Calendar chains

My students are just finishing an assignment. I asked them to write down 10 possible topics for an informative speech every day for a week (well, five days out of seven). In other words, they would wind up with 50 possible topics.

I have survived the system they are now working through, so I know, with absolute certainty, that many of them put it off until the night before it was due and generated 50 topics all at once. Some of them jotted down random topics they had no interest in. (The latter still benefitted from the assignment, though not as much as they would have if they had tried to think of things they actually cared about, as long as they did it every day.)

I have no way of knowing if they followed the directions and did 10 every day. Some of them are still in “jump through the hoop, get my doggie biscuit” mode. But as I explicitly told them, I get paid the same either way, so they’re not “getting by” with anything; they only cheat themselves when they do that.

The benefit isn’t in the 50 topics (although they do get a benefit in that they learn that coming up with topics isn’t really hard). The benefit lies in doing something every day. Regularity. Pattern. Habit. That’s the real benefit. It’s one of the reasons that I’m writing something every day. It’s not always a blog post here. Sometimes it’s on other blogs. Sometimes it’s on a book, such as the one I’m nearly finished with called “Lessons From Our Silent Daughter.” But if I don’t write something every day (or at least six days out of seven), I can tell that I’m losing something.

The concept originated (for me) with James Altucher and developed further in a book by Claudia Azula Altucher. They weren’t talking about 10 speech topics a day, but rather 10 ideas a day to develop your “idea muscle.” Ten is important, because it takes that much to make your brain “sweat.” I’m emphasizing “every day” to my students because they have “learned” to get through school by waiting until the last minute and cramming.

We know from research that cramming doesn’t work well. Educators have even formalized the concept into a methodology called spaced learning, but it doesn’t have to be formal. Just put it into practice informally. It’s the simple insight that, for instance, if you have an hour to spend on something, you’re better off working in 20 minute increments with breaks in between.

I’m no expert in exercise, but I know enough to know that exercising every day for a half hour does you more good than spending three hours on Saturday exercising in one long session. While your brain isn’t a muscle, it acts that way in this regard.

I hope that at least some of these students got a taste of this advantage, enough to lead them to keep applying the principle even without an assignment. If you want to be more creative, do enough to make your brain sweat a little every day–I mean every day. (I gave them two days “off,” but it’s better to do at least six days out of seven.)

Do this for a month, and you’ll see enough benefit that you won’t need an artificial stick like a grade to get you to continue.

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