Fighting End-of-Semester Inertia

Dear P,

One of my friends wrote an interesting article this week about the Yerkes-Dodson Curve, which describes the relationship of stress and performance. The article is here and the Yerkes-Dodson curve looks like this:


Lately, I have had trouble trying to motivate myself to do things. With my midterms over and the semester lagging, my adrenaline is at an all-time low, and I am having trouble fighting my own inertia. While Scott focuses on how to reduce distress, I have been trying to find ways to super-charge my calm so that I can remain productive at non-urgent tasks, like getting a head-start on finals.

I have approached this problem from two different angles this week. The first involves changing myself and the second hinges around changing my surroundings.

There are many ways of changing yourself. Everyone plays with their brain chemistry every day, through food, caffeine, alcohol and exercise. To make myself more productive, I try to limit the amount of carbs that I eat, while maximizing protein, fruits, and vegetables. I realized that I have not been getting my necessary serving of fruits and vegetables, so I stocked up this Sunday at HEB on gala apples (the best!), kale, avocados, and carrots (the big kind- baby carrots have significantly less flavor and I hate how unnatural they are). I use one tea bag’s worth of Earl Gray tea every day. I’m sensitive to caffeine, so this keeps me super-charged without affecting my sleep. I have made a conscious decision not to drink, mainly because it messes with my REM sleep (see “My Sleep Obsession”) and reduces my productivity for several days. I like to sleep eight or nine hours a night. Last night, I fell asleep at eight and woke up at five. I was slightly more productive in the morning than I would have been at night and I am going to try to do this for at least the rest of the week. Since my marathon, I have not been as vigilant about my exercise regime. I have stepped it up again this week, biking as well as running to reduce wear and tear on my body. I know swimming is excellent exercise and gentle on your joints, but I just can’t bring myself to get in the cold, wet pool in the morning. Maybe I will work on that minor stress in the future.


Studying in my room is very tempting, P. Since I am an introvert, studying with people around makes me slightly more stressed. However, I have found that this stress increases my attentiveness to my work and prevents me from browsing the internet, especially if I think people can see my computer screen. I have also found that changing up the places where I work can help me keep my edge. Earlier in the year, I was very vigilant about scheduling myself: since, I have gotten more slack about it. iCalendar is an amazing thing: I can put an event in my computer and it will automatically sync to my phone and remind me do it ten minutes beforehand. How could I not take advantage of this great technology? I am accountable to my calendar and it helps fight my inertia. If you still have trouble staying on task, sharing your calendar and goals with a friend you respect may help. I have also found that talking to people that intimidate me slightly helps me to stay focused. This mainly involves going to office hours and talking to my professors and TAs. Lastly, I reward myself frequently, usually with dark chocolate and time with people I love. I do not recommend that anyone eat the obscene amount of chocolate I do, so you should probably vary your rewards according to your tastes.


The perfect person would be able to do all of these things AND keep up the relaxing, fun activities Scott recommends. When I manage to do that, I feel great and get a lot done. When I slip, I’m not as productive, but I’ve learned to be easier on myself. The world doesn’t rupture just because I haven’t gotten everything on my “Goals” list done.

I miss you and I hope you’re doing well, P!




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