Five Steps to Making Language Gains Quickly

Modern-Foreign-Languages
“Which direction are you headed in?”

Getting better at a foreign language or achieving an advanced level of proficiency in one is not an easy task. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Regardless of which language you’re focusing on, it can months or even years to get the hang of it. Depending upon how much hard work and effort you put in, you are going to likely improve quicker and remain committed to the process of becoming bilingual or multilingual. Certain people are going to pick up language(s) quicker because they may have a natural talent for it or because they truly enjoy learning the subject and find it easy to excel in.

However, even if you’re not naturally gifted or don’t pick it up quickly, you can still get ahead and make gains in the language through a number of ways. As someone who has studied foreign languages for over half of my life and has also taught English as a Second Language for a few years now, I have a pretty good idea at what separates those students who are going to succeed in their language studies and those students who are likely to fail.

Even though, you may want to be fluently writing in Japanese or speaking to friends in Spanish, you have to put the work in even if language learning happens to come easy to you. It won’t happen overnight but the process can be sped up if you want to boost your ability to learn with a few key steps that I will highlight in the rest of this post. Take these five steps that I will flesh out to heart because it could mean the difference between you being at an advanced level in a year rather than being stuck at the intermediate stage. You don’t have to do all of my five recommend steps to make language gains quickly but it’s definitely recommended to try our at least one or two of them for your own personal benefit as a student of foreign languages.

  1. Be Consistent

While not the most noteworthy recommendation, some language learners forget to put the work in on a consistent basis. If you happen to work five hours on one day specifically on learning a language, that sounds great on paper but if you happen to neglect the six other days of the week, then you’re not really going to make any progress. This is partly why if you study a foreign language in a school or at a university, you’re going to usually have classes four or five days a week so that it stays fresh in your mind. One or two hours per night five or six days a week will go a long way for you and your learning language goals.

Being consistent and responsible in your hours of study will pay off much greater dividends than cramming all of your language studies into one night for a bunch of hours. It’s likely that your brain and memory will be so overwhelmed by all of that information if you cram it into one night that you won’t be able to remember anything you learned by the next week or month. When it comes to any academic subject including foreign languages, you should listen to wise words of a popular phrase that I remember from my high school days: “It’s better to study smart, then it is to study hard.” Don’t overwhelm yourself, stay committed to a language study schedule, and remember to take one day off instead of five or six days off to retain the vocabulary, grammar, phrases, etc. that you have been learning.

  1. Use Both Online and Offline Resources

We live in an amazing time and I would argue that it’s easier than ever to learn a foreign language if you’re willing to do your research, both online and offline. When it comes to online resources, there is almost a limitless amount of information that you can discover dealing with the study of a foreign language. Whether it’s grammar, vocabulary, listening, writing activities, etc. you’re likely to find what you need in order to study and improve if you make the effort to research carefully. In addition to that, it’s easier now than ever to do a language exchange with a native speaker through the medium of an online platform such as Skype, Google Hangouts, etc. You can also use a website like Meetup.com to find a social group to meet up, hang out, and practice your target language with if you happen to live in a big city or large town.

Beyond just online resources, you can network in person by offering to have coffee for an hour with a native speaker of the language you’re learning and if you haven’t had success with Meetup, you can enroll in language classes for a fee at either a foreign language center, community college, or at a local university of note. It’s much easier to make language gains when you live in a big city and have a good amount of money to spare for some formal classes. However, not everybody in the world has that luxury, which leads me to my next step.

  1. Invest in a Private Tutor / Teacher

As mentioned before, not everybody can live in a big city or have the ability to pay for classes at a university or a language center. However, if you can make the more affordable investment of getting a private tutor, it will save you some money and you will be able to practice directly, one-on-one with a native speaker and teacher of the target language.

Usually, a private tutor or teacher who you meet with face to face in person is going to be a bit more expensive than an online tutor. If you prefer to be physically present with your tutor to make it easier for you to learn and clarify the content that you’re absorbing, you may prefer to shell out the extra money for them to meet you at a café or to make a house call to your home and apartment.

However, if you are on a budget, don’t have access to a native speaker of the language you’re learning in your current location because you’re in a small town, don’t live near a foreign language center, etc. you should consider getting an online tutor or teacher. Even though you won’t be physically in the same room as your tutor, you’ll still be able to learn new material, go through lessons together, speak in the target language, and be able to complete homework and classwork to improve your fluency. Online tutors also tend to be less expensive as an investment when compared to real life tutors or to enroll in group classes.

