Imagine the following scenario….
There is one hour left in your class. Your professor asks you to do two things. First, spend 30 minutes reading a few of the many posts from a blog she recommends. Then, in the final 30 minutes, practice your writing and thinking skills by creating a short blog post on the same general topic and then email your post to the professor.
You start at 11:00 and at 11:40 you email your blog post off to your professor.
What do you suppose the professor thinks when she receives your email 20 minutes early? “Wow, that student is fast!”??? WRONG!
No, your professor will not admire your speediness in a situation like this. Rather, you’ve sent her a clear message that you’re not putting your best effort into your work. If you completed this one-hour task in 40 minutes, you either didn’t read for as long as requested or you spent very little effort crafting your written submission. Instead of finishing early in a situation like this, you should revise your submission to make it longer and stronger. If you finish that, then read more of the assigned material.
If you truly want to succeed at university, put your maximum effort into everything you do. Use all the time allowed whenever you’re assigned an in-class task. You’re at university to work hard and spend your time improving, not to do the bare minimum on assignments and then spend the rest of the time texting your friends.
At university, as everywhere, effort is rewarded.
In his new book, The Marshmallow Test, psychologist Walter Mischel explains how our self-control is determined by the “hot” and “cold” systems of our minds.
The hot system threatens self-control. It’s impulsive, instinctive, desirous and emotional. It gives us cravings for foods we shouldn’t eat and activities that throw us off our study schedule. It’s the mental system that can make it almost impossible to study when your Xbox is sitting there practically begging you to pick up the controls.
The cool system is slower, rational and thoughtful. It allows you to set aside your urgent emotions and desires and think things through carefully.
Imagine you desperately need to study for your mid-term, but your hot system is giving you powerful cravings to play video games instead, and you’re finding it impossible to sit still and do your work. You might think the cool system is the only way to free yourself from your cravings. You could use the rational cool system to ponder your study goals and calculate the mark you need on the mid-term to get your A. This is a good strategy.
But, when you need to boost your self-control quickly so you can start work before it’s too late, you might even be better off putting your hot system to work for you.
Try imagining logging onto the site for your course and looking up the score for your mid-term and finding it’s 58%. Picture how this torpedos your average and how you’re going to have to re-think your applications to those great grad schools or forget about the big scholarship. Imagine as vividly as possible realizing that your awful mark was caused by playing video games, and picture how stupid you’ll feel for letting yourself waste your valuable study time.
Now your hot system is working for you. You’ll be feeling powerful emotions and instincts that will help convince you to toss the Xbox in the closet and get down to work! The hot system can derail our success, but when used skillfully, it can also boost your self-control and get you right back on the track to excellence.
In the 1960s, psychologist Walter Mischel began studying self-control in children. In a series of experiments that became famously known as the “marshmallow test,” Mischel examined the skills and situations that could make squirmy kids hold off on eating one treat (sometimes a marshmallow) in anticipation of a double treat a little later.
Mischel’s new book, The Marshmallow Test, is filled with ideas on “mastering self-control.” I’ve just started reading it and I’ve already come upon one quick tip you can use to help yourself avoid temptations and distractions so you can study.
I love quick and effective strategies for reaching your goals, and Mischel’s explanation of “If-Then implementation plans” is elegant and powerful. All you need to do is plan ahead, and you’ll increase your self-control in the face of temptation. Make a plan. Tell yourself, for example, “At 5:00, I’ll start writing my paper.” Or “If my phone rings, I will ignore it.” Or, “If I get hungry I’m going to finish my chapter before hitting the kitchen.”
The key is to make the if-then plan before you face the temptation, and practice it until it becomes an instinct.
So simple, and yet it helps. Mischel explains the science behind the strategy and it’s a great read, but you don’t need to know why it works to use the trick to your advantage. Good luck! I’ll bring you more from Mischel soon.