As a Teaching Assistant for a challenging junior/senior level Pathophysiology course, I am witnessing firsthand the mid-semester grade panic. The panic may be justified, as this course is in a degree field in which many students have plans to continue their education in some sort of professional healthcare program that will require a high GPA.
There are a few different tactics that students use to deal with the grade panic.
There are those who inquire about how they might better prepare for the remaining coursework and who make a real effort to increase their understanding of the material. There are those who lay blame on anything but themselves—they are convinced that the difficulty of the coursework is not appropriate for this level of class. And then there are those who could be doing better, BUT… they have a case of the “buts”. To put it bluntly, they make excuses. Life is just too busy for them, and they have other things that require much of their focus—work, family, friends, and other courses. I fully understand how overwhelming that all may become at times. However, at the end of the day, using those often very valid reasons for being distracted from preparing for class doesn’t help you get a better grade. I sometimes become frustrated when students expect different results by continuing to do the same things.
Naturally, as with all frustrations, I thought about this particular frustration while on a run. Running has been a bit of a frustration for me lately, and so I was again struggling on that particular run. My thoughts transitioned from what inspirational and constructive things I could say to students who came to me for guidance to why I’ve been continuing to struggle with my fitness. And I came to the realization that I was making excuses in my training.
As a lover of cooler weather and the autumn season, usually my fitness starts really coming along in September and October, and I’d be really enjoying nearly every run. This fall, that just wasn’t happening. Running has been a grind every single time I went out the door. It started with an injury during a race on Labor Day weekend, which was most likely the result of major sleep deprivation in the weeks leading up to the race (as a result of lab work and preparing for my dissertation proposal). After a forced week of rest, and a few brief, painful trial runs, I began to make excuses. I couldn’t do the necessary rehab to get back to running pain free because I was too busy with lab work, writing my dissertation and grading papers. I couldn’t run very far because my injury was too painful—and I was too busy for the reasons (excuses) listed above. And I was so very tired.
I had dug myself into a deep hole with too many nights spent at my lab computer until 2 AM only to turn around and come back to work at 8 the next morning. I was exhausted and uninspired. Things weren’t going to change unless I stopped making excuses. While the lab workload is sometimes non-negotiable and there will be weeks where there are just going to be long days required, I was able to make a few adjustments that at first were difficult; but once these changes became routine, they have made a huge difference in allowing more time to focus on my health.
I have become better about balancing my work and the assistance I must provide to other students in the lab as the senior graduate student. Essentially, I made an effort to find better ways to communicate with the other students working in the lab so that my work was less interrupted. I also learned how to ask for help wherever it was possible to have help provided. As a graduate student nearing the end of my pre-professional training, I want to have total control over my research/experiments and asking for help is very difficult. However, I learned that asking for help and relying on my lab mates, just like they rely on me, is absolutely necessary to have the sort of work/life balance I desire. As it turns out, they are science rock stars anyway, and function like experienced graduate students instead of the undergraduates that they are. I am very lucky to be able to work with them!
To address the excuses I was making that directly affected my ability to run, I began spending the time I normally would sneak in a quick 4- or 5-miler in the morning doing rehab instead. This then increased the length of my evening runs after long days at work, but it was a necessary adjustment in order to get back to running with less discomfort. As difficult as it is to get out the door sometimes after a particularly long day, often after a mile or two of slow jogging, I really start to wake up and end up feeling really refreshed by the end of the run.
I know I’m certainly not alone in being almost overwhelmingly “busy” at times, as we all choose to fill our time with something: whether it be school, work, raising kids, volunteering our time, etc. This can result in neglecting some things that are really important to us. But, as you’ve heard over and over, if something is really important to you — you’ll find a way to make it a priority.
Living a healthy and fit life is really important to me. So here are some things that I’ve found help me make my health and fitness a priority even when I feel like I just can’t fit one more thing in my day:
1) Be honest about what needs to change. Then, start figuring out how to make some of those changes. Ask for help! Be careful to not fall back on your same old excuses that were preventing you from making this a priority in the first place (that is so easy to do). I was guilty of seeing someone exercising or putting in some awesome training, and telling myself that there was no possible way they could be as busy as I was! For that reason, I just couldn’t do what they were doing. In reality, unless they are professional athletes, they very well could be as busy or even have more on their plate than I do, but they found a way to make something that was really important to them a priority. Simply assuming that if only you were in a different situation, then you would make that thing priority isn’t going to do anything to change your current situation.
2) Make little changes over time, and soon those little changes will result in a less painful/challenging big change. For me, I started with asking for help at work so that I could work fewer long days and start catching up on sleep. When I was in a better place mentally, then I started to exercise more.
3) Don’t let the people around you allow you to make excuses. There is little that is more annoying than someone calling you out about whatever excuse just escaped your lips, especially when you’re exhausted. Regardless, this really does help. I’m thankful to have people in all areas of my life who don’t really care to listen to excuses and aren’t afraid to let me know when I’m wasting my breath complaining. Instead, they encourage me to figure out how to change the situation, and therefore, hopefully, change the outcome.
So, in the future, if you ever hear me make an excuse for any reason, especially the “I’m too busy” excuse, please do not give me sympathy. Instead, let your response be “So what are you going to do about it?”
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