What do you do when you study for hours and still don’t do well?

 

You change your strategy!

How?

Forget about quantity — don’t isolate yourself in a room and study 8, 10, or 12 hours every single day.

Instead, focus on quality — maximize each day by helping your brain absorb study material more effectively.

I still remember the way I studied during the month of exams when I was getting my undergraduate degree. Spending all day at my desk memorizing and re-reading my textbooks felt like torture! In retrospect, I realized how unnecessarily miserable it made me feel. That’s why I feel compelled to provide a better solution to students like you who find themselves in similar situations.

So what does it mean to change your studying strategy by focusing on quality instead of quantity?

Study tip #1. SIMPLIFY: Commit to reaching one study goal a day.

The best way to get your mind focused on what’s important to successfully pass your exams is to start the day with a question, “What is the ONE thing I am committed to completing today?”

  • Here’s why. This question will encourage you to think strategically about the day, keep you focused on your top study goal, and force you to prioritize the one goal that you want to reach by the end of the day. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have many study goals, but it does means that you can finish one today (read a certain number of chapters or practice exam questions, for example), so that you can concentrate better on your other goals in the days that follow.
  • Here’s how to practice it. Write the question in big bold letters on a sheet of paper and hang it on a wall. Pick a location where you can easily see the question as soon as you wake up (next to your bed or the bathroom mirror, for example). Then, read it out loud as you start your day. Take a few moments to think what you want to prioritize, and then come up with an answer and say it out loud too. Later, as you go through the day, make sure you’re working on completing what you’ve identified as your study goal for that day.

Study tip #2. PRIORITIZE: Do the most challenging cognitive task first.

Timing is everything! Doing complex cognitive tasks first means taking advantage of your circadian rhythm — your biological clock that dictates which activities you’re more likely to do best at certain times of the day.

  • Here’s what happens. For most people, your brain’s peak performance happens 2-4 hours after you wake up. This is the time when your brain can focus on analytical thinking that requires the most concentration. For studying, this can be reading, writing, critical thinking, or problem solving.
  • Here’s when it should happen. If you wake up at 8, your peak times are between 10 and 12. And just because it’s noon, it doesn’t mean you have to stop; extend this time for another hour or so to maximize your peak performance and wrap up an important section, chapter, or lecture.
  • Here are the benefits. Doing your hard work early in the day allows your brain to focus fully on the problem at hand, with fewer distractions, less inputs from your environment, and with a lot of energy that you’ve gained from a restful night. That’s a much better strategy than leaving your toughest studying for nighttime, when you are mentally exhausted.

Study tip #3. TIME IT: Use a timer to divide your day into short study periods.

For most efficient studying, you don’t need to be sitting at your desk for hours. Use a timer to better manage your study session. That way you allow your brain to focus in a more targeted and effective way. Here are some examples.

  • Review study material. Set the timer to 30 or 60 minute increments to maximize concentration; or, for really short bursts of study, try the Pomodoro technique which consists of 25 minute blocks of time, followed by 5 minute breaks.
  • Practice exam questions. Use the review questions from your textbook or you can create your own questions based on the most important concepts from each chapter. Write the questions down on a sheet of paper. Then, use the Pomodoro technique to rehearse for the exam. Give yourself only a short time to answer each question.
  • Take frequent breaks. When you’re done with one timed segment, step away from your desk and do something completely unrelated to work: get some fresh air, stretch, have a snack, grab a cup of coffee or tea.

Study tip #4. IGNORE: Eliminate distractions that stand in your way.

If you’ve ever found yourself checking Facebook for a few minutes and then you realized that two hours flew by, you know what distractions can do to your day. No wonder you feel overwhelmed! After all, you don’t have a lot of time left to review or study. Here’s what can help.

  • Check email and social media apps only 2–3 times a day. For example, you can catch up around lunchtime, later in the afternoon, and in the evening.
  • Set your phone to Airplane mode. You can also turn off the volume and put the phone away for a few hours so it’s not within easy reach.
  • Avoid browsing the Internet or reading the daily news. Leave these activities for later after you’ve completed all the tasks you need to cover.
  • Set expectations with other people. Humans can distract us too. Let your friends and family members know you won’t be available in the next few hours. You can catch up and chat over lunch or in the afternoon.

