How To Make Studying Less Painful
That textbook is just sitting there. The first hour of studying always appears to be unbearable. Luckily, we’ve got some solid advice to make studying less painful.
Bestselling author Steven Pressfield calls this force Resistance in his book The War of Art. Resistance is a force that everyone faces, every day, in some way, shape, or form. It doesn’t just dissipate or disappear after college, so the best thing you can do for yourself now, and for your future, is to wrestle with it. How?
Engineer Zack Shapiro shows us a cure: momentum. Momentum is the force that can make work seem much easier. Similarly, a lack of momentum makes work much more difficult to grin and bear. When I think back to many of my most productive days, they’ve all had one thing in common: a strong start. Often times, I’ll just roll out of bed and – immediately, before even brushing my teeth or eating breakfast – I’ll get a head start on an essay or a textbook.
This doesn’t have to take a long time or be particularly early; in fact, it could be just 15 or 20 minutes. The most important thing is to get started. The clarity that you wake up with is an unusually resourceful and focused state; don’t waste it! That’s why the last thing you should do is check e-mail or Facebook in the morning.
Here are some ways companies use momentum to grow their user bases: Facebook discovered in order to fully hook a user into its social network, and reach what’s called the ‘aha’ moment, the user needs to make 7 friends in 10 days. Similarly, Twitter needs a user to follow 30 people before the user can reach the ‘aha’moment. Dropbox needs the user to put just one file in one folder on one device for them to reach the aha moment. Zynga just needs the user to come back after day one. After reaching these aha moments, the users no longer have to put effort into going back to the service; pretty soon thereafter, it becomes a habit.
Similarly, maybe all we need to do is hit a certain point of progress to reach that same aha moment and dissipate Resistance for the rest of the day. Studying will seem easier after the aha moment; the goal when studying and aiming for productivity, then, is to hit the aha moment as early on in the day as possible so that the rest of the day can be spent studying with little Resistance on your end.
If that sounds mindboggling to you, here are some tactics you should try tomorrow morning:
Read a chapter of your most challenging textbook before 10AM.
Try doing just two practice questions before a morning workout or breakfast.
Write down your next steps tonight, and accomplish one before leaving the house. Yes, even if it means being late for an appointment: keep your promises to yourself. You’ll also learn how early you need to wake up for next time.
If we’re not aware of it, momentum can be fickle. When we have it, we feel like we can conquer worlds. When we don’t, we feel like we are swallowed alive by school, extracurricular events, and social occasions. Don’t let momentum swing against you; instead, leverage it and use it to your advantage.
There are several other external factors that can affect how easy it is to get started studying. Understand whether you’re better in the morning or at night; take advantage of the natural rhythm. (Bestselling author Tim Ferriss’ best hours for creative writing are from 1am – 5am, so don’t be afraid to embrace the late night.)
Similarly, it’s also important to be in an environment where you’re not distracted. I have a specific floor on the science library I go to in order to get stuff done; seeing my peers studying stokes my motivation. Alternatively, it might suit you better to find one which puts you in a good mood, like the outdoors of a residence quad or your favorite coffee shop. Measure your per-hour output in each of those environments, and see which one produces better results.
The most important thing is to get started, even if it’s just for 5 minutes. Don’t set an unrealistic quota and intimidate yourself out of it; instead, start early on in the day. Earning that small win will help you reach the aha moment when momentum starts swinging in your favor, and before you know it you’ll be hitting the books with ease.
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