How to Study Effectively

When I was a freshman in university, I was told by all my seniors that in order to succeed academically at the university I would have to put in much more effort in studying than I would have in high school. Therefore, following the advice of those I considered to being doing well at the academically rigorous environment, I spent hours on end sitting in the library reading and highlighting my notes. However, after my first midterms I found out that my effort had not brought me the grades I hoped to get.

Thankfully, after taking an introductory course in psychology I found out that my low grades were primarily due to my bad studying habits. I was studying passively, and reading pages in textbooks thinking that by reading them my brain will absorb their information. After learning how to study actively I improved my grades. Here are some studying tips.

Why re-reading does not count as studying

Re-reading and highlighting information is a passive way of learning and does not help us learn efficiently. When we re-read information we usually read without stopping to critically reflect on what we’ve read. We do not stop to think what the information might mean to us in the real world context and how it might be connected to what we already know. Re-reading information can make us familiar with the content and the fluency can give us the illusion of mastery of the information. Then when we are tested on the information, it is difficult for us to recall what we have learned because we had just read the text passively.

The best way to remember information for a test

One way to study actively is by using the “Testing effect.” The testing effect is the scientific finding that long term memory is increased when the information to be remembered is retrieved from our memories. Testing yourself on what you’ve learned has dual benefits of helping you retain more information in your long term memory and it also helps you spot gaps in your knowledge. By spotting gaps in your knowledge you can review and focus your attention on the subject material that you have difficulty with. This helps you study efficiently as you spend more time learning things you don’t know and less time on things you already know.

The best way to study a topic like biology is by first reading the information on a text book page, then trying to retrieve the memory by asking yourself questions about what you’ve read. For example if you’ve just read a chapter on plants, you might want to ask yourself “What is photosynthesis?”, or “Why are plants green?” By asking yourself questions and answering those questions you will retain more knowledge in your memory. This could also be as simple as summarizing what you’ve read in the past pages.

Why it is important to stop and think while studying

Using elaboration is another active learning strategy that can increase your studying efficiency. The elaboration strategy is connecting things you are trying to learn to things you already know. This means finding examples, and making analogies to your previous knowledge. For example, if you have to remember what a schema is for your psychology course, then you can think of how your mental representation of your dog is a schema. Your schema of your dog consists of a four legged furry animal, and all of the other memories you have of it. By elaborating on what we are learning we can remember more knowledge.

Why studying one thing at a time does not work

In a study involving baseball, a team of baseball players was divided into two group. One group of players faced 45 pitches evenly divided into sets of 15 fastballs, 15 curveballs, and 15 changeups. So they got 15 fastballs first then 15 curveballs, and then 15 changeups. The other group of players also faced 45 pitches with equal number of fastballs, curveballs, and changeups. However the second group received the three types of pitches randomly through the 45 pitches. After 6 weeks of practice the group that received the three types of pitches randomly had improved much more than the group that received the pitches in bulk. This research is just one example of how interleaved research is better than mass blocked practice.

Interleaved studying is another studying technique that has proven to get great results. Interleaving studying is when we change what we are studying if we fall into repetitive practice. This is different from when we single mindedly focus on trying to solve a certain problem type or topic. Bulk studying a topic at a time gives the illusion of mastery and feels easier than interleaved studying. However, interleaved studying is better than bulk studying. This means to study efficiently you must change up the topics you are studying frequently so that learning always challenges and stimulates your mind.

You can use these studying strategies to study more efficiently. Read the book Make it Stick by Peter Brown to learn more on how to study effectively.

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THE KEY TO MOTIVATING YOURSELF

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I’ll admit that I had to motivate myself to write this post. I don’t consider myself the most motivated or hardworking person, but if you are reading this post then that means by some miracle I have pushed myself to write this post. While trying to motivate myself to write new posts I found it helpful to turn the activity from a chore to a meaningful activity.

Why is it hard to Motivate yourself?

Motivation is not a tangible thing (Or we would probably buy it from Walmart) but it is a skill like writing or shooting a basketball in a hoop. Scientists say that in order to develop self-motivation it is imperative that we feel that we are in control of our lives.

Now although we may believe that we are the masters of our lives, when we sit in front of the tv for too long and do nothing, we give up the feeling of control. We give up the feeling of control we get when we have a fun conversation or play a sport. Therefore, if we do not make choices and stay on autopilot in front of a screen for too long, then it can be hard to get motivated.

So what is the solution?

How to be self-motivated

The key to motivating yourself is to turn a boring chore into a meaningful choice.

We can become more motivated if we make small meaningful choices. There are two key parts in that sentence. First, we should make choices, and we should believe the choices are meaningful as they align with our goals and values.