Study tip #5. TAKE NOTES: Write stuff down.

Don’t just sit and read the textbook passively. Taking notes as you’re reading improves your brain’s cognitive skills, makes retention of information easier, and boosts memory.

  • Write down what’s relevant. This includes key concepts, ideas, and topics. Don’t waste time writing every single word from a lecture. Instead, boost your critical thinking skills by identifying what is relevant to the topic. Don’t know what’s the best way? Try the Cornell Method.
  • Write in a list format. This saves time, enables you to skim the material when you need it, helps you locate information faster, and makes the review process easier.
  • Organize with color. Get notes more organized with multi-colored pens, markers, or highlighters to emphasize the most important sections. Use one specific color to highlight top priority concepts, then pick other colors to identify second level priority items such as examples and additional information. That way, all your notes will have a colorful structure which will be helpful as you’re reviewing for your exams.
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What are 5 habits that can strengthen willpower?

 

These are my top 5 willpower-strengthening habits.

Willpower habit #1. Make the most of your mornings.

For most adults, it’s common to wake up in the morning and feel overwhelmed with the amount of things we need to do on any given day. As a result, we procrastinate on some of those things and postpone them for later in the afternoon. The problem with this approach is that we deplete our willpower reserves the more we let our day go by.

  • How can you strengthen your willpower? If you want to focus on priorities, work on them early. This means do them in the morning, and keep working on them until you take a lunch break. For example, I don’t put off tasks if I know they’ll accumulate within 24 hours. I try to write up a plan for the work week ahead of time, usually in checklist format. If I’m reading through some important material, I immediately take notes while my brain is still focused on what’s in front of me. That way I won’t forget the top-level information that I might need to use later.

Willpower habit #2. Practice baby steps.

Every positive habit we want to acquire needs a good dose of self-discipline, a bit of time, and a lot of repetition. But once you frame it that way, it may seem intimidating. Who has all that time? Who is disciplined enough? We won’t necessarily feel we have all it takes to build a good habit. But the trick is in simplifying a new habit to the point that it’s impossible to come up with excuses not to practice it.

  • How can you strengthen your willpower? To simplify a change you want to make, start with baby steps. Baby steps are exactly that — really small, short, and quick activities that anyone can do. For example, if I feel stuck starting a writing assignment, I’ll warm up my brain and my fingertips by typing a short paragraph of 2–3 sentences on that topic. If I am too tired to go to the gym, I’ll tell myself that I’ll just work out for 15–20 minutes, not more. If I feel like I’m not getting enough sleep, I’ll set a bedtime alarm to notify me it’s time to get ready, and I’ll move my bedtime up by 15 minutes.

Willpower habit #3. Say“NO!” often.

If you often feel like you’re running out of time to do what you need to do (and that’s probably all of us!), chances are it means you’re not using your resources in the most optimal way. The biggest and most valuable resource we possess is time. That’s why it’s dangerous to allow distractions of any kind take over, and use up, our most value resource. This can apply to spending hours on pointless conversations, watching TV for hours, or just sitting around waiting to be entertained by someone or something else.

  • How can you strengthen your willpower? Exercising your “no!” muscle means literally saying no in a variety of situations in your daily life. If there’s leftover cake in the fridge, I won’t eat a double portion for two days in a row just because it’s there. If I’m in the middle of finishing up a project and a friend wants to hang out, I don’t just drop everything and go — but I ask if we can reschedule the meeting. I believe it’s super important to know your priorities and always be aware of why you’re doing something to begin with — because it’s usually tied to a personal goal you set in the past.

Willpower habit #4. Declare war on distractions.

It’s next to impossible to focus on getting any work done if we allow our attention to move on to little things around us. Everything sounds tempting. New emails in your inbox—what if one is urgent? New Instagram posts you’d like to check as soon as you wake up. Or the news waiting for you to read on Twitter. Who can resist? I believe it’s important to learn how to tackle distractions head on. The benefits are huge — when you turn off distractions, you have a better chance to actually focus on things that matter.

