Tuesday, November 25, 2014

It's Time to Count My Blessings (Instead of Sheep)

Try counting your blessings for a restful night's sleep.

It’s almost Thanksgiving, and it’s time, once again, to renew my gratefulness practice.  

It’s time to take more seriously Bing Crosby’s crooning advice to count my blessings.  

It’s time to pay closer attention to the science and study of gratefulness, and to not only be more grateful, but to express that gratitude more often.


Singing "Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)"

Irving Berlin wrote the classic crooner’s song, “Count Your Blessings” in 1954 for the film White Christmas.  Undoubtedly, when Berlin wrote the lyrics, “When I'm worried and I can't sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep” he understood the effect such a practice could have on the practitioner: Gratefulness helps a person feel happier and sleep better.  However, what he did not know in 1954 is that scientific studies have been conducted that prove the merit of this sage advice.

The lyrics of the song from the 1954 film, White Christmas.

The Science of Gratitude

A study by scientists Algoe, Gable, and Maisel (2010) published in Personal Relationships, suggests, in the words of the writers, “Gratitude may help to turn ‘ordinary’ moments into opportunities for relationship growth, even in the context of already close, communal relations” (pg. 232). Additionally, Sheldon & Lyubomirsky (2006) found that a long-term practice of counting one’s blessings helps keep the counters in a positive mood.  

Furthermore, being more grateful and counting my blessings “instead of sheep” can truly help me sleep better!   “When falling asleep, grateful people are less likely to think negative and worrying thoughts, and more likely to think positive thoughts. It appears that negative pre-sleep cognitions impair sleep, and gratitude reduces the likelihood of such thoughts, protecting sleep quality. Equally, it appears that positive pre-sleep cognitions have a positive effect on sleep, and that gratitude facilitates these thoughts, leading to superior sleep quality” (Wood et al., 2009, pg. 46). Who knew?

Preparing for the Holiday

So, as I prepare for Thanksgiving this year, in addition to making pies and peeling potatoes, I’ll be sure to prepare in one additional way.  I’ll count my blessings each night, instead of counting sheep.



  • Algoe, S. B., Gable, S. L. & Maisel, N. C. (2010). It's the Little Things: Everyday Gratitude as a Booster Shot for Romantic Relationships. Personal Relationships, 17: 217–233.
  • Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2006). How to Increase and Sustain Positive Emotion: The Effects of Expressing Gratitude and Visualizing Best Possible Selves. Journal of Positive Psychology, 1(2), 73-82.
  • Wood, A. M., et al. (2009). Gratitude Influences Sleep through the Mechanism of Pre-Sleep Cognitions. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 66(1), 43–48. 

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Prepositional Phrase or Phrasal Verb?

A sentence diagram that contains a prepositional phrase and a phrasal verb, "called off."
Is the preposition part of a prepositional phrase or phrasal verb?
Sometimes when we diagram sentences we must determine if a preposition that appears in the sentence is part of a prepositional phrase or part of a phrasal verb.  Our interpretation of the preposition's purpose in the sentence will change the diagram.

What's a Prepositional Phrase?

A prepositional phrase modifies a verb or a noun.  It's made up of the preposition, the object of the preposition, and any words that modify the object of the preposition.

For example, the following sentences contain prepositional phrases.  The prepositions are in orange, and the entire prepositional phrase is underlined.  The noun that acts as the object of the preposition is in purpleAs an additional note, in order to find the object of the preposition remember that it will always be a person, place, thing, or idea.

At noon, the girls left to go on vacation.
The tomatoes from the farmer’s market are better than the tomatoes from the grocery store.
In spite of her mother’s wishes, she is leaving at noon.

What's a Phrasal Verb?

A phrasal verb is a verb made up of more than one word, and the final word is always a preposition. Phrasal verbs are often idiomatic, meaning that we know what the verbs mean because we've been taught to know what they mean; they do not necessarily make logical sense.

For example, the following sentences contain phrasal verbs.  The prepositions are in orange, and the entire phrasal verb is underlined.  Any objects of the preposition are still in purple.  Notice that nouns that follow phrasal verbs are direct objects, and nouns that follow prepositions are the object of the preposition.

If you come upon a snake while hiking, back away slowly.
We called off the hike because of the frigid weather.
If she doesn't eat on time, she might pass out.

An Exercise for Identifying Prepositional Phrases and Phrasal Verbs

Which of the following sentences contain prepositional phrases, and which contain phrasal verbs? Identify each sentence as containing a PP or PV. Next, go back and circle all of the complete prepositional phrases.

Let’s log in and check our profiles.
The passengers are aboard the airplane.
Because of the storm, we are running late.
The baby in front of me is sleeping peacefully.
According to the captain, we will take off shortly.
We are running against the clock.
He got caught, so he made up a lie.
Until dinner, I will be hungry.
He will drop by later.
I ran into him yesterday.
We just flew past my house!
There are birds outside my window.
Despite the delay, we will get there by tomorrow.
All of our luggage is in the cargo hold beneath us.
His poker face gave away nothing.

Answer Key:

So, how'd you do?  Were you able to correctly identify the phrasal verbs and prepositional phrases? Were you able to find all of the complete prepositional phrases?  If so, great!  If not, try, try again. Memorize common prepositions, and remember that a prepositional phrase is a modifier, and a phrasal verb is an action.