To motivate myself to write this post I first turned write a blog post from chore to multiple choices:

  1. I will write the entire blog post.
  1. I will write 300 words for the blog post.
  1. I will not write the blog post.

To motivate myself to write this post I then wrote down three reasons for why I should write this post:

  1. I will improve my writing skills.
  1. I will grow my blog.
  1. I will gain knowledge.

Therefore by giving myself choices and reasons to write this post, I felt motivated to write this post.

Key tip: I have found that it’s important to make meaningful choices throughout the day. Throughout the day I make meaningful choices to clean my room or make a healthy snack. It is easier to try to stay motivated throughout the day than it is to try and motivate yourself for a particular task when you’ve been lazy throughout the day.

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HOW TO LIFT YOUR MOOD

Do you feel stressed or sad? 

In 2015 the American Psychological Association reported an increase in adults that reported extreme stress from 18% to 24% in 2015. With the rising levels of stress and mental health problems it has become increasingly important to learn how to deal with mental health issues. 

Do you feel stressed or sad?

In 2015 the American Psychological Association reported an increase in adults that reported extreme stress from 18% to 24% in 2015. With the rising levels of stress and mental health problems it has become increasingly important to learn how to deal with mental health issues.

 

The 3 Principles

According to the cognitive psychologist, and the author of Feeling Good, David Burns, the root of many of our mood and other mental health problems are our negative distorted thoughts. Therefore, he argues that we can improve our mental health and mood by fighting our negative thoughts. His approach to solving mental health problems is based on three principles:

  1.  The first principle is that “all your moods are created by your “cognitions,” or thoughts.” Therefore any emotion, positive or negative, can be traced back to a positive or negative thought.

The moment you have a certain thought and believe it, you will experience an immediate emotional response. Your thought actually creates the emotion.” – Feeling Good

  1. The second principle is that when you are feeling down most of your thoughts are negative. Therefore the negative thoughts make you feel sad.
  1. The third principle is that the negative thoughts that cause emotional pain almost always are distorted.

As a result, by identifying the negative thoughts that make us sad we can identify the distortions in the thoughts and eliminate them. This will result in a more positive mood.

 

Identify your thoughts

The first step in improving your mood would be to identify the corresponding negative thought that you had just before you felt down.

Ex. Just before an exam you might feel depressed because of a thought like “I did bad on my last exam, therefore I will also mess up on this exam and I will fail the exam.”

 

Identify your mental distortions

The second step in improving your mood would be to identify the distortions in your negative thoughts.

There are 10 main distortions that David Burns describes in his book.

Distortion Explanation 
All- or –Nothing Thinking You think in terms of black and white if something isn’t perfect then it’s bad.
Mental Filter You filter out the good and focus only on the bad.
Disqualifying the Positive You dismiss positive thoughts and things by saying they don’t matter or they don’t count.
Jumping to Conclusion You assume either something bad is going to happen and take your negative belief as a fact. You think that you can read the other person’s mind and that the other person has a negative view of you.
Magnification or Minimization You magnify the impact and importance of negative things and minimize the importance of positive things.
Emotional Reasoning You believe that because you feel a certain way, that things, in reality, are that way. Ex. “I have a bad life because I feel sad.”
Should Statements You tell yourself that you should have done things differently, or that things should/shouldn’t have been different. This piles up feelings of shame and guilt in you.
Overgeneralization You believe everything will be bad if you see one thing as bad.
Labeling and Mislabeling You overgeneralize and attach a negative label to yourself. Ex. “I’m a loser.”
Personalization You blame yourself and consider yourself responsible for negative things outside of your control.

 

Arguing your mental thoughts

The third step in improving your mood is to argue against the negative thoughts and learning that the negative thoughts are distorted and false.

Here are examples of arguing negative thoughts:

Thoughts Distortion Rational Response
I got a bad test result, so I will never do well on my test. Overgeneralization Although I didn’t do well on this particular test it doesn’t mean that I will never do well.
I am a stupid loser! Labelling Making a stupid mistake does not mean I am stupid. One single bad event in my life cannot define who I am.
I am late to the party so my friends will think I’m lazy Mind reading, Labelling Although I’m late to the event, I can’t read my friend’s minds and they won’t judge based on one event.

 

By continuing to identify negative thoughts throughout the day and arguing with them there should be a decrease in the occurrences of negative thoughts and as a result a decrease in negative mood.

 

For one day try to identify the negative thoughts that pop up in your mind whenever you feel sad or irritated. Then try to argue against them.

 

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How to get into the flow state (the zone)

What is flow?

Sometimes when we are playing a sport or reading a book we become so immersed in the task that we enter the state of flow, or we enter the zone. When we are on the field kicking a soccer ball, hours might pass by in minutes. For some time we let go of ourselves and get fully immersed in the moment. The activity becomes so enthralling that we forget everything unrelated to our activity and become focused on what we are doing.

