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.

Besides forgiveness, what attitude can surprisingly help us?

 

Gratitude.

Gratitude is having an awareness of all the goodness, the positivity, the abundance that is in our life this very minute. It’s not about having objects, like a car or a new pair of Nike trainers. It’s more about the things that have a greater potential to improve the quality of our life. The people who are close to us, who invest their time and their love, who believe in us. The warm meal on the kitchen table that we are about to enjoy, a delicious slice of hot bread straight out of the oven, and a tall glass of water to drink. The sun that, after a night of thunderstorms and heavy rain, slowly peeks out from behind the clouds on a cool spring morning.

Gratitude is about saying thank you for all that.

Not just today, or for special occasions, or when you receive a gift, or when you’re in a good mood. You should incorporate it into your day. Every day. That’s the only way you will notice a shift in your attitude — towards the world around, events that happen in your community, and people who you interact with on a regular basis, from friends to coworkers to lovers.

I believe that saying thank you every day increases the quality of our life. Here’s why.

  • Gratitude rewires your brain to think about positive things. These things are the ones that you do have going for you. Think about them instead of obsessing about the things you don’t have 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 like that English saying that you can see the glass as half-empty or half-full. It’s up to you.
  • It allows you to identify all the things you currently have. They can be pleasant experiences, family and friends, memories, pockets of happy moments, laughter your shared with someone, your personal strengths, your skills, and even knowledge about a certain topic or subject.
  • It helps you avoid the negative feelings about your life. These feelings can include anxiety, overwhelm, even unhappiness and feelings or failure.
  • It creates a positive tone to your day. Think of it as background music, a personal soundtrack to your life which can impact your attitude towards life in general.

There are 3 simple ways for starting to practice gratitude in your life.

  • 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 in a journal, or you’ll want to 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 family member, friend or partner who you trust; food in your fridge; a dog or cat; an education that will help you become independent.
  • Be specific. If it’s that one person you’re grateful for having in your life, emphasize which of their qualities you are grateful for — they’re generous, kind, smart, funny, creative, honest, etc. If it’s having your own room, point out why this is important to you — you can have quiet time in the evening to relax and sleep undisturbed. If it’s being part of a community, emphasize how being around people makes you feel and think of one pleasant moment you recently shared together.

Wherever you are sitting as you read this, I want to say thank you for devoting a few minutes of your day to these lines. I hope they’ll inspire you to start this small habit. It’s made a world of difference to me.

What is the easiest way to start a new habit?

 

Don’t overengineer it!

In other words, make the change as small as possible.

You can:

Tip #1. Keep it simple.

Every habit we’d like to acquire needs self-discipline, time, and repetition. Maybe you feel that this month it’s time to make some kind of change in your life: start working out, stop eating out so much, get more sleep, find more time to spend with family, or watch TV less. The key to keeping a good habit stick is to make it simple so you don’t find it intimidating, exhausting, and overwhelming. Start with tiny steps. Do a mini-workout at home for 10 minutes this month before you buy that gym membership. Go to bed 15 minutes earlier than usual to give yourself time to de-stress and relax with a good book, so you don’t end up staying awake all night and feeling groggy and listless the next day. Prep and pack your lunch the night before so you don’t feel pressured to eat yet another greasy lunch at a fast-food restaurant.

Tip #2. Practice early in the day.

When we start the day, we tend to get overwhelmed with the amount of things we need to do, so we procrastinate on some of those things and postpone them for later in the day. That goes for new habits too. This is a missed opportunity. Think of it this way. We all have a finite amount of willpower that takes us through the day, so if you want to focus on your top priority—your new habit—work on it early. Practice a new skill before lunchtime while you’re still energized and focused on your top goals. Maybe practicing means sketching a quick portrait in black and white or writing one paragraph of a short story. Don’t leave it for late at night when you might be exhausted from events that happened during the day.

Tip #3. Practice every day.

Why? It’s much less likely you will make any habit stick if you just practice it once or twice a week. If you do that, your brain will start thinking this is an optional activity, something you just do on the side. Instead, you’ll get better results if you starting doing it more frequently so you brain will get accustomed to it, and eventually will adopt this new behavior as a regular part of the day. How can you do this? Schedule it in. Find a block of time (preferably earlier in the day) to work on your habit so that you’ll be successful at it. Mark it in your daily planner, or add it to your mobile phone monthly calendar, then set a notification to remind you an hour or two ahead of time when you should practice it.

Tip #4. Replace saying, “I can’t!” with “Why not?”

It’s a subtle shift in your attitude, but one that can reap big results over time, especially if you keep practicing it. You know the feeling when you’re trying to do something new and it’s just not going well? The first instinctive reaction is to say, I can’t! And that’s a human reaction. But the key here is to replace a negative statement with an open-ended and positive one. When we say, Why not? we give ourselves more power to make a positive change in our life. We leave some space open for possibilities, instead of shutting the door in our own face. It’s a matter of seeing things as doable and realistic, instead of making them appear abstract and even impossible to achieve.

Tip #5. Make your new habit a choice (instead of a chore).

