STAR: What I Learned About Success From COVID-19

 

It’s that time of year again! 2021 has finally begun and for most students, the new semester is already starting to kick into full gear. Whether you’re at school in-person or remotely, you are probably busy with classes, restlessly waiting for the weather to become warmer, and praying that this year will run at least a little bit more smoothly than last. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

In 2020, for the first (and hopefully the last) time, we experienced what it was like to live through a global pandemic. For all of us, our lives were turned upside down in one way or another. Many students were forced to abruptly pack up and leave school in the middle of the semester with little to no information about how we were going to proceed. To make matters worse, adults in charge such as parents and teachers felt just as uncertain about the future as we did. 

Even though many of us were able to rise to the occasion and successfully adapt to the unpredictable circumstances, it was still a strange and challenging experience to go back to school in the fall of 2020. For those of us who returned to campus in-person during a pandemic, we had to learn to cope with the limitations placed on social interactions, the reduction of many extracurricular activities, and the difficulty of focusing and succeeding in online classes. All of these obstacles inevitably took a toll on a lot of students, especially with regards to academic performance and mental health. 

Personally, I had much more trouble last semester than I usually do in school, and most of my friends agreed that this was true for them as well. I felt like the work that I was completing did not represent my best efforts, I was less involved on campus, and my motivation just generally decreased and I developed a more carefree attitude about school that is not typical of me. I went back home for winter break feeling physically and mentally exhausted and unsatisfied about how I handled that semester. Yes, COVID made it significantly more difficult than usual, but I felt like there were times when I had used it as an excuse to justify my mistakes and shortcomings. But I told myself that I was no longer going to allow myself to do that in the spring, knowing that the COVID guidelines were not going to be much different from last semester.  

Because my parents were especially strict about me leaving the house during break due to the spike in COVID cases, I had much more time on my hands. At first I was bored out of my mind, wanting nothing more than to just jump in my car and take a spontaneous road trip to a random hotel somewhere with my friends. But then, the free time proved to be surprisingly helpful for me when I started reflecting back on last semester and thinking of all the things I wish I had done differently in school and in my personal life. This made me realize that I needed strategies to help me work more efficiently and stop myself from feeling discouraged while trying to cope with the unfortunate circumstances. So I started brainstorming and jotting down some simple time-saving hacks and task-orientated ideas and eventually, I came up with a four letter acronym: STAR, a method that I now use for any goal that I want to achieve. And hopefully you will find it helpful too.

  • State the objective: In this first part, you write down your goal. Pick a concrete, manageable task that you want to complete. Start out the beginning of the sentence with the words “I will” in order to increase your determination to succeed. For example, let’s say you have a goal to get at least a 90 on an exam in a certain class. You would write, “I will get at least a 90 on this exam.” Writing your goals out on paper helps you to get them out of your head and therefore makes them seem much more realistic and doable. It helps you turn your thoughts into actions. 

  • Take the necessary steps: This is where you write down a list of any steps that you need to take in order to achieve your goal. If you want to get a 90 on an upcoming exam, for example, it might help to schedule an office hours appointment with your professor at least a couple days before the test in order to review the material more in-depth and ask them anything that you’re unsure about. You might also want to plan ahead and block out a certain amount of time (say about 30 mins-1 hour) each day leading up to the exam to study. This way, you will not feel as stressed or have to cram the night before the test. 

  • Accept the challenges: The only way you are going to be able to see your goal through to the end is if you are willing to accept the obstacles that you’ll encounter. Any task comes with difficulties, but once you acknowledge them and admit that you are having trouble, the easier it will be to face them head-on and work past them. In this example, some possible challenges include feelings of doubt about your ability to get a 90 on the exam as well as feelings of frustration that may arise if you do not understand certain material that will be on the test. Don’t worry, these are completely normal feelings that everyone can relate to. If you feel yourself struggling with your work, take a break, come back to it after you have cleared your mind a little bit, and don’t be afraid to ask a friend in the class or the professor for help. 

  • Remember the reward: Lastly, it is important to remind yourself of what you are ultimately trying to achieve and why it is worth it. Remember the incentive and the feelings of satisfaction you will get later on if you accomplish what you originally set out to do. If you get a 90 on this exam, it will feel really rewarding to know how hard you worked for it, and it will contribute to a higher overall grade in that class.  Coffee next to planner Photo by Content Pixie from Pexels

Even though I just came up with the STAR method recently, it helped me increase my productivity over break, which made me feel drastically more motivated and prepared when I came back to Denison a few weeks ago. Since then, I have been using it for every one of my goals in my academic, work, and personal life. I have also shown it to my family and friends and they have found it helpful and have used it themselves.

I know these times can be extremely rough for everyone right now. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that we cannot use external factors which we have no control over as excuses to give up or get sidetracked from our commitments, ambitions, and passions. As tempting as it can be sometimes to give into negative feelings, it is important now more than ever that we make the most of difficult situations and be the only ones to dictate our own fate. It may sound hard to believe in this moment, but this shared experience has made us all stronger and more hardworking people, and we will be even better equipped to confidently face challenges that life throws at us once the pandemic is over.