The state we enter is the state of flow. In flow we lose ourselves in the moment. When we enter flow it feels like time has deformed. The state of flow has been well documented and studied in various people from doctors, artists, and even farmers.

Why should we enter flow?

Even though at some point in our lives we have entered flow, many of us still are unaware of the benefits of flow. Some benefits of flow are:

  • When we enter flow we feel more skilled and stronger. As a result, we emerge from flow as developed and more complex individuals.
  • Flow aligns our thoughts and feelings together. As a result, our self feels more aligned and we emerge as more integrated individuals
  • The most obvious benefit of flow is that we usually feel great when we emerge from flow. Whether we are immersed in a book or a game of chess, the feeling of flow the activity brings is great.

So the question arises…..

How do we enter flow?

There are 5 simple steps to enter flow while doing an activity:

  1. Pick the right activity
  2. Eliminate Distractions
  3. Structure the tasks
  4. Establish clear goals
  5. Establish a way to get immediate feedback

 

  1. Pick the right activity.

Although it would be great we could enter flow doing anytime we want, there are some conditions that must be met to enter flow.

To enter flow the task must be the right challenge level. It shouldn’t be too terribly hard that you feel you have no chance of completing the task. But the task should also not be so easy that it puts you to sleep. The right challenge level will keep you focused on the task and you also won’t feel demotivated by the task

Another condition to enter flow is that we must be intrinsically motivated complete the task. This means that we want to do the task because we like it and not solely because we have to do it.

  1. Eliminate Distractions.

This might be the most obvious tip to get into flow, but yes, you cannot get into flow reading a book while you’re phone is ringing from notifications. So if you are writing an essay or a blog post(In my case) you should try to eliminate all possible distractions that you can.

  1. Structure the task.

The reason why we can easily enter flow during games is because games are structured. In chess there are rules as to how the pieces can move and capture other pieces. In soccer there are rules as to where you can take the ball(can’t take the ball outside the field) and you can’t touch the ball with your hands unless you’re the goalkeeper.

Structured tasks like games make it easy to enter flow because it allows you to feel like you have some control over the activity and structure also makes it easier to understand and complete the activity. If there were no rules in sports or if we enforced no rules while studying (such as turning your phone off) then there would be too many unpredictable events that would happen and you would feel like your actions have no control over the activity. This makes it harder to focus and get immersed in the task because you never know what to expect. Therefore, structuring the task makes it substantially easier for you to focus on your task and enter flow.

You can structure your activities by establishing rules or guidelines as to how you will do your task. If you are trying to enter flow while studying, make sure you know exactly what you are specifically trying to study. It would also be useful to have all your textbooks or resources that you might need while doing homework, near you. It is also helpful to plan out how you will take your breaks, and how long they will be.

  1. Establish Clear goals

Before we actually start the activity we should break down the overall goal of completing the task into simpler goals. This means that we can break down the task of cleaning the room into making the bed, organizing closet etc.

Establishing simpler goals makes it easier for us to understand what we are actually doing and it also makes it easier for us to stay on task. For example completing a 20 question math problem set is a much simpler and clearer goal than “completing homework.”

  1. Establish a way to get clear feedback

Another condition to get into flow is that we must have immediate feedback of our performance on our task. When practicing shooting basketballs in a basket you have immediate feedback on your progress as you immediately see if the ball went inside or outside the basket.

 

Conclusion

Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus.

There are 5 simple steps to enter flow while doing an activity:

  1. Pick the right activity
  2. Eliminate Distractions
  3. Structure the tasks
  4. Establish clear goals
  5. Establish a way to get immediate feedback

Try using these steps to get into flow and make your work more fun.

Read the book Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to learn more about how to get into flow

How to be an Optimist

Hopefulness and confidence about the future is called Optimism. It is a quality that that brings has benefits such as increasing altruism, increasing our ability to postpone gratification, increase humor. Optimism has also been proven to be a great indicator of future happiness and success.

 “To see if optimism predicts longevity, scientists at the Mayo clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, selected 839 consecutive patients who referred themselves for medical care forty years ago… Of these patients, 200 had died by 2000, and optimists had 19 percent greater longevity, in terms of their expected life span, compared to that of pessimists” – Authentic Happiness

 

The Key to Becoming an Optimist

In the book, Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman describes how we can become happier about our future by being optimistic. According to Seligman we can become more happy and optimistic by

Recognizing and disputing our pessimistic thoughts.

 

Defeating Pessimistic Thoughts

We must first recognize our pessimistic thoughts when they occur and then argue them. Recognizing pessimistic thoughts might take some effort at first but it can be done if we try to be aware of the thoughts that cross our minds.