You have to consider how much time you have to devote to the foreign language you’re learning and what your budget is. The cheapest and least expensive option is to have a free exchange of languages if you have a friend or colleague who wants to improve at your language in exchange for them teaching you their language. If you are particularly interested in learning a foreign language online, you should check out platforms like Verbling or Italki.

  1. Immerse Yourself (Books, Music, Movies, TV)

Another great way to boost your foreign language abilities is by seeking out opportunities outside of the classroom or textbook to brush up on your knowledge. Through a variety of media that is available both online and offline, you can spend an hour or two each day going through books, music (songs), movies, TV shows, etc. to listen and absorb the language you’re learning. For example, when you’re reading a book in a foreign language, you can highlight the words that you do not know and find out the meaning with a dictionary. You can also look up news articles online and take the time to translate the sentences and paragraphs from the foreign language into your own language.

You can immerse yourself more deeply into the culture behind the language you’re learning by being exposed to the songs and dances whose lyrics you’ll be able to study and analyze. In addition, you can pick up a lot of a language when you watch a popular TV Show, Movie, or other program. You can not only pick up a lot of a foreign language by spending some time listening to the language and interacting with it but also by observing the host culture(s), and finding out more about the individual expressions and phrases that also make this language you’re studying unique in its’ own ways.

  1. Move Overseas

To save the best and most important step for last, if you want to immerse yourself fully and take your foreign language studies to the next level, you’re going to want to move overseas for a period of time for some intense study of the language. You can watch a lot of movies, you can take a lot of classes, and you can study five or six nights out of the week, but moving to a country where they speak the language you’re learning as a fact of life will challenge your language skills and abilities as never before and put you to the test. Out of the five steps that I mentioned, this one will be the most beneficial to your language studies and also make the biggest impact on your life. I cannot recommend it enough for you as the student to go overseas for as long as you need to improve your language skills and improve as much as you can.

Even if you can only make it overseas for a cultural / language study exchange program for a month or two, you should take advantage of an opportunity like that. Also, if you happen to be in university and have the chance to study abroad for a semester or even a year, you should really do it especially if you’re committed to mastering the foreign language you’ve chosen. Foreign language learning doesn’t have to end even after you have earned your diploma.

You can continue to make trips to those countries where the language is the official one into the future. Other options include taking a gap year off from work or school to devote yourself to language study while you’re traveling around the world. If you are TEFL certified and want to learn a foreign language at the same time, you can move overseas to teach your language to students while receiving lessons from a teacher in that country as well as being immersed in the culture at the same time. There are tons of options out there so if you want to boost your language skills as much as possible, moving overseas for a long period of time could be a great chance for you.

There is no ‘magic bullet’ that will guarantee you perfect, almost native-like fluency in a foreign language. It’s a goal that takes a lifetime to master and even then you’ll still make mistakes and may retain your accent while speaking the language. Learning a foreign language is a lifetime project and is a skill that has to be consistently studied and improved upon.

It’s a common fact that the younger a person is when they start a foreign language, the better off they’ll be. If you start learning Chinese at five years old, you’ll be at a clear advantage when compared to somebody who is first starting a language at twenty years old. The younger a learner is when it comes to a foreign language, the more vocabulary and grammar they’ll be able to retain.

However, it’s important to not be discouraged about this fact even if you’re starting a foreign language in your 20’s and 30’s. With hard work and determination, you can still make a lot of progress especially if you follow these five steps. You can boost your level quicker than usual if you consider implementing these useful steps in your weekly or daily routine.

It’s also a positive that after you learn your first foreign language well, it’s likely to be easier for you when it comes to getting a high proficiency for your 2nd, 3rd, or 4th foreign language. Anything worth doing in life does not come easy so you have to decide how much the study of languages means to you personally. However, with the five steps that I have outlined in detail for you as the reader, you will be able to learn the language well, improve quickly, and reach your goals as a student to develop this crucial skill for the 21st century.

If you liked this article of mine and you are looking to improve your English language skills, please consider the option of having me as your private tutor. You can find out more information about this opportunity at https://benjweinberg.com/learn-english-with-me/. Whether it’s a lesson through Verbling, Italki, or another platform, I’d be happy to work with any English language student from around the world in their quest to achieve an advanced proficiency in my mother tongue. Good luck!

