This is topic I have trouble concentrating. in forum Books, Films, Food and Culture at Hatrack River Forum.

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Posted by dantesparadigm (Member # 8756) on :
I'm a reasonably smart person that is perfectly capable of accomplishing almost any academic task, with flying colors. This is of course assuming I put a lot of effort into it. I costed through high school there were seldom occasions were I had to bring my full mental faculties to bear on any specific assignment, instead I directed my energy into the stuff I wanted to do.

However, things at college are a lot different. I still take time away from regular assignments to write poetry or do photography, the things I enjoy. However the same level of effort that got me through high school is not sufficient here. I'm capable of all nighters, I can work without sleep and get good quality things done. Increasingly though, when I've felt overwhelmed I've simply given up and accepted zeroes.

There's no immediate pressure, the professors don't care, and I really don't either, I enjoy my classes and what I've learned, but when it comes time to write a twenty page paper that I know I can write, putting forth the effort and doing it always seems like such a waste. I can't sit down at my computer and concentrate, and usually I need to at least have to option of internet access to write papers. I'll start working, quickly become distracted, then take 'breaks' to eat or smoke or call friends, and I promise myself I'll get to work when I come back and I never do.

It's becoming a real problem and I just don't know how to get myself motivated to complete tasks that I know I can do. It seems like the more I threaten myself into getting something done, the less likely I am to do it. I hope Hatrack has some suggestions, because it's really starting to worry me.

Thanks in advance.

Posted by rivka (Member # 4859) on :
First, get a general physical (assuming it's been more than 6-12 months since the last one). When the doctor confirms that there's no physical cause, go see a therapist. Sounds like it could be depression, or something like that.

Good luck!
Posted by Tresopax (Member # 1063) on :
A couple of ideas:

Go somewhere else quiet and mostly free of distractions to get your work done. For instance, you could go to the library every day at a certain time for a certain amount of time - you could even put it on your schedule. Often it seems easier to concentrate on doing your work if you're somewhere you've specifically designated as the place for studying (rather than just at home in front of your own computer).

Break long assignments up into defined parts, with breaks in between. For instance, a break after every page of your 20 page essay. It can be easier to write a page of your essay if you know you can take a break as soon as you finish that first page. Do that instead of randomly taking a break whenever you feel the need.

Try doing your work at a different time of day. You might do better doing work earlier rather than at night.

Tell your roommate or friends to absolutely not let you come out and be distracted. Peer pressure can work!

Or, if it is really causing major problems, you could speak to a counselor or therapist about it - there's always a chance it could be something like ADHD.
Posted by Shawshank (Member # 8453) on :
Don't worry Dante. You are not alone. This is my biggest absolute difficulty in school. I'm going to read this thread with great interest looking for ideas myself.
Posted by andi330 (Member # 8572) on :
It does sound like you could use a talk or two with a counsellor or therapist, I went through a period of depression in college and it was rough going. I also recommend a couple of books to you. When I was getting ready to go back to school, I decided that I didn't want a repeat of my first undergraduate experience. I successfully completed a degree but I was a grind who had very little time for all of the other things college students want and need to do. I found two books that really helped get me on track. So far I have a 4.0 in my current course and I haven't needed nearly the effort my first degree did. The books are:
How to be a Straight A Student
How to Win at College

Both are by Cal Newport and they are excellent. They don't expect you to spend your whole life studying and writing papers. Instead they help you organize your life so that you don't have to. If the idea of spending all night (or all day) studying or writing is what's causing you to put your work aside, they may help simply because you'll know it's not necessary in order to get your work done.
Posted by kwsni (Member # 1831) on :
Rivka, really? Sounds like exactly what I did for the first two years of college, which was pure laziness. I was spending far too much time here and on AIM, and thinking I could coast through my classes. I was on academic probation for a semester, which finally gave me the kick in the butt I needed.

If you get distracted by the computer, turn it off. I wrote most of my papers longhand, and did the second draft as I was typing them out. Another advantage of longhand is that you can take a notebook with you, and write as you're waiting for the bus, or between classes. Try writing your papers in smaller segments, instead of all 20 pages at once.

If you have classes which have lots of reading, don't put it off till the last minute. Do a little every day so you don't get overwhelmed. The supposed rule of thumb is three hours of studying for every hour in the classroom, but you don't have to do it all in one day. Make a schedule and tape it somewhere where it gets in your way, like on your monitor or the middle of the bathroom mirror.

