All posts by Louise So

Difficult Situations

Some days I feel like I have everything under control, and some days I feel like I have been sucked into a vortex of everyone else’s problems that have suddenly become mine.

I do three things. Smile, breathe and listen. I know it sounds too simple, but it really helps!

Smile. Just a half smile, so you don’t scare people. The smile releases endorphins and tricks your body into relaxation. It gives a sense of personal control, a feeling of “I’ve got this!”

Breathe. Take a few deep breaths to connect your mind and body. As you breathe in, take your time and feel your belly rise. Allow your lungs to absorb the oxygen, and then exhale fully. Repeat three or four times and scan your body for tension as you breathe.
Breathing pulls you into the present moment and prevents you from dwelling on the past or fearing the unknown future.

Listen. The reason that there is a problem is because you don’t yet have a solution. The solution can only found when you have all the facts and you have listened to all perspectives with an open mind and heart. Listen to a variety of people that you respect so you can hear some non-biased perspectives. We generally listen with a filter or a specific lens due to our innate biases. You have to remove these roadblocks to gain a clearer understanding.

Take some time away from the situation and let your heart and mind get to work without your cognitive influences. Go for a walk, hike, bike ride, swim, lift weights, do yoga or pilates, nap, listen to music or just get a good night’s sleep.

Not all problems can be solved this way, but it is worth a try. It does not cost anything and it will help you build a positive habit that will help you in the future.


Changes that Lead to Student Success

After years of doing assessments and submitting the results before the end-of-term deadline, I finally realized I could actually be using the data. I have finally made some consistent changes that have led to greater levels of understanding and success in my classroom. Here are my top three.

Change # 1
Every single Exercise Physiology class starts with music and movement. Not just some classes when I feel like it. All classes. You might be thinking to yourself, “well of course, it’s an exercise class, why wouldn’t you be doing exercise with them?” I am teaching the science of exercise, so they are basically learning anatomy and physiology and how that applies to the acute and chronic adaptations to exercise. So, it is highly plausible that I could lecture for 75 minutes straight. Zzzzzzzz.

But no more! I have physical and visual evidence that my students are more engaged following a three minute bout of movement to music that will last for at least 30 minutes.

Change # 2
I have Included the arts in my sciences. I make my students draw pictures in their notes. The art lovers in class really enjoy this, and the non-artsy people appreciate that I bring coloring pencils and I teach them how to draw in a very simplified manner. I also give them visuals to think about to really break down the parts of their drawing. For example, the cell body of a neuron looks a lot like an egg after you have thrown it onto a hot oily frying pan. And the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) looks just like a lollipop.

It is much easier to review your notes when you have pictures depicting what your words are telling you. Just like I am more likely to read a textbook that has helpful pictures rather than all text and tables.

Change # 3
Less words on slides. I can actually watch their cortisol levels rise when I put up a slide that looks like it has 250 words on it. The serious note takers go into panic, wondering how they will ever jot down all these words. No matter how many times I tell them they have access to the slides, they still feel the need to write everything down, just in case it is on the test. So if you remove all that text and put down two key words that have an emotional impact, they are forced to think for themselves and jot down their own notes.

That is another opportunity to draw images on the board, give examples and simply explain the topic as it relates to their world. Then they give me their examples, we all nod in universal acceptance and we can move on to the next topic. Making an emotional connection will have a greater impact on memory compared to a slide full of words.

So just to recap: move to music for three minutes, encourage the arts, and post impactful words, not paragraphs.


Inclusivity abloom

If you don’t think you have seen some good examples of inclusivity on the GCC campus, let me guide you.

Envision yourself rolling in a wheelchair to join your fitness friends in your daily workout. Imagine arriving at the GCC Adapted Fitness Center.

Your life may have been changed by a stroke or a car accident that suddenly rendered you paralyzed on one side of your body or from the waist down.

Inclusivity may not have been an issue for you before. Now it is everything. Now you crave the focused attention of the trained fitness professionals, the camaraderie of your “classmates,” and the ability to move freely using fitness machines designed to hold you upright, fit your wheelchair or an help you hold onto weights.

