How to break a habit of skipping class

A couple years ago, I was attending college in Ontario, and was also struggling a lot with anxiety and depression.

I had difficulty waking up on time to go to classes, and if I was late, I would sometimes be too stressed to go in, thinking of how everyone would stare at me (they never did, but that’s not the point).

Because I was worried that beating myself up about missing class would depress me further, I chose instead to try to cheer myself up by going to the mall and getting a smoothie.

I ended up doing this pretty often. Instead of thinking how awful it was that I’d missed another class, I tried to keep myself feeling happy by going to the mall and not thinking about it. As it turned out, I was training myself not to go to class.

Whenever I didn’t go to class, I was reinforcing that unhelpful behaviour with a reward: the negative feeling of stress was replaced by a smoothie or buying a nice shirt. In technical terms, I was using negative reinforcement (negative as in subtracting, taking away the unpleasant feeling of worry) to avoid going to school.

The consequences of this really built up quickly for me: the more classes I missed, the harder I found it to go back to school, and I quickly got overwhelmed by how much catching up I had to do in order to succeed.

The solution I found was to turn everything around and stop reinforcing unhelpful behaviours, and start reinforcing helpful ones. For example, on days when I was late and found I could not go into the classroom, I wouldn’t treat myself to anything. I would accept that I’d failed to make it to class, and instead work on whatever homework I could do. I wouldn’t have a nice day to myself, and my self-care wasn’t pampering. I was caring for myself by doing what was best for me, which was my school work, and staying focused on my objective: to go to class next time.

I still struggle with depression and anxiety, and this pattern of behaviour is one I sometimes still have trouble with. I do tend to baby myself a bit when I feel down, but I’m a lot more wary of rewarding myself for failures, and reinforcing unhelpful behaviour in the name of “self-care.” Self-care is really important to do, but it definitely doesn’t involve training yourself to fail at your goals.

You may also like...

1 Response

  1. Lyssa says:

    Thank you for this post! I also struggle with depression and anxiety and I think the same thing started happening to me a couple of college semesters ago because I would miss so much class due to not being able to leave my room. However, I didn’t learn my lesson because there were no consequences. So it’s been a bad habit for almost a year now and now I’m almost a year behind where I should be. This semester I’ve been trying to go back no matter what, but to no avail. I have missed a big majority of one of my classes simply because I found it to be a “waste of time”. Reading this made me realize i was also reinforcing that bad behavior that if I thought we weren’t doing anything in class that day or if it was just lecture then I didn’t have to go. And I reinforced that by going back to sleep instead of my morning class. /: thank you so much for this it really made me look at this in a different life and I’m hoping it helps me.