coursework

Dear Internet,

How do you learn? How do you change your patterns to not make the same mistakes twice (or thrice, etc)?

If you’re self-aware, how do you change your life from being a pain in the ass and how do you stop sabotaging yourself?

I’ve talked on and on about ThePlan for years; there is a similar version, from 10 years ago (!), that is nearly identical to the one I’m plotting now.

I always planned on conquering the world tomorrow and my past was filled with nothing but those empty tomorrows where I just existed and did not really live.

And I felt that sense of panic, that I would end up dead and alone, eaten by ThePugKids, all three of them fighting to eat my hands and feet. I can almost see them burping with a self-satisfied look on their faces. If pugs could smirk, mine surely would in utter defiance of not being spoilt rotten.

Change “ThePugKids” to “Thursday” and it is still absolutely true.

(And it’s pretty freaking clear I just finished watching Bridget Jones’ Diary before I wrote the above.)

Ten years on and many things have changed: I went on to get a second masters, I got married, I got divorced, I got … well you know how my life has gone. And some things have changed for the better (being on better mood stabilizing drugs, seeing a therapist on the regular, exercising on the regular), and others — not so much.

This got me thinking on how I roughly learn things. During my ill spent youth, I’ve always tested higher than I assumed I would in all subjects. Meaning, I was put into advanced classes where I didn’t think I belonged. I remember the day in 8th grade math when I found out they were bumping me up to honors math in high school. How in thee hell did that happen? I believe I am terrible at math. (low self-esteem)

Everything came tumbling down in high school. I dropped out in 11th grade. Repeated it and dropped out again. I got my GED. My first foray into college was a hot mess – I scrapped by on an 1.7 GPA. I was too busy interviewing rock stars, working on the student newspaper, and trying to start up a college radio station to study.

<a decade passes>

Now I’m 30 and I’m going back to college for the second time. I am desperate to get my BA so I cut out extracurricular activities (see how that did me in first time around) and study, study, study. I pull my overall GPA up from a 1.7 to a 3.4ish and a 4.0 in my second bachelors, letting me graduate with distinction.

I’ve done it.

I apply the same methods to my first and second masters, graduating each with high marks.

So how was I able to change my studying habits, and thusly my life, around 180 degrees? It was not just about passion or wanting something badly, it was more than likely due to wanting to feel the accomplishment of having a goal and completing that goal. (With that only goal the thing in my mind’s eye, I’m less likely to wade off the path.)

This is fine and good in theory but how in the hell did I do it?

Knowing my learning style, how my brain operates, and carding1.

Not in a “I am too young to buy alcohol I hope they don’t card me” way or “I’m playing poker and i hope they don’t see my tells” way either.

Carding, for me, is where I write something down on an index card, and shuffle through them as if I am dealing hands in poker. My French class cards? Word on the front, permutations on the back. Those cards towered in the inches thick category. Art History cards? Names, periods, movements, paintings — all carded. Name of thing on the front, every little bit of info I could cram on the back.

This went on for all my classes.

Where did I learn how to card? When I started college again, I volunteered to be a literacy tutor through the public library. In the training we were taught about the different methods of how people learned. I never thought about learning styles before or hell, even knew it existed. That’s when it all clicked.

For me to grasp a concept, the following has to happen:

  • An instructor lecturs (auditory) while I take notes (read-write)
  • I need to ask questions and discuss it to understand (kinesthetic)
  • Later, I card my notes (read-write)
  • I continue to go over my cards to cement the ideas (read-write)
  • By continually going over the cards, and going through the lecture in my head, I can break down and piece together the thing I am learning into something tangible

One thing I’m often saying is, “I need to figure it out on my own before I can get it.” (kinesthetic). I cannot learn a behaviour/thing with someone telling me how it works; it means nothing to me. For me to learn something, I need to experience it myself. If I want to learn how to fix a computer, I need to take it apart and put it together again. Now I’ve done X (taking apart a computer) and learned it leads to Y (fixing broken thing on a computer).

People have told me how this would work, but I didn’t believe them until I did it myself.

(The whole “don’t tell me, let me figure it out myself” can get a bit messy during emotional entanglements and I’ll just leave it at that.)

Most importantly, what works with learning styles, is my need for structure.

If I don’t have structure in my life, in any form, I flounder. Working a full time gig helps significantly with structuring where as being a freelance writer makes it super messy for me to keep in control. I’ve tried setting up my day to the minute before and that’s too much, I need something between ultra regiment and chaos.This is why it was agreed I needed a co-working space.

Now with all of that laid out, add in my mental disorders: borderline (attention seeking), bipolar (mania, disorganized behaviour, racing thoughts), adhd (fidgeting, boredom, forgetfulness), and our favorite pal anxiety and you see it gets a bit chaotic.