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How You Think Affects Everything You Get

1. Your mind is a fertile garden patch. Failure to cultivate it allows weeds to run rampant. 

As the popular saying goes, “Your mind is a terrible thing to waste.” In order to get the most out of your brain, you need to put your mental and intellectual capabilities to the test every single day. Whether it is reading the newspaper, doing a crossword puzzle, or solving a Rubix cube, you must exercise your mind as you do so for your body. If you don’t do anything to stimulate your learning capabilities, it’s likely that you will be left behind in life to some degree. Especially in this day and age where there is an unlimited amount of information to be accessed by the average person, there is simply no excuse as to why someone can’t cultivate their mind to improve themselves and become smarter.

You don’t even need to spend your whole day learning because it’s likely that you’re already a busy person. However, it only takes an hour or two a day of active learning in order to get ahead in life and improve a little bit. For example, you could spend that hour or two each day learning a musical instrument, studying a foreign language, or reading a chapter or two from a new book. The possibilities are seemingly endless but you need to take the initiative in order to make it happen. As an adult, nobody is going to hold your hand and force you to learn new things.

This isn’t like it was in school growing up where you had set periods of learning and a teacher there who could guide you to improve and become more knowledgeable. After high school or even college, you need to take initiative when it comes to learning and empowering your mind to become more open, agile, and responsive for the increased amount of knowledge that you want to retain. You can hold the weeds at bay if you’re willing to plant some flowers there instead.

2. Thoughts lead to feelings, and feelings lead to actions and actions lead to results. If         you don’t like the results you’re getting, reexamine your thinking.

You may not be able to control the thoughts or the feelings that enter your head but you need to control how you act and react to them. There is a direct correlation between your thoughts and feelings and your actions that come later. It’s important to think about why you are experiencing these particular thoughts and feelings, and if they are constructive or not to be having in your mind. You need to make sure that the actions that you are willing to undertake as a result of your feelings are done for the right reasons and are not just based off of poor impulses.

Part of being a mature adult is realizing that you have control over your actions and you should weed out the thoughts, emotions that are completely negative in nature and won’t get you very far in your goals and in your results. The effort that you put forth in your actions is a direct result of the effort you put into your thoughts. For example, if you feel confident about the subject material for a biology exam and are thinking about the topics you need to study and master, then you will be more likely to turn those positive thoughts into real actions as you crack open the books to study for this exam and then take the exam the next day with good feelings of confidence from putting efforts behind your original thoughts.

However, if you choose to focus on the negative aspects of your thoughts and emotions, it will likely cause a downward spiral, leading you to make mistakes and achieve less than desired results. With positive thoughts and emotions come the positive efforts of hard work that will often lead to good results. You really need to believe in yourself internally before you can have external success in the world and that all begins with your thought process and how you feel about yourself as a person.

3. Don’t deceive yourself. Confront reality, as it exists, even when the facts are brutal! Once you do, and then take action based on that reality.

Reality can be difficult to cope with but it is absolutely necessary to be able to handle even when the facts are not in your favor. In anything in life, you need to have a sound understanding of the facts and figures before you can start taking action regarding the subject you’re researching.

It is very easy these days to wrap yourself up in falsehoods and misleading information, which is why it’s more important than ever to seek out the reality of things in order to not confuse or distort your understanding of it all. The facts that may make you depressed, angry, or disturbed but the facts are the facts and they won’t be handed to you automatically. Any good student or researcher will know that you have to check and verify the facts on any subject before moving forward with taking any serious actions.

For example, when it comes to the issue of climate change and global warning, the facts matter a lot which is why so many scientists spend years in their field compiling data, doing research, testing out hypotheses, etc. before they decide to take substantive action to reverse this problem or lessen its’ effects. There are a lot of people out there who wish to distort the truth or dismiss it entirely but when you do not have a consensus on an important global issue like climate change, the problem will get worse and not better especially if no action is taken.

Reality must always be confronted even if there are some harsh truths that we as human beings must deal with. Part of being a mature, responsible adult is seeking out the facts in a situation and getting to the truth of the matter regardless if you like what the outcome is or not. Once you have the facts, you’ll be clear to take action and to do the right thing in your mind.

4. Worrying about things you can’t control creates a negative feedback loop that will cause you unneeded stress and anxiety.

Worrying is useless when you think about it. It doesn’t do anyone let alone yourself any good to think about the things that may happen in the future but also may not happen otherwise. You can only really know what’s going to happen exactly for today or maybe for tomorrow but beyond that you can never really be sure about what is going to happen to you.

