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Simple Harmonic Motivation by Anika H. '26

a time progression through the semester

clock 1

I rapidly switch between wanting to do something and not wanting to do anything at all, panic, and calm apathy, terror at the prospect of failing, and falling back on P/NR.

Sometimes I just can’t find the motivation to do things. I was given weeks, but only paid my pistol club dues the very last day. I was supposed to send the email requesting an interview on Wednesday, but only clicked the button today.

I’m supposed to take the midterm today in two hours and 19 minutes, as of the moment I’m writing this of course. But I can’t find the motivation to study. The grandfather clock has swung the wrong way, and I can barely pick up my apple pencil to work out more than a fifth of a problem.

The grind started Tuesday evening with a breakdown in Walker Memorial, and when I got back, I finally calmed down enough to work. And then the next day I was working, but I was slowing down. I got distracted quite a bit, but still managed to review all the both the past midterm problems and the midterm review problems. But TICK the pendulum swung and I couldn’t do anything. It wasn’t immediate.

Yesterday, I got through a lot fewer of the practice problems. I didn’t have many classes, so I definitely had time. The panic I felt Tuesday night was fading, and though I knew logically in my head, that I had to practice to even have a chance at passing, and that I was nowhere close to ready, I was tired already. I took a nap. I got up and tried to go back to scribbling my notes on Procreate.

tried.

So I figured I might need another break. When I heard that a bunch of my friends were invited to go eat at Maseeh dining, I wanted to tap myself in so I could hang out with them. We squished together into a huge, poorly-designed table, and ate. I had to crawl out the bottom any time I wanted to refill my drink or get another plate of sushi. I stuffed myself, went back home, and tried to work and it didn’t work. I ended up spending a few hours with a bunch of people on hall unlocking a mysterious fancy lock capsule I found on the Florey free food table. It was poorly designed enough that we could work it out by feel, and unscrew the screws holding it together. Once we could pull the end out far enough, we unlocked it and reset the combination. It had six letters, so feel free to take a wild guess what we set the new password to. I didn’t end up working that night. I woke up today at 9:14am without an alarm, and decided to skip the chem lecture so I can try to study.

tried.

It didn’t work. I did the only the first part of about 6 different practice problems and gave up on finishing it halfway through. Only after 12ish did I realized I hadn’t yet brushed my teeth. It’s 1:04pm right now, and the clock’s going to keep steadily counting down until I have to walk up to that godforsaken test room on the third floor of Walker Memorial and cry internally for 50 minutes as I work through problems I should have practiced more.

Through trying to work and not working through my poorly-designed attempt to study for the midterm, I realized that there’s really no way around it. The grandfather clock is going to keep ticking in non-Newtonian time, and the simple harmonic oscillations of the pendulum is going to keep whacking the sides of my brain, annoyingly flipping the switch on and off and on and off and on and off between panic and apathy. It’s 1:12 pm right now, I have 48 minutes to grab a snack and continue trying to cram.

 

—time skip—

clock 2

The exam went about as (not) well as I thought it would, and I lost one less point than I thought I would (I did a small bit of score calculation at the end of the exam), but still passed. And like clockwork, the chem midterm rolled around, so the pendulum kept swinging. Calm on Tuesday, panic starts Wednesday, calm for about 5 hours on Thursday, panic the entire morning before the test, calm during the test, panic after the test.

Some upperclassmen have told me, if you’re not barely passing your classes, you’re not doing it right. And so I followed their advice. I tried to make the most out of my freshman year and overloaded myself with a fun job, a fun sport, a fun UROP, several fun clubs, and fun trips with my friends to various places so I can experience Boston a bit more before I get hosed.

And ironically, I was hosed.

It’s not that I’ve given up on trying in my classes— I still do. I leave enough time for myself to finish my PSETs on time and study for my exams.

Knowing I need to do something yet being unable to do it is like watching the battery drain from all my devices, knowing I should charge them, yet unable to reach two feet over to my backpack and plug it into the wall. And so it drops from 30% to 20% to 10%, 5%, 2% and when the x starts flashing on the corner of my computer, I can’t do anything.

 

—time skip—

clock 3

I started writing this blog about a month ago, and I guess some things have changed? Well more specifically, I think I get stressed in a different way. It’s less like the primal panic I used to experience and more of a logical “oh no, the consequences of my actions” type of fear. It’s still unpleasant, though mildly better than the former. I’m not sure if this is a problem or not, but I no longer have stress-induced-high-productivity study sessions on command, and now have to rely on catching myself in the right moment to get into the flow or working.

