Ditch the Hustle Mentality: 3 Tips for Students Struggling with Self-Care in an Academically Grueling Environment

Salsabeel Hodge (’23) reflects on her own self-care journey and gives some practical tips to balance academic success and happiness and health. “…students need to take a step back from the noise and learn to care for themselves, so they can show up fully for the important people and areas of their lives.”

Self-care, a word that usually invokes images of a warm environment, lighted candles, and soft music. It’s a way for people to get relief after a tough day. The more adversity someone faces, the more self-care they likely need. 

In an environment like school, which is challenging not only academically, but emotionally, and potentially physically, self-care is vital. Most students turn to instant gratification as a means of self-care, likely because it’s easy, and they might not know better.

However, this can be useless or even more damaging, because instant gratification doesn’t allow you to examine your needs, and determine how to meet them in the future, but rather provides a short temporary fix to turmoil. 

So before I get into suggestions for upping your self-care game, we first need to understand what self-care is. 

Care as defined by Oxford Dictionary, is providing sustenance to maintain someone’s health, well-being, and protection. Self-care, as suggested by the name, is providing that for yourself; Which is not an easy task.

We live in a world, where we’re encouraged to pursue our goals with a ruthless passion, regardless of the effect. Even if that means inflicting pain on ourselves. 

For many students, that means doing anything to get an A, even if means neglecting their health. 

However, this mindset leads to a path of destruction. And to prevent this, students need to take a step back from the noise and learn to care for themselves, so they can show up fully for the important people and areas of their lives.

For the past couple of months, I’ve been trying to implement this practice in my life. I haven’t figured everything out yet, but I did want to share what I’ve learned so far; in hopes of helping others get to a place, where they can achieve their goals, and prioritize their well-being. 

Tip One: Redefine Your Goals

Do well on all your assignments, in order to get good grades, in order to maintain a high GPA, in order get into a good college, in order to get a good job. 

Now when I write this out, it sounds absurd and ridiculously ambitious; but this is the sentiment of many students, even if they don’t want to admit it. 

And regardless of how you look at it, this harsh mindset is damaging l to your well-being. 

Now, I’m not saying to do badly in school; you should strive to do your best work. But what I am saying is this perfectionist mindset is impossible to achieve. 

There is no way you’re going to be able to do well on all your assignments, no matter how hard you try. And if you make the above description your goal, you’re implicitly tying your worth, and likely your confidence to outcomes outside of yourself. 

And if that’s not enough to convince you then consider this. Extrinsic goals, tend to be less fulfilling and decrease your happiness.

I’m sure at some point, we’ve all thought “If I get an A in *insert class* I’ll be happy,” or something along those lines. But after you achieved that goal, you were satisfied for a hot minute, and on to the next goal. And then the next one. Chasing happiness in things that are outside of yourself.   

What you need are intrinsic goals. Goals that are personally related to you, and whose success only you can define. And bonus, they’re are a lot more fulfilling extrinsic ones. 

For example, some of my intrinsic academic goals are:

  • To become a more efficient and skilled problem solver than I was at the beginning of the year.
  • To be able to hold an educated conversation about as many topics as possible. 
  • To build relationships with people I wouldn’t normally talk to in my classes

As you can see, all of these goals are related to things that I value and can carry over in many aspects of school, not just one class.

And even though they’re not outcome-based, I’m still succeeding academically. One, because I’m actually enjoying the process. And two, because these are all goals that are motivating me to learn, and therefore become proficient in my various classes. 

Another bonus is that I get a boost of confidence when I make progress toward these goals. Meaning how I feel is determined by me, and less so by a Powerschool notification.

Because let me tell you, letting external sources define your happiness can lead to a roller coaster of emotions. It might even put you in a state of constant stress, fight or flight mode, which is horrible for your health. 

That’s the opposite of self-care. It’s self-destruction. 

Tip Two: Take Care-Centered Action

Now, let’s say you’ve changed how you frame your goals, first of all, congratulations! You’ve taken a massive step towards becoming a healthier student.

But here’s the hard part: you have to take care-centered action toward your goals.  

Tough love if you will.