In order to dispute our negative pessimistic thoughts we can use the ABCDE model.

 

Adversity

Beliefs we have when the adversity occurs

Casual consequence of the belief

Dispute routine belief

Energization occurs after we dispute our belief

 

Here is an example of disputing a pessimistic thought:

 

Adversity

I did bad on a test and now I think I might have to drop out.

Beliefs

I’m incompetent and not intelligent to get through university.

Consequence

I feel anxious and depressed. I feel sad and I start skipping classes.

Disputation

I may have got a bad mark on one test but I have done good on many other tests. I may have done bad because I didn’t study enough. If I study more I can get better grades.

Energized

I feel better about myself. I feel more motivated to study and work on my academic goals.

 

Leading an Optimistic Life

In our lives, we will encounter many pessimistic thoughts that will bring us down. We will think up many exaggerated lies and end up believing them. If we do not fight these negative thoughts, they can sabotage our lives.

To be an optimist means to see obstacles as challenges that we can overcome. Being an optimist has many proven benefits, and we can be more optimistic if we recognize and dispute the negative thoughts.

So the next time you think you’re not strong, or good enough to face your problems identify the negative belief that is pulling you down. Then take a minute to think through the problem using the ABCDE method and dispute the belief that is holding you back. This can lead you to becoming an optimist and living a better life.


Read Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman to learn more about optimism and happiness

Lessons from the most Productive Man on Earth

In the book “The productivity Project”, Bailey tries to show how we can live more productive lives.

Chris discovered that to be more productive, there are three important things you must manage:

  • Time: How we use our time throughout the day. How much time we spend doing tasks that are important and how much time we spend procrastinating
  • Attention: How focused we are while doing our important tasks or how easily are we distracted.
  • Energy: How much energy we have throughout the day. Do we have enough energy to complete our tasks efficiently or are we too fatigued to complete the task at hand.

Time:

Since time is a limited resource, it is important that we learn to manage it well. To manage time well we must increase the time we spend doing tasks with high return and decrease the time we spend on tasks with low return.

To be productive we should decide on three tasks that we plan to complete in that day. By planning on what tasks are important we get a better sense of direction as to what we must do that day to be productive.

Very often we know what we must do but we still decide to put the task off and procrastinate. By figuring out which of the following triggers are preventing you from doing your job you can decrease the amount of procrastination.

Procrastination triggers:

  • Boring
  • Frustrating
  • Difficult
  • Unstructured
  • lacking intrinsic reward
  • lacking personal meaning.

I.e. if a task is unstructured you can plan and break down the task into smaller steps which you can work on one at a time. If a task is difficult you can research how to complete it more effectively.

Work on high returning tasks such as projects, and spend less time on low return maintenance tasks such as cleaning your room. Chris recommends 3 main ways to do this:

  • Grouping all your chores/maintenance tasks and try completing as many of them at once. This means we should try to allocate one day of the week to do all our household chores.
  • Become aware of how much and attention you spend on low return tasks.
  • Shrink the task by setting time limits on the task because

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” – Parkinson’s law

Attention:

In this day and age, our attention is constantly shifting back and forth from our social media and our work at hand. So it is crucially important that we improve our control of our attention and are better able to focus on our tasks.

We can improve our attention by performing a brain dump. A brain dump is an activity in which you write down everything that you currently have to do on a piece of paper or your phone. This activity relieves your brain from the job of constantly holding information and helps free up the brain’s resources. As a result, the brain can better focus on tasks you need to complete.

Now although it has been stated countless times, meditation has been shown to improve attention along with many other benefits it has. A study in Pennsylvania University confirmed these findings as researchers found that people who meditate had better focus and attention than people who didn’t meditate.

Energy:

No matter how much time or attention we have, it may all be useless if we are too tired to do anything productive. Therefore making sure that we have enough energy throughout the day is an important part of being a productive person.

To manage our energy we must start off by focusing on our dietary habits. The author gives tips to help us maintain more energy throughout the day:

  • We should eat more unprocessed food and cut down on processed food. Unprocessed food usually takes more time to digest and as a result, they slowly give us energy throughout the day.
  • We should notice when we are full, and then stop eating.
  • We should cut down on coffee and alcohol and drink more water.

Sleep gives us more energy and focuses for the next day. So although pulling all-nighters might sound like a good idea to get some extra work done. In the long run, getting less sleep will only decrease our productivity.

Conclusion

In the “Productivity Project”, Bailey talks about what being productive is, and he also gives us actionable steps so we can become more productive.

Now we may not ever be totally productive all the time. We may still sometimes spend time watching YouTube videos when we are supposed to work on an assignment. However, it is important that we strive to continually improve and work to become more productive so that we are better at achieving our goals.