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  • Aidan Ong

The Human Inertia

As a student, we believe that you would have times where you just do not feel like studying. What can you do then to stay focus? Read this article to find out more!



More than 300 years ago, Sir Issac Newton introduced his three laws of motion, ushering in the world of classical mechanics that would captivate scientific thought for centuries.


Heading this seminal list is the First Law:


"Every object will remain at rest or in uniform motion unless acted upon by an external force."


Today, secondary school physics students learn to associate this law with the concept of inertia, the reluctance of an object to move from a state of rest.


While this definition tends to apply only to inanimate physical objects, it also happens to appropriately describe one infamous aspect of human behaviour - procrastination. For just as a chair does not magically shift itself to accommodate its guest, humans would much rather enjoy being idle than exert themselves in a task.


While periods of rest and recreation are vital in ensuring consistent progress in our studies, excessive delaying of a task leads to increasing lethargy and discouragement as the day wears on, ultimately making us more likely to put off the assignment the following day. Such a vicious cycle can lead to a frenetic and panicked rush to finish all the work which had snowballed over the week as an upcoming deadline or examination draws near. It is an unnecessarily stressful and agonising experience that any student would be familiar with.


How do we overcome these inclinations, challenging as they may be?


Dispelling distraction

A key component of procrastination is distraction. This prevents students from devoting their full attention to a task which seems intimidating and uncomfortable. Removing these distractions through purposeful action and thinking can help place one in a better frame of mind to tackle that daunting essay or practice paper. It also has the added benefit of making any breaks or rest you have after feel well-deserved!


Two types of distractions can lead one astray. The first kind of distraction is physical distractions. These are activities which students preoccupy themselves with, and are often less urgent than the activity they are distracting themselves from. For instance, students usually rely on leisurely activities, such as listening to music or playing video games, to avoid having to do their homework. Others may prioritise exercise, house chores, or outings with friends.


Sometimes, the studying environment may also not be very conducive, or a sudden event will pop up that forces the student away from their work. Whatever the case, tackling these kinds of distractions involves carving a fixed space and time to spend on studying alone, free from interruptions. A similar idea is explored in CGP Grey's video Lockdown Productivity: Spaceship You.


In essence, some tips for minimising physical distractions would be:


  • Select a designated space in your house or in public (such as the library or classroom) in which studying will be the only activity carried out there. Potential distractions such as your phone, your bed, the TV, or video game consoles should be left outside this space and not be brought into this space.


  • The environment surrounding this space should also be conducive , i.e. clean and uncluttered, air-conditioned, serene, etc. Everything that you will need for your work should be in that space, so you won't have to leave and risk gravitating to a distraction.


  • Find a period of time in which studying will be the most convenient for you. For instance, I found studying at night to be the most productive as it was when my parents and siblings would be asleep. They would not cause unnecessary noise, and I would not be drawn away from my work to buy food for the family, or entertain my siblings.


  • Take care not to overload your schedule with too many activities, so that you will have the time required to complete your work. Plan carefully!


The second type of distraction is trickier to combat - mental distractions. Often, these arise from insecurities that we have about ourselves, such as a fear of failure or incompetency that makes us reluctant to step out of our comfort zones. Sometimes, we may get too caught up in a problem, or not understand what or why we are studying, leading to a loss of motivation. Fatigue, listlessness and burnout would also fall under this category.


Overcoming these mental hurdles involves acknowledging your own strengths and weaknesses, and cultivating a positive attitude to failure and adversity. More importantly, it involves being kind to yourself, and being aware of what options are available for you to seek help in optimising your learning.


  • Set a minimum amount of time in which you should only study before being allowed to take a break. The Pomodoro technique for instance breaks down work into 25-minute intervals, with short breaks in between. More generally, a single study session shouldn't be more than 2 hours in length, as it becomes much harder to focus beyond that point.


  • When faced with many assignments, try to split your time equally between them. For example, in a 2 hour session with 4 pieces of homework to complete, 30 minutes should be devoted to each task. At the end of the 30 minutes, one should move on to the next task, regardless of whether the task is completed. This is similar to how teachers advise students to skip a question if it ends up taking too much time.


What are your sources of distractions? Did these tips help you? Comment down below!



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