Columnist: Using willpower to improve your student’s success

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 15, 2016

Ernest Fannings

Contributing columnist

Troup and Chambers counties students have been back in class for more than a month now, and with the holiday season several weeks behind us, our community begins 2016 with a fresh start. And many of us set New Year’s resolutions which we commit to uphold for the rest of the year.

Although most of us are initially motivated to fulfill these resolutions, only 8 percent of us actually succeed at keeping them, according to the Statistic Brain Research Institute. We start off full of willpower in January to go to the gym, for instance, but by December we’re lucky to take regular walks around the block.

Why is that and how does it relate to student success?

Maintaining willpower over the course of a year is just like our day to day lives. Both students and parents start off the day ready to succeed in school and at work, but by the end, we’re just not that persistent anymore.

We all have had that day at work where we spent the first few hours doing something like email, attending to emergencies, cleaning or errands and then had to force ourselves to get the most important things done in the afternoon. The best-selling book: “Willpower: The Greatest Human Strength” by John Tierney and Roy Baumeister explains the concepts of willpower and how it depletes over time.

Willpower is like a muscle that grows tired each time it’s used. If students use it up on menial tasks first, like checking social media and email, they’ll have less drive to accomplish the hard ones later, such as working on attention demanding schoolwork or jobs.

As math tutor, a recurring theme that I notice is that students who have evening sessions on the weekdays are often mentally depleted from school, and have less willpower to finish their homework, study and do projects afterwards. It’s not that students lack the capacity, they’ve just wasted it by doing the easy things first.

Some might say that it doesn’t matter what order things are done in, but rather, what gets done in a period of time. Although students benefits from planning by the day or week, it’s always better to do the worst first to maximize willpower and make things easier in the long run.

In order for our students to succeed, parents must realize the importance of willpower in their effectiveness. An easy way to increase student willpower is for them to start waking up an hour earlier to study and do schoolwork before school actually starts. As school usually consists of taking notes and collaborating with other students, they won’t have to think about school or try to focus on it until next morning.

Just like New Year’s resolutions that we set, many of our students have lofty goals for 2016. In order to succeed, parents must understand the mechanics of productivity, and help their children learn how to get things done early on in life. Learning to maximize willpower really pays in the long run for us all.

Ernest Fannings is director of Total Math Tutoring.