A successful study session involves preparation. You have to get yourself ready so that you can get off to a good start. This means you’ve got to have all the things you need for the task and you need a good place to do it in. And maybe most important of all, you need to be mentally ready to begin. This lesson will help you find out how to get ready for productive study.
GETTING IN THE MOOD
You probably know what it’s like to have to do something you don’t feel like doing. Whether it’s studying, washing the dinner dishes, or training a new person on the job, it’s easy to put off doing an unpleasant task.
You can come up with plenty of excuses for not doing something:
- “I can’t do the dishes now because I have to pay the bills.”
- “I can’t train Tony this morning because I’m expecting an important call.”
- “I can’t study now because I have to get a haircut.”
At some time or another everyone procrastinates. The first step in conquering this problem is to recognize the actual reasons for procrastinating:
- You’re not sure you can do it.
- You’re afraid it will involve too much time and effort.
- You’re uneasy in new situations.
- You don’t want to be disturbed.
- It’s hard for you to get started.
Knowing why you’re procrastinating will help you overcome the tendency to put things off, and you’ll find it easier to get moving.
Trick and Treat to Beat Procrastination
We all like be to rewarded for a job well done. And if we know there’s going to be a reward at the end, we’ll be more motivated at the start. You can apply this to studying: Trick yourself into working now by promising yourself a treat later.
Before you read any further, think of a reward you can give yourself after you complete this lesson or before you begin the next one. Here are some suggestions for rewards to give yourself:
- Telephone a friend.
- Have a nutritious snack.
- Spend time with your pet: cat, dog, goldfish, hamster, hedgehog.
- Take a walk or exercise.
Next, take out a notebook and make a list of other rewards you’d like to give yourself–rewards that don’t take a lot of time, aren’t expensive, and are easy to do right where you are.
Use Procrastination to Get Something Done
Let the studying you have to do take turns with something else. Distract yourself from one job by doing the other. This works especially well if both tasks are the kind that make you want to procrastinate, like studying your psychology textbook and cleaning out your closet. Watch the clock; don’t spend more than 20 minutes on one job. You can set a time less than 20 minutes if that works better for you—15 minutes, or even 10.
FINDING THE RIGHT CONDITIONS
To help you be at your best, you need to identify what helps you stay both alert and calm. Everyone is different, so it’s important to get in touch with what works for you.
Dealing with Trouble
Josie is reluctant to sign up for a management course she needs to take to be considered for promotion. “I have so much trouble studying,” she says, “I can’t find the time. There are so many other things I have to do. And there’s no place for me to study! I can’t study at home because my brother’s always playing the radio, and my neighbor’s dog barks constantly.” If Josie can find the right study conditions for herself and make time in her schedule, she’ll be on the road to becoming a manager.
WHAT WORKS FOR YOU
To help you get started finding your ideal study conditions, think about a project you completed. How did you feel before you began it, and how
did you feel after finishing it? What did you do to get yourself started? You might want to think about when you had something really important
to do, such as gathering tax information or balancing your checkbook. In your notebook, answer the following questions:
1. What time of day do you work best—morning, afternoon, or evening? How early or late in the day are you able to think clearly?
2. Do you prefer quiet, or do you need background music?
3.If you like background music, what kind?
4. Where do you like to work—at a desk, on a couch, on your bed?
5. What do you like to have around you when you work? Do you have a favorite pillow? A pet? Write whatever comes to mind. Remember, you’re trying to get in touch with what helps keep you calm and alert.
6. What about eating—do you prefer working during or after a meal? What foods leave you feeling clear-headed and energized? The answers to these questions give you your ideal conditions. Read on to find out how you can make your ideal conditions when they don’t occur naturally.
GETTING WHAT YOU NEED
Sometimes, the conditions of your ideal study situation just can’t be met. Maybe you’re a morning person, but you’re at the office in the
morning. Or, you’re an evening thinker, but you work the night shift. What can you do? Of course, you can utilize the thinking time on days
or nights when you’re not working, but in order to make learning stick with you, it’s a good idea to study each day, even if only for 20 minutes or so. You need to find time every day, not just on weekends.
Ask yourself: “What is it about my special time that helps me?” Write some ideas in your notebook. Then read on for ideas on how to plan your day to create your ideal study situation.
After a Rest
If your best study time is after a rest, then you’re the kind of person who needs to work when you’re refreshed. Try taking a nap before your study session. See if that helps. Or try going to bed earlier and waking up earlier. This way you could study before going to work or school. When You’re Relaxed If you study better when you’re really relaxed, like when you’re in bed, put yourself to bed early!