The physical, emotional and social benefits experienced in the Adapted Fitness Center often bring tears to my eyes. The life stories and experiences shared in this establishment are heart wrenching. I often ponder on the joyful moments and inclusivity that is experienced in this 400 square foot space of pure love and undeniable passion.

Each semester a new set of Exercise Science interns join the ranks of the Adapted staff. Each one of them is forever changed by the experience. They walk with a new sense of meaning and place in the world.

“I had no idea it existed,” I hear you say! “How exciting that we can make fitness accessible to students and members of the community who are living with physical limitations.”

If you know of someone who might benefit from the Adapted Fitness Center, direct them to the webpage.

Fitness is for EVERY body.


Top 5 Tips to Success in Learning and creativity

Do you ever get writer’s block? Do you sit down to take a test and your mind goes blank? Do you wish you were more creative? Try some or all of the following tips to enhance your learning and creative success.

Mindfulness is a hot topic these days! It is really about awareness and focus. Don’t let life happen to you, take control of your life and pay attention to your thoughts and your actions. Be present in everything you do. If you drift, bring your attention back to your breathing so that you can refocus. Notice your environment: the colors and shapes, the smells, the sounds, and the textures. Multitasking is the opposite of being mindful.

Exercise will enhance blood flow to the brain and build Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) which helps to grow new brain cells and connections. Exercise also helps us produce endorphins or happy hormones which relax our mind and help us build confidence and good mood. A quick walk or swim can do wonders for getting creative juices flowing!

Rest well by sleeping for 7 to 8 hours each night. Readjust your schedule to make this happen. If you don’t make it a priority, your body will find a way to make you rest, which usually comes in the form of illness or injury. A rested brain can focus better, remember better and help you to be creative.

Nutrition is a critical component because without planning we may not get the critical nutrients we need. Eat every four hours to avoid blood sugar drops. Eat whole foods rather than processed or refined foods to slow down the digestive process and control blood sugar better. Foods containing oils that are beneficial to the heart and brain include walnuts, avocados, and salmon. Two-thirds of your plate should come from plant foods (whole grains, fruits and vegetables).

Build habits for future success! You are building habits every time you repeat a process, good or bad. We tend to have a lot of mindless processes that end up becoming automatic…we do them without thinking. Starting tomorrow, work on a simple habit that you would like to work into your routine. It could be as simple as waking up and saying three things you are thankful for about yourself, another person, and your environment.

The bottom line is that you have to take care of your mind and your body.


Bringing the Joy

I often joke about wanting everyone to be my BFF. In an idyllic world, that would be possible. Unfortunately, we have an invisible professional barrier that we need to keep in place so we can do our jobs effectively.

That said, we still need to build professional relationships with our students and our peers. I hope the following does not sound preachy in any way, because I need to work on all of it myself.

  1. Learn names
  2. Smile
  3. Bring the joy

Recalling peoples’ names is a difficult task for me sometimes, and when I see someone outside of a familiar location it is nearly impossible for me to remember their name. Unless…I write it down, repeat their name, and say something about them to someone else. I am the queen of sticky notes.

Some people are really good with names. I don’t know if it just comes naturally, or they practice some unconscious habits in the process of saving and recalling. I find that people are really impressed when you remember their name and are secretly disappointed when you don’t. I claim most of the responsibility for learning names, but if a student is practicing the camouflage-in-the-classroom technique, I blame them!

Each semester I learn between 50 and 80 new student names. When I think about that, I wonder how I ever survive a semester! Before a class begins, I print out the roster, study it, notice commonalities and differences, and practice pronouncing names. Once in the classroom, I begin with first-day introductions. I scribble notes feverishly, usually illegibly, and then draw a map of the classroom so I know where everyone was sitting. Any paperwork I collect, I will go through and alphabetize after class.  I do this with each of my classes.

When a student shows up at my office door or says hi at the Student Union for the first time, and they are not sitting at their designated classroom map location, I am typically stumped on their name! I listen and wait for clues in their conversation and hopefully can save myself the embarrassment of having to ask their name and which class they are taking. At the beginning of the semester it is not so embarrassing to ask, but after week four it is downright flabbergasting!

