[A Software Engineering Approach] How to become a healthy and rich A+ student this semester?
[A Software Engineering Approach] How to become a healthy and rich A+ student this semester?
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  • 승인 2011.04.13 00:59
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What is your resolution this year? Most of us begin a new year, resolving to work out more, save money for backpacking, or study harder. Now that it’s April already, and one quarter of the year is already gone, it would be good time to face an inconvenient truth: How is your resolution going?

I don’t know about you, but my resolution, to work out regularly, is falling apart. I googled “why resolution” then the search engine auto-completed my query with the following suggestions: “why resolutions fail,” “why resolutions don’t work,” and “why resolutions don’t last.” If all POSTECH resolutions did stick, the campus should be full healthy and rich A+ students. All these suggest that I am not alone in frustration, and a scientific survey in 1997 (by Richard Wiseman) suggested that 88% of resolutions do fail.

Why are resolutions doomed to fail and how can we make them stick, to become healthy and rich A+ students this semester? For an answer, you can google this question to find scientific explanation and self-help books. Scientifically, the prefrontal cortex is in charge of willpower, but also other brain functions such as abstract thinking or memory. This explains why POSTECH students with tired brains are doomed, but cannot suggest how to get around this problem. Common self-help suggestions, such as measuring progress or writing down our goals, only make us fail more miserably, with slow progress frustrating us and the written-down resolutions generating guilt, not action.

I have no expertise in this problem, but I decided to formalize this problem myself out of frustration, just as I would address a software engineering problem, by identifying the commonality among the requirements, and developing a solution.

The commonality I find from all resolutions is “prolonging deprivation.” If your resolution is to be an A+ student, you need to deprive yourself of some fun activities and work instead, and for as long as you can bear. Similarly, if you aim to lose weight, you deprive yourself from food and how long you survive this deprivation determines the success. Do you want to get rich? Deprive yourself from spending and save instead.

Then, what is the common pattern for failing to do so? Personally, I notice the following 3-step vicious circle: depriving fun activities invites a craving to accumulate, which leads to binging, indulging only in fun activities. Now, to stay on the plan, you need to deprive yourself even more, which leads to greater craving and binging. With this observation, a solution is obvious-breaking one among the three constituents of this cycle, by picking your favorite plan from below:

First, make deprivation unnoticeable: Giving up two hours of sleep to be a better student is a painful deprivation, but 15 minutes a day is bearable. My favorite book as a graduate student was “Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day” and I still believe this is doable. On a similar note, David Bach coined the term “latte factor”, suggesting that if you save money from one latte every day, you can retire as a millionaire. Skipping a meal to become a millionaire is painful, but you can easily replace your latte with a cheaper alternative.

Second, do not allow craving to accumulate: When craving develops, generate an outlet, before it explodes into binging. For example, even when you are crazy busy with deadlines, keep some fun activities intact, such as going to a movie with friends during the weekend.

Third, give yourself room for healthy binging: Occasional binging does not necessarily have to mean failure. Binging does have a therapeutic side and in fact can help you prolong your deprivation, as a way to unwind. Plan in a binging day of all-you-can-enjoy fun activities.

With this said, I wish all good luck tricking yourself into a better you! 






 Seung-won Hwang
Professor of CSE