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Monday, February 6, 2012

Monday Morning Check In: Pithy-ism and cliches

It’s Monday Morning, and I want to talk about pithiness. As a teacher I find it useful to boil down important concepts into tiny word pictures. As a person journeying through life, I also find it useful to hang my hat on several succinct phrases – short on words but long on concepts. I keep my eyes open for these little gems and find ways to use and reuse them in many areas of my life.

I recall one conversation with a great Texas litigator, Joe Davis, formerly of Hilgers & Watkins, P.C. I asked Mr. Davis why so many litigators flashed clichés around like hot money. As a writer, I understood that clichés were to be avoided because they lacked originality.

Mr. Davis explained that clichés were a useful litigation tool because they painted a vivid picture with few words. When the cliché was good, the cliché would paint a picture that would resonate with a jury. The cliché would build a connection, tell a story, and draw on the individual jurors’ personal experiences with the use of a few words.

Ah, I thought, maybe writing should strive to achieve the same result. I may or may not use clichés in my writing, but I do find comfort in pithy expressions with my students, my friends, and myself. Here are three I enjoy spreading around:
  • Don’t Break ALL the Dishes
  • Throw a Lick at a Snake (the A minus philosophy)
  • Soap is Soap

Don’t Break ALL the Dishes. The dishes example came from something I once heard at a Weight Watchers meeting. The story example discussed at the meeting was about people falling off their diet plans. The dish analogy was that once someone made a dietary choice that was different than planned, the person tended to use that as an excuse to continue making bad dietary choices. In other words, having broken one dish, the person now feels justified as having permission to break all the rest of the dishes in the set.

I remind myself of this little phrase and the concept it represents whenever I make a mistake or fall short of my expectations. The temptation in those situations is to give up, give in, or give out. This phrase reminds me to pick myself up, hang in there, and give it another go.

Throw a Lick at a Snake. I first learned of this phrase with the community. I understand this phrase to mean that I do not need to be perfect, although striving for perfection in any endeavor is always the best motivation. Sometimes, though, it is good to throw a lick at a snake. Throw enough at them and surely one or two will hit it. Any lick that hits will be good and make a difference.

I remind myself of this phrase whenever I find myself beginning to obsess about my performance in a particular area. My anchor for this phrase and its advice come from a past history during my stint as Director of the Texas State University Suzuki String Institute. I had a lovely conversation with my cello instructor, Donna Davis, in which she was trying to encourage me during a very stressful week. Here is her story:

Donna volunteered to build a Thanksgiving centerpiece for her child’s kindergarten class. She had the idea of using each letter in the word “Thanksgiving” to represent a particular concept related to the Thanksgiving theme, such as “thanks” for the letter T, “harvest” for the letter H, “appreciation” (or “apple”) for the letter A, and so forth. She got stuck over the letter K. She called the child’s teacher in a panic and asked for advice and help. The teacher must have known Donna well, because the teacher’s response was, “Donna, can a C minus be good enough this time?”

Donna and I had a good laugh over that story, because we understood that we both suffered from a similar problem – the need for perfection. Thereafter, I told that story to my Assistant Director (the best assistant director in the world, Robin Adamo!), and she had instructions to give me the signal at any time that I was heading over to the dark side of perfectionist tendencies. Robin would look me in the eye and ask me, “Can an A minus be good enough?” We would laugh, let the momentary obsession go, and move on.

Soap is soap. This little expression tells us that it does not matter what soap you use. Soap is soap. It fascinates me that there are so many possibilities of soap and shampoo available to us. When I was overseas, I realized that the hotel provided “soap” in most Guest bathrooms. That meant that I had soap for my hair and my body. Instead of waiting for the perfect solution, I would settle tor using the tools that completed the job satisfactorily.

OK, I get it now. It is funny how this works. As I wrote this post, I discovered that I had an overall theme: perfectionism can be hazardous. I notice that my favorite pithy phrases all reflect this theme.

What is your theme? What is the issue that you struggle with the most? I recommend reading as much as you can and visiting websites that may help you to find the quotes or phrases that would help you remember how to handle your issue or problem. Try these interesting sites:

Optimism Inc. on Facebook: community of optimists who share humor, motivation, and a whole lot of optimism. daily inspirational and motivational quotes. daily affirmations; there is a companion podcast; parental warning: this website may contain explicit material that is not appropriate for children or teens (or adults), but I have found more enjoyable and useful material in general on this site.  this foundation provides for weekly newsletter inspiration from Napoleon Hill, who wrote the popular “Think and Grow Rich” in 1937. produced by Nashville recording producer Brian Hardin, this daily podcast provides a daily reading of scripture, including old and new testaments, psalms, and proverbs, along with commentary and a discussion of prayer and community issues. Brian has the perfect recording voice, and Brian has often raised strong issues for me to reflect upon.

There are many such subscription opportunities that provide inspiration, motivational quotes, and affirmations. I believe that it is helpful to frequently fill my mind with information that is encouraging, uplifting, optimistic, positive, and motivational. Most of all, I look for phrases and quotes that give me pause to reflect on the deeper messages that will spur my life forward in positive directions. I frequently visit blogs, books, websites, and recordings by Jim Rohn, Brian Tracy, Tony Robbins, Steve Pavlina, Vic Johnson, Napoleon Hill, John C. Maxwell, and Leo Babauta.

I subscribe to all of the above items. Sometimes I am too busy to read and reflect on the items I receive, but I think that it helps to have a constant diet of such information to consider. I think it is important to keep my mind filled with the right kind of thoughts so that I can inspire my students and be a positive influence or support to my colleagues and studio parents.

I apologize for all the clichés that I included in today’s blog post. I could not resist the temptation to pepper my writing with as many clichés as I could generate to illustrate the theme of this post. Although I generally try to avoid clichés when writing, I do find them as useful as my lawyer friend Joe Davis suggested. As a teacher, I have built an arsenal of clichés and expressions designed to paint vivid pictures, build a connection, and resonate with my students.

This week, think about the issues you face personally. Visit some of the sites or information that I suggested above and see if you make a connection with one or more of them. Begin to collect catch-phrases of your own that provide powerful messages that will inspire you to keep on keeping on.

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