By Ruthie Iida
The clever plotting is enjoyable (this year I made a colorful and intricate mind map), but even as I write and sketch, I’m aware that I will not follow through on most of my resolves. And that’s fine. I’m honing the details of my “Ideal Self”, inspired by motivational studies of English language learners. What usually happens at some point during the year is that I make a spontaneous decision that turns out to be highly motivating, realize that I’m onto something good, stick with it, and — propelled by momentum – let the change happen. This year’s spontaneous decision involves a fitness center and I’d like to tell you about it.
I walked into the fitness center on the last day of the old year because 1) it was new and the sign was shiny, hence 2) I was curious, and 3) it was within 7 minutes walking distance from my house. Despite its disturbing location (above a noisy, smelly pachinko parlor), the gym’s interior was as new and shiny as the sign, featuring floor to ceiling windows in front of the treadmills. I realize that this is standard for most chain fitness centers, but it’s always been my dream to walk on a treadmill in front of a big window, watching people on the street below and feeling smug and fit. So I signed up immediately for the “fitness plus yoga” plan. It’s pricey, so I’ve been making myself go every day that it’s open… and guess what? My creative juices are flowing!
It’s all about the treadmill. I realized after the first week that not only was I feeling fit, but that my mind was full of ideas. Not being a fan of Japanese TV anyway, I resolved to NOT turn on the attached mini TV screen or listen to music, but instead to stare blankly at the street below, letting my mind wander. This was part of the good advice I got from Stephen Krashen’s iTDi course two years ago: let your mind wander. It was impossible for me at the time. You see, I am field independent: able to focus on but also constantly distracted by details. You probably would not enjoy traveling with me unless you like progressing at a snail’s pace and taking a million photos along the way. So the beauty of this particular gym is that the view from the windows is literally so dull and gray that even a detail fanatic like myself cannot find anything to be distracted by. I am staring across the street at the “Eyeglass Super” (which does very little business) and there are relatively few people passing by below me. Ho-hum.
This means that my mind really does wander, and since my school is what I’m most passionate about, I find myself dreaming up extra verses for songs, planning the next day’s lessons, thinking up potential solutions for classes where students don’t work well together, classes where the air seems dead, or classes where things are too lively and language learning becomes an afterthought. When I hit on an idea that instinctively seems right, I hold onto it tightly. Then I turn it over and over in my mind, testing it against what I know about SLA theory and projecting how students might react. If it’s a song or a rhyme, I hold on by repeating it over and over in my head as I plod along. Sometimes, alas, I’ve lost part of it by the time I get home to my journal or my MacBook, but I never lose it all. When I get home, my mother-in-law says, “You must be tired,” but I’m not. Best of all, I sleep soundly after I’ve jotted down my ideas, which sometimes reappear in my dreams, transformed but still recognizable.
It’s been three weeks now and I resolve to continue the two-for-one habit of keeping fit while giving my brain a chance to wander. What’s good for me personally is good for my school and my students as well. So Happy New Year to you all! May your minds wander far and return home safely, laden with productive ideas.