This comes back to the instant vs delayed gratification conversation. Are you willing to do the hard things that will benefit your future well-being?

A strategy that I use, albeit a little odd, is thinking of my future self as her own person. 

I ask myself, would future me be seriously irritated, stressed, or have to sacrifice sleep if I didn’t do these assignments now? If the answer is yes, then I’ll begrudgingly complete the assignments, sending love to my future self. If not, then I’ll usually break down the assignment, into smaller parts, setting a “due date,” for each part, so I can complete it in a timely and less stressful manner.

Now, this might seem like a basic strategy for being a productive student. However, sticking to a general deadline, is what makes this an act of self-care. 

Emphasis on general deadlines, because strict deadlines can make you feel guilty for not achieving them, and don’t take into account the need to rest, which I’ll talk about later.

However, it’s important to differentiate between a lack of discipline and the need to rest. 

For example, I tend to fall prey to scrolling on Instagram for hours, instead working on the hard assignment I’ve been dreading all day. This is not needing time to rest, but rather prioritizing the good feeling of scrolling over the better feeling I’ll get from completing the assignment. 

It’s not care-centered, because I’m willingly harming the well-being of my future self. When I should be taking care of her.

That’s why, whenever I don’t feel like doing an assignment, I just try to start it. And usually, once I do that, I’m more likely to finish it, as the assignment becomes less daunting.

This is care-centered because I’m doing what’s best for my future self, even though it’s slightly painful in the moment. Because, no matter what, I’m still going to have to do the assignment. And the struggle of doing it in the moment is usually less than the struggle of doing it in the future.

Tip Three: Know When and How to Rest

There are sometimes, however, when it’s better to do something later and rest instead. So when are these times?

Unfortunately, that’s not a question I can answer for you. It’s something that you need to figure out. 

I suggest becoming mindful of your body. Ask yourself, are there periods of time that you need more rest than others? What type of situations leave you drained? At what times do you function best? Worst?

Once you identify these situations, look at your schedule, and see if you can prioritize this time for rest. Continue to check in with your body, and use it as a guide for this schedule.

It’s important to note though, that rest doesn’t always have to be planned; it can be impromptu. We’re all human. 

Some days your body might feel like giving out. Or it might be emotionally drained. Whatever it is, listen to your body, especially when it’s stressed, and honor it.

Remember, resting is also an act of self-care, and it can do miraculous things for your well-being.

Taking time to rest, however, is half of the battle. How you rest is the other half. 

Before I learned how to rest, I would notice I was exhausted, and decide to take a break. But then, I would spend that time scrolling on Instagram (can you tell this is my crutch?), Only to still feel drained, and overwhelmed, regardless of how long I spend scrolling.

I needed to figure out good ways to recharge, because hint hint, social media is not one of them.

So what are activities that will help you recharge? For some, It could be exercising, for others, it might be talking to a loved one, sleeping, meditating, listening to music, or doing something creative. 

A quick note: self-care doesn’t haven’t be something extravagant. It could literally be sitting in silence for five minutes, and allowing your thoughts to wander. You’d be surprised by where your brain goes without the noise of the world.

Anyways, the key is to do something that puts you in a relaxed state and makes you feel energized. Again, listening to your body can help you figure out what the activities are. 

While resting, however, you may notice that you feel guilty for not being productive. I know I struggled with this a lot. So how do you get that pesky emotion to leave you alone?

For me, it was realizing that resting is actually productive. 

For example, recently I noticed that whenever I do homework for hours on end, I start to get unfocused, or even a little sleepy. In the past, I would push through this, in order to get through my long to-do list. However, more recently, I started taking breaks and I noticed that I worked through my to-do list even faster.

It seems counterintuitive, especially since I believed resting was a waste of time and would slow me down. But it actually allowed me to work more efficiently. 

I would implore you to think about what beliefs make you feel guilty for resting. Is it that hustle mindset, that equates being a workaholic with success? Is it the idea that you don’t have time to rest? Is it pressure from people around you to always be “productive”?

I suggest journaling, meditating, or some other reflective practice to get to the root cause. 

