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Calm Determination and the Perils of Pseudo-Teaching

September 6, 2017


Calm Determination 

I've just finished reading a short book called The Book of Five Rings, penned sometime in the early 1600's by an expert Japanese swordsman named Miyamoto Musashi. On its face, the book is a tight treatise on mastering military strategy. A few layers deeper, it's a book about mastering oneself. 

Though I'd be lying if I said the book was paradigm-shifting or life-changing or anything like that, there is one particular phrase that really stood out to me: "Both in fighting and everyday life," writes Musashi, "you should be determined though calm."

Calm determination. That's what I wrote down in the margin, and what I felt an immediate draw toward—like something I could use more of in my life. 

Though the book is over 350 years old, I think calm determination is just as important now as it must have been back then. Today, we've got 24/7 hyperbolic news, and as a result, 24/7 hyperbolic people. We're also surrounded by attention killers: the internet, Netflix, and every single push-notification on a smartphone. And lest we forget about the cult of "productivity," which prioritizes winning short-term battles (daily tasks) over long-term wars (meaningful projects that bear fruit down the road). Put all this together, and we're operating amidst a lot of noise. Calm determination, I think, is about being able to pick up any worthwhile signal in all of this noise, and then cut through the rest of it. It's about staying on the path when it feels like everything is trying to pull you off. 

What does calm determination in the 21st century look like? I'm not sure there's any single answer, but here are a few principles I'm personally working on cultivating that might benefit you too:  



  • Don't make snap judgments: create space to respond to stimulus thoughtfully instead of just reacting.

  • Carve out time, and physical space, to do distraction-free work that matters.

  • Think delayed gratification; resist the temptation to always go for quick wins.

  • Don't ignore emotions, but don't cling to them either. Emotions are valuable if they guide you, and dangerous if they control you.

  • Try to be more present; remind yourself that the present moment is all there is. If you give present moments your all you'll create the best possible past and pave the road for the best possible future. 

  • Regularly reflect on your core values and ask yourself, did you live in alignment with them? If not, how might you course-correct the next day?


If nothing else, calm determination makes for a wonderful mantra or cue for when the going gets tough. Because when the going gets tough, few things are more beneficial than remaining calm and determined. 


Are you Pseudo-Teaching?

Take a moment to envision what great teaching or coaching looks like to you?
Did you think about a Vince Lombardi-esque inspirational speech or a teacher jumping up on their desk like Robin Williams in
Dead Poets Society?
When we envision great teachers, coaches, and leaders we tend to picture charismatic and extroverted individuals who make learning fun. They take the dull and drab and turn it into informative yet exciting information that we'll be more likely to engage with and soak up, or so the story goes.

But does the information actually get retained? Or, is what has happened merely that such a teacher or coach has created the appearance of learning. Their pupils feel like they've learned.
In 2004, a researcher at the University of Sydney, in Australia, created a short lecture designed to teach students physics, giving them a test before and after the lecture to see if learning took place. In the words of the researcher, he created his lecture “with all the hallmarks of outstanding pseudo-teaching,” filled with animations, examples, graphs, and inflections all designed to make the student feel like they learned something.

After the lecture was complete, the students all reported that they felt confident that they got more answers right.
The only problem was when the researchers compared the pre and post test data, they did the exact opposite, getting 6 out of 26 questions right. In other words, despite feeling like they learned a lot, there was no functional change.
When it comes to conveying a message or leading a group of men or women to change, we often rely on feeling to tell us if we were successful or not. But, we should remember that the goal of teaching is not to feel good or inspired but to actually learn.

It’s for these reasons and many others that England rugby coach Eddie Jones
recently commented, “It's not like Any Given Sunday anymore.... Our meetings are 15 minutes... with no more than 3 takeaways.”


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