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Learning Tips for Those Who Struggle

A Student Trying to Study

Very often students find themselves grappling with lofty concepts, unable to process information effectively. If you know what I am talking about, I hope this small article will come in handy and ease your pain.

You live in a difficult time: in a time of unlimited opportunities and information, in a time where most menial and unqualified workers are going to be superseded by robots. It is predicted that in the future almost everybody will need a college degree to have a decent job.

You want a job, right? Wrong? Well, in any case, you most certainly want to have an interesting and fulfilling life full of memorable events and scintillating activities. Most likely, unless you are one of those lucky few, you will need to get a job. However, as technology is getting more and more advanced, it is cheaper for companies to use machines instead of real life people to perform certain elementary tasks. Basically, what I am getting at is that if you want to be competitive on the market-place of the future, you will need to be different from a robot. What can you, a mere human, offer that a powerful multitasking and all-knowing computer fails to provide?

It is your creativity and ability to think and conjure up new concepts that distinguishes you from robots. It is your ability to learn and use your knowledge to transform the outer and inner world around you in new exciting ways.

However, let’s face it - most humans are born pretty dumb. Their baby pre-frontal cortices can barely handle emotions, let alone the complicated cognitive processes. Later in life, as their brains develop, humans get better at life and learning. Well, not all of them. Still, I believe if you are here reading it, you are the one struggling to succeed.

So, the question is - do you want to improve your life by mastering the art of learning? If the answer is yes, I am welcoming you on the journey to erudition, creativity and efficiency.

Do not Focus on the Mountain

Student Climbing a Mountain of Books

Very often people think big… which is not necessarily bad. However, trying to climb that ladder of their dreams, they forget to look at each individual step. And then – Bam! They fall to the ground.

If you are going to climb a mountain without looking at the terrain at the same time assessing and planning your every move, you are going to die. Seriously, no kidding. Same with learning. Of course, it is important to have a great goal in mind, so that your actions have reason and motivation. However, do not underestimate the importance of the route planning.

I would advise you to not only delineate your every step, but also assign a feasible time frame for each of them. Very often in this case people tend to have unrealistic expectations. I would recommend you planning 75 % of the time as a precaution leaving 15 % for either relaxing if your plan was sensible or finishing up if you failed to make one. The more you practice, the better in tune with your own abilities you will become. Anyway, the key is not to despair if it does not work out for the first time. Be flexible. You can always change your plan the next time.

Focus on the process, not on the result. Very often people who get things done, start feeling empty inside. It is the journey, the feeling of being productive that will make you feel most happy and fulfilled.

Weg mit der Einstellung

Or in English - down with the preconceived thoughts and ideas that obstruct your thinking and prevent from learning something new. Yes, this is exactly what it means. Very often people would jump to conclusions based on what they already know. However, this is a wrong way to tackle new information.

Of course, if you are knowledgeable in various disciplines, it can help you pick up new information much faster. Being intelligent is a skill. The more you train your brains, the better and faster they become. However, there is always a looming danger of being ingrained in your ways. If you have done something or have thought about something in one way only, it is hard to shift your thinking in a different direction.

How do I avoid it? – you would ask. Well, first of all, communicate. Other people may not think like you. An outside opinion can pose a real challenge for your egocentric mindset. If you do not trust your peers to be smarter than you, go to the teachers. If you have no teachers, my lovely autodidact, you can try shifting your thinking on your own, although it tends to be harder. Try browsing for alternative opinions on the Internet. Try simply imagining a different point of view and its main arguments. Read books that dispute your views. Just remember that once the common contention was that the Earth was flat. Something you hold for the irrefutable truth today may become a mere factoid tomorrow.

Finally, physical exercise can help relax your inner conservative. Very often you would find yourself solving a problem right after a refreshing jog. The thing is that the more intelligent you are, the harder is it for your brain to invent new solutions and, in general, be creative. Let your intelligent brain slumber for some time. This will clear room for creativity to come into play.

Try Teaching

Trying to explain certain concepts and ideas to your friends, colleagues or even the laymen can expose your blind spots and help you fill in the gaps. Very often people succumb to the illusion of competence, when they feel they have mastered something just by understanding it once. The truth is that when you perceive something for the first time, your neural connections are still very feeble. You need to repeat it, preferably in many different forms, places and to all sorts of people to really grasp the idea.