It’s important to realize, though, that you won’t stop feeling guilty right away. But rather, it’s a process. And eventually, you’ll get to a point where you can rest without any guilt.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this post allowed you to see that it’s possible to achieve personal well-being and be academically successful. 

Intrinsic goals will allow you to control your happiness, even when you have to face a little adversity to achieve them.

And most importantly, you’ll know when it’s time to call it quits, and how to make the most of this time. 

This process is not a linear one. But the best thing you can do is to continue to show up for yourself, every single day. And hopefully, with time and effort, you’ll be in a better place than where you started. 

I wish you luck on your journey. 

It’s the monkey’s fault

Joshua Lee (’24) discusses some strategies for self-control from Kelly McGonigal’s book The Willpower Instinct. “…individuals can strengthen self-control, similar to how muscles become stronger through exercise.”

I often find myself procrastinating when confronted with a writing assignment. I find writing to be more convoluted than other subjects, such as mathematics. In mathematics, there is one—and only one—correct answer. The subjective nature of writing was causing me to set aside writing assignments until the very last minute. I was searching for remedies to procrastination when I stumbled upon the book The Willpower Instinct. This book has been of tremendous help to me, and with courses increasing workloads, I wanted to share some valuable insights from it.

Kelly McGonigal, the author of The Willpower Instinct, explains that two sections of the brain constantly clash: the monkey and the rational self. The monkey is the obstacle that prevents humans from becoming more fit, spending less, and losing weight; it is the part of the brain that prioritizes instant gratification. The monkey is the reason people binge-watch Netflix shows instead of doing math homework. In contrast, the rational self reflects a person’s true desires and goals. McGonigal asserts that the only way to restrain the monkey from controlling decisions is to strengthen self-control.  

To successfully practice delayed gratification (the act of resisting an immediate reward for a more valuable future reward), people must utilize self-control for the three powers listed below:

  1. The “I will” power: the ability to make decisions that improve quality of life;
  2. The “I won’t” power: the ability to prevent decisions that may hinder success or happiness;
  3. The “I want” power: the ability to make choices that align with long-term goals, not instant gratification.

It takes people immense willpower to consistently make decisions that bring them closer to fulfilling their long-term goals. Fortunately, individuals can strengthen self-control, similar to how muscles become stronger through exercise. Self-control is critical in living a successful and fulfilling life, so what are some strategies to improve it?

Meditation is an effective method for building self-control. With just 11 hours of meditation, the brain begins to increase neural connections between regions of the brain that are important for staying focused, ignoring distractions, and controlling impulses. Most individuals avoid meditation because they claim it takes too much time, but five to ten minutes is more than enough to yield fruitful results. Referred to as the “miracle drug,” exercise is another way to train willpower. Not only does it increase gray matter (brain cells) and white matter (nerve fibers that enable communication within the brain), but it serves as a powerful antidepressant. The intensity of exercise can depend on the person. Not everyone is a marathon runner: walking five minutes is better than no exercise. Although strengthening willpower is essential to defeating the monkey, becoming acquainted with the monkey’s deceptive tactics is just as important.

Moral licensing is when the brain justifies a bad behavior by praising good behavior. For instance, a shopper who restrained themself from purchasing fancy clothes may go home and enjoy sweets, or a student who worked hard on a project at school may justify playing video games for the rest of the day. Another common trick the monkey uses to make people relapse back into addiction or break good habits is recognized as the What The Hell Effect. The effect occurs when a person indulges in harmful behavior. For example, if a person on a diet ate a slice of cake, they may feel ashamed that they ruined their diet. The emotions of guilt and shame cause the dieter to indulge in even more unhealthy foods in an attempt to make themselves feel better, resulting in a downward spiral back to their old self.

The information and strategies I shared in this blog post only scratch the surface of The Willpower Instinct, so if what you read here sounded intriguing, I highly recommend reading the entire book for yourself. 

The Cherry on Top

Nina Taleb-Bendiab (’23) reflects on how a pervasive attitude of perfectionism impacts student learning & writing. “It is not sustainable for our motives to solely be based on outcomes. We need to learn how to accept failures as opportunities and realize that perfection doesn’t automatically equate to extreme success.”

