Studying too much is the most common mistake I see from students.
Doesn’t this sound awesome? More slack time, right?
It’s not that simple though.
If you’re studying right then your grades will get better.
Studying isn’t a masochistic self immolative process. (In english, studying isn’t a pleasure you get from setting yourself on fire.)
Studying is actively learning. It’s taking the process that your brain is doing all day anyway and focusing it in a single direction.
Studying is natural.
Well… it is when you don’t force it.
Most of the strategies that students learn about studying are wrong. Teachers, parents and counselors always show up with the same horrible advice.
They say something like:
- Study more
- Work harder
- Focus more
- Blah… Blah Blah… Blah Blah
It’s annoying, right?
Students already spend hours a day outside of class but apparently, academia being a full-time job isn’t enough.
I know they’re trying to help but they’re telling you to walk faster when you’re walking in the wrong direction.
Walking faster may get you someplace faster but if you’re going in the wrong direction then it will just get you farther away faster.
The Unbelievable Power Of Associations
There is a famous experiment in behavioral psychology. I’m going to show you how this experiment can be used to turn bad grades into good grades.
Ivan Pavlov did an experiment with some dogs. The basic experiment is simple. He brought the dogs food and rang a bell. He then measured the dog’s saliva.
As you would expect, when the food came out, the dog’s saliva increased. This is natural.
What caught some folks off-guard came next.
They tried ringing the same bell without giving the dogs food.
The dogs saliva still increased.
Pavlov was able to connect the dogs natural salivation to something unrelated to the process of eating. He did this by creating an unnatural connection between the bell and the food. These unnatural connections happen all the time.
The secrets is learning to use them to your advantage.
Pavlov’s Students (Am I Comparing You To A Dog? :P)
Think about school.
Most students hate homework.
Why do they hate homework?
Do they not like thinking?
That’s unlikely. They’re thinking about stuff all day whether they’re doing homework or not.
Do they not like filling out forms?
Sure… that can be unpleasant but is it really worth hating?
What most students that hate homework grow to hate is this:
They hate being wrong.
You’re not just thinking. You’re not just filling out forms.
Doing homework is doing something that you know will be judged harshly with a red pen. You may even have a parent or teacher get mad at you if you screw it up.
Sure… homework isn’t fun but being judged harshly for it is miserable.
Why Bad Students Drown
This is why students that fall behind struggle to get back on track.
A good student gets positive reinforcement when they hand in a paper.
They get a good grade. That makes them happy. They have happiness linked to handing in their work. That makes it much more pleasurable for them to hand in good papers.
A bad student gets negative reinforcement when they hand in a paper.
They get a bad grade. They might get a snarky note from their teacher. They have disappointment linked to handing in their work.
No one can blame them for becoming a bit disenchanted with the process.
They get constant negative reinforcement and eventually start asking completely academically destructive questions like:
- Why is this teacher such a jerk?
- Is this stuff really useful?
- Am I just dumb?
- Why should I even care about this?
There is a place for some of these questions but if your grades are a priority then they aren’t going to help you.
This is how students get trapped in the rut of poor grades.
You’re never going to want to hand in anything if you feel miserable every time you do it.
It ends up feeling impossible to correct.
You Need To Incinerate The Feedback Loop
This feedback loop is deadly.
That is why you should be very careful not to follow the usual advice when you’re stuck in it.
When you’re stuck in the feedback loop, studying more will just make you feel worse about your grades.
You might study 4 hours for an upcoming test. Then when the test comes… your results aren’t guaranteed to improve. If you study with an effective strategy (like the 15MSS) then they probably will.
If your grade doesn’t go up then that feedback loop will just accelerate. You’ll end up thinking, “even when I study my scores suck.”
If your grades go up a little then you’re still going to have most of those negative associations to school. You’ll probably end up thinking, “is that all I get for all that studying? I know people that study way less and do way better.”
These negative associations just stack on top of each other until you’re completely incapable of enjoying the process.
How To Destroy The Feedback Loop
Stop what you’re doing.
That’s the first step.
However you’re studying now isn’t working for you.
All of your current habits are linked with your negative associations to school.
If you read your textbook and take notes then stop that. Change your approach.
The most effective way of studying according to science in utilizing active recall.
That’s the ideal place to start your new study routine.
It may also help to change the details about your current study routine.
Start studying someplace new. The new environment will help.
Start using a new pencil.
Change your routine in every little way you can. You can always change it back later. In the short term, focus on eliminating old associations from your study routine.
Removing the old associations will help you remove those negative feelings.
Stop doing things that make you miserable.
Do you hate studying for an hour a night? Then study 10 minutes a night. You can increase it later if you need to.
Do you hate reading your textbook? Don’t.
The most important goal is changing the way you feel about studying. You can fix the details later. Most textbook reading isn’t important anyway.
Find ways you can enjoy studying while not interrupting the studying process.
Sure… using your phone while you’re studying is enjoyable, it’s just not studying.
Eating gummy bears after each section of the textbook you read is still studying.
Then comes step two…
Watch your results.
Are your grades improving?
No? Then research some more ideas. This is a learning process.
Change your strategy but never force yourself into a process you hate.
A funny thing happens though.
What used to feel miserable will slowly feel less and less miserable.
Maybe studying 10 minutes was all you could take at the start. A month in, you might be able to study 20 minutes and feel like it’s nothing.
By always putting a limit to the stress of studying, you’ll always be increasing the positive associations.
Those improved associations change everything for the better.
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.
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