Seeking Self Discipline
March 9, 2005 2:22 PM   Subscribe

Any ideas on increasing self discipline with respect to personal habits? Particularly in a College/Academic setting?

I'm an upper-year college student and I do alright in school. However, I've discovered lately that my time management and sleeping habits aren't what they used to be. I can't seem to will myself to exercise or sleep early and sometimes I procrastinate to the nth degree when studying or working on papers.

It's only become apparent the last few months and it's starting to show in my work. Any suggestions on how to increase self-discipline? What worked for you to over come any sense of 'burnt-out'-ness when you were at university?
posted by phyrewerx to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Paying for it myself certainly helped me put my time at college in perspective. I did my share of slacking off, don't get me wrong, but when it came down to it, I wasn't about to let myself piss away a butt-load of money.
posted by pmbuko at 2:28 PM on March 9, 2005

I struggle with self-discipline all the time and I'm well out of college, so good for you for wanting to develop better habits. I find that I really have to set up little rewards along the way for myself -- "I will write for two hours, and then I will go bake brownies," "I won't go shopping until after I've gone to the gym," etc. I find that I respond better to concrete, discrete tasks/rewards (and can create some momentum that way to keep going) much better than grand, abstract plans just to buckle down and write or exercise "more."
posted by scody at 2:36 PM on March 9, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice! As a follow up: do self-help books even help? Would anyone recommend any good titles?
posted by phyrewerx at 2:41 PM on March 9, 2005

Check out this ask.mefi thread.
posted by ori at 2:43 PM on March 9, 2005

ori, thanks for that link -- I'd missed that thread originally, and see a lot in there that looks very helpful!
posted by scody at 2:57 PM on March 9, 2005

also -- slightly less relevant but nonetheless somewhat applicable: this thread.
posted by ori at 3:04 PM on March 9, 2005

Yeah, like scody touches on, operant conditioning can be VERY powerful.

As it stands, you're being rewarded for procrastinating ("Avoiding work is its own reward"). You could try giving yourself a more compelling reward for working, and/or a negative reinforcement for _not_ working.

Come up with some good rewards and punishments, and you should be able to train yourself.
posted by Laen at 3:24 PM on March 9, 2005

I might have recommended this in the previous thread, but pick up a copy of "How to Work the Competition Into the Ground (And Have Fun Doing It)" by John T. Molloy. It's OOP and you might have to do interlibrary-loan-fu, but it's the best productivity book ever. It will whip your lazy ass into shape in no time.
posted by josh at 3:26 PM on March 9, 2005

I have a hat that I call the work hat, and when I'm procrastinating badly and pure willpower isn't helping, I bring out the work hat and put it on. When I'm wearing the work hat, I have to work.

It sounds stupid, but it really does help. For me, at least.
posted by chrismear at 4:12 PM on March 9, 2005

I love the work hat idea. Though with my awful habits, perhaps wearing a hairshirt when I'm not working would be more effective.
posted by pikachulolita at 4:31 PM on March 9, 2005

I've found it helpful to think about why I'm procrastinating; here are two possible reasons that may apply in your case.

One possibility is that the procrastination is a symptom of not wanting to deal with graduating (or more precisely, what you do after graduation). This might be indicated by the fact that it has gotten worse as you approach completion. If this is the case, you might be helped by trying to think directly about your plans. If you have trouble doing so, that is a sure sign. If this is at issue, dealing with it on its own terms (making concrete plans, talking to your school's career counsellor or your advisors, etc.) might prevent it from affecting your work.

A related possibility is this: a lot of procrastination in myself and people I know boils down to in large part, fear of failure. If you put in a lot of effort, and something unsuccessful or mediocre results, it will be entirely your fault (or so the reasoning goes) in a way that reflects only on your capabilities. Putting in minimal effort and doing ok leaves unanswered the question of how well you are capable of doing - you have an excuse, you just could've tried harder. This question can be very hard for many people to face. This may be especially true if some of the work you are doing is more important to you than work used to be, or larger, such as a senior thesis. Again, the only way I know of to deal with this issue is to confront it directly - realize that this is what's going on, and trying to take it into account when you work. This is a fairly insidious problem and may take a while to deal with. I think it is quite common in very competitive environments where everyone is very smart and capable (such as grad school).

I think various methods of conditioning mentioned by others can work to some degree, but in my experience, they won't work without addressing the underlying problem if there is one.
posted by advil at 6:25 PM on March 9, 2005

Most of us who procrastinate are not really connected to our goals and dreams at the time we are doing the procrastinating. "Where there is no vision..." . Commit yourself to a vision of the person you want to be personally and professionally, and continue to seek new ways to solidify that vision of the person you truly want to become, and you will find yourself more likely to act on your dreams. "The Magic Of Thinking Big" by Schwartz is one of many excellent self help books specifically directed to your question. Self help books only work when you take action on the ideas you receive from them!
posted by pablogrande at 6:49 PM on March 9, 2005

Take a mathematics class. I was no math wiz in college, but I found that during the semesters I took math classes, my self-discipline (sleeping, studying, exercise habits) was unusually strong. It had to be, or I would have failed.
posted by nyterrant at 7:54 PM on March 9, 2005

My first semester in college, my roommates and I were skipping classes right and left. We quickly realized that something needed to be done, so we put a jar on the mantelpiece, and every time one of us skipped a class, he had to put 25 cents into it. At the end of the semester, the person who had skipped the fewest classes got the whole jar.

It's funny--the knowledge that the semester cost $10 grand wasn't enough to get us to class, but that 25 cent penalty was. I think the competion aspect was a big part of it, as well as the public commitment. Also,in some ways, the small size of the individual penalty ensured honesty--nobody was going to lie about 25 cents. (Actually, knowing the people involved, I don't think we'd lie anyway, but this way, there wasn't even a tiny temptation.)

Obviously, something like this works best with an objective binary task--either you make it to class, or you don't. It might be harder with something like "not procrastinating", but if you set up a concrete measure of the goal, it can work very well.
posted by yankeefog at 12:38 AM on March 10, 2005

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