Actually, reviewing something you want to remember for a half hour before you go to sleep and then re-reading the same material as soon as you wake up is a great way for anybody to study. Your brain is especially receptive then. Maybe you’ve had the experience of waking up in the middle of the night, suddenly remembering something, like “Tomorrow is my brother’s birthday!” Such instances are spontaneous; you didn’t plan to remember his birthday just then. But when you study upon waking, you’re being deliberate; you’re directing your brain to help you remember.
This technique can be used to come up with ideas and solve problems, too. Before going to sleep, try talking to yourself about an idea you want to come up with or a math problem that’s presenting a challenge. Keep a pad of paper and a pencil by your bed so you’ll be ready for the answers in the morning!
At a Desk
If you work best sitting at a desk, but you’d like to use your two-hour bus trip each day to study, re-create your desk on the bus! Buy a lap board from an office supply or art store. Glue a pencil case to a corner, so your tools will be easy to reach. Decorate the board with photos of favorite people or feel-good sayings you come across in magazines or fortune cookies—just make sure you leave the study area bare! If you need more light, try a miniature flashlight; some come in pens or on key chains. And make sure to take advantage of your real desk when you can.
With Background Noise
If you like noise around you, do a little study of yourself first. What kinds of music or TV make you comfortable? Keep in mind that the music you enjoy most might not work as background music for studying.
Read one section of this book with one kind of background sound, another section with another kind, and so on. Which section did you
remember best? Some kinds of sounds, like TV or vigorous music, command your attention, making it difficult to focus on what you’re studying.
The clue is to find what’s comfortable so you get the most out of studying. You might find that soft classical music works best.
When It’s Quiet
Do you think best in silence? Then you need to block out as much noise as you can. Get up early, go to bed late, study after the kids have gone to school. The rest of the time, create quiet: close the door to the living room, wear earplugs or headphones–or do anything you can to block out sounds.
Josie, from the box on page 3, might even be able to work something out with her brother. Maybe he would wear headphones so she could have quiet to study. Or maybe she could use headphones with music playing so softly that it wouldn’t disturb her concentration but would still block out the noises around her.
Try different approaches to see what works for you. There are even machines you can buy that make white noise to block out distracting sounds. If you’re thinking of buying one, make sure you hear it first. What works fine for one person might not work at all for another! In your notebook, make a list of alternate places to study, keeping in mind the best types of environments for you. Your local library is a good place to start!
When you’re calm, you can think clearly and deeply. You’ll find it easier
to make connections and to remember what you’ve been studying.
What Keeping Calm Can Do
Lenny freaked out when he saw the chemistry book: “I’m never going to get through that!” He felt so intimidated by the heavy book that he didn’t open it until the day before the first quiz. But putting off studying only makes matters worse. If Lenny had spent time calming himself down, he could have opened the book the first time he saw it. He could have put himself in the mood and taken charge of his studying. He might even have become interested in chemistry!
PICTURE YOURSELF CALM
Think of a place that makes you feel calm. It can be a real place you’ve been to, some place you’ve seen in a movie or photograph, or a fantasy place you made up. Close your eyes and get a clear picture of this place in your head. Try to imagine yourself really there. Sense what you see, hear, feel, and smell.
For example, if you’re imagining yourself on a beach . . .
- See yourself sitting on the shore.
- Hear the gentle waves lapping the shore and an occasional seagull calling.
- Feel the warm sand on your toes and the gentle breeze on your shoulders.
- Smell the salt water.
By using your four senses in this imagination exercise, rather than just one or two, you heighten the sensation of peace and relaxation, making a mental image seem like reality.
AS EASY AS BREATHING
Another exercise you can do to become calm is deep breathing. You may want to first put your mind in your special imaginary place.
- Listen to one of the sounds in your special place, perhaps the gentle waves lapping the shore. Put your hand over your heart and listen to your heartbeat.
- With this sound in your head, and sitting comfortably with your back straight, breathe in, feeling your chest fill with air.
- Breathe out, feeling the emptiness in your chest.
- Repeat breathing in and out several times, inhaling and exhaling, feeling calmer each time you breathe out.
Use this technique when you feel stressed—because of an upcoming exam, an enormous chemistry book, or a looming deadline—and you’ll feel more relaxed and ready to begin.