Two life lessons flowed out of my reflections on the solution of issues that posed the biggest challenges to some of my students this semester. As I pondered different situations, I asked this question: What were root causes of students’ biggest problems that prevented them from presenting papers on time? The answer was obvious: Poor allocation of unscheduled time.
I am convinced that learning and practicing two particular life lessons will help students become better stewards of the time the Lord gives them daily. Besides, these life lessons apply to each of us at home, at work, at church, everywhere. If each person understood and applied them consistently, he or she would be able to allocate needed time with the Lord. Time for exercise, for healthy eating, to work on finances. Generally, that person will experience less stress while becoming more effective:
- Delay gratification
- Focus on things that matter and things you can control
Let’s examine what’s involved with these life lessons.
Life Lessons on Delayed Gratification
In the 1960s, a Stanford professor, Walter Mischel, and his team tested hundreds of children—mainly ages four and five. The results were astounding and showed important life lessons. People who delay fulfilling a need now, for a greater benefit later, tend to be more successful in health, education, work, and other areas of life.
The researcher brought a child to a private room, asked the child (I will use the feminine subsequently) to sit in a chair, and placed a marshmallow on the table in front of her. Then, the researcher made a deal with her. If she did not eat the marshmallow while he left the room for 15 minutes, she would get a second marshmallow. However, if she ate the first marshmallow before he returned, she would not get a second marshmallow. It was a simple choice: a treat now, or two later. Sounds like our daily choices, doesn’t it?
Researchers followed each child for more than 40 years and repeatedly, the group who waited patiently for the second marshmallow succeeded in every metrics. They had higher SAT scores, lower substance abuse levels, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress, better social skills, and generally they scored better in other life measures.
Don’t let the Present Situation Decide your Actions
The message is clear for students. Delay watching the movie, finish your assignment now, then watch the movie later. Don’t hang out with your buddies now, prepare for tomorrow’s test, meet the guys tomorrow afternoon.
For the general population it’s the same. Delay watching TV, record the show, exercise now, watch TV later. When the car breaks down, be patient and car pool, take public transport, do whatever is needed, but don’t put funds on your credit card to fix it now. Don’t borrow; save, delay the gratification of driving your own car again, and avoid the stress that comes from debt. How do you get to work without the car? Assume you have used all possible borrowing facilities and do what you would do then.
Life lessons on focussing on things that matter and things you can control
This second point is just as profound and filled with its own life lessons.
I found that when I asked students to focus on things that mattered it was easy to delay gratification of the immediate opportunity or challenge. Many things matter to us in life. Students want to get good grades, they want good jobs, the right spouse, and so on. These are fine; but what can they control?
Several students identified things in the intersection in the above diagram and focussed there–things that matter and things they can control. I stressed to those students that attitude and behaviour leads to consequences (A+B=C). Therefore, they needed to focus exclusively on their attitudes and behaviours, never on “C,” which is the outcome.
Focus on Things you Must Stop Doing
Students who understood it’s only their attitudes and behaviours they controlled, identified specific areas in their lives that should be in the black intersection. Then, they prepared a list of things they had to stop doing to focus exclusively on the identified important areas. Yes, they prepared a list of things to stop doing. This is far more effective than a ToDo list. Students found that it was the items they needed to stop doing that appealed to them now. They understood that daily they should review their stop doing list and commit to delaying those items until the weekend, other specified time, or never.
It worked! The process helped tremendously to focus on things in the black intersection. Things such as spending time with the Lord, preparing for exams, researching for papers, taking time to reflect.
These two life lessons are simple to grasp but difficult to carry out. As followers of Jesus, we know He can help us learn and master them. I pray you go to a quiet place and talk to the Lord about this. He promises to answer when you call on Him. Will you call Him today? Remember, procrastination is a major decision to not do something.
© 2016 Michel A. Bell