Study Habits: Off Track

If college athletes trained like how college students studied.

“Guess what? I graduated last week!” I said, informing my favorite fashionista at the local thrift store. “Congratulations! high school, or college?” she asked. “I’m uh, post-college,” I added before quickly moving the conversation along. “But I’m still studying at the coffee shop next door because of the board exams later.” Her congratulatory look faded into sympathy. “Aww that’s tough, I never really figured out the whole “staying on task” part about studying or school,” she lamented.

Indeed, there’s both truth and irony to her point about staying on task. From advanced grammar correction software to full-text research articles available at one click, the tools, and means for students to accomplish their workloads at faster rates have never been more numerous. Unfortunately, the freedom and convenience of those tools come with a tradeoff of a bombardment of tempting distractions. A recent study revealed that the smartphone alone distracted college students, on average of every three minutes during a twenty-minute work session. The statistic is slightly disturbing but hardly alarming. Lumping it in the same category as Netflix binging or excessive caffeine consumption, most of us regard distracted study merely with a shrug indicating not optimal but widely accepted.

Recently when I found myself sidetracked while studying, and I thought about athletes. Because students and athletes walk similar paths in the direction of different destinations. They both have guides (the teacher or the coach), participate in training (class or practice), and end in a high-pressure evaluation (tests or big games). I asked myself the question would athletes regard distracted practices, as an acceptable form of training? Probably not.

But what would it look like if you were an athlete and trained like how the (average) college student studied?… Below is hypothetical vignette based on experience, observation, and a bit of coffee shop, and track stadium eavesdropping).

At the end of track practice on Friday, the coach assigns each team member 5 miles of independent running, to complete and submit by GPS before midnight the following day. A few people run the five miles immediately after practice, but everyone else returns to their respective apartments to eat and sleep. Saturday morning at 8am the alarm clock blasts your eyelids off and kick starts a swarm of uneasy thoughts. How far exactly am I supposed to run again? Am I required to report my pushups? For clarification, you text emojis of dread and large question marks to several of your teammates. Staggering bleary eyed to the closet, you contemplate lacing up your trainers, running out the door, and knocking out the mileage assignment right then and there. Instead,  questions of hesitation creep in. Wouldn’t it be better to drive to a place that’s actually built and qualified for my needs as an athlete? Students go to libraries, runners go to tracks. Right? You guzzle an energy drink, grab your sporty Nike backpack and keys, and walk towards your car. But just two steps shy of the apartment exit, your mind interrupts again, wait a second—I never RSVPd to Anna’s birthday party! Typically, matters of this sort, take a back burner priority, but on workout days, small tasks rise to the top of your list.
Several hours later, after the RSVP (and several other emails), you drive into the stadium and set up a preparation station of gear in the first row of bleachers. The lineup of energy drinks, power bars, hair ties, and GPS trackers reveals just how much you consider the preparation and gear aspects of training with equal, if not greater, importance as the workout itself. The procrastination pit of dread grows weightier in your stomach, re-lace each shoe over again, and  finally,  take a deep breath, stand up, and begin.

You run 100 meters.
But then you spot a tiny cat in a tree, and your lack of self-control over “all things adorable” takes over. You must watch the cat, and it will only take 74 seconds. After gawking at the acrobatic feline landing from the tree, you ask the cat to repeat the feat 3 more times: and it does.

You run 200 meters, but unexpectedly, a toddler, chased by an acquaintance friend you haven’t seen since freshman orientation, stumbles into lane one. “Hi, congratulations on the baby, or um, toddler!” you stammer. After several minutes of cordial small talk peppered with random smiles, you exchange photos from your latest vacations and resolve to skype later.

Returning to the track, you run 100 meters, this time, your strides feels like you could go forever; but then you stop abruptly. You just completed an entire lap, and that is noteworthy progress! You pause to snap a selfie, hashtag it for hard work, and document it live on several different social media sites. But oddly, even as the validating comments roll in, your proud smile slowly fades moments after the capture. A painful awareness of reality reminds you that 19 laps remain, and you possess no plan whatsoever as to how you will complete them. Resigning to recalibrate, you plop down on the bleachers and meticulously draw out a time management grid with pink and silver lines.
And just as you begin to agonize over the variety of completion options, you feel the presence of a person behind you, and a large hand squeezes your shoulder.
“Hey girl, what are you doing??” It’s your crush from the men’s soccer team, and now you’re flustered.

You explain that this is your very important color coded outline of the rest of your workout. He raises an eyebrow and shoots you a quizzical look, that you can’t decipher as flirtatious or condescending. Either way, it provokes his desired response: your inflamed reaction.“Color coded scheduling keeps me sane, okay!?” you snap. Laughing, he wraps you up in a big hug, and his sweatshirt feels like it’s made of finely woven marriage material. Impulsively, you run back to your car and unlock the trunk. It’s standard practice among collegiate females, especially single ones, to keep a variety of secret bulletin boards hidden in their automobile trunks. After sticking post-it notes of new wedding ideas in a tidy futurist collage, you decide that now would also serve as an opportune time to clean your whole car. Earnest and industrious on the diverting task, you clear away the Starbucks cups, gum wrappers, and outdated assignments, until the car appears so clean, that further polishing efforts would endanger the exterior paint coat. Your mind wanders back to the cat, the toddler, and your soccer team crush. After a heavy sigh, you slowly amble back to the track.

And you run 200 meters.

The scoreboard clock flashes 5 pm, and a wave of guilt punches your conscience. More than 4 miles remain and your legs ache with such a fatigue that you grow concerned about the possibility of permanent muscular harm. But you push that out of your mind, as you hear the whistle blow signaling the end of the men’s soccer practice.

“Come grab Jamba juice with us!?” your friends say.

“Stop distracting me!” you whine. “I’ll be lucky if I finish this run by midnight!”

“But, we saw your snap chat, it looks like you’ve already been running all day” they reply.

“Literally, I have been running all day. Our coach is ridiculous. Be grateful you registered for soccer because track takes over my life,” you huff.

Taking a hint from the look on your face, they leave without pushing the smoothie matter any further.  The stadium empties and you run 200 meters at a turtle’s pace, basking in self-pity. You have no time. No life, really. Just you at this track stadium all the time. You wonder if there will ever be a purpose to these never ending miles.

At 7 pm an industrial strength flashlight shrinks your pupils down to the size of tiny specs. The janitor warns you that the track stadium closes in one hour.
Suddenly, for the first time all day, a rocket ignites under your feet. With a fiery focus burning away all distraction, you run the remaining 16 laps locked in a zone. Less than  thirty minutes later  you finish and catch your breath. “Wow, that wasn’t as bad as I thought” you conclude.

“That was actually kind of…enjoyable.”

One thought on “Study Habits: Off Track

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