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How To Study Hard Without Burning Out

How To Study Hard Without Burning Out

Let’s face it: studying is hard. It’s not fun, and sometimes it can be really hard to stay focused on the task at hand. However, it’s vital to doing well in classes and staying well-informed. Although studying is no one’s favorite activity, there are ways to study more efficiently. Here are six tips on studying hard while maintaining your focus.

1. Schedule it.

Don’t just assume that you’ll study when you have free time. What ends up happening is that often, you won’t end up studying at all because you didn’t leave room specifically for it. Find a time of day that works best for you and stick with it. Chances are, the more you associate this time of day with studying, the more focused you’ll be over time.

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2. Get in the zone.

If listening to music is a must for you, put some headphones in while studying. Others find complete quiet to be more their taste. Some people like to get comfortable in sweatpants, while others may prefer to stay fully dressed in order to stay as awake as possible. Coffee or tea may be a good option for maximum alertness, but go easy on the caffeine to avoid the inevitable crash. By making yourself comfortable and focused, you’re more likely to get into a studying mood. Getting in the zone helps you concentrate and power through long study sessions with ease.

3. Gather your materials.

Books, notes, laptop, paper, highlighters, pens, snacks—get everything in one place. Make sure you don’t have to get up and gather more things as the study session progresses. That will just disrupt your focus and make getting back in the zone harder once you return. Try to get everything in one place to ensure that there will be a minimum of unnecessary interruptions.

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4. Schedule small breaks.

Even the most studious of us gets tired and achey after a while. All that reading and hunching over a book or computer can be mentally and physically exhausting. Set an alarm or reminder to take small breaks during marathon study sessions. Stand up, stretch, jog in place, get a drink of water. Make sure that the break isn’t too long, though, or else your focus could disappear completely. The goal with these small breaks is to ensure that you don’t burn out and come back to your studying feeling refreshed and ready to continue.

5. Be an active learner.

Passively learning involves simply taking notes, reading, and not critically evaluating the information presented. Active learning, on the other hand, involves discussion and analysis. The active style of learning can help make sure you understand the material completely, and it also makes the information stick in your brain. Consider studying with others and having a discussion about the material instead of simply sitting at a desk and reading. Varying your study habits like this will also ensure that you’ll study harder and for a longer period of time. Doing one task for too long can cause you to burn out.

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6. Find your study spot.

Libraries and coffee shops are popular study spots, as are bedrooms and study areas in academic buildings. Pick your study spot based on your level of distract-ability. For example, don’t choose to study in a coffee shop if you’re likely to look up every time someone enters the establishment or walks past you. It’s also important to pick somewhere where it is easy to get physically comfortable. If you love the library at your school, but the chairs are uncomfortable, consider studying somewhere else. You don’t want to be distracted by uncomfortable seating, bad lighting, or too-loud noises.

Featured photo credit: Svein Halvor Halvorsen via flickr.com

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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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