Zeno's Paradox - Or Why Eventually You Will Always Reach The End of The Road

"That which is in locomotion must arrive at the half-way stage before it arrives at the goal."

- Aristotle, Physics


You've stepped on your path towards your dream. You begin walking. You get halfway to your goal. What's next? You can now walk halfway of what's left. Then again. And again. Eventually, you realize that no matter how much you walk, there will always be a halfway piece for you left to go, and you may never reach the end of the road. This thought experiment, invented by the ancient Greek philosopher Zeno, perplexed his contemporaries. Paradoxes are seemingly logical, but always have a fundamental flaw. The way to "break" Zeno's paradox, is to blatantly disregard the entire philosophy of continued fractions, and walk straight towards your destination. I've always found this idea inspiring, when encountering hurdles in my academic career.


One of the most crippling success inhibitors for talented students is perfectionism. A word seemingly innocent and somehow good in connotation, actually becomes a serious problem. Despite having good intentions - caring about a high quality result - very often perfectionism is more about fear of failure or rejection. Why? Because perfectionism is the main obstacle standing in the way of completion. If a perfectly done assignment or application is not turned in on time, it will no longer be relevant. The loophole for this paradox lies within timeliness being a component of the quality of the work. There is such a thing as too late. Sometimes, you need to stop searching for more halfway paths left, and walk straight to the end goal. Now that we've established the scientific basis for this phenomenon, let's identify several tips for dealing with its effects on our everyday lives.


1. TURN IT IN


One of the largest challenges of being a student is completing assignments well, and on time. Very often, homework and long term projects get started too late, and as a result, we do not give ourselves enough time to reach the quality level we desire. This is something people struggle with throughout their lives, without making a conscious effort to improve their executive operational ability. So if we know this about ourselves, how do we improve? Turns out, there are several very concrete steps you can take, to make progress on your ability to turn things in on time.

  • Start assignments the day they're assigned, not the day they're due.

  • Break up assignments into smaller tasks, and assign tasks to specific days until the deadline. This works well for assignments of any size, but is specifically important for big long-term projects. You do not want to be writing that big 40 page term paper the night before it is due.

  • Keep a strict daily time schedule for not only WHAT you're going to be working on that day, but also WHEN you're going to be working on those task list items. I recommend keeping a work log or a timesheet, so you can also track your progress at the end of the day.


2. Prioritize


Although the methods outlined in point 1 are very useful, and it is important to try to put in this much effort and turn in every assignment in a timely fashion, there's a caveat: you're not always going to be able to do that for everything going on in your life. Sometimes, you will have two midterm papers or a presentation and a work assignment all due on one day. Sometimes, you need to choose on what you will sacrifice quality (or timeliness). The only way to wisely do this, is to have a very strictly ordered list of priorities (i.e. school comes before work, or health comes before school), to help with spur of the moment decision making on time allotment for all "due tasks." Figuring out these values also helps steer you in a more focused direction in life!


3. Ask for help


I have spent 30 minutes doing an assignment in office hours with a professor, that would've taken me about 6-8 hours to complete on my own. As always, one of the most important concepts - no man is an island. You're not alone, you don't have to deal with deadline bombardment by yourself. Ask your parents, friends, teachers, therapists, google for help. You will be pleasantly surprised at how much easier your pressure will be to navigate when you feel like you have a team to help walk you through it.


I hope some of these ideas are helpful in your search (as they have been in mine) for a more productive and success-conducive lifestyle. Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions for further rubrics!

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