When you start doing something different, always ask yourself, Why am I doing this? What will this new behavior afford me? It’s important to stay connected to the initial reason for picking the new habit. Maybe you want to work out so you improve your health and lose weight. Or maybe you want to work on creative skills such as drawing, painting, or composing a new track with your band. Think about what this better version of you will look like after you’ve succeeded in making this habit a part of your everyday life. What will this feel like? How will it help you achieve bigger goals? Where will you go next? Choosing a behavior will make you feel stronger, more powerful, and more proactive about your life.

Tip #6. Resist the urge to quit.

The writer Seth Godin said, “Never quit something with great long-term potential just because you can’t deal with the stress of the moment.” It’s important to stop for a minute and assess the stress you’re feeling and where it’s coming from. If you’re stressed out about keeping up with a new habit, try to figure out why. Maybe it’s not easy to keep a healthy diet around friends who want to eat out in restaurants three times a week. Or maybe your ego is finding it tough to deal with not being the best in a kickboxing class or a hackathon you recently participated in. Fight the urge to give up whenever things get tough, hard, or even ugly. Know the difference between what feels hard to do right now and what’s good for you in the long run. Nothing truly amazing happens in one day or even a month. Next time you fall, do your best to get up, dust yourself off, and keep going.

Tip #7. Reward yourself for each step you take.

Developing new habits is a matter of self-discipline, but that doesn’t mean you should just keep plugging along without pausing and taking stock of what you already accomplished. To make a new habit as pleasant as possible, there needs to be a reward of some kind. Why? You want to produce more endorphins (your “happy hormones”) as you go along. How? Record your progress—dedicate a notebook to your new habit and write down how much you’re working on it and how frequently. This gives you a sense of accomplishment. Write a brief journal entry of how your day went: what did you achieve, what went well, where did you run into a challenge, how can you make things better tomorrow? At the end of the day, set aside an hour to do something enjoyable and relaxing: take a bike ride, read a good book, or spend some time with a friend.

What are 3 things that you do daily to avoid procrastination for that day?

 

I do these three things.

Anti-procrastination tip #1. I ask myself 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. This tiny question 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 do it?

  • Write the question down. Not in a notebook—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.

Anti-procrastination tip #2. I do my “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 don’t just easily run out of energy and motivation.

How can you do it?

  • 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. Don’t automatically read through your inbox as soon as you sit at your desk; 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.

Anti-procrastination tip #3. When I hear my inner voice saying, “I can’t do this right now!” I respond with a simple question: “How about I try?”

Procrastinating is not a bad habit that only you practice. I procrastinate on small things all the time, from organizing my notes so they’re easier to categorize for later research, to going to the post office to send out my mail. As human beings, we all procrastinate on some things in life. It’s just natural, and a little bit of a default reaction to a problem we find challenging or difficult. 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 do it?

  • 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 can be your pride or ego that get in the way. Be careful of your ego — it’s not your friend.
  • 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 has the potential to have a big impact in your life. Worth trying!

What morning habits can change your life?

 

There is one morning habit that I’ve started practicing only in the past couple of years. I set aside 5 minutes every morning to do it. And what it’s done is pretty damn important—it’s made me feel better, more optimistic, and generally happier about my life.

So what is it?

I sit on the floor on my yoga mat, after my yoga routine, and come up with a few things I am grateful for in my life today.

In other words, I do a gratitude practice.

Practicing gratitude makes a shift in our mindset that can have a huge impact in the way we see our life. I’ll share how it’s changed the way I think.

How has it affected my mindset?

  • It trains my brain to think about POSITIVE things. These can be specific things that I’m doing, thinking about, or am working towards achieving by taking small steps. They’re not things or behaviors others want of me, or things other people have, or achievements by anyone else. The biggest benefit? When I start the day thinking about the + and not the – , I’ve found that my brain stays longer focused on the goodstuff. It’s as if the positive becomes a theme for the whole day, and it keeps my mood up.
  • It helps me see my life as PLENTIFUL. Ever heard of the saying, you either see the glass as half-empty or half-full? Here’s how that saying pertains to real-life scenarios. Think of experiences and people, not just things. It helps you expand your understanding of the word have. And it works — I’ve found that there are always new items I want to add to this list. For example, this morning I reflected how grateful I am for having fresh fruit and other ingredients I need to prepare my breakfast, as well as for several comments I received about a blog post I wrote this week.
  • It IMPROVES the attitude I have towards other people. As you know from your own life experiences, other people’s behaviors and reactions are difficult to predict, and sometimes impossible to anticipate. In some cases, there are people who we enjoy spending time with, and there are others who will provoke, irritate, and upset us. With a gratitude mindset, I started treating every interaction (at work, in my personal, and in my social life) as a learning experience. I also try to find one small thing in each conversation I can benefit from. For example, if I spend time talking to a person with a negative and critical mindset, it motivates me to brainstorm new ways to practice optimism. Conversely, enjoying a discussion with a friend who is curious and intelligent motivates me to improve and optimize ways to boost my imagination, shape ideas for personal projects, or incorporate shortcuts to work smarter.

How can you practice this habit to change your mindset?