Worrying can really be a mental block that can prevent you from making progress in your daily goals or from being successful in whatever you set your mind or your body to. By worrying all of the time, you’re not going to be able to do anything useful with your life if you’re worried about something bad is going to happen. By doing that, you’ll create a negative spiral of negative thoughts that you may not be able to get out of so easily.

When you decide to worry about something out of your control, stop yourself right there, take a deep breath, and push those negative thoughts out of your head. Instead, you must think positively and act positively in order to create the change you need and to become a better person in different areas of life. Worrying will get you nowhere and will create an endless loop of negatively. You have to be willing to take some chances, face some risks, and do your best effort in order to get to where you need to be. Worrying is a wasteful endeavor when you could focus your mental energies in a way that is more positive and productive overall.

5. Harnessing your thoughts to drive tangible, positive outcomes – It’s not enough to stare up the steps, you have to step up the stairs.

Thoughts must become actions in order to make things happen. You can think as much as you want about what you’re going to do, but unless you put actions to words, you won’t be able to get anywhere. There’s an important saying when it comes to this subject, which is, “Watch what people do, not what they say.” There’s also another saying such as, “Actions speak louder than words do.”

If people aren’t willing to follow through with their actions, you can be sure that they won’t be able to advance or progress that much with their goals, dreams, or aspirations. The difference between someone who’s a big talker and someone who actually walks the walk is quite stark. Success and progress doesn’t just come out of thin air. You need to be the person who is willing to take action after forming a plan of how to make the outcome positive or successful. This applies to a number of things in life that we often strive to achieve.

Whether it’s being the first person in your family to graduate from college, or working extra hours for that raise, or going back to night school to get the skills you need to apply for that job, positive outcomes must come from actual efforts and hard work. Good things come to people who put actions behind their thoughts. Anybody can talk a good game but the ones who really stand out in life are the ones who go the extra mile to achieve their goals with planning, taking action, and doing their best.

Reaching The Gold Standard

‘The Gold Standard’ is a popular term that is used to describe the best quality and ideal that you can hold yourself to. The term of ‘gold standard’ has often been used to refer to the finance, medical, and other industries where people are trying to get the best outcome and live up to high expectations. The gold standard can also be a benchmark that can be set for yourself or a company that is trying to reach a goal that would be difficult to achieve but is still within the realm of possibility. Often times, when it comes to the gold standard, you’re going to be comparing two different options together and seeing which one falls within a closer range of that needed benchmark. According to Google, the official definition of a gold standard is when something or someone is “the best, the most reliable, or most prestigious kind of thing of its’ type.”

The correlation between something being golden and something being the best has been linked as being one in the same for a couple of decades now. It is often considered to be an analogy to the literal definition of a ‘gold standard’, which is when the value of a currency is defined in terms of its’ overall worth in gold. In this case, there are many different standards with gold being one of them when it comes to the finance world, especially when currencies are being compared to gold in terms of overall value. Since gold was seen as a reliable resource to base value off of, it was held to an increasingly high standard, which other currencies were able to base their own value on and see how much gold they could own on the world market. The gold standard can be defined when it comes to both economics but also in terms of behavior as a scientific factor.

As for the first modern usage of the gold standard, it is believed to have occurred originally in a written paper from 1979, explaining the scientific usage of the word. The paper was titled, “In search of the gold standard for compliance measurement.” In this same academic paper, the gold standard is linked directly to the ideal standard of being compliant. The excerpt from this article states that, “While other methodological problems are involved, these four highlight the absence of a real gold standard for compliance, the ideal standard would be…”

While the gold standard is often held as the ideal for currency exchanges, for medical advances, and for statistical accuracy, it can also be referencing a person’s behavior or conduct especially when it comes to business or personal matters. While the gold standard phrase may have been invented with finances or medicine in mind, the expression has become mainstream over the past couple of decades and is now used quite regularly when it comes to people’s achievements.

For example, if you are an Olympic athlete whose competing in a number of events, you are also being held to a ‘gold standard’ as you compete for a gold, silver, or bronze medal. The gold standard here is definitely the ideal standard that is held not just for athletes that are competing in the Olympics for all major sports.

