Sertillanges’ chapter on “The Discipline of the Body” had such an impact on my life over the last few months that I will tell a quick story that confirmed to me the importance of the body in the intellectual life, which is Sertillanges’ main point in this section.
On November 24th, I began my grad school personal statement in earnest, since the GRE on the 23rd had prevented me from beginning until then. For six days, I dutifully kept a schedule of writing that would have made Sertillanges proud: six hours of writing, daily exercise, plenty of sleep. On Saturday, November 30th, my discipline slipped and I stayed up until midnight to make sure that I could send a draft of my personal statement for review to my friend Steve, who was guiding me through the personal statement. Sunday, I was up even later sending in my first application. And, Monday I turned in another application and worked a normal amount.
The following two days, I attempted to continue working on my next applications without success. Every five minutes, something important just seemed to keep coming up. I realized that I needed a ¨weekend¨ to recover from eight days of intense intellectual activity and my inability to concentrate was confirmation of this fact. Next day, I sat down in earnest to work on another essay, only to see clearly that I needed to spend time deciding whether or not I should visit some of the grad schools that I was applying to before the end of the term. Friday I spoke to a professor in my field about my applications and left the meeting convinced that I should apply next year to the remaining schools on my list because my application would be much stronger. Then, I spoke to Steve and I told him my plan.
¨One year is a long time,¨ he said patiently.
¨Well, how about skipping the application to University of Blah. They require a separate essay, which I haven´t started and can´t do in three days.¨ I conveniently hid the fact that I hadn’t worked on this essay in four days because everything else seemed so important.
Without contradicting me, he suggested that we look at the professors at the University of Blah to see if they would be a good fit with my proposed research plan. Of course, they were a good fit and I proceeded to write the extra essay with relative ease despite my previous reluctance. A little encouragement went a long way.
So, on December 10th, I turned in my two-essay-application to the University of Blah and had a moment to reflect on the frustrations of the past few days. The takeaway was clear: lack of sleep causes lack of motivation. This is not a big surprise to anyone, especially Sertillanges, but it is a point worth keeping in mind when we fears, doubts and anxiety creep into our work.