Since starting to write at this blog I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a ton of new and super motivated people.
Sure… in school I’d run into one or two of these people every year but writing for a study blog seems to be a great way to meet people who are actually WORTH meeting. I don’t say that to be mean to everyone else but quite frankly, 95% of the world is just too unmotivated to be of interest to me.
Students that read study blogs are kick-ass for a whole slew of different reasons. They’re young and still not boring. They are smart enough to know the importance of efficiency over time investment. Instead of studying they’re looking for ways to improve that studying that will pay off repeatedly. This is the kind of person that gets me motivated to do what I do.
I tend to discuss the importance of efficiency while studying but most of the people that read this blog already realize that instinctually. My mentioning it is mostly just a reminder of what the readers already know. Most relevant to this article, the students that read this blog are motivated. People don’t spend time reading study blogs unless they’re a special kind of crazy.
Being motivated comes with certain challenges though. I’m going to be discussing one of the more difficult of those challenges in this article. Then, I’m going to show you how to improve your life dramatically, often in less than 5 minutes.
There Is Always More
Anyone that’s read this blog for any significant period of time has probably read some of my story. It’s the classic mediocre student to top of the class competing student. I made that change by focusing on objective, consistent, and efficient means of improving my grades (often discovered through my constant experimentation.) Yea… There are piles more details but that’s enough to get to my point.
Before I improved my grades, I barely cared about those grades. I remember handing in a piece of homework that was 90% incomplete because I knew I wouldn’t do it and I didn’t really care anyway. I showed up but I was almost always slovenly about it. As soon as I started to change it a little bit, and I got myself to push for a small improvement to my grades, I started to feel an even bigger nudge.
Every time I was able to boost my grades a little bit, I felt a little more of a push to bring them even higher. Eventually it got to the point that I was crushing the vast majority of the scores in all my classes but I was still wanting more. Suddenly, passing the class wasn’t good enough. Getting a B in a class became something to be horribly embarrassed about. (Yes… This was silly. I tend to be more practical about my expectations these days.)
When I first focused on improving my grades I focused on the laziest methods of improving my grades. I was fighting for high efficiency. By the time I started getting consistent A’s my brain had thrown all conceptions of efficiency out the window and I was killing myself with studying just to earn an extra couple points. That wasn’t the only thing I was killing myself over…
If you want to see some of the things I learned to change that for the better then you might want to read 101 School Hacks For Better Grades And A Better Life.
A part of the story I don’t really talk about is where my sudden burst of motivation to improve my grades came from.
A little before I started to focus on my grades I’d hit rock bottom in another aspect of my life. At that time I was overweight and getting treated just like you’d expect kids to treat the overweight one in the group. One day, I just broke down and decided it was over. I worked out. I ate dramatically less. Honestly, the pain of those people around me led me down a really unhealthy road with the extremes I went to but… I saw results.
Suddenly, a big pain in my life was, at least partially lifted. That’s around the time I decided to start lifting another. That’s around the time I started to put an effort in towards school. At the same time as I was improving my abilities at school I was focusing on some other personal challenges and skill developments. In every area of my life things were starting to improve.
I was well below average in virtually every aspect of my life until I finally hit that extreme and pushed forward. Within a couple years my life had improved dramatically. All of that came from a single success.
It was the domino at the front of my stack. Once I was able to knock that first one down, they all seemed to come tumbling down. I got to the point where I barely needed to push anywhere because it was all just automatic. I wouldn’t think “I should do this,” I just did it.
Where It Goes Wrong
This kind of motivation (if you choose to call it that, I’d probably prefer a different word but motivation tends to fit the average perception of this) is good but it comes with some less than desirable consequences. It suddenly becomes difficult to stop and realize when you’ve pushed yourself enough.
This is an area that I’ve started to suspect a large number of my readers are suffering. I’ve received questions that made me think this but it seems too difficult for me to diagnose. It’s one of those problems that is easier for you to see in yourself than for other people to see in you.
The problem comes down to this:
Time doing nothing is not time wasted. Time having fun for the sake of fun is not wasted. In fact, this is some of the most important time you have.
If you ask most students why they study (or employees why they work, or anyone why they does what they do) you’re probably going to get something about the long or short term benefits. In school (and work’s) case, it’s usually the long term benefits. People put themselves through short term suffering in exchange for long term pleasure. What is that pleasure? For most people, that’s the pleasure of having fun and relaxing a little bit!
Students are working now so they can slack more later. They’re choosing this over having fun now so they can have more fun later.
The problem is that later needs to come eventually. When it doesn’t, even the most motivated people end up driving themselves into a bit of a rut.
Have you ever just felt down? Have you ever felt unmotivated? Have you ever felt bored? Have you ever felt a little tired consistently? I’m not saying you’re miserable, sitting in your own filth, and falling asleep where you’re standing but just a little off on a daily basis. A level where the feelings are noticeable but they’re not dramatically interrupting your day to day life. In other words, you just feel like you’re in a rut.
Most motivated people just keep doing what they’re doing when they start hitting a rut. Getting stuff done is often about just pounding away at your goals despite not always seeing immediate results. Sometimes this will get you out of the rut. Other times, it will just dig you deeper in.