Most people know the saying “the cherry on top”. Which refers to that one detail or factor that makes something already good, better or maybe even perfect. While I do like a good cherry on my ice cream, the figurative meaning of this phrase is overrated. 

Now why would I think that? First off, the implication that one defining thing can make something perfect is unrealistic. Secondly, this phrase gives false notions that perfection exists. There are many misconceptions about perfectionism and not enough knowledge on why it can be harmful. The concept of always trying to improve isn’t a bad thing; but, the motive behind perfectionism is. Learning that improvement is only good for some sort of successful outcome is what creates this negative outlook. A lot of the time kids are exposed to this mindset from a young age. Especially with this generation, the pressure of getting a perfect SAT score, 5 on an AP exam, 4.0 gpa, etc. has become extremely harmful. Many think that pushing someone to always strive for a desired outcome is the path to success. In reality, it’s teaching people to always yearn for some intangible product and frequently leaving people with a feeling of dissatisfaction, even if so much effort has been put into their work.

I find that perfectionism is highly prevalent in high schoolers and more specifically when they are writing. I personally have struggled with it for a lot of my life. With college essays, AP classes and more advanced writing pieces there is this pressure looming over people making them extra critical and anxious about their work. After researching on the topic of perfectionism in writing I came across an article from the NIH which looked at the science behind a growth mindset. In a study. children were tested through a game where they were incentivized based on effort and persistence. Results indicated that the children ended up doing better at the game when they started at a low performance and worked their way up to mastery.

Most people have become familiarized with the term “growth mindset” and have noted it as a good thing. But going even deeper, studies have shown how important learning to strive for improvement instead of perfection is.

In today’s day and age we live in a world where everyone is always striving for perfection. It’s time we rid ourselves of that negative mindset and stop putting unnecessary pressure on ourselves. It is not sustainable for our motives to solely be based on outcomes. We need to learn how to accept failures as opportunities and realize that perfection doesn’t automatically equate to extreme success. To be successful it requires growth: personal, social, academic, etc.

The Importance of Atomic Habits

Rachel Hardy (’24) reflects on the book Atomic Habits by James Clear and how its advice applies to writing. “It’s important to see that atomic habits are what makes us, us. It’s what determines how we live, what we do day to day, and how we carry ourselves.”

“Tiny changes, remarkable results an easy way & proven way to build good habits & break bad ones.” – James Clear

 Intellectually, I’ve been reading on expanding my knowledge as well as growing upon building new habits and breaking old ones. Atomic Habits was my first book that opened my eyes and interested me. It was the first book I read through, and I liked how the author touched on  “habit stacking” that increases the likelihood of sticking with a habit by stacking your new behavior on top of an old one. And the two-minute rule that encounters any habit that can be scaled down into a two-minute version. Not only does atomic habits attract personal life but also to writing.

As we write as individuals our first or second piece won’t be the best one we have made, our writing takes time and effort, trial and error. As we progress over the years or even months the regular practice of writing helps us encounter our writing to become better and stronger each day. But as we might fail each time the expansion of atomic habits overgrows as we break our bad “writing” habits and turn them into good ones. As I sit here today I came a long way from my atomic habits, at first I didn’t see myself as a good writer! I just wrote for fun because it was something to do during quarantine. As the first year back at school, which was when I was in 10th grade, I was in history class as my teacher recommended I should be in the Writing Center. I was amazed! As I thought it was just for fun; someone saw something in me that I didn’t. I never underestimated myself but I never saw it as something I would do or be  “good” at. Now that I look at it, the practice of writing during quarantine, those tiny changes made major changes as I got myself into the writing center, wrote meaningful poems, etc. Now that I’m in 11th grade I see my potential and my work that my teacher saw in me, of course I have a lot to accomplish as I want to become a better writer. But, I made it this far. That came a lot with my mindset and my knowledge.

 My mindset wasn’t as it was when I was in 9th grade. It took a lot to be where I am now, and that comes with positives and negatives, a lot of life lessons, and tears. Writing helped me to a great extent but something was still missing as I tried to put my pieces back together again. I still haven’t found the cure although I made accomplishments that my younger self would be proud of. Mindset and knowledge come hand in hand. Those two analogies I concurred to build better relationships, and move on from ones I didn’t want to. As well as overachieving in my writing and changing my personality in a way. You would think what I wrote were all good and positive things, however they have deep meanings behind them that I had to let go of that I never thought I would. It turned into a type of new person that I somewhat like but at times I wish I had the old one back.

