Courtesy of Felipe Insunza, an economics student at São Paulo University in Brazil.
To be admitted to any Brazilian university, especially one of high quality, students must pass a difficult exam that covers all the subjects taught in high school. The test covers basic subjects like math, Portuguese, biology, chemistry, physics, English, history, and geography. But, there are also very specific themes like botany, zoology, genetic, Mesopotamian history, analytic geometry, and stoichiometry, that students have to understand in order to do well on the exam. The competition for admission is intense – 20 to 30 candidates for every vacancy. Three factors largely determine your score. Do you have a good memory? Do you have strong study habits? Are you able to control your emotions?
After a one year of study, I won a spot in the Economics graduation, reaching the first collocation among more than 2,000 competitors. Along the way, I developed a self-punishment nudge to help me study more consistently.
For each subject, I had to study I had a little notebook. There were 25 subjects. There were 5 classes each day. For each subject, I carried a notebook with me to school. When I came home I had to study the themes taught in all of my classes. I also had the notebooks for subjects that did not have a class that day. Each afternoon, I studied yesterday’s subjects and today’s. If I did not study a subject, I hauled that notebook to school the next day in my backpack – even if I did not have class.
Whenever I had a backache, I said to myself, “You have to study more.” I knew I would be tempted to procrastinate. People think it’s better to study today, but we tend to think that will be easier to do that tomorrow, so we postpone, and then regret. I think that with this nudge, I created a short run trade-off between pain and laziness. If you want to sleep all day long your spine will be upset with you the next day.