Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Monday, April 16, 2018

Maximizing Willpower

Have you ever had a long, hard day and come home to eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream?  I hope that isn’t just me.  I will eat the entire pint despite the fact that I am trying to eat healthier and exercise more.  Something about the end of the day makes eating grilled meat with green vegetables difficult.  Five Guys Burgers is just more appealing, and the research gives me an excuse for why I keep stopping at the wrong place.

Willpower research helps us understand the best time to complete tasks and when we are more likely to succumb to temptation.  Studies show that taxing intellectual endeavors requiring focus and willpower drain our energy to resist later temptations.  Participants are more likely to eat a donut, cookie, or treat after a difficult task.  Positive interactions during the difficult task can help retain some willpower.  Understanding the research can help our students accomplishment more by using the right times of the day for studying.

The studies explain many student habits during law school.  Law school classes are taxing endeavors.  At the end of the day, most students are exhausted.  The exhaustion leads to decreased willpower which makes it easy to stop studying, fail to complete readings, not complete practice questions, and focus more on electronics than law school.  Students are behaving in predictable ways even though we continually tell them to add the extra work.  Many students don’t have the willpower to complete what is already assigned, much less additional exercises.

My schedule during law school made completing tasks much easier.  Before law school began, I made the choice to put studying as my top priority.  I hadn’t made that choice in undergrad, so I knew I needed to make a change.  My philosophy was to treat law school like a job.  I arrived on campus for my first class and continued focusing on law school until I left.  I read for the following days between classes and limited my lunch break to approximately 45 minutes.  After my last class, I stayed on campus and read instead of going home.  I left once I completed all my work.  My routine and location made completing everything easier.  I also completed all my assignments in a reasonable amount of time.  I didn’t need tons of extra willpower because I created a good routine.  Due to that plan, I can count on one hand the amount of class readings I missed in 3 years of law school.  Good plans use willpower efficiently.

I urge students to follow a similar approach.  Taking long breaks and saving reading to the end of the day makes completing work difficult.  Class interactions are draining.  The intellectual rigor of law school takes a toll.  Being at home and exhausted makes it easy to go to the couch or surf the internet instead of finishing readings.  Most people’s willpower in the evening is so low that failure to complete everything is inevitable.  We all know that once you don’t complete an assignment, catching back up is difficult.  Being behind leads to stress, and law school becomes unbearable.  The stress decreases willpower leading to more uncompleted assignments.  The cycle can be devastating.  Creating a schedule is good, but being intentional with when tasks are scheduled can increase the likelihood of getting all the work done.  Don’t merely create a plan.  Create a good plan to efficiently use willpower to increase the chances of accomplishing all the tasks.

Willpower is a newly researched topic.  The research can lay the foundation for how we schedule our day.  We should encourage everyone to create schedules that are realistic and maximize study time when we are most motivated.  Everyone will learn and retain more when studying at optimal times.

(Steven Foster)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/academic_support/2018/04/maximizing-willpower.html

Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink

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