February 26, 2018
Dear LoMA Family,
Albert Einstein famously said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Scientists in Portugal have recently been studying how humans become insane this way by experimenting with rats stuck in ruts making the same mistakes repeatedly. They have found that our brains are wired to deal with stress by digging ourselves deeper and deeper into ruts instead of thinking of new solutions.
For these experiments, the scientists put their experimental rats under physical and mental stress. For instance, they caged some of them with very aggressive rats and electrocuted others. After four weeks, these stressed out rats were less able to find their way out of mazes as they took the same dead end routes again and again even though they should have known better from past mistakes. These same rats also became obsessive about pressing a bar for more food, even when they had had enough. On the other hand, unstressed rats apparently usually only “ask” for as much food as they need. As one scientist stated, the stressed rats became “cognitively predisposed to … run laps in the same dead end rat race rather than seek a pipeline to greener sewers.”
I have seen agitated students do this all the time. When they get in trouble, they keep on repeating the same inane comments (like, “I don’t care”) or yelling at people rather than sitting and calming down in an office. It is as if their brain is making them repeatedly hit their head against the wall rather than look up and find their way around the obstacles.
Less agitated students (and adults) also spin their wheels down into the same kind of rut of repeating stupid, counterproductive habits. Most of the time we are looking for immediate relief of stress rather than a true solution to what is causing the problem. For instance, because we may repeatedly gossip to win friends in the short term, we fail to make friendships that are more lasting because we are so untrustworthy, or we fail to complete projects successfully due to the immediate gratification of procrastination. What makes the problem worse, according to the researchers, is that “We’re lousy at recognizing when our normal coping mechanisms aren’t working. Our response to stress is usually to do the same bad habit five times more, instead of thinking maybe it’s time to try something new.”
There are only fifteen days left in this marking period. Most of our students have learned the keys to success: regular studying, tutoring and focusing in and out of class. Too many students, however, are stressing about their grades, but doing the same thing over and over again – missing deadlines, rushing through HW and making excuses. These students need to stop hitting their head against the wall, look up, and figure out how to get out of their ruts. Fortunately, we are not rats. As difficult as it is, humans can become self-conscious enough to recognize when their habits are becoming self-destructive, and they can break these bad habits. As part of our brain seems to want to keep on making the same mistakes over and over again, I think the answer may be to find friends, teachers and counselors who can show us our own ruts and guide us out of them. With fifteen days left in the marking period, now is the time to do it.
This week features the thoughts of two 9th graders who have adapted to the new stresses that High School brings and their efforts to balance their stresses to find success.
Stress can be confusing sometimes. It’s like if I’m super stressed, then I’m too stressed to even start to do anything, and if I’m able to get to a point where I have no stress, then I don’t get anything done because I can’t make myself care enough to start. I have yet to accomplish having the perfect amount of stress that doesn’t trigger my anxiety. In fact, I’m super stressed right now. The way stress is for me is that I’ll start thinking about how stressed I am and then I’ll start thinking about everything that’s going to happen if I don’t get my work done. Ultimately, all that thinking causes my anxiety to come out, and I end up needing tea and a super long bath. While that makes me feel better in the short run, the second I’m done drying off, then it’s super late when I start trying to get some work done, and I end up either not finishing it or not really sleeping so then I’m tired and stressed all the next day and the cycle continues…
Too much stress really makes it hard to complete anything you’re trying to accomplish. Lately, I’ve been getting stressed, and it really slows me down, especially when it comes to school. When stressed, I think about how much homework I have and how I’m never going to finish it. When this happens, I really get out of my element and end up not completing my homework, which makes more stress. It’s like the hormone cycles that Renae has taught us about when she comes into class. I’ve also realized that when I am stressed I start to get really tense, especially around my friends and family, and I end up isolating myself, which adds more stress to my life. This is why I believe that too much stress is bad and if you have too much stress it can affect your happiness and your grades and even your health (not to mention your relationship with your friends and family). Still, I see other people in my class who seem to have no stress, and they don’t seem to be in a much better place than I am, so I guess the secret is what Siddhartha found a long time ago.
Find your balance,