In order to be the best, you need to hold yourself to your highest standards and work you’re hardest to win the gold medal. In our society, even before the phrasing of ‘gold standard’, striving for gold was seen as an endearing quality and that it often symbolically represents the best that you can achieve as an athlete who is competing in a tournament or championship. It seems to be no coincidence either that most of the trophies that you receive for coming in first place or for winning a competition are made out of gold, whether it is real or fake. The gold standard in sports is a concept that has been around for many decades and doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. Winning gold medals or trophies in competitions is strongly linked to being the best of the best, making it a significant part of the idea of the gold standard.

Beyond signifying personal achievements and athletic success, the idea of holding yourself personally to a gold standard of behavior is quite common in our society. When it comes to having the ideal behavior, you’re going to want to hold yourself accountable for your actions, and you need to have such qualities as being honest, fair, responsible, organized, and hard working.

Many businesses and companies, when they decide whether or not they are going to hire someone as their new employee evaluate if you hold yourself to a high standard of behavior or ethics. They do not want someone who is going to lie, cheat, and steal to make the company and your colleagues look bad. The idea of holding yourself to a gold standard is quite popular in many of today’s companies. Many contracts and work agreements come with behavioral clauses that lay out the do’s and don’ts of what they require of you as an employee when they decide to hire out. If you do not hold yourself to a ‘gold standard’ of behavior at work, you may be out of a job much quicker than you had imagined.

Outside of your work life, setting the gold standard of behavior in your home life is a good habit to practice. As an individual, you need to set the standard for your friends and your family as to how to act and behave as a member of a society. You need to show them that being kind, honest, hard-working, organized, and reliable are good qualities to have both at home and at work and that these are personal characteristics that should be emulated, and spread around as much as possible.

If your children or other family members see you behaving well at the grocery store by saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to the workers as well as when you leave a nice tip for the waiter or waitress at a restaurant, you are setting the gold standard for them by acting as a good example of how to behave and act as a regular person. Sometimes, you have to set your own gold standard and to have it be a high one in order for other people to follow similarly. If you are able to follow your own rules and ways of conduct, you will make yourself more of a leader and a person who is to be respected by others.

By having a gold standard whether it is in the field of athletics, statistics, science, economics, finance, etc., there are a lot of benefits to holding yourself or holding others to a very high level of standards. If everyone in society just did the bare minimum, then not much would change or advance. By being responsible, using sound judgment, working hard, and striving to be the best we can be, we become better people and we develop a strong code of conduct. You don’t need to have a gold standard in order to be a good person or a good worker but it certainly helps in setting some key boundaries, rules, and ethics that should be followed in order to get the most out of yourself and out of others.

Those who strive to be the best are rewarded with reaping the benefits of the gold standard in many different fields. If you’re able to hold yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally to different ideals, you’ll reach the high standard that is set for yourself. The gold standard is not for everyone because not everyone can reach that highest level of human conduct and action. However, the purpose of the gold standard is for people who have the means and the drive to be the best can do just that if they set their minds and bodies to that illustrious goal.

To put it simply, if there were no gold standard or no standards at all to hold yourself or others to, society would not be as civilized and humans would not have as advanced as much as we have to the present day. While the gold standard is for the best of the best, there are other standards that we accept and implement whether it is an employees’ code of conduct from any regular company or the Constitution of the United States. Regulations, rules, and codes of conduct can be difficult to follow and observe at all times but they are necessary in order to keep society functioning well.

Those people who disregard these norms of behavior are often castigated and are excluded from being the best of the best. If you lie, cheat, or steal, you won’t meet any normal standard let alone the gold standard. The gold standard is aiming for all of us to achieve the best of human nature and to do so in different fields of work and in life. While we may not successfully get to the gold standard in finance, medicine or in athletics, we always have the chance to reach the gold standard in our personal behavior and conduct.

 

 

View From The Top

Tired and thirsty, my friend and I had finally reached the glorious peak at ‘La Piedra’ or ‘El Peñol del Piedra’, which loosely translates in English to ‘The Stone.’ It was quite a physically taxing climb up to the top of the rock as my legs burned and my feet became sore as my friend and I ascended the 750 steps along with some steep hiking up a good-sized hill to get to the base of the ‘La Piedra’ rock.

I came to Guatepe partly after hearing from friends in Medellin on how beautiful and unique it was and after seeing various pictures of the stunning landscapes that make up this tranquil part of Antioquia. I was skeptical of the place and didn’t think that it would live up to the hype but I am happy to say that I was completely wrong. Out of all the places I’ve visited and the landscapes I’ve traversed, Guatepe is a really special place to visit. The area is made up of dozens of intertwining, clear blue lakes surrounded by the greenest forestry you could imagine with soil rich in different colors. My friend compared it to the southern United States and thought that it was similar to the state of North Carolina. To me, that’s part of the beauty of Colombia in that there are so many varied landscapes. You could sometimes wonder whether or not you’re in a different country entirely depending on if you’re in Atlantico or in Antioquia.