  • How can you strengthen your willpower? First, turn off the digital distractions when you need to do your most challenging cognitive tasks such as studying, problem-solving, or writing. I often set my phone to Airplane mode and also turn off all notifications. I check email and social media apps 2–3 times instead of 20–30 times a day. If I don’t want to be disturbed while in the middle of trying to solve a problem, I let people around me know I’ll be busy for a few hours so they don’t interrupt. Finally, I put on a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and listen to music that helps me focus.

Willpower habit #5. Create a plan B.

It’s very rare for things to run smoothly just because we want them to. Real life is quite the opposite — we start working on something, and sooner or later there’s an obstacle or a delay in schedule. What works best in these situations? I found that having a plan B in place gives me peace of mind for those moments when the day turns stressful, or I’m just tired and can’t keep my eyes open to finish reading the research material I’ve planned to complete.

  • How can you strengthen your willpower? If you’re stressed or overwhelmed about never-ending tasks, be aware that this is an emotional reaction and it will not last. I try to keep my emotions in check so they don’t rule my day (the key is to keep trying). Next, resist the urge to give up doing something that you know is good for you. Just because I don’t feel like going to the gym today doesn’t mean the exercise ritual won’t have a positive impact on my life. Finally, make a plan B. If something takes longer than expected, I’ll remove one of two unimportant items on my schedule to free up more time for a task that’s top priority for me.

What are psychology tricks to make us more disciplined?

 

I have to share with you.

Tip #1. Kick-start your focus.

The way you start the day — any day — is going to set the tone to whatever you do, try to do, want to do, and then actually do. You can choose to be reactive, which can mean you wake up, get your phone, and start checking emails, Twitter, or Instagram. You might watch the news and get caught up in world events, none of which you can control. Or, you might answer calls or respond to text messages that your friends start sending you during breakfast. If you’d like to create a different beginning to your day, get proactive by training your brain to be focused as soon as you wake up.

What’s an easy way to do this?

Start your day with this question: What is the one thing I am committed to completing today? This technique trains your brain to focus on which goals are important to you right now, and it forces you to prioritize the goal you believe to be the most relevant in this moment. How do you start? Put it in writing. Write it in big bold letters on a sheet of paper and hang it on your bedroom or bathroom wall. Read it out loud as you start your day, for example as you’re brushing your teeth or getting ready for work or school. Come up with an answer on the spot and answer it out loud. Then follow up by taking action — focus your energy throughout the day to completing your one thing.

Tip #2. Dive into deep work.

You can say a lot of things to describe a self-disciplined life, but being spontaneous in how you go about your day isn’t going to be one of them. There’s time for spontaneity, and then there’s time to do what you need to do. In other words, timing — just like in most other aspects of your life—is everything. Being self-disciplined means you do deep work (concentrating on complex cognitive tasks such as studying, problem-solving, writing) first before you do anything for pleasure. It means you are aware of which times of day should be devoted to doing it, and which times can be allotted to entertainment and socializing.

What’s an easy way to do this?

Make the most of your mornings by building a habit of doing your deep work early. This means taking full advantage of your circadian rhythm (your body’s biological clock), which is your natural rhythm that “knows” what are the optimal times for you to perform certain tasks. For most people, the early morning hours are optimal for deep work. Specifically, the brain’s peak performance is 2-4 hours after we wake up. So if you wake up at 6, then your peak times are between 8 and 10 a.m. Working early allows your brain to focus fully on the problem at hand, with fewer distractions, and less inputs from your environment.

Tip #3. Postpone what gives you pleasure.

If doing deep work early helps you focus better and get those responsibilities out of the way, what you’re also doing is postponing things that are more pleasurable. What’s the point of doing something difficult first in order to reward yourself later? You’d be surprised how far-reaching this practice can be. In a study performed by Stanford University scientists, results showed that delayed gratification can increase your chance at succeeding in many areas of your life — your education, career, short and long term goals, even your personal life choices. This study is now famous and is called the Marshmallow experiment.

