English Challenge 15

I.  Article

A. Stop “Thinking” So Much Link / Excerpt and Questions /

B. Excerpt to Read and Record

I know something about you without knowing you.  I bet you spend a LOT of time in your head.  You know, thinking, worrying, stressing, freaking out — call it whatever you want.  I call it a preoccupied mind.  And with what?  Ninety-nine percent of your thoughts are useless.  William James put it best:

“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”

All my life I’ve been obsessed with practical things.  Practical philosophy, practical knowledge, practical books, practical work, and practical advice.  That idea comes from Pragmatism, a philosophical tradition that started in the 19th century in America.  Charles Sanders Peirce, who was a Harvard professor, is considered as the “father of Pragmatism.”  But it was William James, a trained physician turned philosopher, who really defined the philosophy.  About thoughts, worry, and stress, William James says:

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”

Pragmatism believes that the mind is a tool.  Your mind should work for you, not against you.  People who don’t master their mind, don’t believe it’s possible.  They say: “I can’t help but thinking these things.”  Well, you can with enough practice.  It’s a skill.  In other words, you have the ability to decide what you think, or you can choose NOT to think.  And that is one of the most important and most practical things you can learn in life.  Before I learned that skill, I would spend hours and hours inside my head.

Just think about how much you think.

  • “I wonder what my boss thinks?”
  • “What happens if I screw up and lose my job?”
  • “Does she love me?”
  • “I think he doesn’t care about me.”
  • “I just keep failing.”
  • “Why does my life suck?”
  • “Why is my life awesome and other people’s lives are not?”
  • “What if I get cancer?”
  • “I don’t care about my job.  Is there something wrong with me?”
  • “I can’t finish anything.  What’s wrong with me?”

And the list goes on.  That is all REAL stuff.  That’s what people tell me when I ask them what they worry about.  You know what those thoughts do to you?  Guilt, anger, suffering.  I just have one question for you: What’s the practical use of your thoughts?  Yes?  I’m waiting.  Still no answer?  Exactly.  Thoughts have no use.  Ninety-nine percent of them that is.  Which thoughts are useful?

  1. Thinking about how you can solve problems.  A problem is just an unanswered question.  Put your brain to use and think about how you can solve problems.  There are a lot of those on this earth.
  2. Understanding knowledge.  That mean this: Try to internalize knowledge and think about how you can use that knowledge to improve your life, career, work, relationships, etc.

That’s it.  You can ignore every other thought.  If you’re constantly thinking, it’s because you haven’t’ trained your mind yet.  You HAVE to get out of your head.  If not, you go mental.  Everyone will.  No exception.  Also, you’re probably thinking so much that you’re missing out of life.  Did you notice the sunshine this morning when you woke up?  Or the raindrops?  Did you notice the smell of your coffee?  Did you feel the texture of your cereals?

If your answer is no, you definitely need to get out of your head.  Stop thinking and start feeling.  Now, you might think: “How do I train myself to stop thinking useless thoughts?”  Awareness.  That’s where it starts.  Every time you start drifting off, become aware of it.  Just observe your brain.  Step outside yourself and just observe the crazy stuff you’re thinking about.  Don’t judge.  Don’t think you’re stupid.  If you do that, you’re thinking again.  No, what you want to do is say this to yourself: “Ah, that’s a cute thought.  Now, let’s get back to reality.”

“If you can change your mind, you can change your life.”  ― William James

Are you back to reality?  Do you feel your eyes reading the letters on your screen?  Do you feel your phone in your hand?  Are you thinking about how you’re going to apply this information to your life?  Great.  You’re USING your mind, and it’s not the other way around.  Now, keep using that brain of yours.  Because I’ll tell you this:  It’s the most powerful tool on earth.

C. Comprehension Questions

  1. What does this writer believe about most people’s thoughts in their head?
  2. What kinds of thoughts does the writer consider to be “useful thoughts”?
  3. According to this article, what is pragmatism?
  4. How does the writer suggest that we learn to stop thinking useless thoughts?
  5. Do you spend a lot of time in your head thinking “useless thoughts”?

