By: Zane Khader
When I asked the director of my Princeton Model United Nations Conference (PMUNC) crisis committee several weeks ago what she thought was the single most important piece of advice she could give to high school seniors going to college, she said, “remember where you came from and what you want to achieve.” And, while that piece of advice might seem a bit obvious and unoriginal at first, I’ve come to realize that it actually highlights an important point about maintaining focus in the face of an increasing amount of distractions.
Take, for instance, high school students. It’s incredible to see how much people have changed from freshman year to senior year. The biggest difference that I’ve noticed is the increasing reliance on sociality, and I’m sure many parents have noticed their children crave more and more social interaction and partygoer behavior throughout high school. While there’s nothing wrong with going out to relax and destress, especially as the high school workload increases proportionately, there is a problem (in my honest opinion) with people wanting to party as a means to forget themselves and escape from their problems. In other words, “drinking to get drunk.” Why? Because this mindset, that weekend parties are ridiculous escapades and that life otherwise is a prison, lends itself to an incredibly self-destructive and unsustainable lifestyle.
What’s even more intriguing is trying to track these corrosive behaviors as they progressively intensify throughout childhood. A young child, after learning from parents and teachers that consuming drugs or alcohol is bad, will likely make you a pinky promise that they “will never drink. Never, never, never!” But, ask a high school senior if they will ever drink and they’ll likely say that they “already have” and that it’s not “a bad thing.” What happened to that childish determination? I don’t want to nail down teenage drinking as though it’s the worst thing in the world, but it provides such a wonderful example of how behavior can change as a result of the adversity placed upon the student. The biggest problem with it, though, is that it opens the neurological door to engaging in other unproductive behaviors that don’t benefit them at all.
As students (and people in general) continue to indulge in a certain behavior, they become neurologically primed to perform that behavior again. At the time of writing, I’m actually creating a presentation on neuroeconomics (a cross between neuroscience and economics) as part of an independent study in behavioral economics, and one of the most fascinating things to do is to compare the biochemistry in context of certain behaviors. To spare the reader of having to discern any complicated biological jargon, the overall scientific conclusion (at least to the degree of my knowledge) is that any behavior that induces happiness can be addictive because the basis for the feeling of happiness is, in fact, chemical. So, even if an activity (like going to a party) doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is drinking and ingesting chemicals, the mere act of having fun with other people results in an increase in the chemicals that make you feel good, like dopamine and oxytocin. As you “work out” those “happy neural pathways,” your body naturally becomes more reliant on them and they begin to fuse with your subconscious mind and dominate your personality. But, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing! In fact, if you enjoy your job (or anything) immensely, this exact process happens to you, and it’s great! Have kids and love them? The happiness associated with having kids becomes a part of who you are, and you might find yourself thinking about them subconsciously.
That’s why, in order to create a more sustainable and productive way of living, you have to find things that make you happy that aren’t destructive. Thus, the phrase “remember where you came from and what you want to achieve,” should remind you to hold fast to your dreams and principles in the wake of all the pleasure-producing diversions that you might find yourself distracted by. If you keep your mind on the future and reject the negative pressures to succumb to inefficiency and motivational decay, then you will be far better off because of it. Make it a priority to hold yourself to the highest standard, and both you and the greater world will benefit as a result. Instead of reserving the weekends for frolicking around, make your job and week-life more interesting so that you’re more neurologically inclined to keep working hard and to better yourself. Instead of joining your floundering peers as they begin to give up on life and pursue self-destructive habits, lift them up to your level and inspire them through your determination to build a better world.
Remember where you came from, and remember where you want to be.