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Monday, May 12, 2014

The Most Powerful Study Skill


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I spend a lot of time harping on one particular factor about studying. There are thousands of different ways that you can study more effectively. You can take a little caffeine. You can quit reading and start recalling. You can make studying a habit. All of these things can improve your studying but they rely on one fundamental skill.

This single skill can completely turn your grade upside down. If you lose it completely then your grades would collapse. If you could master it, you'd score perfect on virtually everything. It's a skill that can be developed and improved on. You may not be able to change your natural ability to learn. Some people are gifted at remembering things and others struggle with it. This skill is something you can actually do to improve how effectively you end up using your natural skills.

I'm building this skill up a lot for a reason. When most people just hear about this skill they zone out. It's been discussed before but most people casually dismiss it because it's not always the easiest skill to develop. In fact, it tends to go against human nature but it's a skill that's worth improving on. That skill is focus.

Getting focused is not just sitting down without distractions. It's getting “in the zone.” The feeling is almost euphoric when you're doing it right. In the moment, there is nothing that your brain would rather be doing than studying because it's tunnel focused on the study material. If you're not in that state absolutely every time that you study then you're not studying at your peak.

It is possible to study that effectively every single time but it's difficult.


The Outside Prep


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Most of the study advice I give on this website is meant to help with this single skill. It is hard to get yourself into the deepest levels of focus. Some of the easiest ways to help push yourself in the right direction have nothing to do with studying.

On this site, I regularly recommend making studying a habit. Focus is one of the benefits of having a study habit. When you study at the same time every day, your brain learns that focus is required during that time. That means, you're brain starts releasing the required chemicals at the same time daily.

I also recommend eliminating distractions. Distractions absolutely kill any chance of a person getting “in the zone.” Whenever the phone vibrates, your brain is going to leave its peak studying state. This is another one of the outside focus preparation possibilities.

The best things you can do to improve your focus involve things that have little or nothing to do with mental discipline. That's important to understand.

One of the major reasons people don't respond when they hear about the importance of focus is that they don't believe they can change it. It's very difficult to change internal habits like that but they can be pushed in the right direction by small outside prep.

There are many things you can do outside of your mind to help improve your focus. Focus on improving those factors at first.

How To Reach The Inside


You can remove all the distractions in the world but it doesn't do any good if you're still too busy thinking about the party you want to go to later while you should be studying. If you're not careful you could end up priming your brain to focus effectively on completely unimportant stuff instead of studying. I'm sure that's not the goal but here's a fun fact...

If you are getting distracted from studying then your brain thinks that unimportant stuff is more important than studying.

Really... I know you might consciously think that you need to study but your brain is way more efficient than having to think about it. Your brain is trained to focus on what is important. Just imagine if you were standing in the middle of an open field during a thunder storm. Do you think you could effectively study while there was a chance you could get struck by lighting? Probably not. Even if, statistically, you're probably not going to get struck and you are statistically going to have the test, your brain still has it's priority set.

If you're not thinking about studying while trying to study then studying isn't important enough for you. (Or something is too important to study while thinking about. Get out of that field in the lighting storm. Then study.) You need to figure out why you're not treating studying as important. I'll go over some general ideas but be sure to read some of my previous articles to understand them deeper.

Think about how embarrassing it would be to get a poor grade. It's not the most effective way but it can be powerful. Think about the teacher making a bunch of big red marks all over your test while they have a disgusted look on their face. Imagine how your parents will react. The worst part isn't that they might punish you, the worst part is thinking about how they might end up worrying about you being stupid. Think about failure in the most painful way possible. Your brain will have no choice but to focus on studying after that.

Another more effective but slightly more difficult method is to figure out why the information you're learning is absolutely awesome. Really... no matter what you're learning, someone in the world is enthusiastic about the subject. Figure out why they're enthusiastic and think about it. If you're studying history then think about how amazing it is that these are real people that can help you learn real lessons about life. If it's anatomy then think about the muscles you're studying being all over your body. Whatever you naturally want to focus on, your brain will lead you to. Make that the focus of your study and you can see amazing results.

Kill The Monkey Brain


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If you've followed the first two pieces of advice in this article then you should not be distracted too much. There should be no external distractions. Internally, you should naturally be pulling to learn the subject. In most cases, you shouldn't need to use this final piece of advice. That being said, every once in a while you may need to use this strategy.

When I've gone a few days with a little too little sleep, I usually suffer from what I call, “monkey brain.” No matter how hard I try to focus, my brain keeps bouncing, swinging around, and throwing feces all over the place (no I don't know how that metaphor works but I'm sure you can come up with something.)

There are times when it's fun to have a monkey bouncing around but not when you're trying to study. I'm sorry PETA but this is a monkey in my brain that I can't let live. When you let it live, it carries over to your next study session, even if you get the sleep you need. Whenever you find that monkey bouncing around, you need to stop it.

When you catch yourself going off topic you need to stop thinking completely as fast as possible. Just shut down. Tell yourself that you are officially being distracted. Accept that. Take a few breaths if you have to. Tell yourself why you need to study. After a minute of thinking about it, get back to studying. If the monkey isn't drowned by your good reason to study yet then close your eyes and repeat.

DO NOT STUDY WHEN IT'S BOUNCING AROUND. Fight it until it goes away. When you accept the monkey bouncing around as a natural part of studying you effectively kill any future studying you do. Studying requires focus to work effectively. Anything less is a waste of time.


Focus can make the difference between an hour of study wasted or an hour of study material mastered in ten minutes. I'm not exaggerating the slightest bit. The reason some students have to study for hours is not because studying requires hours. It's because studying requires intense focus. If you're studying right then you shouldn't need to study for hours a night. A few minutes will usually do.

Do not dismiss this. This is something that you can do something about. The most important part is that your conscious about how well your focused. Pay attention and you can make yourself amazing at focusing fast.

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