Fly on the Wall—Keep Calm and Study On

Tick tock.  Hear that?  It’s the mounting clamour of approaching deadlines.  Time slips inexorably past, and with dire consequences, when we are trying to study.  It’s unsettling, to say the least.  Sometimes the best thing to do in the face of worry is to relax and loosen our grip on time.  While I’ll be the first to say that I’ve set a timer to go off in fifteen minutes to maximize a sense of urgency, sometimes our best work happens when we aren’t feeling strained, and especially not for days on end.  Impatience is the enemy of temperance when it comes to getting our AU job done.  We all have an internal rhythm to which our mind’s drum beats; be it to a different drummer or to that of our invisible classmates, the key is to realize that within us lie tools for our success.

We want to feel confident in the face of looming deadlines.  At AU we inhabit an inner pedagogical landscape at odds with the outer climes of our daily life.  In distance education we are our own judges, juries, and executioners.  Even as, paradoxically, much of human social life is amenable to judgement by others.  So when folks ask us how school is going we want to present them with a stable and successful version of our self.  How we feel inwardly will inevitably impact our bodily presentation so we want to start by looking assured in our own mind’s eye.  And to do that we can’t be too obsessed with time; we have to take the time to feel good.

Embodied Confidence

We’re social creatures, adept at body language and its interpretation.  Even the posture we adopt in our chair can express confidence or resignation; being told to sit up straight and make eye contact isn’t just about seeming attentive.  Our bodily expressions actually affect the state of our inner being.  A study by Richard Petty at the Ohio State University found that “Most of us were taught that sitting up straight gives a good impression to other people.  But it turns out that our posture can also affect how we think about ourselves.  If you sit up straight, you end up convincing yourself by the posture you’re in.” (Petty, R. 2009).

Public figures are especially accessible to analysis with regard to their body language.  French President Macron recently was noted for using a “metronomic gesture” of subtly impatient finger-tapping whilst British PM Boris Johnson spoke (James J., 2019).  Insulated on our private planet of studying, we can basically only receive and dish out words and emotions to ourselves.  Yet, being our own audience doesn’t exempt us from judgement.  Each physical act has a psychological corollary, and these are eminently social.  The key is to be aware that if we are feeling anxious about our coursework that’s our body telling us that we’re putting more pressure on ourselves than is healthy.  The Brazilian sociologist Ricardo de Figueredo Lucena notes that

“The body should not be address as an isolated phenomenon, but like bodies that are constructed and complemented throughout the individual’s life – individuals inserted into society.”    (Figueiredo Lucena, R. D.  2017)

We’ve learned to plunk ourselves in a pressure cooker of studying just as we’ve learned the tools of the trade of procrastination.  To undo this undue pressure we have first to become more aware that it’s us turning up the dial.

Time to Lighten Up

The notion that a finger pointed at someone else involves the remaining four digits pointing at ourselves can equate to a sense of guilt; we have no one to blame but ourselves if our productivity has lapsed.  We’re always pointing at ourselves no matter if it’s in congratulation or accusation.  Happily, this also means we can take responsibility for overcoming challenges of our own making.  We have to make peace with our natural imperfections.  Victimhood is not an option when it comes to studying in our time allotted for the purpose; after all, we do make our own schedules and re-organize them when interruptions arise.  Entrepreneur Matthew Tillman suggests we should “own your struggle” and find joy in small victories (such as completing notetaking in a given textbook chapter during the hour we’ve allotted for the purpose).  He notes that to “Find a way to have a win each day is a great way to keep your spirits high during the inevitable struggle that is start-up life.” (Desmarais, C. 2018).  That we’re here succeeding at AU, and that we had the moxie to begin this journey at all, is a testament to our inner strength.

Changing Times and Coping with Similar Challenges

What works for one generation of students (even distance education pupils, who once mailed their assignments on the proverbial backs of snails for their ‘correspondence education’) may not apply for another.  How we feel and present ourselves in the context of our minds and our cognition of others is a learned and interactive process.  Our felt responses are socialized rather than natural and inevitable.

Norbert Elias, famed for a book titled The Civilizing Process, described how cultures ingratiate themselves into our very consciousness such that we come to own acting natural as though our performance were our own creation.  The fact that, through history, what counts as proper behaviour has evolved is a reminder that we live in a state of social flux.  Elias summarizes:

“social control is more linked than ever to the self-control of the individual.  In children, the instinctive, emotional and mental impulses, as well as the muscular movements and the behaviors to which all this impel them, still are completely non-separable.  They act as they feel.  They speak as they think.  In the extent that they grow up, the elementary and spontaneous impulses, on one hand, and the motor discharge–the acts and behaviors resulting from these impulses–on the other, separate increasingly more.  Opposite impulses, formed on the basis of individual experiences, are interposed between them.  […] A delicately weaved mesh of controls, that comprises in quite a uniform way not only some, but all the areas of the human existence, is established in the youth in this or that way, and sometimes in opposite ways, like a kind of immunization, through the example, the words and acts of the adults.  And what was, initially, a social precept becomes, mainly by means of parents and teachers, a second nature of the individual, according to his particular experiences” (Figueiredo Lucena, R. D. 2017).

Many students have studied before us, and each who succeeded learned how to react to adversity; knowing this allows us to change our own negative reactions into positive fodder for growth.

Even moments of seemingly free expression are actually tightly controlled; think of the exaltation contained in a moment for having fun.  Now is the time!  Yet beneath such whimsical simplicity lie fissures of socialization.  Cas Wouters tells us that “When the dividing lines of the social and the psychic are open, and both the social groups and the psychic functions are being integrated in the interdependence networks in expansion, the informalization phase is open in the civilizing process.  This phase if characterized by the emancipation of emotions and impulses which until now had been repressed, giving as a result a more reflexive and civilized self-regulation” (Elias N., Wouters C., 2007).  Free as our joyous moments may be, they actually function and evolve from the same processes that lead us to feel anxious about our grades and deadlines.

Staving Off the Madness; Marching to Our Inner Drummer

Anxiety can easily result if we become too neurotic or obsessive about deadlines.  Our inner metronomes can deeply haunt us because there are no peers there to share in hearing their beat.

We all have inner metronomes and ironically these may be least visible to others as we immerse ourselves in our distance education.  As Elias shows, we are in a state of perpetually having our actions formed to meet expectations.  Yet, unlike people in job interviews or giving class presentations (eek!) we at AU don’t have to police our body language so much as our inner turmoil.  Athabasca is about sensing and understanding our inner selves so we can maximize our productivity while also nurturing our need for study breaks.

Desmarais.  C.  (2018).  15 Daily Habits Highly Successful People Have (and the rest of us probably don’t).’ Pocketworthy.  Retrieved from
Elias, N., Wouters, C.  (2007).  Informalization: Manners and Emotions Since 1890.  Norbert Elias Foundation.  Retrieved from
Figueiredo Lucena, R.  D.  (2017).  Elias’ Bodies: the conception of Body and Education From Three Works of Norbert Elias.’ Educacao & Realidade, Porto Alegre.  Retrieved from
James, J.  (2019).  ‘Confident’ Boris Johnson Goes on the Attack: Body Language Expert Judy James Analyzes PM’s Meeting with Emmanuel Macron as two leaders jostle for Alpha status in Paris’.  Daily Mail.  Retrieved from
Petty, R.  (2009).  Study: Body Posture Affects Confidence in Your Own Thoughts.  Ohio State University.  Retrieved from–body-posture-affects-confidence-in-your-own-thoughts/