What’s an easy way to do this?

Start by observing the things you’d like to indulge in whenever the opportunity presents itself — for example, seeing a slice of gorgeous double-chocolate cake at your local pastry shop. Then, resist the temptation to immediately choose to treat yourself by thinking of one reason why not to indulge: maybe you’re focused on your new fitness goals or better eating habits. And follow up — take your attention away from the distractions and focus on your priorities for the day: complete your homework, go to the gym, listen to a podcast on a topic that fascinates you, or prepare dinner early so you have time to watch a movie with friends later in the evening.

Tip #4. Don’t let social media run your life.

Leading a self-disciplined life means you learn how to say no to many different things: no to giving in to temptations to indulge in pleasant activities, no to your desire to procrastinate on daily priorities, no to distractions that take over your day. They may seem harmless to begin with, but distractions can easily make you slip from your work. One minute you’re just catching up with an old friend on WhatsApp, and the next thing you know it’s two hours later and you haven’t picked up your notes to start prepping for your exam. But when you turn off what distracts you, you have a better chance to actually get stuff done.

What’s an easy way to do this?

Be aware that distractions come from different sources, not just your electronic devices. Your goal, if you’re going to lead self-disciplined life, is to dial down all types of distractions so they’re not in your way. First, set your phone to Airplane mode when you need to focus on your work — try it for a 2-hour period to begin. Next, let people around you (family members, friends, or roommates) know you won’t be available in the next few hours. Check your email and social media apps only 2–3 times a day; start around lunchtime and then check later in the afternoon. Avoid browsing the Internet or reading news throughout the day; close all tabs in your browser to avoid any temptations to just check that one thing on Google.

Tip #5. Make discipline your best friend.

Like with all other areas in your life, self-discipline is for the most part all about attitude. What’s your understanding of self-discipline? Does it sound like a practice that is uncomfortable, unusual, harsh or maybe extreme? If it does, maybe it’s time to take a second look because the attitude you have towards self-discipline will either help you or deter you from instilling it in your daily life. For me, it’s never been about what I “should” do or what feels uncomfortable to do. It’s all about what it can afford me. With daily practice, self-discipline trains my brain to prioritize the things I can control, allows me to let go of what I cannot, and frees me up to focus on my personal goals.

What’s an easy way to do this?

Instead of living your life day by day, start thinking about your future and what you want to accomplish in 5, 10, even 20 years. Even if practicing self-discipline may feel like you’re sacrificing some things right now (time out with friends or indulging in a delicious dessert), think about what leading a self-disciplined life will afford you. Write down a list of new habits you’re practicing (or want to start practicing) that can add up to bigger results a year from now. Create time in your calendar to practice them — even a 30-minute session is enough to begin. When you understand the benefits of leading a self-disciplined life, you are more likely to nurture it. It will become a lifestyle that will take you into the future you want for yourself. The best part? You can start on that path today.

 

How does one stop having a generally negative attitude?

 

This is a really important question!

There are numerous reasons for having a negative attitude.

It could start with our environment. The negativity could be coming from people around us (family, friends, the neighborhood, our classmates, our partners) complaining about something. It could be the noise from the neighbors upstairs, the unemployment rate, a bad grade in school, a comment about our work performance from the boss, or maybe even the lousy weather this afternoon.

Or the negativity could be coming from us. We fail an exam, we don’t get a call back after a job interview, we break up with a partner, or we’re simply exhausted from our work or school responsibilities. And then our inner critic takes over. We start telling ourselves, You can’t even do one simple thing right. You’re incapable! You shouldn’t expect things to go right for you. You don’t deserve anything good!

Does that sound familiar?

That inner critic is the one you need to watch our for. Why? Because it forces you to look at reality through a negative lens so instead of possibilities and options make a change, you see impossible situations and feel helpless to do something about it.

So how do you harness that inner critic and start seeing your life as one of abundance instead of a life of limitations?

Begin your day with this 5-minute habit that will restructure your brain and help you build a positive attitude.

