I recently watched a short Internet video, a ‘TED Talk’, about how psychological research has shown that the conventional wisdom that you should tell other people your goals in order to help you stick to them, because you’re more likely to stick to things when it’s embarrassing to tell your friends you have failed, is in fact not true at all. Telling people that you’re committing to running n times a week is in fact less likely to make you run n times because your brain sees part of the challenge as already completed when you tell them about it/write it in a blog post or something similar, and so you immediately throw out a chunk of your perseverance. This information makes me wary of writing this post because in some sense, I’m explaining one of my personal development goals here that I’m actively working on. But I have a great desire to see if I can set this out well and with some elegance for once (as my writing on this blog has degraded in quality of expression of late) and hopefully there won’t be much specific.

I am unsure as to what sort of goal this will come across at. Aside from times of worry when I sit concerned about how little work I’ve done instead of doing it (like earlier tonight, but that’s besides the point I reckon), I am very very relaxed about the things I’m writing about here, at least partially because I have learnt that a certain degree of relaxation is important if goals are to be achieved. I feel that my attitude towards these goals is a good one, and importantly a different one to that which I’ve had before when I’ve written up things I’d like to do and to be on here that involve challenge and perseverance, so I’ll leave my remarks at that and hope that I can get this attitude across, and indeed, hope that I do in fact have the attitude in truth.

The move is one of re-orientation back towards my first year work ethic, perhaps even beyond that: the move is about putting my work back to the top of the list of priorities, because that’s just not where it is right now and not where it has been for a long time. For a little over a year, during term my mind seems to invent itself a list of Important Things, some of which are genuinely important things, most of which are illusions. The general effect of this list of things is that they fuel procrastination, with my mind going “okay wait I can’t work yet I need to make sure these things are in order, so let’s read e-mails, and then, er, let’s check reddit” in a very tenuous transition to continuing to waste time (continuing as it would not be a very efficient e-mail check).

The situation now is that the genuinely important things on the list have almost all dried up, as I have been dropping as many responsibilities as possible for I am a third year. To get more work done, then, I just need to work on clearing out my internal monologue of non-important things that I pretend are important.

I think a few examples of items from this list might make this clearer. For about two weeks more I am still on the JCR Committee, so that does involve staying on top of e-mail to a certain extent to make sure that the things I want to do get done. In fact I have barely achieved anything of what I wanted to this term—mostly not my fault as the person I am forced to work with, someone from the MCR Committee, isn’t really invested in his role at all—but I think my brain still uses it as an excuse. Why think seriously about work when I can instead think about how important and mighty I am (I’m really not anymore)? Let’s check e-mail again, and not actually do any JCR stuff.

Another example is keeping in touch with the sort of general large social group of Balliol. I am definitely not very in touch anymore: the JCR is a different place, sadly, and the people that made is great for me have moved on to some extent; I feel like a lonely fourth year already and I’m only a third year. Rumours about what’s happening in the elections, for example, reached me after they reached everyone else. I almost never go to the bar when last year I would be there at least three nights a week. The freshers, sadly, aren’t very friendly. This is all fine because times change and people move on and I have finals and so don’t have time to waste sitting around in the JCR for five hours a day. It makes me sad but I’m understanding about it. But my mind uses it as an excuse, thinking that I should head down and talk to person x who is always hanging around, but of I never actually go and do that, it’s just subconciously running under the surface and causing me to waste time.

Hopefully I have managed to make clear this phenomenon I have been experiencing. Further it is hopefully clear how a reprioritisation is needed. It’s a case of reprioritisation in the sense of developing different habits of thought and different cycles of deciding what to do. I’ll now try to paint a picture of something like what I’m aiming at.

Each day I get up and shower and have breakfast as I do now, all very normal, I have good habits established about this sort of thing—not perfect, but good. Now, it may be the case that there is an impeding deadline, in which case work focuses around that. Otherwise I just head to the library and start doing some work, not worrying about whether it’s the most efficient work or about what stage I’m at, but just doing the work; this very act will definitely reduce aforementioned worries, anyway. With minimal lectures, that is, just those that are actually valuable, this work can just continue. And with nothing else to be done, and breaks not centered around the computer, extra slots of time can be gained here and there that might otherwise be lost to e-mail or something. At some point in the day I will need to stop, empty my inbox, do any errands or other todo items scheduled for the day, though these will be minimal as I’m getting myself out of commitments. This is something I sit down and purposefully do, because I’m aware that it’s something to be just done and completed, instead of seeing work as something to be just done and completed, because work is an ongoing thing, and the most important thing.

If someone wants to play StarCraft or someone else suggests an interesting looking talk to attend and I’m on top of work, the above is interrupted. And if I decide I want to see someone I haven’t seen in ages or get invited to someone’s house for dinner or something, that can happen. If I get totally stuck with work and switching subject or whatever doesn’t help, I can play a game of StarCraft or read something, or, as is more likely to happen, just sit quietly for a while and then try again. All these things are short because they’re not important. Occasionally I might want to sit down and pursue one of my projects. If work is going okay I can choose, purposefully, to do this. Such a project might be reading something substantial, prepping a bop set, training some skill in StarCraft, something like that.

I am not sure how to go about getting to anything like this. This is okay; I’m just keeping it in mind right now and I’ve set myself a couple of small goals for the next month that will take me towards this picture. I should now say a little about why I think the position is valuable: it reflects the correct way to study an academic subject, and it’s the only way I am going to succeed in my exams in June which I need if I want to go on studying the subject. And I do: there are so many parts of it I love, even if I don’t always love the hard work. Time to cultivate the habits I need to succeed with that, somehow.