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Learning is Sweet

Unlike my business partner, I am not known for offering wisdom from the Jewish tradition. That’s because I don’t know enough Jewish tradition to do more than lip sync the elementary prayers. However, I do know of an old Jewish tradition that when a young boy begins his studies—when he reads his first word of the Torah—he is given a taste of honey. That way he will always associate learning with sweetness. 

I rose this morning filled with a familiar low-grade dread at yet another day inside my apartment without being able to do the things that bring me joy…like, anything outside my apartment. I scanned the horizon of weeks ahead and saw nothing but the ruins of my carefully curated way of life. As I sat down for the first zoom call of the day, which I took by phone (see my previous blog for more information), I found myself being irritable and sulky. I felt like a kid being forced to do her homework. That’s when I flashed on that Jewish child and the honey.  

Even though the phrase, “It is what it is” has always made my fists clench in my pockets, this may be the moment for which that maddening idiom was designed.

I can’t very well mope my way through the entire spring. This is ridiculous. Even though the phrase, “It is what it is” has always made my fists clench in my pockets, this may be the moment for which that maddening idiom was designed. Nothing will change this state of affairs, and all its attendant uncertainty, for the next 60 days. At least. As they say in prison: you either do the time, or the time does you.  

So I’d better crack open my metaphoric Talmud and start learning. The question is how to actually coax myself to associate the enormity of what I need to learn now with more sweetness? I’ll give you a peek into my learning list, but I’m sure yours is just as long. Over the coming weeks I need to figure out how to: 

  • deliver ideas and experiences virtually;
  • shift the business model of a company designed around in person experience;
  • hold difficult conversations without being in front of people physically;
  • convince others to support my projects and ideas in the context of…this;
  • help my children manage uncertainty when I myself am wobbling on my skates;
  • expand my cooking repertoire while shopping as little as possible;
  • find ways to help my elderly mother, who lives 800 miles from me and my siblings;
  • manage my finances in the present economy;
  • do my own nails;
  • accept the fact that nobody knows anything.

To help me, I needed to summon my grandma Millie. As long as she was alive, my grandmother kept a full bowl of candy by the front door of her apartment. Caramel Nips. You can still find them—hard round caramel nuggets that taste so delicious you don’t mind that they tear the fillings right out of your face. As I’d leave her apartment, my grandmother would insistently press the candy into my hand: “Here! Have a NIP!!!”  

Why thank you, grandma Millie. I think I will. In fact, last week I ordered 4 boxes of Nips Caramels. Every time I sit down to brave another unknown, I pop a Nip in my mouth. Not kidding. It lasts a ridiculously long time if you resist chewing it, which seriously would require pliers to remove from your lower jaw, so don’t. Since I only face 2 or 3 extended learning challenges every day, this strategy is unlikely to make me diabetic. And you know what? It’s working! I’m starting to associate the uphill climb of “I have no idea what I’m doing” with…sweet creamy caramel goodness.

You don’t have to buy Nips, and this blog is not sponsored by Nestle. I’m just saying that offering yourself a reward of some kind at the moment when you’re approaching something you’d otherwise resist creates a powerful neural association that I truly believe can forge a sustained motivation path. My guess is that the reward should always be the same, so that your brain can grasp what you’re up to. But it needs to be pleasurable at a primitive level. An indulgence of some kind.  

Because learning IS sweet. We just need to unlearn whatever conditioned us otherwise. Especially now.  


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