D. Grammar Analysis

  1. In this sentence: “I can’t help but thinking these things.”
    Express “I can’t help but” in a different way.
  2. In this sentence: “Before I learned that skill, I would spend hours and hours inside my head.
    What rule requires the comma?
  3. In this sentence: “And the list goes on.
    What does “goes on” mean?
  4. Which of these sentences is what we call a cleft sentence?
    (a) “Don’t judge. (b) Don’t think you’re stupid.  (c) If you do that, you’re thinking again.  (d) No, what you want to do is say this to yourself:  (e) “Ah that’s a cute thought.”
  5. In this sentence:  “You’re USING your mind, and it’s not the other way around.”
    Replace the underlined portion with just three words that have the same meaning.

II.  Song

A. Waltzing Matilda – Animated Song / Australian Explains and Sings the Song / Lyrics and Questions /

B. Story

This is a humorous Australian song that is well known by most older Americans. It is often sung or played at Australian events.  I must warn you that it uses some uniquely Australian vocabulary words that you are not likely to encounter in American English.  Australian English is different than British or American English in this regard.   Let’s learn the strange Australian words first.

**Swag** = sleeping bag for sleeping outside in the wild
**Swagman** = a homeless person who carries his bed around with him wherever he goes.  A hobo.
**Billabong** = a deep pool of water
**Coolibah tree** = some kind of tree; I have no idea what kind.
**Billy** = a tin pot used to cook over a campfire
**Jumbuck** = a lamb or sheep
**Tucker** = food
**Tucker bag** = a bag for carrying food in when traveling out in the wild.
**Squatter** = a rich land owner
**Matilda** = a woman’s name, but in this song the swagman uses it as a nickname for his swag (sleeping bag), as if it is his girlfriend traveling around (a-waltzing) with him everywhere he goes.

One day the swagman camps besides a billabong (deep pool of water) and begins boiling some water in his billy (tin pot) to cook his dinner.  Suddenly he sees a jumbuck (lamb) come down to the billabong to drink.  He catches the jumbuck and sticks it in his tucker bag (food bag) so he can eat it later.  It turns out he is camping on a squatter’s (rich man’s) land, so some soldiers come by and ask him who owns that jumbuck in his tucker bag.  They know it belongs to the squatter and that the swagman has stolen it, so they try to catch him to put him in jail.  Rather than be captured and lose his freedom, he jumps into the billabong, sinks to the bottom, and drowns.  Legend has it that his ghost can occasionally be seen around that billabong.

C. Lyrics

  1. Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong
  2. Under the shade of a coolibah tree,
  3. He sang as he watched and waited ’til his billy boiled
  4. You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me.
  5. Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
  6. You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me
  7. He sang as he watched and waited ’til his billy boiled,
you’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me
  9. Down came a jumbuck to drink at the billabong,
  10. Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee,
  11. He sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag,
  12. You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me
  13. Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
  14. You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me
  15. He sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag,
  16. You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me
  17. Up rode the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred,
  18. Up rode the troopers, one, two, three,
  19. With the jolly jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker bag?
  20. You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me.
  21. Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
  22. You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me
  23. With the jolly jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker bag?
  24. You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, you scoundrel with me.
  25. Up jumped the swagman and sprang into the billabong,
  26. You’ll never catch me alive, said he,
  27. And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong,
  28. You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me.
  29. Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
  30. You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me
his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong,
  32. You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me.
  33. Oh, you’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me.

D. Comprehension Questions

  1. Summarize what this song is about.
  2. Who was Matilda?
  3. In this song, what does “a-Waltzing with me” mean?
  4. What did the swagman shove into his tucker bag?
  5. What crime did the swagman commit?
  6. Why did the swagman jump into the billabong?
  7. What country do people think of when they hear this song?

E. Grammar Questions

I copied the song from the Internet as is.  I did not change any punctuation.