The students I do remember are the ones who ask questions in class and show a genuine interest in the subject matter. They are the ones that email me after class to ask questions, or have to take a makeup test. If I have three Mikes and three Marys in one class, then it will take me the full four weeks to sort them all out!

Smile. When I concentrate really hard on something, I am not smiling. I have my game face on. If I am desperately trying to remember a name, it is likely that I am not smiling. Strike 2! It turns out that when you maintain a half smile and belly breathe, you turn on the parasympathetic nervous system, get out of fight or fight mode, and turn on your pre-frontal cortex so you can actually begin thinking again. That’s a bonus!

When you smile at someone, you can change the course of their day and simultaneously affect the people they come in contact with. The ripple effect is insane! Imagine if everyone smiled at three strangers every day, and each of those people smiled at three more people and so on…imagine the impact!

Bring the joy. Let’s face it, we seek to be around people who make us happy. What can we do to ensure this? Well, smiling is a good start. Knowing people’s names really helps too. Using tasteful humor, even when things seem bleak can really help. If you know that you are about to face a difficult day and difficult decisions, it is good to plan ahead. Ask yourself “what would my best self do if xyz happens today?” “How will I bring my best energy to the people I engage with today?” Try setting a reminder on your phone that simply says “bring the joy” once every hour. See what happens!

So to recap: Remember names, smile, and bring the joy!

Good luck!


Reprogramming the Video Game of Life

This week’s topic is about dealing with difficult situations. Here are my thoughts.
1. Breathe.
2. Perspective. It’s just a giant video game and it can end any time you choose to switch off or reprogram the game.
We all have the ability to reprogram the video game of life.
I often hear people saying that we are living in trying times and that the world has gone crazy. My dad, who turns 88 this year, constantly reminds me that nothing has really changed. He has lived through World War II and all of the craziness of the 20th Century.  Dad insists that the only thing that has changed is that we are getting QUICKER access to MORE news and EVERYONE’S opinion.
I hear things like “people nowadays are more divided.” What does that mean? Is that someone’s opinion after spending an hour reading commentary on a social media post?  Maybe people have always had differing opinions?
I was driving home in the rain on Tuesday night after my evening class, thinking that I was really tired of the rain. It had been raining for most of the day. It was cold and damp and made for dangerous driving conditions. Everyone I spoke with on Tuesday was ready for the rain to stop.  I could easily come to the conclusion that “people are really affected by the weather these days.” Maybe people have always been affected by the weather?
When it comes to difficult situations, we have many choices in how we react. We do not have to react with the masses.  We can make up our own mind about what is going on in the video game of life.
If we allow a situation to make us angry to the core, that is a choice. We could also choose to ignore it, but that may not help deal with the problem. I believe it is optimal to examine the problem from all sides, removing bias and ego, and seek to learn all perspectives. Take a seat at the proverbial table and simply listen for a while. No judgement.
Getting emotionally upset about a difficult situation leads to a release of hormones that are not kind to the body over the long haul. Cortisol, for one, helps the body lay down fat cells. I do not want any additional assistance with accumulation of a spare tire!
I also do not need a constant supply of adrenaline. Let’s save the adrenal glands for the saber-tooth tiger events. Constant stress wreaks havoc on the brain, seriously affecting cognition and memory.
Armed with this health knowledge, I CHOOSE not to get emotionally involved in difficult situations. I do not let matters of the mind wreak havoc on my body.  Instead, I seek to offer compassion to others who may be suffering due to the same problem. If you listen and allow people to talk, you can help break down barriers and lighten the load for everyone.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could make a personal observation that “everyone seems to be united, compassionate and caring these days.”  Reprogram your video game of life so that you get the best results for all players.
Difficult situations seem less difficult when viewed through the rose colored lens.
That’s how I choose to see it.

Dreams Start With Good Habits

Dreams…I want to be a better writer. Thanks to Write6x6, I get to practice. I want to be a better public speaker. When are we starting Speak6x6? Who needs Toastmasters when we have everything we need right here at GCC?!