  • Practice early. When you start your day expressing 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 in a journal and then say them out loud. Pick whatever feels more natural to you.
  • Start small. Practicing gratitude isn’t abstract — it’s about real people, things, experiences, and events. As you sit quietly, focus 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, running water and electricity, a sunny sky, a close friend you trust, a pet that you like spending time with, etc. Or, it can be an object you find beautiful and that you have in your home, but that you don’t always pay attention to — a plant on your windowsill or a drawing that’s hanging on your bedroom wall. Finally, it can be an enjoyable moment you shared the day before with a close friend or partner — think about how the time spent with them made you feel.
  • Be specific. If it’s that one person (a friend, partner, or confidant) that you’re grateful for having in your life, be sure to emphasize which of their qualities you are grateful for (they’re warm, smart, funny, proactive, creative, honest, etc.). If you really like having your own room or apartment, point out why this is important to you (you have personal freedom to enjoy quiet time in the evening to relax, and to sleep undisturbed when you need to). And if it’s being part of a group (your running mates with whom you hike on weekends or friends who share your love of music or film), reflect on how being around them makes you feel, and think of one recent event you all attended this past week and what made it enjoyable.

How do you break a habit that you have been doing almost all your life?

 

I switched from being a night owl (up until 2, sometimes 4 a.m.) to sleeping earlier and having a morning routine that changed everything.

I used to think sleep was for other people. I considered it irrelevant, plus I believed that doing my best work could only happen late at night when everyone else was asleep.

Then at one point during graduate school I started getting sick with the flu once every 3–6 months. I didn’t make the connection for a long time, thinking it’s just the typical flu season. But eventually I realized that I was depleting my immune system. Working out regularly and eating a well-balanced diet of primarily fruit, vegetables, and seafood wasn’t enough.

A few years ago I started doing more research around sleep and morning routines. I read Hal Elrod’s book The Miracle Morning which was a real eye-opener. I found out data on the ideal amount of sleep based on age groups (from the Sleep Health Journal). I also found out that cognitive performance reaches a peak at 7 hours of sleep before starting to decline (from the Journal Frontier in Human Neuroscience).

Over and over, the research revealed that sleep can help us learn, consolidate new memories, improve memory and recall, and give our brain time to get rid of unnecessary waste. Conversely, chronic sleep deprivation can reduce our cognitive abilities, negatively impact our concentration, slow down the learning process, and can even temporarily reduce IQ (according to the book Sleep Thieves by Stanley Coren, Professor of Psychology at University of British Columbia).

All this information was a reality check for me. I wanted to help my brain function better, and I wanted to feel healthier. I couldn’t just wish it to happen — it required me to switch my routine around, which is why I started incorporating a few changes.

Here’s what worked for me.

Tip #1. A bedtime alarm.

Alarms are not only for mornings. You can set one for bedtime too! I created an alarm on my iPhone to go off 30 minutes before I need to sleep. So what’s the benefit? It is a signal to the brain that I need to finish up any activities I’m in the middle of doing, whether that’s watching a show on Netflix or catching up with a friend over the phone. I don’t just create this habit for every working day — I keep the bedtime alarm for weekends so that my habit has a better chance to stick.

Tip #2. Better dinner habits.

If you tend to eat late almost every night, having a full stomach can cause you to have disrupted sleep. Not only will you have to deal with a busy mind, but you may also feel sluggish due to eating heavier foods or eating a lot more than your body needs at this time of day. I usually have a larger meal for lunch and a mini meal around 6 p.m., instead of coming home with a completely empty stomach. I try to avoid fried food and caffeine, and instead go with a lighter dinner with a big salad and protein such as grilled fish or chicken. I also try to schedule dinner at least a few hours before bedtime.

Tip #3. Exercise.

I know and feel just like you do. Once I’m done with work for the day, all I want to do is go home, have dinner, and relax for a few hours. But going outside for some fresh air helps me unwind, and it can be for only 15-20 minutes. What’s the benefit? It’s good for your digestion, and it also allows your busy mind some time to pause from all the work you’ve been focusing on all day. Bonus points if you can squeeze in a one-hour workout at the gym or at home — extra cardio makes a big difference.

Tip #4. A warm cup of tea.

I prefer to male a cup of herbal tea without caffeine, some warm milk with honey, or sometimes a magnesium supplement (either tablet or powder form) around the time my bedtime alarm goes off. My favorite tea is loose-leaf lemon verbena tea or caffeine-free chai tea. What’s the benefit? These warm drinks can help you feel more sleepy, and a bit of added sweetness from the honey can help you feel more cozy and therefore more likely to chill out faster. And, magnesium helps to relax those sore muscles from your workout.

Tip #5. A bedtime story.

There’s a grown-up version of bedtime stories too, in case you were wondering. I’m a big fan of the Headspace app, which is a super easy way to practice breathing exercises and mindfulness, both of which can help alleviate stress. But just recently I discovered there’s a section in the app called Sleepcasts. I like to think of them as bedtime stories that help me unwind — listening to a soothing voice and background sounds that slow down my busy brain. There’s quite a few to pick from. Each sleepcast is a 45-minute story 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.