Power of pausing

Tribune News Service

College is the academic olympics. 

Most of students’ lives to this point have been spent carefully training our minds bit by bit to endure the gargantuan challenges of higher education. We develop the mental skills necessary to complete homework, exams, papers and presentations. After high school, we hop into this world of deadlines and unimaginable stress, just hoping to get the gold medal: our diploma.

We train ourselves to be intelligent enough to succeed in college, but we never ask ourselves: are our minds fit enough for the task?

Many students feel as though they can never be ahead or “done” with their assignments. They can never find a single moment of pure peace. Everything submitted. No Word documents open.

The thought is borderline unfathomable. 

That is because college is a continuous treadmill of responsibilities. You can run as fast as you can to try and keep pace, but it is a perpetual task. Finish two papers? Prepare to have three more assigned. Have you met all of your required deadlines today? What about tomorrow’s?

If it seems maddening, that’s because it is.

However, the most brutal part about college is the challenge it presents in terms of mental health, not homework.

The actual act of completing math homework is easy compared to the stress it induces. The anxiety of the looming deadline, cramming to get it done and the painstaking task of waiting for the grade to pop up online. There’s no doubt, its miserable. 

Upcoming assignments, current projects and grade point averages are in a continual swirl, a tornado in our minds. After a few years in education, you almost go numb to the chaos. 

The constant screaming in your mind about what is due next gradually quiets.

But, there is a secret. A way to find that paradise without deadlines and constant worry, that dreamland that lingers just beyond the horizon.

Try taking a break. Not just any break, but an intentional break. It’s absolutely transformed the educational experience of those who have tried it.

A traditional break consists of just walking away from your assignments and finding another task to take up some time. 

These traditional breaks are misguided. You stop the action of working, but the student’s mind stays a whirlwind of stress. You can walk away from the assignment, but the stress of it will follow you. The guilt of walking away can be crushing. The assignment sits on your desk, calling you back to what you know is waiting.

The secret is what are called intentional breaks. Tell yourself that on Friday nights, for example, you are not unzipping your backpack. Write it in your planner. Treat it like a deadline. 

These breaks radically improve educational performance and provide renewed energy. The best thing you can do for your grades and yourself in school is take scheduled time to not do classwork. Embrace the intentional breaks, and endless academic chatter in your mind is sure to fade for just a few critical hours.