Knowing how these three things (structure, learning style, knowing how my mind works) worked is how I aced my education and kept my life together for many years.

(I am so burying the lede.)

I started the lede in the third paragraph: ThePlan2.

I’ve done variation after variation of ThePlan over the years and it’s always starts strong, starts to wane, and eventually fizzles out. How can I change this behaviour and make it last?

That is the ultimate question.

Carding will be my answer.

DBT’s main purpose is to change how your brain works. This idea is also the foundation for most of the self-help books out there. However, DBT is backed by scientists, papers, shrinks, and research3.

The four critical skills of DBT are:

  • Distress Tolerance Coping better with painful events
  • Mindfulness Experience living in the moment
  • Emotion Regulation Being able to recognize what you feel and then observe what’s happening so you don’t feel overwhelmed
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness Tools to express beliefs and needs; to set limits and work on negative problems

In order for DBT to work, you have to do it every single day. You have to practice some of the techniques to continue to rewire your brain. You can’t do what I did, start reading the book, highlight things, and then forget about it. This serves no one.

This is where carding comes in.

I had clear photo case box with 5×7 and 3×5 cards, purchased for a writing project that never got off the ground. I created the following dividers:

  • Things accomplished A listing of things I’ve done for that so I keep track of things I would normally forget, like how many times that week I’ve worked out. Each day has it’s own card
  • Negativity Disputation Techniques Techniques when I’m feeling feelings about something. An example of the ABCDE disputation technique:
    • Adversity  I can’t write
    • Beliefs Everything has been written
    • Consequence I have not written a story/article
    • Disputation I’m not scheduling time to write
    • Energize How can I change this behaviour
  • Gratitudes and Happy Things Weekly cards of things I’m happy or grateful or both of things from I really love the smell of pineapple juice to I have a large support network
  • Pithy Statements Those memes we see around the interwebs with such sayings as Dream big. Dream bigger. I have a love hate relationship with these things — hence they “pithy statement” card, but sometimes a girl needs a reminder of such things.
  • Mind / Body / Soul Cards that I need to fulfill that desire. Meditation and reading everyday (Mind); drink more water (Body); find good in people (Soul). Mind / body / soul each have their own dividers but I’ll probably itnergrate these things into the Happy Things list.
  • DBT Reminders Distraction plans (do yoga, smell someone else (YES. I will presume I’m weird. I associate people with smells, you smell good – you are a good person. You smell bad to me – you’re probably not such a good person. TheBassist has a specific scent of his deodorant mixed with pheromones mixed with normal body scent. (I’ve been known to sniff his deodorant when I was not feeling so great. Don’t judge me. (He knows.)) Steph smells like patchouli and vanilla. Mini-me smells of hot cocoa and clean shampoo.)), things to put into action (move your body)

My day to day:

  • I use my Bullet Journal to create my todo lists for the day
  • I do my todo list
  • I work on DBT stuff (do my homework, read, go over the cards)
  • I meditate
  • I do things that need to be done but are not on the todo list (walk the dog, load and unload the dishwasher)
  • I write down my accomplishments and my gratitudes
  • Move my body somehow
  • Write something

Some days there is more but the above is always the same.

Remember the breakdown I gave on how I learn? Let’s apply that to how to train my brain with DBT:

  • Someone lectures / talks to me about things: therapist / friends (auditory)
  • I need to ask questions and discuss it to understand (kinesthetic)
  • Later, I card my notes from therapy / add to DBT pile (read-write)
  • I continue to go over my cards to cement the ideas (read-write)
  • By continually going over the cards, and going through the discussions in my head, I can break down and piece together the thing I am learning/knowing into something tangible

You may think I’m crazy for putting this together. You may think this is a lot of work. You may think this is a load of bullshit. You don’t have to like it, agree with it, or even do what I’m doing. That is all fine. What I can tell you is while I’m just slowly making my way towards the good parts of life, this has been helping. It’s been a week, I know, but having this kind of structure (see above) helps me shape my life.

It looks like a  lot of work – it isn’t. Outside of my reading (about a half an hour a day), I spend another 10-15 carding. It looks complicated (it isn’t).

But it doesn’t matter. It’s for me and not for you. The end.

xoxo,
Lisa

This Day in Lisa-Universe: 2015, 2015


1. Carding is my fancy way of saying, “flash cards.”
2. Literally the number one reason why the TheBassist left was/is because I am a flight risk (borderline). The plan, as he says, always kept changing. I didn’t think so as I updated him as soon as I knew things, but, I’ll have to concede he has a point as I was so wishy washy. On more than one occasion he compared me to my being Lucy and his being Charlie Brown and the plan was the football.
3. I recommend Dialectal Skills Workbook and DBT Skills Training. While it is recommended you see a DBT specialist, you can certainly work on this solo.