Sometimes when it comes to writing I focus on starting from scratch. I think that’s the kind of strategy you want to consider every time you get stuck in a bit of a rut.
This is a problem that motivated people will constantly run into. Eventually, no matter how dynamic and creative you are, you will end up losing focus for a minute and notice that you’ve hit a bit of a rut. The reality is, most people are in a rut all their lives, if you’re noticing a rut then it probably means you’re motivated.
In many cases, some of the most motivated people around run into the most ruts. That being said, there is a certain class of motivation that virtually never runs into ruts.
There is an old movie cliche that seems to represent this class of motivated person that virtually never gets into a rut. In movies, inventors are often depicted as obsessive, singularly focused, and extremely motivated. They are shown spending day after day and year after year perfecting things that seems boundlessly pointless to most people.
In reality you might think of a man like Steve Jobs. He was well known to be a complete prick to those around him but everyone around him would agree that he was focused on creating a great product. He was obsessed with the product to the point that he wore the same damn clothes all the time. He was obsessed so much that he’d do downright cruel things to make the product better.
In my experience, these are the kinds of people that never run into ruts. Sure, they’ll have major lows but you’ll virtually never find them spinning their wheels hopelessly. At every step of their journey they’re pushing, adjusting and pushing again. This is a formula that inevitably leads to always getting anything possible done.
When a person is obsessively focused on a single goal, they don’t end up banging away at pointless tasks because they’re thinking too deeply to bang away at useless tasks. If you were truly obsessed with improving your grades, you wouldn’t get caught dead studying with the old reading your textbook and praying technique, you’d be mentally pushing yourself every step of the way.
Pushing yourself this way can be good or it can be bad. Just like most things in life, you have to pick what’s really important to you. Steve Jobs made creating a great product his goal. I suspect he’d be willing to drown puppies in ritual sacrifices if it helped him achieve that goal. That would be bad but even his detractors rarely say he has a crappy product.
In my life, I’ve always looked for an Aristotelian mean because ruts aren’t all bad. In my experience, they’re just a sign that you need to get a little more focus. Once you regain that focus, all the areas of your life that matter most to you will improve.
Whenever I feel myself starting to fall into a bit of a rut, I know it’s time that I need to start reassess my priorities. I know, if I’m singularly focused on a specific goal, I’d be out of a rut in no time but I also know that I don’t want to be obsessed to the point of losing other things that are important to me. With those factors in mind, I know it’s time to reasses what’s important to me.
Life is a constant experiment. When you see an opportunity, it’s tempting to take the opportunity. Motivated people have plenty of opportunities though. That can lead to tons of open loops. For every new opportunity you try to take advantage of you’re sacrificing a portion of your time and life. And sometimes, after taking up an opportunity, it can feel irresponsible to just let it go. That eventually leads to the destruction of the time you used to use for the most important parts of your life.
A rut usually means it’s time to start organizing your priorities. I always follow this simple methodology. I don’t know if it’s the best but it’s sufficient and by the end of it I’m always feeling dramatically better.
1. Write down your current responsibilities.
This includes all the things that require a consistent investment of time from you. This might include a study routine, a workout, a club, a sport, or virtually anything that you think is worth noting.
2. Circle the essentials.
Which of those responsibilities do you refuse to consider giving up on (or reducing your time on dramatically.) Your goal should be to convince yourself to circle as few of them as possible.
3. Which of these responsibilities do you not care about?
If you have a responsibility that doesn’t interest then you need to cross it off and do everything within reason to get out of that responsibility. If it’s impossible to get out of that responsibility then, at some point, you need to find a way to make that responsibility matter to you. Until you do one of these two things, these responsibilities will always be hacking away at your happiness and your time.
4. Which of these responsibilities don’t help you long term?
Sure… you may enjoy certain responsibilities but if they don’t help you long term, you need to consider eliminating them. You don’t have to eliminate them but the more you can eliminate, the better you’ll end up feeling in the long term. Focus is essential to getting and staying out of ruts.
5. How can you get rid of half of your responsibilities?
If you were forced to give up half of the responsibilities you listed, which responsibilities would you give up on.
Now… ideally… eliminate responsibilities.
I know you can’t magically eliminate every responsibility but you might be surprised how many responsibilities you can actually eliminate if you get creative.
If you were to actually follow through and eliminate half of your responsibilities, it would feel like a major weight was being lifted off of you. In that moment, you’d know you had plenty of time to focus your energy on the things that really matter to you. On top of that, you’d have time to take on new responsibilities that may someday be one of the responsibilities that you’d be unwilling to cut.
Life gets better when you start to control the things you allow to become a permanent part of it. You only have so much time in your life and every second you waste doing something that you only kind of want to do is a second you could have been doing something that really fulfills you.
Do you want to know how to study in less than 15 minutes a night? That’s what this blog is all about. Be sure to check out the archives, follow along, and read the ebooks in the sidebar for all the details.
Aaron Richardson took his grades from fighting F’s to Easy A’s. In the process, he read over 300 books on personal development. Today he’s founded 2 blogs on studying including Smart Student Secrets. He’s written 3 books on the subject. His work has been featured on some of the biggest news, psychology, and student sites on the internet.