Really, I can start any time I want

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. As we reach the two-week mark of the new quarter, this little saying really hits home.
Does this sound familiar? Every quarter you go to the store and buy fresh new folders, pens and notebooks — maybe even the kind with the University’s insignia on them if you’re feeling really ambitious — and somehow this indicates a clean start and a new academic identity. This time you’ll keep up on your reading, you won’t wait and do assignments the night before they’re due (if at all) and you’ll start making intelligent contributions to class discussions. Then you wait for the great grades to come your way.
But the same old thing happens. You sit down to study and after reading about two sentences of the textbook you suddenly realize something horrific — your albums (or CDs, depending on how old you are) aren’t alphabetized. Of course, this can’t go on for another minute, so to the task you go. Takes hours. (Should K-Tel’s “Disco Fever” be filed under K or D?) OK, back to the books. Gol, it’s kind of chilly in here. I think I’d better take a trip to the fabric store and sew myself a quilt — then I’ll be able to concentrate.
A few weeks later you’re so far behind in class it seems there’s no hope and you say, “Screw it, this quarter’s a wash,” and next time you’ll do better.
I’m constantly amazed by these people who always come to class prepared and with something relevant to say. It’d be nice to think maybe they’re just taking one class, live at home and don’t have a job. But no, most of them work 50 hours a week, are taking four classes and also volunteer three times a week for the Girl Scouts and twice a week they feed the homeless. I don’t get it.
Or these people on the commuter buses who are actually able to study, even when they’re smashed up against some guy with hockey hair who’s wearing too much cologne, and have dutifully color coded and tabbed all their textbooks and notebooks and have three different highlighters (that they actually use) in their pockets. How do they do it?
This year, seeing as how my new-notebook strategy has (incredibly) failed and I find myself on academic probation, I stopped by the Learning and Academic Skills Center in Eddy Hall to get some information about how to stop procrastinating.
What I found was shocking. I always figured I was just lazy. Turns out, it could be my parents’ fault that I’m a screwup (which confirms my favorite theory) or any of a number of other psychological problems.
For instance, according to a handout based on a book by Dr. Jane Burka and Dr. Lenora Yuen, some people might not want an honest shot at doing well for fear of failure (“What if I finally do my best, but still am mediocre?”), others think their lives would become boring (“I would miss the excitement of cutting it close”) and some women might feel they’ll be less desirable if they’re successful (“If I discover I’m very smart, I’ll no longer be an acceptable female.” Oh, please.)
If any of these (or the unlisted reason, “I don’t like homework and am a sucker for instant gratification,”) sound like you, apparently there’s hope. You’d think maybe the remedy would simply be, “Do your homework, you bonehead, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out.” But it seems it’s more complex than that. Here are some suggestions from the skills center:
Read actively, converse mentally (i.e., not verbally like some wacko at the public library) with the author, question his or her viewpoint. Have a definite place to study (what, in front of “The Simpsons” isn’t good enough?) and be properly equipped with pencils, paper, dictionary, etc. Keep a scratch pad on your desk. Jot down your irrelevant thoughts and come back to them later. (I don’t get it — why should I come back to, “How come you never see a dead duck? Where are all the duck corpses?” Yeah, I better jot that down.)
Use a symbol for studying. Choose an item, like a hat, that you put on when and only when, you are studying. (And I thought “thinking cap” was just an expression.) If you consistently put yourself down or, in other words, have a negative tape going, sit down sometime and write out the scripts as thoroughly as possible. (Read: Maybe someone who can’t do homework on time to save her life shouldn’t make fun of these study tips.)
So, now that I’ve admitted I have a problem, which I understand is half the battle, maybe I’ll check out one of the skills center’s free “anti-procrastination” sessions that start next week. “My name is Kris Henry, and I am a procrastinator.” Then again, maybe I’ll wait until next quarter.
Kris Henry’s column appearsin the Daily every Thursday.