  1. In Line 4, identify a punctuation mistake.
  2. In Line 28, identify a punctuation mistake.
  3. In Line 32, identify a punctuation mistake.


A. The Four Ways That Sound Affects Us Link / Excerpt & Questions /

B. Read and Record – Excerpt

  1. Over the next five minutes, my intention is to transform your relationship with sound. Let me start with the observation that most of the sound around us is accidental; much of it is unpleasant.  We stand on street corners, shouting over noise, pretending it doesn’t exist.  This habit of suppressing sound has meant that our relationship with sound has become largely unconscious.
  2. There are four major ways sound is affecting you all the time, and I’d like to raise them in your consciousness today. The first is physiological.  (Alarm clocks ring)  Sorry about that.  I just gave you a shot of cortisol, your fight-flight hormone.  Sounds are affecting your hormone secretions all the time, but also your breathing, heart rate, and your brainwaves.
  3. It’s not just unpleasant sounds like that that do it. This is surf.  (Ocean waves)  It has the frequency of roughly 12 cycles per minute.  Most people find that very soothing, and, interestingly, 12 cycles per minute is roughly the frequency of the breathing of a sleeping human, so there is a deep resonance with being at rest.  We also associate it with being stress-free and on holiday.
  4. The second way in which sound affects you is psychological. Music is the most powerful form of sound that we know that affects our emotional state.  Some music is guaranteed to make most of you feel pretty sad.  Music is not the only kind of sound, however, which affects your emotions.
  5. Natural sound can do that, too. Birdsong, for example, is a sound which most people find reassuring.  There’s a reason: over hundreds of thousands of years we’ve learned that when the birds are singing, things are safe.  It’s when they stop you need to be worried.
  6. The third way in which sound affects you is cognitively. You can’t understand two people talking at once.  You have to choose which one you’re going to listen to.  We have a very small amount of bandwidth for processing auditory input, which is why office noise is extremely damaging for productivity.  If you have to work in an open office, your productivity is greatly reduced, by about 66%.  You are one-third as productive in open-plan offices as in quiet rooms.  I have a tip for you: if you work in spaces like that, carry headphones with you, with a soothing sound like birdsong.  Put them on, and your productivity goes back up to triple what it would be.
  7. The fourth way in which sound affects us is behaviorally. With all that other stuff going on, it would be amazing if our behavior didn’t change.  At the simplest, you move away from unpleasant sound and towards pleasant sounds. For people who can’t get away from annoying noises, it’s extremely damaging for their health.
  8. Just a word on music. Music is the most powerful sound there is, often inappropriately deployed.  It’s powerful for two reasons: you recognize it fast, and you associate it very powerfully.
  9. I’ll leave you with four golden rules, for those of you who run businesses, for commercial sound. First, make it congruent, pointing in the same direction as your visual communication.  That increases impact by over 1,100 percent.  If your sound is pointing in the opposite direction, incongruent, you reduce impact by 86 percent.  That’s an order of magnitude, up or down.  This is important.  Secondly, make it appropriate to the situation.  Thirdly, make it valuable.  Give people something with the sound, don’t just bombard them with stuff.  Finally, test and test it again.  Sound is complex; there are many countervailing influences.  It can be a bit like a bowl of spaghetti: sometimes you just have to eat it and see what happens.
  10. Thank you for lending me your ears.

C. Comprehension Questions

  1. What is the main message of this article?
  2. What are the four ways that sound can affect us?
  3. What are the four “golden rules” for using sound in a commercial context?
  4. What does the writer say about the effects of birdsong on us?
  5. What does the writer recommend that you do if you work in a noisy, open-office environment?

D. Grammar Analysis

  1. In Paragraph 3, what does “roughly” mean in this usage?
  2. In Paragraph 8, there is a “flat adverb”, which I have previously posted about. What is a flat adverb?
  3. In Paragraph 9, the writer mentions four “golden rules”. In American English, we have something called “The Golden Rule” (only one).  What is this rule?  (research it)
  4. In Paragraph 10, what do you think the idiom “lend me your ears” means?



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