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5 Bad Study Habits You’ve Probably Been Following

5 Bad Study Habits You’ve Probably Been Following

You hear a lot of platitudes when it comes to studying: “Make studying a priority. Review your notes early and often.” “Read all the textbook chapters and do your homework.” “Practice makes perfect. So practice as much as you can.”

First off, all the students who have ever been in a classroom just collectively rolled their eyes. Second, most of this stuff we hear, though well intentioned (maybe), is just plain wrong. A lot of bad study habits are spread in the guise of helpful advice.

Here are 5 of the most common bad study habits that parents, teachers, and advisors teach, and why they’re actually hurting your GPA:

1. Read the chapter before lecture

Here’s something we’ve all heard teachers say at the end of class: “Read chapter 12 on the Law of Cosines before class tomorrow so that we can jump right in.”

And you probably wanted to say, “Wait a sec… isn’t that your job?”

Anyway, no one does it (except maybe that guy who always sits in the front row). Even if we tell ourselves we’re gonna “get organized” and prepare before lecture, no one ever does the reading. And if you do, it’s usually a lackluster skim effort.

But would it actually help if we did? Should we actually care about “getting organized” and doing the reading before class?

Research suggests that this is a waste. An initial review period is necessary to learn something new, but further review becomes less and less effective.

So why would you review something twice? Well, because repetition improves your ability to recall something later. Practice makes perfect.

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Not so fast. While it is useful to get a quick “lay of the land” on a new concept before going into lecture completely cold, beyond an initial introductory period to a new concept, your ability to remember, recall, and use that information does not improve with review.

What you need instead is testing and use. So that valuable time before lecture is much better spent quizzing yourself on the information from the previous lecture. Stuff that you’ll eventually see on the midterm or final, rather than some arcane explanation from a textbook.

Use the lecture the way it was intended: to introduce you to new material.

2. Get a study buddy

As you walk through your campus library, you see them everywhere: books scattered across tables, empty energy drink cans, and problems scribbled on pieces of paper or whiteboards.

Study groups.

Some people can’t stand to sit with other students for hours on end racking their brain over chemical reactions or Freudian psychology, but others can’t get enough of it and seem to find any excuse to meet up and “go over” the latest lecture notes.

So who’s got it right?

Studying with someone else can help you stay accountable, but that’s pretty much all it can do. Yes, knowing someone is waiting for you at 4pm at the library is motivation enough to get your butt out the door, and crack that notebook that otherwise would stay on the floor in the corner of your dorm room. But doing practice problems with another person is the quickest way to fool yourself into thinking you can reproduce it yourself on an exam.

It’s one thing to watch someone solve a tough physics problem and nod along saying “oh yeah, got it.” But it’s a completely different thing to actually reproduce that problem-solving method during crunch time, staring at a blank sheet of paper.

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So definitely still make friends in your classes, and keep each other accountable. But limit working on problem sets together to those couple of sticking points you still have after working through everything yourself. Then go back a day or two later and make sure you truly understand it well enough to reproduce it yourself.

3. Review your notes after class

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pedrosek/9911370254

Passive review of your notes is not only time-consuming, it’s also been shown to be completely ineffective. And yet, this is what most teachers recommend. It’s what “good students” do.

But as with habit #1, this robotic type of study is not suited to the way the human memory system stores new information. Again, it’s far more effective to test yourself instead.

Try to re-create the key concepts or solve a few practice problems without referring to your notes from class. Do this again a day or two later.

Studies have shown that this self-testing method is a much better use of your time than simply “refreshing” a dead page of text. The only time you should touch your notes is when you’re going to try and re-organize and consolidate them into a more simple and compact form.

4. Find a quiet space and make it a daily habit

“Turn off the music! How can you concentrate with that on?”

“Stay still and be quiet. Just sit down and focus.”

Sound familiar?

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This motherly advice is typically in response to multitasking teenagers who text, listen to music, have Facebook open, and are Skyping with a classmate while doing their homework.

So yes, in that case they may have a point. But the other extreme actually may be detrimental to future performance on exams.

Routinely studying in exactly the same quiet place is the best way to ensure that you can only recall that information reliably in that one spot. In essence, you’re training yourself to completely blank on that information when test day comes, when you’re thrown into an anxious mental state, under time pressure and sitting in a foreign environment (unless you happen to have one of those chairs in your apartment with the desk so small you can barely fit a piece of paper on it).

What you should actually do: study in widely varying contexts.

Studies have show that learning new information in different environments, at varying noise levels and even mood states, can significantly improve your ability to recall that same information when test day comes.

So mix it up. Quiz yourself on the treadmill. Lecture your roommate while playing Call of Duty. Do practice problems standing on one foot, using a fountain pen, while listening to ACDC.

And even better: go to the classroom where the exam will be held, pick out your seat, and do a practice exam in the same exact amount of time allotted for the test. Now that’s context-specific learning.

5. Refresh topics in your memory often

“If I can just keep reciting my study sheet for the next 24 hours, I’ll have it on the tip of my tongue during the exam.”

The problem with always feeling like you’re on top a new concept is that you’re committing what psychologists call the “fluency illusion.” Just because it’s easy to recall piece of information now, does not mean you won’t forget it later.

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And in fact, the easier it is to recall, the less likely it is that you will be able to remember it in crunch time.

Studies show that some level of forgetting is actually necessary in order to improve the “retrieval strength” of a new memory. Bjork’s study recommends looking for a level of “desirable difficulty” with learning new information—e.g. it should be hard to remember how to solve limits using L’Hopital’s Rule if you really want to make sure you can remember it on test day.

So do this: Learn it once during lecture. Then give yourself a self-test later that night, without referencing your notes.

Then wait two days. You’ll feel like you’ve forgotten everything. But resist the urge to study your notes again.

Instead, test yourself again and struggle through, trying to pull as much of the material as you can from the depths of your memory. Each piece of information you can recall becomes more and more bulletproof to forgetting on the exam. And even wrong answers have been shown to benefit you.

Then, and only then, go back to your notes and see where you were right and where you were wrong. Make the appropriate corrections and then repeat the process.

Featured photo credit: Steven S. via flickr.com

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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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