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How I Write and Learn

Staying Focused: An Investigation into Snacking

By a Fellow UNC Student

I have always felt that, in my life, there is a direct tie between food and focusing. When I get hungry, I have no desire to do my work. If I find myself wanting to stay focused, I know that snacks motivate me. I used to carry at least two in my bookbag with me at all times. Whether I’d sit under a tree outside and eat in-between classes or go to Lenoir with my friends instead, I had a system to stop my hunger and help me focus.

The stairs of Wilson Library stretch out across the picture with the sunny, Carolina blue sky in the background.
My favorite snack spot on campus: the steps of Wilson Library.

As the world changed and classes turned virtual, however, my snacking lost its magic. Although my room was mere steps from the pantry, it was hard for me to do my required work. In the past, I could simply reach into my bookbag, pull out some Cheez-Its, and refocus. But no matter what snack I brought to my desk, I didn’t have the same sense of regaining my motivation. Looking back on those times when snacking seemed like the ultimate tool, I began to realize it wasn’t the snack that did the work for me.

Faced with this revelation, I realized it was time to re-examine my motivational strategies. I tried to pinpoint what had changed that had made my snacking lose its magic. Before the pandemic, getting a snack on campus led me to a new environment, somewhere other than the classroom. I wondered if it was the change in location, rather than the snack itself, that helped me regain a sense of focus. I decided to see if there was a way to incorporate this movement into my virtual learning environment.

To do so, I first made my study space mobile by bringing my computer and books to the living room, outside on the porch, and even in my roommate’s room to have different scenery to help me focus. I rearranged my room in the middle of the semester to make the space feel new and different. And, I made sure to go into the kitchen and greet my roommates when I heard them chatting, knowing that, by moving my body and talking to them, I might gain more motivation. Rather than sitting still at my desk as the school days passed, getting up and making a conscious choice to change my environment, and of course bringing my snacks with me, helped me immensely. I found that every little action where I broke out of my individual space reinvigorated me and prepared me to restart my work.

A cup of tea sits on a kitchen table beside a computer with a word document pulled up.
Doing homework in a new environment—at the kitchen table while having a snack and cup of tea.

Now, I can see how my focus and motivation had dwindled because of a lack of important breaks. Essentially, my Cheez-Its were a red-herring. Before the pandemic, my snacks gave me a rest from assignments and a change of location; they allowed time for a breather and for human connection in-between classes and assignments. Because my bedroom is now my classroom, I have had to change my habits to regain my previous focus and motivation.

In the end, physically separating myself from my work and being in a new space entirely, as well as prioritizing interactions with my roommates, have been simple things that have helped me regain the sense of happiness and focus I had last year while eating my snacks. In turn, learning to move myself and my workspace around—to do something else other than my schoolwork, even if it’s only for a few moments—has become my new habit, even though I still bring my snacks with me.

This blog showcases the perspectives of UNC Chapel Hill community members learning and writing online. If you want to talk to a Writing and Learning Center coach about implementing strategies described in the blog, make an appointment with a writing coach, a peer tutor, or an academic coach today. Have an idea for a blog post about how you are learning and writing remotely? Contact us here.

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