The landscapes were beautiful, the air was clean, the people were friendly, and the view from the top of ‘La Piedra’ was unbeatable. A 360-degree vista of all of the lakes, hills, and greenery that make up Guatepe was quite breathtaking and peaceful to behold. It helped that my friend and I had great weather to enjoy where the skies were clear blue and the bright sun was shining down on us.

It was really pleasant to take pictures, to soak up the view, and to have a cold drink after the long journey to the top. I consider myself to be in pretty good shape but walking up the steep 750 steps is not for everyone and it really is quite the challenge. While it’s not insurmountable, your feet and legs feel the pain and you wonder when the full view is going to come into play. At ‘La Piedra’, they really make the tourists and the visitors to the rock work for it. There are no escalators or elevators. You have to pay for admission and if you don’t make it to the top, you don’t get your money back. Like a lot of things in life, you have to invest yourself physically and mentally in order to reap the benefits.

Similar to many other moments in life, I reflected on those 750 steps of ‘La Piedra’ as being a necessary yet temporary struggle to reach the top and enjoy the view. For me, it wouldn’t have been as worthwhile at all to check out ‘La Piedra’ if there were an escalator or an elevator to shortcut the journey. I believe that I enjoyed the view from the top of ‘La Piedra’ much more given the fact that I was tired, hungry, and in need of a rest. The struggle was tough enough for me that as a result, the ultimate reward became more fulfilling. If the climb up had been much easier, it simply would have been less rewarding. Because the views from this rock were magnificent, I was willing to climb the 750 steps to get to the top. Sometimes in life, the struggle is worth the reward.

Whether it’s traveling to a new country, starting a new job, moving to a new place, or working on a blog, there’s going to be some struggles and setbacks involved. Sometimes, you’re going to have to decide whether the sacrifices you make and the challenges you have to overcome are enough to justify the rewards. Nothing in life is as easy as it seems and if it appears that way, you may be let down when the reward or success you’ve seen from it doesn’t feel as good as a result. It’s important to realize that working hard and trying new things can lead to failure but it can also lead to a success that’s more whole and fulfilling.

Putting blood, sweat, and tears, into a project, a job, or a relationship takes a lot of work but you can rest easy knowing that it was your labor, which brought it into fruition. If everything in life is simply handed to you, you may feel happy and experience pleasure from it in the short-term but it’s likely to make you miserable in the long-term. Being able to exert yourself in the world physically or mentally can give you a much more lasting feeling of success and contentment. While I would have been happy with the ‘view from the top’ had there been an elevator for tourists like me to go to the top, I felt much more relieved and excited from the view after step #750 because it was the sweat and the toil to get up there physically that filled me with contentedness and satisfaction.

Before I left Guatepe, I wanted to see more of the area so I rented a kayak in the morning and set out by myself. I untied the canoe, got ahold of the equipment and the oars, and pushed the kayak out into the open waters. The day before, I had viewed Guatepe from the top but now I was back on level ground exerting myself physically stroke by stroke on a two-seater kayak in order to enjoy the scenery, and the peaceful quiet of a Sunday morning.

For anybody who’s done kayaking by themselves before should know, it’s a struggle at first to steer the kayak and to move in sync with the tide. Like the day before, I was challenging myself physically and thus, I felt more rewarded when I was able to glide by the birds chirping, the local residents fishing, and taking in the sheer greenery of Guatepe. I have to say it was a good way to end my weekend trip to that part of Antioquia, which is a truly beautiful and well-preserved area of Colombia.

I hope to get across to my readers that it’s very likely in life that you’ll get the most satisfaction from those challenges you endured and personally overcome. Whether it’s that huge rock in Guatepe you climbed or that successful business you started on your own time and with your own money, these efforts will create sustainable happiness and noticeable self-confidence. It’s not easy to get to the top and that’s why you have to work hard and exert yourself in order to enjoy the view.

