9 Things Chemistry Taught Me About Finding Equilibrium

Finding Equilibrium

I have a lot of aha moments during chemistry class. For me, Chemistry always relates to some abstract, big picture situation, and my latest is the idea of finding and re-establishing equilibrium.


I used to measure productivity with consistency and streaks, and I would expect that productivity everyday. Of course, I disappointed myself often because my life doesn’t happen in the closed system necessary to maintain dynamic equilibrium.


Does this mean I’m done for if I can’t make it to the gym for a couple days or show up late to a class? Nope, and here’s what chemistry has to say about it:

graduated cylinder

1. Know what your reactants are


If the only days you’re happy with what you’ve checked off of your lists are those with two five hour energy shots in them, recognize but don’t credit your success to those catalysts.


Either you make peace with that expensive, addictive, and kidney-harrowing avenue, or search for another way to get that much done.


2. Change your equilibrium ratio


In chemistry, equilibrium ratios shift if something about the reaction changes.


If you find yourself in a different set of conditions for the upcoming week, month, or year, either settle for less or challenge yourself to more (and plan on how to work your way up to that).


Don’t guilt yourself for how long it’s taking to adjust or compare to what you used to get done in a day. Be realistic; don’t expect too much of yourself, but don’t expect too little, either.


3. Differentiate between irreversible and reversible changes


There are some changes you can and should go after fixing, but some things are out of your grasp and will hold you back.


Oversleeping and missing a class, for example, can’t be made up completely, so try not to lose focus for the rest of the day because of what happened.

glass blowing

4. Proactive time management


This is your best bet. A chemical reaction is always working to establish balance and you should, too.


Make a two-column list. On one side, write every problem your brain is stressing about, and on the other, write what you’re going to do about it.


But be sure to prioritize your problems and solve them as the chance arises or in order of how important they are. You’ll immediately feel better–and once you follow through, you’ll feel even better.

ice cream cone

5. Use imbalance as an opportunity to refresh


I once set the wrong alarm and didn’t realize it until I got to school an hour early. Instead of fretting over lost sleep and empty hands, I meditated for half an hour. I loved it so much that I incorporated 10 minutes of meditation into the start of every morning.


It’s easy to think your routine is the best, because you’re comfortable with it and it’s working, but sometimes you need an uncomfortable push to change things up for the better.


6. Equilibrium occurs in a closed system…


…with constant conditions, but life does not. So don’t expect your balance to stay put without a little effort to counteract stressors. It’s not your fault that it shifts and that things fall through, but you’re not helpless against it…

petri dish

7. Equilibrium is not a standstill


Equilibrium only requires forward and backward reactions to occur at the same rate.


You will tie your hands behind your back if you think that one step backwards crumbles all your progress and you’ll also hold yourself back if you expect your hard work one week to carry you through the semester.


8. Middle ground, or equilibrium state…


…is all that can define you. Your highs, like showing up to the gym for a week after New Year’s, or studying in the library during finals week, don’t define you if you don’t keep at them.


Likewise, your equilibrium doesn’t die until you decide to stop putting in effort and lose your vision.

big rocks

9. Obstacles can block equilibrium


If you find yourself consistently hitting up against an obstacle, say a time-draining extracurricular or a study area where you can’t focus for hours at a time, you either need to cut it out ASAP or change your expectations (shift your equilibrium).


This analogy isn’t perfect. Unlike chemical equilibrium, your balance is hardly ever quantifiable. Your brain is capable of seeing problems before they arise and making conscious decisions your best interest.


Be forgiving, work hard, and hold your vision of and motivation for equilibrium tight; you’ll be golden.


Works Cited:


Brown, Peter C., Henry L. Roediger, and Mark A. McDaniel. Make it stick: the science of successful learning. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard U Press, 2014. Print.

Kotter, John P. “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail.” Harvard Business Review. 13 July 2015. Web. 28 May 2017

Tardanico, Susan. “Five Ways To Make Peace With Failure.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 18 Nov. 2015. Web. 28 May 2017.

2014, Steve Hacker10 September. “Understanding equilibrium: a delicate balance.” Education in Chemistry. N.p., 09 Sept. 2014. Web. 28 May 2017.

“Equilibrium.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 28 May 2017.

Hansen, Dr. Randall S. “Key Study Skills Tools to Achieve Academic Success.”

MyCollegeSuccessStory.com: 10 Tips for Finding Life Balance. Web. 28 May 2017.

Images: Swings, Graduated Cylinder, Glass Blowing, Ice Cream Cone, Petri Dish, Rocks

Boraan Abdulkarim

Boraan is studying Biology at St. Olaf College. She has always found an artfulness to studying efficiently and drawing connections between the humanities and sciences. At St. Olaf, Boraan is a tutor in Calculus, Writing, and Spanish, and in her spare time, Boraan enjoys calligraphy, graphic design, and writing.