Thursday, August 03, 2006

Self-discipline and success.

This article gets a big "duh" from me. Apparently, success in difficult endeavours (such as the academy) depends strongly on one's self-discipline. (I know I was shocked.) The only point I take exception to is the idea that you have a limited amount of self-discipline to draw from. The article refers to a "moral muscle" which can get tired out if overused. The problem with that metaphor, of course, is that with progressively increasing use, most muscles become more capable, not less. Which is really what seems to be the case with, at least, academic success: the more you work at it, the more capable you are of discipling yourself towards unpleasant tasks.

And, it is important not to overlook the implementation of effort-saving or -reducing strategies: that is, shortcuts. I know, for example, that once I've marked a stack of tests once, and the average comes in too low, I don't need to remark them. I can adjust the grades in my spreadsheet -- as long as I do it consistently across the board, the relative rankings don't change significantly. So, I might give everyone who got a 4.5/5 a 5. Similarly, if I'm writing a paper on a narrow problem, I won't necessarily read an entire book -- I'll only read the chapters I need.

Obsessive overwork is fun and all, but I don't think it's necessary to succeed in your endeavours, whatever they may be. I also don't think that you ever really "run out" of self-discipline. But, apart from that, the article's a decent little read.


undergroundman said...

Reminds me of the marshmallow test. I prolly would've failed.

I don't like to toot my horn, but I probably spent only a couple hours in the library last semester and came out with a 3.75 GPA. Didn't spend very much time studying at my house, either, and smoked pot consistently. Generalizations are never accurate. I did all my (good) work on the wire.

Then again, my school is full of idiots.

ADHR said...

I think I would've passed, but that's because, as a child, I hated marshmallows. I developed a taste for them in my late teens. (Kind of a problem with the construction of the experiment, really!)

Generalizations are accurate, but their test for accuracy is not the same as for universals. One counter-example takes down a universal, but not a generalization.

Point is, though, that luck runs out eventually. I pretty well coasted through high school, got burned in my first year of undergrad, figured out the system and coasted again, and got burned in grad school. By that time, though, I realized that coasting was no longer an option. It's simply too hard to get away with it: expectations are too high from all sides, and time is too limited to waste it with screwing around.

Perseverance and discipline aren't all that matters, as I noted in the original post. But they do matter, in the long run.