Archive for November, 2007

Learning How to Learn

November 29th, 2007  |  Published in Habits, Mormonism

Welcome to Above Yourself, a blog about self-improvement and faith. If you're new here, you may want to subscribe in a reader or subscribe by email. Many of the topics here are related to my faith in Jesus Christ and Mormonism, but all are welcome to share their own beliefs. Thanks for visiting!

A recent article in Scientific American says that “more than three decades of research shows that a focus on effort- not on intelligence or ability- is key to success in school and in life.” Although talent is certainly part of the equation, it doesn’t get us anywhere by itself. A few key concepts mentioned in the article are as follows:

“Our society worships talent, and many people assume that possessing superior intelligence or ability—along with confidence in that ability—is a recipe for success. In fact, however, more than 30 years of scientific investigation suggests that an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings.”

“Several years later I developed a broader theory of what separates the two general classes of learners— helpless versus mastery-oriented. I realized that these different types of students not only explain their failures differently, but they also hold different “theories” of intelligence. The helpless ones believe that intelligence is a fixed trait: you have only a certain amount, and that’s that. I call this a “fixed mind-set.” Mistakes crack their self-confidence because they attribute errors to a lack of ability, which they feel powerless to change. They avoid challenges because challenges make mistakes more likely and looking smart less so… such children shun effort in the belief that having to work hard means they are dumb.”

“Such lessons apply to almost every human endeavor. For instance, many young athletes value talent more than hard work and have consequently become unteachable. Similarly, many people accomplish little in their jobs without constant praise and encouragement to maintain their motivation. If we foster a growth mind-set in our homes and schools, however, we will give our children the tools to succeed in their pursuits and to become responsible employees and citizens.”

Carol S. Dweck, Scientific American Mind

Line Upon Line

Learning is more about persistence than it is about natural ability. Ability certainly helps, but it doesn’t win us a marathon. Running a marathon takes persistence and applied effort. As children we certainly didn’t know all that we do now. In the same way, our current level of learning and understanding isn’t a cap on our maximum learning. Although we may have completed high school or college or graduate school, this doesn’t mean we’re done. Our efforts can take us up another level, and we can continually expand on that knowledge.

For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have. 2 Nephi 28:30

As a missionary, I was asked to learn Spanish to be able to teach the people of Argentina. I had studied Spanish on and off since elementary school and had always received good grades, so I thought this would be pretty easy. In the Missionary Training Center, we received lots of lessons on Spanish grammar and pronunciation. I did well in those lessons and thought I knew Spanish. Actually speaking it, however, was very frustrating. My mouth wasn’t used to forming Spanish words, and I became a little disheartened. Apparently I had no natural talent for actually speaking Spanish, I thought.

When I really learned Spanish, it came from actually speaking it. One of my instructors told us that learning a language means making mistakes and then correcting those mistakes. When I arrived in Argentina I was pretty intimidated because I still made plenty of mistakes. Luckily, many of the people I came in contact with were very willing to correct me. At first this was frustrating again, because I wasn’t used to being wrong so often, but after a while I realized that these comments were a real help.

That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the task itself has become easier, but that our ability to perform it has improved. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Learning Never Ends

In a devotional speech given at Brigham Young University, Dilworth B. Parkinson, a professor of Arabic at BYU, said that “One of the clearest results of language teaching research is that when a student becomes satisfied with what he knows, when he feels he “knows the language,” he almost immediately ceases to make progress.”

This quote really hit home for me, because I fell in the trap of thinking I was done learning more than once. It has been a recent challenge of mine to know that learning is never really finished. I had the opportunity to translate our church meetings into Spanish, which led me to realize there were many more mistakes to be made and many more lessons to learn. It’s a challenge to maintain the proper learning mindset, but if we do, our progression has no limits.

Promises in the Scriptures

November 16th, 2007  |  Published in Uncategorized

If you read in the scriptures, you can see that God has many promises for us. Not all of them are specific, and we can certainly receive more promises, but he has promised us certain things when we obey His commandments. There are so many of these promises given in the scriptures that sometimes it’s hard to keep track. Elder Spencer J. Condie gave a talk this last General Conference that lists many of them for us:

The Lord’s countless exceeding great and precious promises include forgiveness of our sins when we “confess them and forsake them” (D&C 58:43; see also D&C 1:32). Opening the windows of heaven is a promise claimed by those who pay a faithful tithe (see Malachi 3:10), and finding “great treasures of knowledge” accrues to those who observe the Word of Wisdom (D&C 89:19).