I have learned that there is no such thing as work/life balance. I would say madness is a more appropriate term than balance. I have been reading Brendon Burchard’s High Performance Habits so that I can continue to function effectively at home and at work. Brendon shares in detail the habits of high performers, and gives clues about how anyone can work on these specific habits to become a “rockstar.”

I can only dream, right?

Well, good thing this week’s writing is focused on dreams!

I have dreams for my students too. We know the data about our students. They arrive underprepared and with no idea how to be successful. But they have a dream…a college education.

Here is what Brendon shares that can help you, me and our students:

  1. Clarity – set an intention for who you want to be and how you want to interact with others. For example, if, in my heart, I want to be helpful and kind, I repeat these words to myself when a student or coworker enters my office. If I am about to enter a meeting room, I decide what kind of energy I hope to bring into the room and how it will effect others. This is a great message for many of our students who often do not see how their demeanor can affect others.
  2. Energy – time to improve your mental, emotional and physical vibrancy! This starts with nutrition, sleep and exercise! Open your refrigerator and your pantry and rate yourself the foods you see. You will eat what is readily available. Don’t like it? Either toss it or take non-perishables to the GCC Food Pantry! Start afresh! Take a nutrition class and learn the basics of healthful eating! Go to bed on time and wake up early so you can do 30 minutes of exercise and stretching! If you stay up late, you tend to eat more junk, wake groggy, and are less likely to want to exercise. So sleep!
  3. Necessity – are you bringing your A-game to work and home every day? You are here to serve students’ needs, right? What is your level of motivation? Are you really giving it the same level of motivation that you did when you started? Or are you just going through the motions. When is the last time you asked yourself “why am I here?” and “am I doing what I am supposed to be doing to effectively serve others?”
  4. Productivity – how is your time management and project planning ability? When do you strategize and actually get real work done well? Are you in offense or reaction mode? Do you check your emails first thing in the morning and start working on other people’s priorities? NEVER start your day by checking emails. Put the phone down! Get out of bed, stretch, exercise, read a good book, spend an hour strategizing and working on a favorite project, THEN check your email in a 20-50 minute time block. Then get up and walk around and chat with students or peers! Bring your good intentions to every interaction.
  5. Influence – let’s face it, nothing gets done if we can’t convince people to take action. If they don’t trust you, they will not go to bat for you. We need to show patience, compassion and availability to others before we can ever expect others to do the same for us. Relationships take time to build. Being a great role model and asking lots of questions is a great place to start.
  6. Courage – are you living your passion? Do those around you know what your dream is? Have you ever taken a step into the unknown even if it scares you? Live your truth, take risks, and share your voice a little more every day! If we live in fear of judgement, we can never expect to grow!

I hope these six guidelines will help guide you on your dream journey! They are great reminders to all of us!




I have been using emotional intelligence lately to tune in to my students. I teach in an industry that demands extroverts. Last night, we had a guest speaker  who came to share about trends in the fitness industry.  He took one look at the group, and before he even started, he announced that they were too quiet and needed to change that quickly. I bristled.

Step back six weeks in time when I started reading a book on introversion.  Susan Cain, the author, is an introvert “in a world that can’t stop talking.” She wrote an awesome book on the topic and I have to share what I learned.