Start every morning by saying, “thank you.”

In other words, incorporate a few minutes of gratitude into your day.

How does saying “thank you” help you develop a positive attitude?

  • It rewires your brain to think about positive things. You start thinking about things that you do have going for you, instead of obsessing about the things you do not have and that can leave you feeling frustrated and unhappy.
  • It helps you to see life as plentiful instead of empty. This is very, very important because it’s a shift in your mindset. It’s a switch to leading a life full of abundance instead of a life of scarcity.
  • It creates a positive tone to your day. Think of it as a personal soundtrack to your life, which can impact your attitude not just for that particular day, but for your entire life moving forward.

How do you start practicing this 5-minute habit?

  • Do it EARLY. When you start your day with gratitude, you will feel the effects throughout the day. Take a few minutes when you wake up and before you start getting ready for work or school. Give yourself some quiet time to focus on what you want to say. You might want to close your eyes while you think about it, or maybe you’ll want to write your thoughts down and then say them out loud.
  • Start SMALL. Focus only on 3 things you are grateful for today. It can be the simplest of things: having a warm bed to sleep in, a roof over your head, a job that pays the bills, a friend who you trust, food in your fridge, a dog or cat that you have as your pet, an education that will help you get a job and become independent. You can also think about a recent pleasant experience, such as spending time with a friend or enjoying a beautiful walk in nature.
  • Be SPECIFIC. If it’s one person you’re grateful for having in your life, emphasize which of their qualities you are grateful for (they’re warm, funny, creative, honest, etc.). If it’s having your own room or apartment, point out why this is important to you (you can have quiet time in the evening to relax, read, or work undisturbed). If it’s being part of a community or circle of friends, emphasize how being around them makes you feel and think of a recent event where you had a good time together.

What is your best relaxation technique?

 

Listening to a bedtime story.

Yes, there are grown-up versions of bedtime stories too, in case you were wondering. I’m a big fan of the Headspace app, which is an easy way to practice breathing exercises and mindfulness, both of which have helped me deal with everyday stress.

Just recently I discovered there’s a section in the Headspace app called Sleepcasts. I think of them as bedtime stories that help me relax and unwind. I like to listen to a soothing voice (sometimes it’s male, sometimes female) paired with some discreet sounds in the background. Listening to them literally helps me to slow down my busy brain.

There’s quite a few sleepcasts you can pick from. Each one is a 45-minute podcast that often begins with a simple breathing exercise, followed by a story that takes place in different settings, from a cozy midnight launderette to a tropical getaway on an island market or a campfire in the desert.

But be warned: they’re very addictive!

What are your most effective techniques for dealing with procrastination?

 

My top 3 techniques for dealing with procrastination are:

  • Start my day with a question to boost focus
  • Do deep work early in the day
  • Replace the words “I can’t!” with “How about I try?”

Here’s a little context along with some practical suggestions on how to practice these techniques in your life.

Technique #1. Tackle procrastination early by asking yourself this question each morning: “What is the one thing I am committed to completing today?”

This single habit has probably been the biggest game changer in my life. As soon as I wake up, I look forward to practicing it because I know it will boost my concentration. It simplifies my life, it helps my brain focus better, it makes me prioritize goals, and it streamlines my work so I don’t feel overwhelmed about having to accomplish too many things in a single day.

How can you start practicing this?

  • Write the question down. Make it impossible to ignore — write it in big bold letters on a sheet of paper and hang it on your bedroom or bathroom wall. The important part is that you can easily see it as you’re brushing your teeth or getting ready.
  • Read it out loud as you start your day, and come up with an answer on the spot. The trick is to get your eyes on it so that it becomes second nature and you don’t even think about having to glance over to it any more.
  • Follow up by taking action and by reminding yourself throughout the day about the commitment you made. It will help with distractions that might take you away from what’s important to you.

Technique #2. Get into the habit of doing your deep work early in the day.

