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University of Missouri

How To Do Everything Better

Mizzou researchers share tips on how to get more out of everyday life.

The 2015 Sundance Film Festival premiered the movie Tangerine, which was shot entirely on the iPhone 5S. That’s the one the rest of us play Candy Crush with.

From diet to relationships to learning, the gap between what’s possible and what is can be dismayingly large. To help close that gap just a bit, MIZZOU asked professors from across disciplines for expert tips on how to do life better. Here’s what we found.

shooting video on smartphone infographic

How to Shoot Better Video on Your Smartphone

Associate Professor Judd Slivka, BJ ’96, teaches the mobile reporting class in the School of Journalism. He has tested hundreds of photo, video and editing apps for iOS and Android. But more important than any gadget or app you can buy, he says, is making proper use of the smartphone you’ve already bought. Namely:

1. Shoot sideways.
Most computer and TV screens are wider than they are tall, so shooting video while holding your phone vertically creates ugly black bars on the side during replay. Shoot horizontally to fill the screen and give a stronger sense of place.

2. Stay stable.
Just because you’re shooting a home movie doesn’t mean you need to have the “home movie” look. Prevent shaky video by steadying your elbows against your body and steadying your body against a wall.

3. Zoom with your feet.
Camera phones use digital zoom, which is a figure of speech. Digital zoom merely makes the pixels bigger. It zooms in the same sense that adding water to chicken soup makes more soup. To actually zoom, you have to move closer.

4. Vary your shots.
A five-minute shot of anything from one vantage point is boring. So if you’re shooting the kids playing Little League, get up and find interesting angles — high, low, underneath a glove as someone picks it up. And vary shot lengths; get wide, medium, tight, tighter and super tight.

5. Edit.
There is a free editing app preloaded on both iOS and Android devices. Spend a few minutes using them to trim the boring stuff. Start scenes on the action — the kid in the batter’s box — rather than with him making his way from the dugout.

How to Fight Well With Your Spouse

Conflict and anger are inevitable in any relationship. They’re what researchers call “normative.” What isn’t inevitable is for conflict to push couples apart. Christine Proulx, associate professor of human development and family science, offers this advice on how to turn fights into a good thing.

Stay calm. You’ve got a beef, you know you’re in the right and you’re angry. That’s OK. The key is to make yourself heard. To do this, state your complaint in neutral tones. It’s not, “You don’t do enough work around here,” but, “I’d like to talk about how we divide the chores.”

Don’t get defensive. Typically, Proulx says, women are more likely to start the conflict conversation. That puts the emphasis on men to not get defensive. “His job is to respond with matched tone, without scorn, stonewalling or ratcheting up.” Remember this is a chance to meet your partner’s need, which builds trust and strength in a relationship. Besides, “it’s not going to go away or solve itself. That’s the thing about problems.”

Don’t worry. Anger is not only normative; it’s also beneficial. Studies show it’s not associated with dissatisfaction in marriage. “Conflict is not something to be afraid of if handled well,” Proulx says. But it does need to be handled. “Being angry and letting it stew is really bad. Anger is only noncorrosive when it’s allowed to be expressed.”

turtle reading book

How to Read a Novel

U.S. publishing houses put out about 50,000 novels annually. The literary ones among them can enrich your view of the world. Samuel Cohen, associate professor of English, gives tips on how to get the most from the novels on your reading list.

Slow down. “A lot of people read in the bathroom or for 10 minutes before they fall asleep, and it’s hard to get anything out of a book that way,” Cohen says. Set some time aside, and grab a pencil (yes, margin writing is OK). Making notes is how we learn and remember. It helps you pay better attention not only to plot but also to what the author is trying to make you see, feel or think.

Don’t fight the book. You can’t experience a book for what it is if you’re always reducing it to its philosophical or ideological themes. “Literature can do lots of things,” Cohen says. “Novels can help you understand the world or show you how much you’ll never understand the world. [They can get you] out of your own world and experiences. Others drive you inside yourself. If you’re reading looking for themes, you might miss what’s really happening.”

Be adventurous. “The word I get from students all the time that makes me cringe is ‘relatability,’ ” Cohen says. “You find a character you can identify with, and that’s how you get into the story. You can learn things that way and feel things that way, but if you’re always looking for relatability in stories and settings, then you’re not expanding yourself, not learning anything other than to reaffirm your ideas about the world.”

angel and devil brownie battle

How to Say No to Fudge Brownies

When it comes to addictive behaviors, your brain is not your friend. The reward pathways stimulated by highly palatable foods (scientist-speak for fudge brownies) are the same pathways stimulated by drugs of abuse (scientist-speak for cocaine and heroin). The allure of those pathways is stronger for some than others, so the trick for people who have ever described eating a dessert as an out-of-body experience, says Matthew Will, associate professor of psychological sciences and Bond Life Sciences Center investigator, is to avoid a straight-up battle of will.

Know your triggers. Our brains are adept at making associations. Once you walk into a McDonald’s, smell the French fries and feel your mouth water, you’ve already lost the fight. So try to avoid the temptation. Take a different route home that bypasses the gantlet of fast food chains. Don’t walk down the snack aisle at the store, or (if possible) find a food store without a snack aisle.

Make it hard on yourself. You’re home, the kids are in bed and you’ve just put on a movie. Some M&M’s would be really good right now. If you had some in the pantry, would you go get them? For sure. But would you walk or drive to the store to buy some? Doubtful. The more effort you can put between yourself and temptation, the less likely you are to give in to it.

Remember that you’re normal. You have your ancestors’ genes, which are well-adapted to storing excess calories. Eating sweet, high-calorie foods and storing them as fat was one of the best ways to survive for thousands of years when food was scarce. Keep that in mind whenever you say yes to that brownie — and just try to say no to the à la mode.