The greatest asset you can have as a student is curiosity. If you are curious about what you are studying, you will be happier as you learn. There is a wealth of research that happiness drastically increases performance. So how do you get curious?
The first and most important thing to realize is that intellectual curiosity is as much an innate proclivity as it is a skill— it can be trained. The more you practice being curious about and fascinated by SL French (the bane of my high school existence), the easier it gets. When you practice becoming interested in something, you literally blaze a neural pathway in your brain, restructuring your brain to enjoy conjugating verbs (see neuroplasticity).
The question then becomes how do I get curious about it in the first place? For subjects that you naturally gravitate towards, it’s easy. Think about what you enjoy about studying the subject and write that down. Get flowery if you want, only you will ever read it. The next time you are feeling unmotivated, go back to that piece of writing and recenter your psyche. The next time you find something wonderful about a subject, add that to your piece.
For subjects that you do not like, it is often because you are not naturally good at it. The solution is to (1) become better at the subject and (2) celebrate the small wins along the way. All the normal study advice applies for getting better at the subject: word hard, ask for help, focus on one thing at a time.
If you are having trouble sitting down and working, chunk the study up into small, concrete tasks. Then do them one at a time. Do not worry about being slow – it will all get done in time as long as you stay focused on the task in front of you. The US military has a saying for recruits in combat scenarios: slow is smooth, smooth is fast. It means that if you have the discipline to avoid the temptation of rushing under stress, you will do things precisely (slow is smooth). If you do it precisely, you don’t make mistakes (smooth is fast). Thus, commit to the process and you will get better.
The second step is to celebrate the small wins along the way. Did you get a question right? Celebrate. Did you finish a tough worksheet? Mazel tov. Did something click and you can see how two concepts fit together and synergize? You’re a scholar! Consistently think about the progress that you have made, the achievements you have earned. At the end of a long study session, think about how much smarter you are than you were last week, and how much smarter you will make yourself a month from now.
In everything you do and everything you learn, try to make yourself a craftsman (or craftswoman). Focus on your love for the process of getting better and take pride in being the type of person that can learn anything if you put your mind to it.
You may also like…
• Rohit’s advice on how to tackle stress
• Check out our other article on studying tricks that will help you learn more effectively