 As quoted “An atomic habit is a regular practice or routine that is not only small and easy to do but is also the source of incredible power; a component of the system of compound growth.” I have an interest in atomic habits because it shows the overcoming of decisions or routines that necessarily won’t work out in your life or anyone’s life in general. Such as smoking, and checking your phone first as you wake up. As we mature we see the disadvantages that don’t help us grow but only degrade us. It’s important to see that atomic habits are what makes us, us. It’s what determines how we live, what we do day to day, and how we carry ourselves. As  my blog post is about to end, it is superior to know the 4 laws for building/ breaking habits number one, cue, number two, Craving, number three, Response, number four, Reward. As we develop over the years in our writing or personal entities, instead of making it invisible make it obvious, make it attractive rather than making it unattractive. 

There are many adjustments to correlate your daily habits, but as you figure out your best routine the important thing is to stick to it and keep going to become better. Yes, there will still be mistakes and the feeling of giving up. Nevertheless, it happens to the best of us! What makes you stronger and the best you is that you didn’t give up, you didn’t go back to the bad habits that made you someone you didn’t like. That you didn’t want to be shown to others. This interpretation shows the importance of atomic habits.

Academic Validation: The Issues with a Single Measure of Intelligence

Olivia Palmbos (’23) writes a timely piece on academic validation. “Academic validation, stemming from a need to feel validated in one’s intelligence based on academic success, is a surprisingly normalized occurrence in our society that can warp into a toxic mindset under the wrong pretense.”

As October fades into November and fall settles into winter, the Skyline student body adjusts once again to a new academic year. Projects and testing in classes are beginning to escalate, and, unsurprisingly, grades are starting to flood PowerSchool in anticipation of the end of Trimester 1. As the old patterns of academia return, so do old habits, including the age-old mindset of academic validation – an indulgence that even I find myself falling prey to. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a notification for a good grade popping up in the gradebook…and nothing more distressing than seeing a notification for a bad one.

Academic validation, stemming from a need to feel validated in one’s intelligence based on academic success, is a surprisingly normalized occurrence in our society that can warp into a toxic mindset under the wrong pretenses. As easy as it is to fall into an unhealthy mindset of academic validation, it is critical to remember that grades, no matter how important they may seem, are not an accurate measure of intelligence. Too frequently, the concept of intelligence is measured on a single standard. Grades, SAT scores, or GPA are often misconstrued to be an indication of how “smart” an individual is, stemming from a misguided and singular conception of intelligence. In fact, according to an article from CNBC citing the studies of esteemed Harvard psychology professor Howard Gardner, there is not one definition of intelligence, but rather eight: spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, linguistic, logical-mathematical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic intelligence. These newfound definitions of intelligence span beyond tests and quizzes, and cover a spectrum of talents that are not represented in a grading atmosphere. From artistic prowess and a knack for musical rhythm, to an innate understanding of community and self, Gardner acknowledges that intelligence cannot be summed up in a number or letter grade. Rather, intelligence is wonderfully diverse, and can be displayed in a host of different ways, incapable of being measured by a single unit. Although there are more than eight different types of intelligence, studies show that only one type of intelligence is emphasized in the education system, specifically when it comes to grading and assessments: logical-mathematical intelligence. In other words, grading represents one eighth of all natural intelligences, rendering it an inadequate measure of how “smart” a student is. Tests don’t demonstrate a student’s skill, but rather their skill set within one area of expertise. We, as both a student body and academic establishment, need to move away from this faulty definition of intelligence, and instead towards a wider representation of intelligence within the school community.

This is not to say, however, that taking pride in one’s grades is a bad thing. Often, working hard on an assignment and seeing payoff in the grade received can be affirming and uplifting. However, what is important to remember is not to stake one’s worth on academic validation. Grades cannot, and will not, provide an accurate representation  of the diversity of  intelligences in a student body, nor one’s worth as a person.