Tag Archives: Anxiety

Getting Back On Track: Tips For Student Writers

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by Jason Martinez, Writing Consultant

Now that we’re about the midpoint of the semester, take a moment and reflect on how often the urge to stop what you are doing has overtaken you. And think of how much progress you lost because of various factors, some within your control and some outside of your control. It is perfectly natural to take breaks and stop working, and it is inevitable for most of us. Let us examine that problem a little closer to see what can be done to remedy procrastination and surrounding anxieties.

All too often, without intention to set myself back, I will stop what I am working on and lose nearly all momentum on the project. Being away from this blog for so long is an example of me feeling overwhelmed at writing, which is ironic considering my role as a Writing Consultant. But when I tell students that they are not alone in their procrastination and associated anxieties and concerns, this should serve as both confession and proof that most of us struggle to keep on top of workloads.

So, moving forward, let us take a look at some ways to regroup and get back on track when we are surrounded by that overwhelming need to stop what we are doing, letting the project get away from us.

First, it is important to remember that we are only human; we are going to get distracted and that is okay, and sometimes necessary to maintain a sense of balance.  This is a natural inclination that most of us have. However, what is not okay, and is more harmful than good is using the distraction as an excuse for not doing the work. Trust me when I say that starting and stopping is not uncommon. But if possible, do not make indulging in distractions a consistent practice.

For many of us, laziness of some variety may play a role in procrastination (spoilers: I am guilty of this), but there are also other factors like anxiety playing a role in what we often label as laziness. Anxiety that is often linked to behavior considered laziness shows that more often we are truly lazy in the sense that we do not make that first move to get started, or more importantly, to get back to work in a timely manner.

Another reason for not working effectively is perfectionism.  Perfectionism is a good excuse to be unproductive and can give a false sense of entitlement to rationalize bad habits.  So, without realizing it, these bad habits have created this delay and procrastination, further adding to a sense of fear related directly to starting or continuing work on a project.

The need to “be perfect” can allow us to nitpick every element, further setting us back and ultimately overwhelming us to the point of keeping us away from the project for too long. What should be a stopping point to reflect over the progress becomes an extended hiatus, which only re-convenes when time has run down to the point of making life harder for us. We now have to go into high gear, a gear that is usually not nearly as productive at the eleventh hour. This is when mistakes are made, details not ironed out or double-checked, and the work is substandard.

With this being stated, we now have a starting point of understanding some of the root issues with procrastination. And more importantly, there is some context as to why these behaviors can occur. What can be done to improve the situation? Here are a few ways to consider making your life and workflow process easier to handle:

  • Break the process down into smaller, digestible chunks that are not overwhelming, but will still yield positive and constructive results. This means that you might need to agree to only working at smaller increments, promising yourself to work for 10-30 minutes at a time without break. Something manageable and as free of distractions as possible.
  • After your first work sequence is complete, get up and away from your work area. Pack up your things and take a walk around campus, grab a bite to eat, call your parents or friends, go workout, or just rest. But get away from the work for at least a few minutes.
  • If you are working in such small increments of 10-30 minutes, a simple stretch and a snack will usually do the trick. If you are doing an hour or more at one time, definitely move around and get some exercise to be sure not to risk being too sedentary and the resulting health issues.
  • Come back to the work. Always come back to the work as soon as possible so that all your hard work is not lost to sluggish progress and procrastination. Staying away too long will set you back and hurt you in the end.

Being effective as a student writer means being honest about yourself and your daily habits. Be free and vulnerable to say that you are lazy at times, or are a perfectionist. But do not judge yourself. Everyone works in different ways. Embrace the imperfections that make you special. Then use those imperfections to your advantage and move forward; find positives out of perceived negatives. Being an effective student, let alone a student writer, means that you are willing to make a plan, assess that plan and its outcomes, and then execute that plan based on all that you know. Commitment to completing the project is also a requirement. The goal is to be reasonable about your outcomes and to realize that tackling a writing project is a process, not an outcome.