 

Moments of Quiet Reflection

In a world full of noise and frenzy, it’s to one’s advantage to have some quiet moments of reflection every now and then. It doesn’t have to be every day but five to ten minutes for a couple of times per week can really make a difference in helping you do some self-reflection. Activities like Yoga, Meditation, or just doing deep breathing exercises will allow your mind to quiet itself and reflect on nothing at all or to concentrate on a specific thought. Hearing your own voice and thoughts in your mind is not easy to do but it helps put your past, present, and future into a clearer perspective. It’s a real and underrated pleasure in letting your thoughts run away to new places and but to still control where they go.

Personally, I enjoy my own reflections late at night when the world is quiet and I’m getting ready to fall sleep. I can freely think about past memories that make me smile, and contemplate events on the horizon in my future. Having tried meditation in the past, I can also let go of any and all thoughts that I want to do away with in order to become a clean slate unto myself. Reflecting upon my actions, thoughts, and feelings makes me more introspective and observant, which allows me to acknowledge my overall strengths and weaknesses as a person. Being self-aware of who you are, where you’re going, where you’ve been, and how you got there are all elements in developing a personal sense of meaning and fulfillment.

Listening to ones’ conscience and honing ones’ idea of self is increasingly important in maintaining a sense of identity and purpose. Too often these days, we are with the world all of the time and are constantly absorbing the thoughts and feelings of many other people. While interacting with other is a crucial part of life, we must continue to listen to and reflect on our own thoughts, feelings, and actions. We shouldn’t always act on what we feel, or say what we think, but having these thoughts and reflecting on their origins and meanings should not be discouraged.

Often, we as human beings can care way too much about what other people think, feel, and say about us. It is simply not productive to let others’ thoughts of you consume your own sense of self and purpose. All of us have a limited amount of information that we can take in to our minds, absorb, and act on so we have to choose what’s really important to let into our heads.

In the age of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and social media in general, it’s all too easy to get caught up on in what’s going on in the external world without taking note of what we’re experiencing in our internal world. Indulging in everybody else’s words all of the time will leave you disoriented and overwhelmed. Listening to your own voice above everybody else’s is necessary to have a true sense of self. Make sure to always have a strong identity and a purpose. If that takes more daily quiet reflections, then you should make those a priority in your life. When you are always tuned into the lives of other people, you forget to live your own life.

Live according to your own purpose and vision before considering the thoughts and opinions of others. Yes, while it’s always important to listen and seek guidance from friends and family, sometimes you have to go your own way and follow your destiny, even if you don’t know where that road may lead. Having an active life makes for a stronger and healthier individual.

Be quiet and reflect when your mind feels cluttered and overwhelmed. Take a few deep breaths and relax. Let your mind shut off or let it wander into your memories and experiences. Turn off your phone and the computer to just ‘be present’ in the moment. Let the flow of information and data of the world not influence you in these precious few moments.

The only thoughts and feelings you should be listening to should be your own during these times. Hear your own voice and think about your past, present, and future or try not to think at all. Remember your own ‘why’ of living and maintain your personal bearings. After these crucial moments of quiet reflection, you’ll better understand who you are as a person and what your conscience is telling you. Always allow yourself some time to be present in your own mind, and your mind alone.

The Limits of Perception

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“Do you see what I see?”

“Perception” is an interesting word when you think deeply about it. No, I’m not just talking about your two eyes, and the vision that allows you to perceive the world visually. In other words, we can only perceive the experiences that we have or had in the past, the people we met, the places we visited and lived in, and the choices that we make or made.

Human beings are mortal which means we have limited time on this Earth to see and experience all that life has to offer. For some people, this is a very frightening and gloomy notion. However, others would see this fact as a way to get the most out of life and expand their perception of the world as much as possible.

A limited “perception” of life and the world has consequences when you think about it. If you don’t have the ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes or to imagine or experience life as they do, then your ability to emphasize with them would be diminished. Yes, you can have sympathy for their plights or jubilation for their successes but you wouldn’t be able to connect with them on a deeper level.

A consistent problem in human nature is our lack of ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and see life as they do. When we are unable to break down barriers between social classes, races, religions, and gender, disagreements and hostilities between these groups is likely to continue. From my perspective and my past travels, the similarities of humans around the world drastically outweigh the differences. That doesn’t mean that these differences are bad or that they should be eliminated. I happen to believe that cultural and social differences are part of what makes humanity unique and should not be demonized.

This leaves the question that my blog readers would wonder to themselves hopefully after reading this entry: How do I expand my perception of life and the world around me? Now, when I ask this question, I do not mean for you to go out to the nearest pharmacy and get yourself some contacts or a pair of prescription glasses.