Becoming unspotted from the world is a promise to those who keep the Sabbath holy (see D&C 59:9; Exodus 31:13). Divine guidance and inspiration are promised to those who “feast upon the words of Christ” (2 Nephi 32:3) and who “liken all scriptures” unto themselves (1 Nephi 19:23).

The Lord also promised that “whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you” (3 Nephi 18:20). We are promised that the Holy Ghost will be our constant companion when we “let virtue garnish [our] thoughts unceasingly” (see D&C 121:45–46). We can claim the spiritually liberating promise of fasting, which will “loose the bands of wickedness,” undo our “heavy burdens,” and “break every yoke” (Isaiah 58:6).

Those who are sealed in holy temples and who faithfully keep their covenants will receive God’s glory, which “shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever” (D&C 132:19).

- Elder Spencer J. Condie, Oct 2007 General Conference

I don’t remember ever seeing a list of promises like that before, and it’s stunning when presented like this, even though this isn’t a comprehensive listing of all the blessings we might receive. These blessings are somewhat straightforward, but sometimes we expect to receive them without any effort of our own. We should remember that we receive blessings from God when we follow His commandments:

In these latter days, the Lord revealed that “when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:21). The Lord makes generous promises, and He certifies that He will not vary from these promises, for, said He, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise” (D&C 82:10).
- Elder Spencer J. Condie, Oct 2007 General Conference

Blessings from Reading the Book of Mormon

November 11th, 2007  |  Published in Mormonism

Many of our latter-day prophets have spoken of the importance of reading the Book of Mormon. It’s amazing to me to hear some of the promises that are given to use if we make reading the Book of Mormon a regular task in our lives.

In the First Presidency Message given in August 2005, President Gordon B. Hinckley issued a challenge to the entire church to read the Book of Mormon by the end of the year. At the end of that challenge, he mentioned the blessings that we would receive from reading the Book of Mormon:

“Without reservation I promise you that if each of you will observe this simple program, regardless of how many times you previously may have read the Book of Mormon, there will come into your lives and into your homes an added measure of the Spirit of the Lord, a strengthened resolution to walk in obedience to His commandments, and a stronger testimony of the living reality of the Son of God.”
President Gordon B. Hinckley, August 2005 First Presidency Message

My wife and I successfully completed this challenge, and as we did it there was certainly a special feeling that accompanied the reading of the Book of Mormon. It’s amazing how such a simple thing like reading in a book can have such a profound effect. As we read in the Book of Mormon, many of our problems seemed much smaller, and we had a much better perspective on our challenges.

President Ezra Taft Benson spoke frequently of the importance of reading the Book of Mormon. He highlights the blessings we can receive from doing so as follows:

It is not just that the Book of Mormon teaches us truth, though it indeed does that. It is not just that the Book of Mormon bears testimony of Christ, though it indeed does that, too. But there is something more. There is a power in the book which will begin to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book. You will find greater power to resist temptation. You will find the power to avoid deception. You will find the power to stay on the strait and narrow path. The scriptures are called “the words of life” (D&C 84:85), and nowhere is that more true than it is of the Book of Mormon. When you begin to hunger and thirst after those words, you will find life in greater and greater abundance.
Ezra Taft Benson, October 1986 General Conference

What are your favorite quotes about the Book of Mormon? Have you felt any of these blessings as you have read it?

Building Your Emergency Preparations

November 1st, 2007  |  Published in Preparedness

We hear about emergency situations and disasters more and more frequently these days, and it’s important to be prepared should something happen. Although the chances something like this would happen to us are somewhat small, it definitely happens. I never expected to see something like this in my own lifetime, but in May 2000, our family was evacuated from our home because of the Cerro Grande Fire in Northern New Mexico. Without any sense of preparation, we wouldn’t have had any idea of what to do. In other situations, you might benefit from a 72-hour kit, or simple emergency preparations. Building up your preparedness isn’t something that happens overnight; it’s a topic that needs to be revisited often. As a result, our own stock of emergency supplies should be built up over time. At his blog The Simple Dollar, Trent takes a look at how to frugally build up your emergency supplies. Here are a few of my favorite ideas:

  • Stock canned goods for food to start with. We have often been advised to build up our food storages, so stocking up on foods in cans that we would actually eat is a good way to begin. They last a long time and frequently go on sale, so we should try to buy a can or two extra instead of just what we’ll use that week.
  • Request some of these items as gifts. A good first aid kit or emergency kit for your car really does make a good gift. I can’t count how many of these little things we always run out of - personally, I wouldn’t be against getting a box of band-aids as a stocking stuffer, because we all know I get plenty of candy at Halloween.

What are your emergency essentials? What is your strategy for building them up?