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Motivational Mondays: Always Fail to Quit

In this week’s post, we ask through a slightly NSFW motivational clip remembering the life and philosophy of motivational and fitness guru Greg Plitt, whether or not you are afraid to take chances on yourself. Are you willing to lose in order to begin winning? Are you creating work worthy of putting your name to, work that will remain as a part of your legacy? plitt 2

I’m not sure if any of you have had to deal with a moment in life where you begin to question everything about yourself, your life, and all that you have done or not done up to that point. Unfortunately, I fall into a constant cycle of compare and despair, and as a result I feel like a failure at all that I do or do not do. When I was in college, I struggled with math courses, so much so that at one point I had a panic attack while doing a simple set of eight homework problems. Eight problems. To many, eight algebra problems takes them as many minutes to complete, the concepts simple enough to move on to another set of problems, and they look forward to the opportunity to challenge themselves and continue learning. Not me. I fear failure so much that I tense up when I am faced with working on algebra problems.

I wonder if my anxiety comes from having too many options to choose from in my head, when it comes to trying to solve the equation, and my inability to sort out the necessary information from the unnecessary. In reality, there is one main answer, usually attained from a specific method of problem solving. But, what if I choose the wrong method to solve the equation, or misidentify the problem’s missing elements, the variables necessary to solve, thus nullifying the operations? I don’t know why completing the steps necessary to solve the problems taxed me so, but at some point I nearly fell apart every time that I sat down to do the homework. I was ashamed to turn in the work, knowing that what I turned in was subpar, probably altogether wrong. That constant fear turned me off to exploring math any further than I was required to take while in college.

At some point I was rather good at math, but there was a turning point where I began to fear math, but more specifically I feared the failure that I was certain to attach to my math work. As a Writing Consultant, I work with so many students who are more comfortable with math and its operations than I will ever be. To them, working a problem, solving equations, and breaking down operations come to them as naturally as breathing. But when they sit down with me and begin working on their writing assignments, I can see the same sense of fear and anxiety that I had when I would attempt math. For those students, writing challenges them to the point of anxiety, making them question their own academic competence just as math did to me, and yet they can perform these mind-bending functions that I could never dream to understand or master. When they reveal to me that they are more quantitatively inclined and are more comfortable with math and numbers, and I see that same sense of shame because of their struggle with writing, I do my best to comfort them and work to develop connections between the skill of writing and the art of mathematic computations. I think that there is a connection, because if we think about it, both require a sense of inquiry and analytical mindset, but one requires those skills applied one way over another. Both have a tendency to make assumptions about what is known and unknown and ask that we express our understanding of both the known and unknown. Piecing those puzzles together is key, at least in my estimation, to mastering the study and execution of mathematics and writing.

Organizing our thoughts through pre-writing and drafting out our thoughts is a way to explore what is known and unknown, along with asking some critical questions about what the connective elements are and how we must apply them to achieve our goals in life. When we look at our challenges set before us, we analyze them, inquire as to what is missing from the situation, understand the stated outcome, reverse engineer the situation, and eventually express how we solved the problem, we have mastered failure. But, herein lies the rub: there are so few moments when we will have all of those factors line up for us. There are so few times when all of our variables will be easily known, revealing to us the path of what is correct for us. We can analyze, show our work, and express our solutions. But unlike in mathematics, where there is a specific problem solving method that reveals a specific answer, in life we will usually still come out with the wrong answer at some point because life is more wily and unpredictable. When we set out to achieve goals in life, we must remember that even though we fail, even though the work that we show on a separate sheet of paper doesn’t always add up, the details become mixed up and our expressions become muddled, we are still one step closer to success.

Once we know which steps work or don’t work when trying to solve the problems at hand, once we struggle through failure and use that experience towards our desired outcome, we come as close to mastering and attaining our goals as possible. When you are asked to be brave enough to put your name on the work that you do in life, homework, relationships, work assignments, whatever it is, believe in your work and don’t be afraid to show your work and stand by what you’ve done.