There are lots of introverts among us. They are hard to spot sometimes because they have managed to adapt to their environment. As instructors, introverts can perform well in the classroom, but they need much more recovery time than an extroverted professor.
Many, many of our students are introverts. They are very uncomfortable with speaking up in class or engaging in dynamic group activity. They do it, but it is draining, and they have a harder time learning information because adrenaline is coursing through their veins. The limbic part of their brain is dealing with stress, and the pre-frontal cortex is not able to focus on learning.
I can relate. I know what it is like to be put on the spot and be expected to speak in full eloquence and all that comes out of your mouth is a caveman-like grunt.
We are supposed to be preparing our students for the workforce. Employers are telling us they want outgoing, friendly people with excellent customer service and communication skills. No introverts need apply.
So we create modular classrooms where students are forced to face each other and work in groups. We ask students to do oral presentations in front of the class regardless of ability. We call their name in front of the class without warning and expect a correct answer.
I wish we could have a visual readout of our students’ brainwave patterns and hormone production as we teach them so we can adapt our methods accordingly. If a student is half terrified, even though they can hide it well, they are not in a safe and effective learning environment. We can teach all we want, but they retain very little.
So what is the solution to this dilemma? Our introverted students are not less intelligent than our extroverted students, yet our biases favor the extrovert. The introverted professor brings a wealth of knowledge to campus meetings, but never gets heard. The introverted students are engaged and fully focused on learning  until we push them too far out of their comfort zone. The loudest voice in the room is usually the one that we acknowledge.
How can we get a nice complement of both worlds? How can we pair our introverts and our extroverts so the best knowledge is heard?
We have much work to do in this area.
Start by reading Quiet, by Susan Cain.

Habit and the Art of Behavior Change

I just realized that the theme for this week is “culturally relevant.” So I had to stop and take a look at the draft I had saved to see if it could be salvaged!

As it turns out, EVERYONE is talking about behavior change, so that makes it cultural, right?

I have set over a million goals that I failed to accomplish. How ’bout you?

Don’t you find it frustrating, for example, when you realize you are consuming too much chocolate-covered anything, set a goal to quit, and find yourself back in the cookie jar within 24 hours.

Not being perfect myself, I feel I am in a good position to share my method for success. It all lies in the thought process. I treat every day like a training session for the future and I am not obsessed by my goal. I do become slightly obsessed by the process, however,  until it becomes autonomic.

Most of us see someone we wish to emulate, figure out what they do, and try to do exactly what they do. This is like going from zero to 180 in 3 seconds and wondering why the car’s engine is all over the highway.

Repetitive, deliberate baby steps with only the baby step in mind, not the outcome, is the path to mastery.  Each deliberate baby step is a training session for your future mind. In the future, when the baby step becomes a habit, you will look back and be thankful that you remained true to each and every session. They weren’t hard sessions, but the were consistent. The foundation was being laid for the day when you were ready to take it to a new and more challenging level.

How do you know you are ready for the next level? It is when you get out of bed in the morning and you no longer have to convince yourself of the benefits of your goal despite the hardships. It just is.

It’s like the act of brushing our teeth. We don’t slowly walk up to our toothbrush, weighing the pros and cons of tooth brushing, struggling through every brush stroke. We don’t think to ourselves about how we can avoid it or what else we could be doing that is more fun. We just do it because it is part of the morning and evening ROUTINE that WE have created for ourselves.

Tooth brushing actually became easy because it is a short bout of activity with tremendous benefits. Can you think of anything in your life that you can do in short bouts that can bring you tremendous benefits, allow you to build a habit over time, and create a foundation where you can step it up when you are ready?

I can.

You can.

Your students can.


Mindfulness in Everything

I thought the word mindfulness was a little overused and overrated. And then I started abusing the word myself. In the classroom, in meetings, with my friends, with my kids.

I have actually boiled it down to the one thing that could save us all from ourselves. If something is going wrong in your life, you are likely on autopilot. Handy for planes. Bad for most people…unless you are a really good habit builder.

Too much body fat…eating mindlessly.

Too little sleep…surfing (internet, TV channels) mindlessly.

Depressed…wishing mindlessly.

Anxious…fearing mindlessly.

I think we just do things because it’s the way we have always done them, never questioning why. Always on autopilot.

Mindfulness is about being present and focused on people and the world around us. On our thoughts, on our food, on our lessons, on quiet, on noise, on smells, on textures, on colors, on tastes and on how we feel about it all.

The mind is powerful and controls our body and ultimately our health. If you are having a hard time getting focused, start with your breath. You’ll will find stillness there and will eventually be able to expand your areas of focus.

I encourage my students to touch, feel, hear, see and question as they are learning. I encourage mindfulness in the classroom because it teaches the student to learn in new ways and reach surprising new levels of comprehension.