Moreover, trying to teach something can, in addition, improve your writing. When you are attempting to encase your thoughts into words, you strive to make them as clear, concise and comprehensible as possible. This is also the indication of the best kind of writing. Really good writers are constantly thinking about their readers. Good teachers are constantly thinking about their students. The simpler you can explain your idea, the deeper you understand it.

Every topic is like a maze of thoughts. However, every maze has a center where the most important concept resides. If you have uncovered this concept, it means you have completed the mission. If you are still rambling around, that means you need to give yourself more time.

The best teacher is the one who can guide a student from the central idea through the complex branching all the way to the exit. And vice versa. If a teacher is rambling, unable to present the central idea, lost in the maze of the resonant thoughts – well, this is obviously no good. You do not want to be that kind of teacher. Still, try teaching, and, maybe, by practicing navigating the maze, you will soon start to see the clarity in it.

Reward Yourself

Christmas Presents

You probably like getting Christmas presents. Getting a gift stimulates certain neurotransmitters in your brain such as dopamine that also makes you feel happy and motivated. Pampering yourself after an excruciating studying session is a way to keep that happiness/motivation level high. It is a way to forever link studying with the delightful feeling of receiving a present.

Lack of dopamine can lead to anhedonia (loss of motivation) and, as a result, catatonia (loss of movement), and even a clinical depression. It is not enough to work for the sake of working. Humans naturally seek positive emotions and reinforcements that are most effective in making them learn faster and with greater pleasure. If you are going to just pressure yourself without a distinct reward in mind, you are more likely to give up on the way.

This reward does not have to be physical. Of course, if it is, I would recommend you placing it somewhere in the middle of the room, on some sort of platform, like a trophy. This will make you more motivated to work towards getting it.

If it is something spiritual, I would advise you to make it as concrete as possible. For instance, if you are learning the language, do not just think of your reward as an ability to talk to native speakers. You might want to organize a trip to a foreign country and actually practice the language there. If it is outside of your budget, use the modern technology. You can find native speakers on the Internet in abundance. Skype is always there for you.

Do not forget about the rewards! They entrench that important sense of accomplishment that will inspire you to set further goals for yourself.

Sleep Smartly

Do not try to trick your body. Just imagine that your brain is a big corporation. You are its CEO. Your neurons are the employees. There, I said it! Be a smart CEO, and let your poor employees get some rest!

Of course, this metaphor is a bit out of touch with reality. In the said reality, your brain never rests. Even when you are unconscious, your neurons keep consolidating the information acquired during the day. You really lucked out with such employees! However, you would ask, what is so important about sleep that I need to sacrifice my valuable study time for it?

First of all, I want to stress the consolidating function one more time. If you want your studying to be effective, you need to give your neurons time to strengthen the new connections or restructure the old ones.

Secondly, sleep helps dispose of the poison chemicals that your brain stores up throughout the day. So, if you want to keep your mind clean, let that sewage out of your brain. Let the night sleep work its magic.

Thirdly, sleeping time bolsters your creativity. There are many scientists who claim that they saw their most staggering discoveries in their dreams! Mendeleev created the periodic table immediately after waking up from a dream. Descartes thought of the scientific method in a dream as well. You may join their ranks, if you just let your brain wander in the maze of ideas making those connections that your intelligent brain would probably forbid.

And Finally… Stay Positive!

Man Climbing Mountain

Very often it is easier said than done. I know it myself. Even now the imposter syndrome is trying to cripple my achievements, turning them into the ugly ghosts of themselves. I know you probably feel it too. Do not let your demons control you and, most importantly, what you think about yourself. You know you are better than you will ever think you are.

It is a common human inclination to evaluate their success. It is, unfortunately, also common to give up in the face of difficulties. However, the only way for you to succeed is to persevere. You need to weather through the pain and disappointment that your initial failures may engender. You need to believe in yourself and your bright future. Only if you’ve got this strong growth mentality, this inner grit and optimism, - only then these tips are going to serve you well.

I had to shift from linguistics to mathematics when I decided to get an economics degree. For me it was easy because, even though I struggled a lot with economics, I had an intrinsic belief in myself that I derived from my previous achievements in linguistics. I would recommend you reminding yourself of the most successful moments of your life when you are having a hard time learning something. This will preclude you from giving up on your studying. Just remember the old adage - When things get tough, the tough gets going.

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