Find a quiet (and preferably intensely boring) place to study. I liked the place in my school's library where they stored all the old dissertations, because it was full of books that looked exactly the same, and no one ever went down there.

GO TO CLASS. Even if it's at 8 o'clock and all the way across campus.

Join study groups and go to them prepared. I was always more embarrassed to not have done the work in front of other people in the class than in front of the professor.

Sit in the front of your classes, not in the back.

Turn your phone off when you're studying.

Stop thinking of all nighters as acceptable. You don't learn anything if you're falling asleep in class.

Try getting some exercise before you study.

If you have to listen to music when you study, listen to something you know by heart, so you don't get distracted listening to the lyrics. Or choose something instrumental.

::shrug:: That's probably all stuff you've heard before, but there's a reason for that. It works. Self discipline is hard, but it's one of the things that college is supposed to teach you.

Posted by Hank (Member # 8916) on :
I find it interesting that you have trouble doing projects you "know you can do." I think changing the approach to your work may be a big help. If you have difficulty focusing because you're too intent on the end result--turning in a paper that gets a good grade--maybe you should make your goal to learn as much as possible that is applicable to the assignment.

For example, if the paper prompt is "Describe the three events that, in your opinion, led to the start of the Korean War," maybe you should start by saying, "okay, for 30 minutes I will try to find every contributing factor to the start of the Korean War."

Then take a break. Come back and decide, "Now my goal will be to put this list in order of most to least influential, and justify that list."

Then take a break. Come back and say, "okay, I think these five or so things were probably the most influential, so I'm going to learn everything I can about them in 30 minutes."

Then take a break. the very last step is actually writing the paper, and if you've done the fist few steps right, that should be a matter of copying, pasting and adding transitions.

The trick is that in your research, you have to be double-minded. On the one hand, you come up with a goal that interests you--being an expert on whatever aspect of the class you're zeroing in on. one the other hand, the end goal is to have proof that you're an expert and that you can organize your findings in a useful way.

The way this works is that as you read, you think, and rather than just having an idea, you jot down the idea (or, if possible, type it) in as close to paper-form as possible.

When you read Hamlet whining about how hard his life is, you don't just think, "man, this guy needs to grow a pair!" You write, "Hamlet's indecision is his most notable character trait." Then every time you come across a passage of whining, you label it, "indecision," "More indecision," etc. You will shortly have a paragraph documenting your observation, but at the time you were reading just to read.

Does this make any sense to anyone but me?

If you've gone about the first
Posted by rivka (Member # 4859) on :
Originally posted by kwsni:
Rivka, really? Sounds like exactly what I did for the first two years of college, which was pure laziness.

Did you feel things were bad enough that you needed help?

And there's an awful lot of "don't care" in the OP. I'm concerned about that.
Posted by kwsni (Member # 1831) on :
I guess I didn't. I kind of thought things would just work out, and everything would be fine. Pretty big shock when they didn't.

Posted by rivka (Member # 4859) on :
For some people academic probation is the necessary kick. But maybe it's better to get an earlier kick than that? [Wink]

And to be clear, I think it's quite possible it is not depression. Talking to a therapist will likely still help.
Posted by dantesparadigm (Member # 8756) on :
Thanks everyone, this is all great advise. I was thinking about it for a while and I'm going to go see the school therapist after winter break. I have a lot of pretty serious problems going on in my life, and I really thought I had them under control, but maybe this is how it's manifesting itself. I never really considered the physical manifestations of depression, and figured it was just something I could deal with on my own. But it seems pretty clear to me that if I'm at the point where I'm asking Hatrack for help, then there's obviously cause to see a professional. (I don't ask foe help or talk about emotional problems. Ever.)

The study tips all make sense, but it's stuff I kind of knew. The 'don't care' feeling is something I ought to be concerned about, so hopefully I can get something done about it.

Andi, I'll take a look at those books, I have plenty of free time for the next month.

Knights, I haven't missed any classes, I really enjoy those. I do get distracted by the computer more easily than elsewhere, maybe long hand is a good idea, even if it takes me a lot longer.

The piecemeal suggestion is something I have thoroughly internalized, but never seems to work out, which is part of the problem I suppose.
Posted by scifibum (Member # 7625) on :
Boy can I relate! I went from high school where if nothing else, I could write my paper or study for my test the night before, and still pass with an A or A-, and if that meant no sleep I still managed to cope. To college where going to class was not enforced but was completely essential, where tiredness impacted my ability to focus to a great degree, and procrastination was invariably disastrous.

