Find Your Focus

I’m in the library, staring down blankly at my chemistry homework. Frustrated, I look up. My friends surround me, some talking, others gathered around a laptop watching videos, while yet another plays Tetris. I push the homework away. With finals week approaching all too quickly, studying and doing homework become increasingly prevalent, adding even more pressure to our already busy lives. After thinking about it, I became amazed at the typical Andover student’s ability to push out all external distractions, at least temporarily, in order to brave the insurmountable workload. Then it hit me. The key to doing well here lies in the art of resisting temptation. A study conducted during the 1960s at the Bing Nursery School, located on the campus of Stanford University, focused on the topic of delayed gratification. Different children were invited into a room and offered a snack, like a cookie or a marshmallow. The children were then told that they could either take the snack now or wait a few minutes and receive two snacks. Some children took the snack immediately, some waited the entire duration and others resisted for a while before giving in to the temptation. Follow up studies conducted in 1988, 1990 and 2011 show a direct correlation between the time a child was able to delay gratification and standardized test scores, the ability to pay attention and coworkers’ opinions of the individual as a worker. Those children who successfully showed self-control were more competent at all of these tasks; on average, those who could delay gratification achieved an SAT score 210 points higher than those children who could not. In his book “ADHD and the Nature of Self-control,” Russel A. Barkley, Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and an internationally authority on ADHD, argues that ADHD stems from a “developmental problem of self-control, and that a deficit in attention is [secondary].” From this I draw the conclusion that the stronger one’s ability to pay attention is, the better one’s ability to retain self-control is. By this definition, the psychological pathway “study enhancement” drugs such as Adderall work through makes sense hypothetically: increase your attention span in order to gain more self-control, which has been proven to improve academic performance. Often, I’ve heard the question “Take $10 now, or $20 in a week?” posed for debate. While valid arguments can be made for both cases, it is the ability to resist immediate gratification that I wish to emphasize. Success requires time and commitment. Shortcuts rarely yield lasting results. That said, the quick fix always seems more appealing. Therefore, I strongly support diligently practicing self-control, as it behaves like a muscle: with use, it strengthens. Self-control is arguably the most valuable skill we can learn. Of course, life without indulgence becomes lifeless. Nevertheless, with three subjects left to go and a dire need for a good night’s sleep, I feel the smartest decision on my part would not be pushing my chemistry homework away. Next time, I’ll heed my own advice and resist the distractions. I urge you to do the same. Makenzie Schwartz is a two-year Lower from Bradford, MA.