We humans are innate learners, as learning is the cornerstone for survival. We must remember, abstract and apply knowledge in diverse (and often harsh) environments in order to develop into and behave as truly intelligent beings. In short, the adaptability and resilience we exhibit stems from learning. Now, a key issue to learning is the driving force behind it, i.e., the motivation or stimuli to learn. We can learn because of fear (we want to learn how to protect ourselves from danger.) We can learn just out of curiosity (our natural inquisitive behavior.) We can learn because we want to reach some social status (approval of others is a potent stimuli to learn.) We can learn simply because we love to learn new things everyday. There are plenty of reasons to learn and yours may easily be a mixture of these. Health and money are important things in life, but learning is the base for using them wisely If we are to succeed in life, we must hone our learning skills.
1- The first step in this direction is to sincerely point out the driving force or motivation. Let’s relax, and start listing the reasons that impel you to study some topic, as crude as they may be. It’s possible that your list is empty. Don’t worry, it only means that you have not identified any reason to study the chosen and very specific point (It’s for sure that you are an excellent learner in other areas of life.) If you don’t have any motivation to study, then give me the list of reasons why you don’t want to study, and please note that this list cannot be empty. Whether you found a huge list of driving forces or a list of reasons for not studying, the end product of this step comprises at least one item (a positive or negative driving force). Good.
2- Success is about achieving goals, and therefore is a relative notion. Highly successful students are those which set realistic goals, and attain them with the proper investment of resources. Thus, not necessarily the student with the best grades is the most successful learner. Now, we have stated what the successful student is like. Good.
3- If you have negative entries in your list of driving forces, it’s time to improve things quite a bit. First, identify other topics that you indeed like a lot, not necessarily related to studying. Perhaps you like pets, to cook or to play videogames. Now, try to establish associations or links between these favorite activities of yours and the subject of study that you dislike. For example, let’s assume that you dislike Literature (you perhaps think it’s an utterly boredom) but love your humongous pitbull “Casino Joe” Then you could start thinking how your dog would fit as a character into that novel you have to analyze: what its role would be and how he would interact with other characters in the novel. If you prefer to play videogames, then remember that making any game requires to prepare a detailed script including history, characters, goals and relations. Therefore, you could start writing down the script for your “dream” game. On the other side, you could imagine how the novel you are reading could be transformed into a videogame (start out by thinking which gaming genre fits the novel better: role-playing, adventure, action, and so on.) The basic idea is to find match points and links between our affections and our chores. And such links there always exist. Remember, to link ideas and concepts is the most important habit for successful students.
4- Successful students also exhibit other particular traits we should internalize:
- They are always trying to discover better approaches in order to accomplish their tasks (adequate studying place, availability of resources, etc.) You may find my post on Pristine Home with Feng Shui useful for improving your studying environment.
- They concentrate on the process of solving the task and understanding the involved ideas. Of course we are interested in getting good results, but the process is more important. A result is a very brief moment of life, while learning to develop processes is a skill that will last for the whole life.
- They interpret and analyze errors as a way of increasing their learning, i.e., they try to learn from their mistakes. This way, they see errors and failures as opportunities.
- They look for the required information in several channels (books, journals, newspapers, experts, Internet, and so on.)
- They consult experts and teachers frequently. This action provides a new perspective about the studied topics.
- They prefer tasks with some degree of difficulty and novelty, which stimulate their learning skills.
- They don’t apply the simple criteria of success-fail to their learning. Remember, they are focused into the learning process.
- They know how to handle groups.
- Finally, they work with passion.
5- Other chief habit is that of asking questions. We have to establish hypothesis and set concrete, realistic goals. After reading any text we have to ask several different questions related to its content, in order to verify if we have completely understood the text. It’s also important to try to relate such text and other areas of our knowledge. Again, linking ideas and concepts is a habit of highly successful students. So, link.
6- Whether studying or in general life, planning is an imperative skill. Here, we must strictly set the hours for studying, and should promote regularity in doing so. Don’t put off your studies to the last moment (just before the test), because in that moment you will be feeling stress and pressure, and both factors will prove disturbing for your learning; that’s the high price of procrastination. During the exam, it’s important to forget about panic and stress. And if you are planning for your thesis, you may find this post useful. Other planning tip I frequently give is that, when you are assigned a homework, try to solve it as quickly as possible, several days before the required date, but don’t try to complete it perfectly and don’t submit it immediately. I always recommend to do homework early, but deliver it at the last possible day. This way, you will let the homework and its concepts to soothe in, your pressure will decrease a bit, you will spot any error in the homework, and probably you will devise a few ways to improve your homework content and presentation before delivering it.
7- Review: Always keep revisiting the relation between your effort and your results., continuously trying to maximize it.
Finally, don’t worry if things do not always result the way you expected them to be. Time is your master, and there is more to life than studying specific topics. Your ability to understand this post is a solid proof that you have the required skills. And you have something more important: the aspiration of being better… that will lead you to achieve anything