Happy Learning!

Want to read more about diagramming sentences?  

Try my complete textbook, Diagramming Sentences: A Playful Way to Analyze Everyday Language. Already have it?  Try my supplemental materials text, Additional Exercises for Diagramming Sentences!

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Contact the author for permission to republish.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

There's Nothing Great about Multitasking

A reminder to "give every task your full attention" because "There's nothing great about multitasking."
For better results, give all tasks 100% of your attention.

Got a lot to get done today? Think multitasking is the answer?

Unfortunately, multitasking might actually cost you more time and energy than it saves.  

When you divide your attention among several tasks at once, you're actually rapidly switching from one task to another. Subsequently, each of those tasks takes longer, and each of those tasks will suffer from more mistakes than if you tackled one task at a time.

Prioritize for Better Outcomes

To think of this "don't multitask" message in a more positive, results-driven way, think of this: Giving tasks your full attention can help you achieve more and achieve better results.  When you prioritize your workload to account for deadlines and the complexity of a project or task, your outcomes will improve.  

Learning to prioritize is a soft skill everyone should master.
Think of this example of a student who has been assigned three research papers in three different classes in one term.  

Trying to write three papers at once might cost this student a lot of mental energy as he struggles to keep his topics, thesis statements, and research sources separate from one another. Finding the right files, sorting them, and trying to focus on three topics and all their subtopics while searching the library databases would take a lot of time and energy! He would have to spend many units of mental energy, called ergs, just keeping his tasks and materials organized.

But! On the other hand, if he begins his projects early and works on one paper at a time, day to day or week to week, he will not have to spend time or energy struggling to stay organized.

Rapid task-switching allots only a portion of energy to each task.
The remainder is spent switching gears.

Why Give 33% When You Can Give 100%

In other words, dividing his mental energy and focus allows this student to give only 33% of his potential effort to each of his research papers.   

Prioritizing his time and mental energy would allow this student to give 100% of his potential effort to each of his research papers.


A Multitasker's Test

Still not convinced that multitasking isn't the way to tackle your to-do lists?

Dr. Nancy K. Napier, the Executive Director of the Centre for Creativity and Innovation and Professor of Strategy and International Business at Boise State University, shares the following short test to demonstrate the principle of divided ergs and multitasking.  Complete this test to see how multitasking, or rapid task switching, compares to tackling one task at a time.

Part A

1. Start a timer.  
2. Draw two horizontal lines on a piece of paper. 
3. One the first line, write "I am great at multitasking."  
4. On the second line write out numerals 1 - 20.
5. Stop the timer.

Part B

1. Start a timer.
2. Draw two horizontal lines on a piece of paper.
3. On the first line, write "I."
4. On the second line, write the numeral 1.
5. On the first line, write "a."
6. On the second line, write the numeral 2.
7. Continue switching back and forth between the first line and second line until you complete the sentence, "I am great at multitasking," on the first line and numerals 1 - 20 on the second line.
8. Stop the timer.

Dr. Napier and I will bet you dollars to doughnuts that you took less time to complete Part A, and that you also made fewer mistakes during Part A.  Were we right?  

During Part A, you were tackling one task at a time.  During Part B, you were rapidly task-switching and spending more time "switching gears" than actually completing the tasks.   Most of the time this extra use of energy goes unnoticed as people become accustomed to the stress of rapid task-switching in daily life.  However, you will achieve better outcomes and achieve more each day if you can learn to prioritize and concentrate on one task at a time.


Napier, N. K. (2014). The Myth of Multitasking. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/creativity-without-borders/201405/the-myth-multitasking

Want to learn more about being a great student?  Try

New College Students and the Nature of Learning
I Hate My College Classes! Help! 
Improve Learning by Thinking About Learning (TEDx Talk by Todd Zakrajsek)

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Monday, November 3, 2014

How to Create APA Headings and Subheadings

A frog shows her class how to divide the human brain into sections.
Plan Sections and Section Headings Based on Your Outline

Add clarity and organization to a paper by using headings and subheadings to divide your paper into smaller sections and subsections.  Headings will help create a hierarchy within the paper that mimics an outline or a table of contents.  Most importantly, headings and subheadings help a reader follow your thoughts.

APA Headings and Subheadings

There are five levels of headings explained in the 6th edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.  Examples of the five levels appear in Section 3.03 (2010).

An example of formatted APA headings and subheadings.
Use the ribbon toolbar to help you center, italicize, and create boldface type.

Additional Notes about Headings and Subheadings

Please note that an introduction does not receive a special heading, but that the title of the paper will appear in title case at the top of the first page of the body of a paper. The abstract and references pages will also have headings in the same font as the body of the paper, centered, but with no bold or italic type.

All papers start with an introduction.  Therefore, you do not need to label the introduction.

When planning your headings and subheadings, return to your outline.  Remember that headings and subheadings are hierarchical, just like your outline or a table of contents. Sections of a paper may or may not need headings and subheadings; it all depends on the complexity of the paper and your division of ideas.  The purpose of headings and subheadings is to point out the divisions of ideas to your reader to assist your reader with understanding your research and your claims.

Want to learn more about APA formatting?  Try

How to Set a Hanging Indent for an APA References Page
How to Create an APA Title Page Using Word 2010
How to Create an APA Running Head
How to Format APA Citations for "Personal Communication"

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.