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Why Your Classes are Boring

Why Your Classes are Boring
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    Does your textbook make your eyes glaze over? Is the desire for a degree or diploma the only thing keeping you focused on your classes? I’ll admit the lecture format most schools use to teach material isn’t the best way to hold your attention. But I think there is a more important factor when deciding if classes keep you interested:

    Are you actually using the information you’re being taught?

    Find a practical purpose for the courses your taking. Not only will this help your attention span, it will help your grades. If you can actually apply the information from your courses to daily life, the significance will help the information stick.

    Here are some courses you might be taking and potential uses for them in your life:

    1 – Statistics

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    Do you run any personal experiments? Knowing statistics can help you in designing your own tests and interpreting the data. Personal experiments are a great way to make targeted improvements. The foods you eat, things you buy and time you spend can all be tracked. Statistics can help you become more self-aware about the experiments you run.

    2 – History/Culture

    A history class may seem far removed from your daily life. I’ve found that classes that examine historical events or other cultures can give you a different perspective for viewing your life today. Going into Ancient Greece, India or Africa can be like a cultural exchange without leaving your home.

    The practical value of this new perspective can be in recognizing your assumptions. Different cultures look at the world in different ways, the ability to switch how you view your own world is powerful. Especially if the current lens you are using isn’t enough to solve your problems.

    3 – Economics

    Few courses break down how a society works more than economics. Whether you run your own business, want to understand political debates or invest in the stock market, basic economics is a must.

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    If you’re creative you can apply economic ideas to situations without money. Relationships, time-management or health can take on new perspectives if you start looking for the relative scarcity in a problem.

    4 – Psychology

    Psychology and sociology courses can be excellent when trying to understand your behavior and what makes people tick. Almost two-thirds of the psychology course material I’ve studied could be easily applied to my life. Operant and classical conditioning when changing habits. Cognitive biases and heuristics to improve my decision-making.

    Some universities are even including pop-psychology or “how to be happier” classes. I haven’t taken one of these courses, but I’m sure it goes a step further in connecting psychological principles to practical issues.

    5 – Computer Science

    Learning how to program computers can have many applications (no pun intended). Programming can help you solve technology related problems and when merged with your other creative skills it can be a valuable asset in a career or business.

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    Beyond the straightforward uses of programming, I’ve found it gives many useful metaphors for looking at everyday problems. Is your time-management system buggy? Do your habits produce the output you want for the given input?

    How to Find Hidden Applications in Your Courses

    Those five subjects are just a small fraction of the ways you can apply courses to your daily life. The best way to find practical uses is to start looking. If you believe your course has no practical purpose, it will be impossible to find one. Even the most abstract courses can be transformed into a useful study with a bit of creativity.

    Here are some different ways you can use information you learn in school:

    Give Yourself a New Box

    Thinking outside the box has become a tired cliche for thinking creatively. But the image it conjures is accurate. All of our problems exist within boxes of thinking. The assumptions form the walls of this box, and solutions outside the walls are ignored.

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    The best way to apply courses in your daily life is to take the problem solving methods you use in one setting and apply it to another. How would you solve a relationship problem if it were in an economics class? Psychology? Computer Science?

    Most people don’t think outside the box because they don’t realize its there. You actually have many different boxes, all for different types of problems. You spent good money and study time to make a new box for a subject, why not apply it to a different type of problem?

    Expand Your Abilities

    Courses that teach a practical skill (accounting, computer science, design, etc.) can be helpful in giving you new tools to tackle daily life. When I began learning statistics, the new abilities expanded what I could do when running my own personal experiments. Instead of relying on intuition and guesswork to interpret data, I could use statistical methods.

    My challenge to you is to go through all the course material you’re currently taking. Look for one way you can apply one idea from a course in your daily life. This could be writing a simple computer program to track information for yourself. Or it could be using operant conditioning to change a habit.

    Once you get into the pattern of applying academic concepts to the real world, the information sticks. The difference is in just viewing an idea inside your mind and actually holding it in your hands. Experiencing an idea for yourself will make your classes less boring.

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    Scott H Young

    Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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