Here's a comparison table:

High school			College
---------- -------
Attendance enforced Up to you
It's in the book Maybe, but where?
Designed for success Not so much
Parental involvement nope
Strong peer support beer parties
Excellence rewarded Mostly nobody notices
Cramming works Only if you've more ore less kept up

I would skip a class here and there, put off my homework, and in a shockingly short amount of time, find myself lost and unable to cope with the triple-time effort I would need to catch up. What made it much worse was not telling anyone I was in trouble and not getting any help or guidance. I just didn't talk to anyone, partly out of pride and not wanting to admit I was having trouble, and partly out of my natural (and at the time severe) shyness. I flunked out of college in my first year, after maintaining As in mostly AP classes in my senior year of high school, and getting a 35/36 on my ACT and passing all of my six AP tests, recognized as a "Sterling Scholar", etc. (I didn't have a stellar record at high school but in my junior and senior year I had a 3.9 GPA and generally did very well.) I lost my tuition award. It was a huge blow to my ego and it took a long time for me to get back into semi-successful schooling.

Not that it has to go like that for you - it didn't have to for me. It's good you're saying "whoops, I'm in trouble" and looking for some assistance. You said "(I don't ask foe help or talk about emotional problems. Ever.)" Yeah...not good. Talk about it with someone. I see too much of myself there.

I'm hearing hints of procrastination in your OP - like you know you can get it done eventually, but by the time you're finally ready to devote some effort, it's gotten too big and too late.

My brother invented a system of micro goals, somewhat similar to what Hank described. He just decides what he wants to get done in the next 5 minutes, and keeps track/scores himself against his goals. If he misses one goal he tries to make up time on the next goal. Seriously, 5-10 minute chunks of work which he identifies on the fly and tracks in a spreadsheet. I think it's a great system for overcoming both a tendency to procrastinate and become distracted, and a sense of being overwhelmed by the largeness of a task. (It doesn't obviate the value of longer range scheduling and organization, but is a tool to keep himself on task in the moment.)

I hope knowing this is not an unusual problem and that many people have overcome it gives you some encouragement. Don't lose confidence in yourself, just accept that you're going to need to work on different ways to cope with life and organize your efforts. And do talk to the therapist.
Posted by Tara (Member # 10030) on :
Taking your OP at face value, you sound exactly like me and 99% of all my friends. It seems to me like you just need to get used to college (what year are you in?)
So only you can decide if it's actually a more serious problem.
For finals last week, my roommate had me take her ethernet cable out of the room and hide it in someone else's room so she couldn't get on the internet. That worked reasonably well for her. I guess it wouldn't work if you had wireless internet.
Posted by Ron Lambert (Member # 2872) on :
dantesparadigm, make sure you are getting enough vitamin B-12 (Cyanocobalamine). This is essential for the nervous system. Prolonged deficiency can result in permanent nerve damage, as well as produce anemia. One of the early symptoms is inability to balance standing on one leg for more than a very few seconds. B-12 is a concern to vegetarians, since there are no plant sources that provide it. Vegetarians and especially vegans who are knowledgable take B-12 supplements. You don't need very much--the Minimum Daily Requirement is only 2.5 micrograms. It is fat soluble, so it is stored in the body. So as long as you get some B-12 once a week you should be OK. In fact, it can be stored in the liver and elsewhere in the body for years.

According to one medical website: " would take 3-6 years to become B12 deficient if absorption were to cease." ( Link: ) So it can take some time for deficiency symptoms to develop. But if you have been living for a long time on the typical American collegiate Coke and Big Mac diet, general multi-vitamin and mineral supplements--especially B vitamins--would be a good and cheap form of health insurance.

Also, note that vitamin B-1 (Thiamine) has been called "the morale vitamin," because of its role in keeping the nervous system healthy and in maintaining a healthy mental attitude.

It has been observed that on occasion, a few people will develop something called a vitamin dependency, where for the rest of their lives they will need many times the normal dose of certain vitamins, usually B vitamins. This has been most commonly seen in people who have been subject to starvation or near starvation conditions for a long time--like prisoners of war. It was often seen in prisoners of war held by the Japanese during WWII.

[ December 23, 2008, 12:44 PM: Message edited by: Ron Lambert ]

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