I remember the second 8.02 midterm was when this started happening. I was waiting for panic to kick in, but it never did. And about 4 days before the midterm, I started panicking that I was not panicking about the midterm. And so I studied. I felt better the week leading up to the midterm and worse afterwards, but ended up doing way better than I thought I would. I can’t tell if I’m more or less stressed than before, or academically better or worse.

There are times when I still can’t do stuff I want to. When I want to work, I have time to work, and I have work to do, but my brain will not let me. It’s not even just schoolwork. I’ve told myself I wanted to CAD something for a long while now. And again, I

tried.

Yet every time I go to MITERS, or Metropolis, or Radio Society, or anything even remotely related to Course 2, I remember “I should start actually using the app. I should ”. And then I don’t.

I stare at the Solidworks logo for a couple seconds and then go back to what I was doing before. I find myself annoying.

 

—time skip—

clock 4

I’ve somewhat come to terms with the fact that there are periods of time where working is not an option.  I understand that, but I still inevitably

try.

I swap between writing essays, doing learning sequences, working on psets, and replying to emails to try and find something I’m motivated to do at the moment. But half the time I give up and take a nap in frustration or waste time for 20 minutes or so. The other half of the time, I work, but at a painfully slow pace. Getting through only one question makes me feel about as awful as not doing anything all. I’m starting to understand what people meant by “being productive with the time you waste.”

“when you’re watching that mtg play, forget about the pset due tomorrow—”

“but it’s due tomorrow!”

“well are you gonna be working on it right now?”

“i tried to and i can’t”

“so then what are you gonna do about it?”

“keep trying?”

“no! go watch the play, you did promise your friends. it’s not like you’ll get much done anyways, will you?”

“…”

“if you’re not going to be working, you might as well enjoy it.”

Funnily enough, when I do feel like do feel like doing work, I’ve been way more productive. 3 to 5am 18.02 went smoother than I thought it would. I got distracted less and was able to work through problems I got stuck on faster than before. But I’m scared to continue relying on this spontaneity. What happens if I stop feeling productive? What happens when I get hosed with finals and can no longer just afford to surf on the oscillating waves?

What if that motivation to start working never comes?

 

—time skip—

clock 5

It’s apathy.

To my horror, as the semester comes to a close, I gradually realize that my decreasing panic is just apathy creeping in through the cracks in my brain. The fun UROP I got is no longer fun. The fun sport I started is also no longer fun. After a few weeks of not going to pistol practice, I tried to start again, and all I remembered when I walked in the room was just the stress I used to feel standing in front of the target. I didn’t end up going into the range. The progress on my personal projects is going at a snails pace, and I’ve barely gotten through half a Youtube tutorial on how to use Solidworks. I’m passing all my classes, but not enough to tank a missed PSET. Although I need around a 37.5 to pass 3.091 I heard that the final exam is really bad every year and no amount of studying is going to help unless you know all the concepts down to the smallest detail.

I don’t know what I’m doing. Everything’s still going as normal (this is bad) . I haven’t missed many clubs and still ended up attending the regular Radio Society flame war shouting match over Zoom. I’m not sure I want to run for an officer position next year. I love the club, but I asked one of the members, and he said that the meetings are always like this. It feels like signing up to experience unnecessary stress and be yelled at by equally-if-not-more stressed nitpicky grad students. And in a similar process, I run away from my other responsibilities. “I can write that email later” “It’s too much work, I could be doing other things right now” et cetera, et cetera. So maybe I should

try.

On the slightly brighter side, I now realized why college is so much more stressful despite feeling like I’m doing less work. There’s no busy work. For every assignment I’m given, I’m using 100% of my three remaining braincells. Scheduling’s a nightmare, and I often can’t find a time to PSET together with other people, much less study for quizzes and tests. I don’t know how to study. I start working 4 days before a test and get a crap score. A upperclassman speed crams for 4 hours before the same test and gets twice my grade. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, but I’m doing something wrong. In some of my classes, I know enough to know I’m confused, but not enough to know what I’m confused about.

Everything’s on fire. Now what?

After today, there will be exactly two weeks left until the end of the semester, and I really need to start getting my shit together. As I come face to face with the impending and inevitable doom that is finals, hopefully the clock smacks me hard enough to make me do something.

 

—time skip—

grandfather clock with swinging pendulum gif