What I mean and what I believe is that we humans have limited time on Earth and we can’t live forever to experience everything and to meet everybody around the world. However, there are ways to expand this perception by traveling the world, reading books, and meeting different kinds of people. These three concepts are not crazy ideas but rather novel concepts to create greater empathy in yourself and for others along with a more profound view of humanity as a whole.

Traveling has always had the highest return on investment for me and the experiences I have had have helped me view the world in a different way. I know that it’s not feasible for everyone to travel but if you can’t make a huge jump to another country, try to travel to different places and cities within your own country. Learning about the local culture and customs, enjoying the local cuisine, and indulging in the history and background of the society are important for any seasoned traveler.

You will start to view the world in shades of grey rather than pure black and white. You would also learn that cultures and societies are complex and that it takes a lot of time to immerse yourself in its deeper reaches. Most of all, you are communicating in a different language which is fascinating and complex in its own right. Above all else, you are seeing the commonalities and similarities that exist between your family and their family, your town and their town, and your country and their country.

Meeting new people from different backgrounds and places ties into traveling as well but it really makes your perception of the world grow. If you stay in the same town where you grow up and never leave, chances are that you’ll have a limited perception of people and life itself. Talking to different people, hearing their stories, cooking with them, and sharing a meal or drink has many benefits. You may be able to build a friendship that lasts for years even if you don’t speak the same language or come from the same culture.

By hearing their story and listening to them, you expand your own perception of the world and the people who inhabit it. You can get beyond the stereotypes and the clichés and really get into deeper social connections with people, especially in this interconnected world that we all live in.

Lastly, reading books is an integral park for learning about the world and facilitating a deeper perception. As individuals, we cannot experience everything or know everything there is to know. However, by reading about the stories of others who have come before you and who had lived, and died, you will gain greater knowledge and wisdom. Regardless of whether the book is fiction or non-fiction, you’re reading someone’s life story or reading about a subject that spans a part of human history.

Book by book, you are enlightening yourself by learning about the experiences and perceptions of others. By learning about the men and women who have come before you and who have lived exemplary and distinguished lives, you can take lessons from their existence and apply those lessons to your own life. If you can’t travel or meet different kinds of people, reading books by those authors who have and whom shared those unique experiences with their readers is the next best thing.

We all have one live to life, and you can only see what’s right in front of your eyes. Make sure that you continue to give yourself the opportunities and chances to indulge in the knowledge and wisdom that can be gained by expanding your perception of the world and its inhabitants. Travel, read books, and meet different people for as long as you may live. Only then will you gain true enlightenment and wisdom.

The Conundrum of Choice

Life can be a lot like a cereal aisle sometimes. Too many choices, and not enough time.
Life can be a lot like a cereal aisle sometimes. Too many choices, and not enough time.

No other mental task can be so challenging and exhausting yet invigorating as making a choice. The concept of “Choice” is a behavioral process that we each undergo hundreds of times each day and they can either be the most routine, mundane of decisions to be made or those that are very rare and of great importance. These choices that we make can either have the most immediate or long-term impacts on our lives.

I tend to sometimes naively overlook how important choice is in determining one’s destiny or fate in life. As human beings, we make so many choices each day that it’s difficult to discern from what’s valuable to what really doesn’t matter in the grander scheme of things. This also plays into one’s individual perception of what is and what isn’t important in life, which is a long debate that should be left for another thinker. I was walking through the local grocery store going through the vast, tall aisles and felt completely overwhelmed.

Who knew that choosing cereal these days could come with so many options to choose from? I was completely flummoxed at first and ended up just placing a random cereal in my cart out of frustration and bewilderment. This is an example of a choice that really is quite basic when you think of it but may have had it’s importance overstated since there are now more choices than ever.

Clearly, most people in this world today do not have access to these many choices as we do here in the United States and other developed countries but it makes you think that we should be lucky for all the choosing we get to do on a daily basis. We should not take for granted in our society how many choices we do have and how many decisions we can make as independent people who have the freedom to make these kinds of decisions.

 Many people living in the world today have very limited options and are unable to make choices because they are not allowed to or do not have the option to. Next time, you’re meandering in the cereal aisle for perhaps a bit longer than you should, think about the weight of this choice and whether or not it is worth the time or the effort because there are many other choices to be made throughout the day and they may be a bit more important than “Fruity Pebbles or Cheerio’s?”