is a way I like to burn off any of the grossness (greatness?) from the night before.

Those are the ways I stay cognizant when I’m thinking about drinking.

** For a neat article on how to survive a “day drinking” event, check out this article, “How to Drink All Day and Not Pass Out” **