Deep work — any kind of analytical thinking that requires the most concentration, such as reading, writing, or problem solving — is one of those mental tasks that requires a different kind of focus from other more tactical things that need to be done on a daily basis. As soon as I started doing my deep work early, I noticed that I rarely run out of energy and motivation.

How can you start practicing this?

  • Set aside at least 2 hours after you wake up to work. Many scientists say that this is the brain’s peak performance time. If, for example, you wake up at 7, your peak times are between 9 and 11 a.m. You can extend it to lunchtime if you want to maximize your peak performance hours.
  • Keep a log of what you do during your peak times. Re-evaluate how you structure your mornings. Are you focusing on important mental tasks? Are you learning new material, problem-solving or writing? Most people spend this time checking email, making phone calls, watching or listening to the news, or chatting with classmates and co-workers.
  • Re-organize your peak performance time. Think how you can postpone activities that are less important to your personal and professional development. Leave listening to the news for your lunch break. Choose two blocks of time to go over emails, one mid-afternoon and one closer to the end of your workday, so you can dedicate your energy to actually getting real work done.

Technique #3. Replace the words, “I can’t do this right now!” with a simple question: “How about I try?”

Procrastinating is something we as human beings do from time to time. It’s just natural and a bit of a default reaction to a problem we find challenging or difficult. I procrastinate on small things all the time, whether it’s finding the time to organize my notes so they’re neater to categorize for research, to rearranging an article I’m writing so it’s easier to read. My solution is this — I realized there’s something I can do about it if I take the time to think through the problem that’s making me procrastinate.

How can you start practicing this?

  • Think carefully if there is something else hiding behind procrastination. Maybe it is fear of not being able to do something successfully, or not being better at it than someone else. In many cases, it an be your pride or ego that gets in the way.
  • Next time you feel like procrastinating, ask yourself where the resistance is coming from. Get to the root of the matter. Maybe you’re not sure how to solve a problem and worry it will take forever to do. One solution is to break it down into smaller chunks that don’t feel overwhelming to complete.
  • Consider how asking the question, “How about I try?” will benefit you. Every time you say, “How about I try?” you win over fear. There is something powerful when we encourage our mind to stay open to possibilities, instead of shutting the door and never finding out what those possibilities can turn into. This is a small shift in your mindset that can have a tremendous impact on your future.

Are Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels a soap opera or high quality literature?

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Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels represent the best in literature.

The novels follow the lives of Lila and Lenù, two intelligent, tough, and highly unusual girls who grow up in the turbulent and violent city of Naples, Italy. The novels cover themes such as personal growth and development, human psychology, overcoming obstacles, and navigating everyday life in an environment ridden with crime by the camorra (the mafia of Naples).

The Neapolitan Novels consist of 4 books:

  • My Brilliant Friend
  • The Story of a New Name
  • Those Who Leave And Those Who Stay
  • The Story of the Lost Child

As for the writer, Elena Ferrante is not her real name. It’s a pseudonym. Ferrante has never appeared in public, and there has been much discussion about her identity.

There is an Italian TV series (currently showing on HBO in the U.S.) based on the first book, called My Brilliant Friend. It’s not a soap opera — actually the writer Elena Ferrante collaborated closely with the director Saverio Costanzo to ensure that the series stays true to the plot as well as the characters described in the novels.

Here are a few samples of Ferrante’s exquisite writing style:

“We were twelve years old, but we walked along the hot streets of the neighborhood, amid the dust and flies that the occasional old trucks stirred up as they passed, like two old ladies taking the measure of lives of disappointment, clinging tightly to each other. No one understood us, only we two—I thought—understood one another.”

“Adults, waiting for tomorrow, move in a present behind which is yesterday or the day before yesterday or at most last week: they don’t want to think about the rest. Children don’t know the meaning of yesterday, or even of tomorrow, everything is this, now: the street is this, the doorway is this, the stairs are this, this is Mamma, this is Papa, this is the day, this the night.”

“She meant something different: she wanted to vanish; she wanted every one of her cells to disappear, nothing of her ever to be found. And since I know her well, or at least I think I know her, I take it for granted that she has found a way to disappear, to leave not so much as a hair anywhere in this world.”