It’s All in the Mind.

It’s that time of the year when work starts piling up- multiple IAs and assignments lie in a stack of unkempt, disheveled papers at the corner of your desk- constantly reminding you, beseeching you to pay some thought to your neglected duties. But all you can think about is how to avoid studying for your exams, and the infectiously languorous attitude permeates every little nook and cranny of your brain. You simply can’t get yourself to do what you need to do.

English essay?

Your hand involuntarily jumps to the Facebook tab and you start scrolling through your news feed.

Chemistry IA?

Time to get on ask.fm.

These little distractions and generally apathetic frame of mind may seem only minor problems, but accumulated over a long period of time, even the most minor of procrastinations can have drastic repercussions on your schoolwork and emotional wellbeing.

So how do you get yourself to sit down, concentrate- and do your work?

1. Identify what distracts you. Facebook, Twitter- we’ve all tried abstaining from it but our hands involuntarily stray to those tempting handheld devices. Determine why you go on Facebook- does it give you any gratification? Do you crave social interaction? More often than not, people while away time on social media simply because it has become a habit. Once we feel any slight sense of irritation or impatience with work, our minds flick to an equally mind numbing replacement: Facebook. Whenever you feel your concentration diverting and your hand itching towards the mouse- find something else to interrupt that habit. Instead of reaching for the mouse, reach for a bar of chocolate. Don’t try to stop the temptation altogether- it takes a large amount of willpower and will strain you. Instead, divert your distraction to something else and slowly morph and shift the habit- change the end product but not the framework. Habits are hard to break, so make it gradual.

(That is, if you don’t mind consuming dozens of Cadburies and winding up with five extra kilos at the end of the week.)

2. Have a vision.
Run through what you set out to do. Choose what will happen ahead of time and follow that routine. When the point of inflection arrives, you’ll do it without thinking. Studying for that test or completing that assignment becomes a natural thing to do- not a trying struggle against your inner lazy tendencies. Train willpower into a habit. That’s how athletes train- when Michael Phelps broke a world record during his race at the Beijing Olympics, water had gotten into his goggles and throughout the race he couldn’t see. However, he had already envisaged that scenario- he knew exactly what he was going to do and how. He did not panic because he knew every single detail of what he needed to do. That’s applicable to every other aspect of life, not simply sports; envision what you’ll do, and you’ll do it.

3. Reward yourself.

Don’t spend the whole weekend revising- you need to incentivize yourself. There must be an end in sight- whether going out with friends or watching that play or visiting that museum over the weekend… Don’t fall into a monotonous, brainless rhythm of sleep, eat, study. Your studying won’t be efficient, your eyes will tire, and your overall wellbeing will suffer.

Last but not least, love the work you do.

It is the belief in something that fuels our determination. Love for your work is the firmest form of belief in your studies- nothing can take that away from you. When you love what you do, there is no limit. When you love your work, 7 is not a grade boundary, but a passing nugatory- you are not limited by the curriculum content or the grades, not limited by your peers, and not limited by your teachers. Never compare yourself to someone else- that only creates tension and negative feelings, and limits what you can do. You end up competing against a person or even simply a grade- is that what you have been reduced to? Don’t love the secondary consequences- love what you do. If you’re truly passionate, going beyond the scope of the IGCSE or even the IB becomes a given.

Without the passion, what would be the point of putting yourself through this? To get into college, a job? Life is a never-ending challenge and a perpetual path- it will never stop for anyone. If you don’t make every step of the process meaningful- then life ceases to have meaning.

Of course, passion isn’t something that you can pick up off the sidewalk. There are some things in life that are just much too monotonous to change (like an assessment on measuring grass lengths, for example). But don’t let eccentricities of the curriculum throw your passion off- find something you love about the subject and focus on it. Get to know more about it- cultivate your interest in it. There is something for everyone in every subject- don’t let things become a chore.

Nothing is good or bad, only thinking makes it so.

So by all means, believe in yourself. The word ‘belief’ portends clichéd messages and monotonous lectures- but belief can go a long way.

Everything you do depends on your mind. Just that little mass at the top of your head containing a hundred billion neurons. What you do with it will define your life- it can make it or break it.

So change your beliefs, change your habits, and change your world.

[I wrote this for my school newspaper, published in One Voice’s September Issue, based loosely on The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg.]

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