When my kids were little, I always had balloons and a pack of crayons in my purse. I carried a separate bag with kids' gear -- wipes, extra clothes, juice boxes, Cheerios, a book -- but the balloons and crayons stayed around even as the kiddie pack was left behind. You'd be surprised how often I found myself blowing up balloons just for fun, and turning to the crayons during interviews when my pen ran out of ink.
Now that the kids are grown, the balloons and crayons are gone. But I've replaced them with a weird, but seemingly essential, assortment of other stuff. And I'm not talking the standard gear -- wallet, keys, smartphone. I upended my bag to take inventory, and asked the One Thing New community for examples of items you never leave home without, either.
There’s a famous scene in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in which Mr. Darcy’s aunt, the imperious Lady Catherine de Bourgh, tries -- and fails, spectacularly -- to browbeat the heroine, Elizabeth Bennett, into promising not to marry Mr. Darcy. For Austen fans, Elizabeth’s refusal to make such a promise is just more evidence how smart, strong and sassy a heroine she is.
For UCLA political science professor Michael Chwe, it’s an example of something else altogether: strategic game theory, or the study of how people optimize choice when interacting with others. In his new book, Jane Austen: Game Theorist, Chwe aims to show that Austen, in fact, was one of the earliest game strategists.
In the case of Pride and Prejudice, Chwe says Lady Catherine’s fatal flaw lies in her failure to recognize that Elizabeth’s refusal will actually spur Mr. Darcy, who still pines for Elizabeth, into action. As Darcy tells Elizabeth after the fact: “It taught me to hope as I had scarcely ever allowed myself to hope before. I knew enough of your disposition to be certain that, had you been absolutely, irrevocably decided against me, you would have acknowledged it to Lady Catherine, frankly and openly." Chwe says this example of Lady Catherine’s “cluelessness” shows how she is ultimately outsmarted as Elizabeth and Darcy marry.
I asked Chwe how Austen’s strategic thinking is applicable today and to share his favorite example of what he calls “strategic manipulations” -- examples of how her heroines outsmart others -- in her work.
You'll never regret a swim or a baby.
I first heard that saying a few months ago. While I absolutely can vouch for the part about swimming, I thought that the part about the baby might be meant for women who have unplanned pregnancies. I don't know much about that.
But it made me wonder: What else would I -- or anyone else -- never regret?
I used to work at a photography workshop in Maine. The summer staff would often wake up before the sun, using the morning light to work on our personal projects. Then we'd spend all day wrangling students, gear, transportation and sponsors, in all kinds of weather. There was a short break before dinner, during which we all had to make what seemed like an existential choice: nap, or go swimming in Lake Megunticook? The lake, all the way.
Lunch with close friends
These past few weeks have been some of the busiest I remember. Then a good friend invited me to join her and another friend for lunch. I totally did not have time. But I realized I had to do something other than work, stress out, and take care of a sick toddler, or my head would explode. I went to lunch. I didn't completely relax, but still, I needed that.
If you're a parent, you've probably been told that it's easier to get young kids out the door in the morning if you lay out their clothes the night before. In a perfect world, you get them to pick out their clothes for the entire week on Sunday night, thereby eliminating at least one opportunity for tantrums each morning.
I've started doing this for myself. Not because I'm prone to throwing tantrums, but because the science behind the new concept of so-called "decision fatigue" says that we have only a set amount of decision-making capacity we can use each day.
It seems that willpower really is a finite resource. If we squander too much of it in the morning, we make poorer decisions as the day goes on. When President Barack Obama says he only wears black or gray suits because he has too much else to worry about, he's not kidding: Why use precious brainpower on solids vs. pinstripes if you've got to deal with Putin that afternoon?
I don’t have a mantra. I will probably never have a mantra, and my Sanskrit is… let’s just say patchy, at best.
But there are certain phrases I repeat to myself, over and over. Because they keep me from going nuts.
Every now and then I find a new phrase. It gets tacked to my wall, made into a screensaver, and it pops into my head at random times. It gets chanted (mentally) when my kids or my work threaten to make my blood boil.
Turns out you have some favorite sanity-saving phrases too, as evidenced by our call for great quotes on Facebook and Twitter. So what do I say, and what do you say? These:
Get knocked down seven times, get up eight.
This is supposedly a Japanese proverb, sometimes translated as “Fall down seven times, get up eight.” It makes no sense, literally, and that’s part of what I love about it. Because usually the thing that’s knocked me down for the sixth or seventh time makes no sense, either.