Regardless of how strategically you set up your study space, how perfectly you manage your time, or how well you write your notes in class, you will not be able to make real progress towards your academic dreams if you do not feel an intrinsic motivation to study.
Many external factors will act as decelerators to disrupt the flow state, and regardless of how long you spend sitting on your desk, you will feel stuck and helpless. Does this sound relatable?
This is what the last rule in MindWorks' 8 Rules for Academic Success series tackles:
the 4 critical factors which will work to either accelerate or decelerate your learning progress
In Part I, we learnt about the ways in which Emotions and The Mind impact your learning. In this article, we will explore the effects of the third and fourth critical factors: Health and The Environment.
If you are keen on developing a deeper understanding of yourself, we recommend also reading:
Now, on to our third critical factor:
Can you recall a day when you were not feeling well? Perhaps you didn't have a good nights sleep and couldn't focus at all in class during the next day. Or perhaps you had a stomach ache after eating junk food. No matter how hard you tried to shake it away, the feeling of unease and unhappiness just stayed with you, forcing you to quit studying for the day.
Why do we fall ill? And why does even a minor health issue produce enough discomfort to make us unable to reach the "flow state" while studying?
A holistic view of our health comes from understanding that well-being or illness is a product of
"dynamic interpersonal, biological, and psychological systems interacting with contextual factors to shape health over the life span" - Lehmen, David, and Gruber (2017)
Such a holistic model of health is known as the Biopsychosocial Model in which biological, psychological, and social factors interact with each other over time to produce well being (or the lack of it). It is vital to understand our health in this way because it is a uniquely intricate combination of the internal and the external that can accelerate or decelerate our academic performance.
How does our health impact academic success?
Looking at a study done by Shaw et al. (2015), "students with poor health have a higher probability of school failure, grade retention, and dropout".
And just as the dynamic biopsychosocial model presents health as perplexing series of interactions between different domains, the relationship between health and academic performance is rather complex.
However, as Shaw's study explains, there are certain elements of our health that are in our control - and can help us to maximise our academic performance by serving as accelerators. Let us explore two of these variables today:
Nutrition is a vital factor in academic performance. When looking around us, it is no surprise that obesity is increasing worldwide. This is because foods rich in sodium, low in protein, and high in fats are very easily available and very inexpensive. This leads to an alarming number of obesity cases in children which is very harmful not just to their physical health but also to their academic performance.
Studies show that obesity has been linked to metacognitive functions such as planning, impulse control, and peer relations more than cognitive functions such as memory, fluid intelligence and verbal skills. This is a significant finding because it suggests that obesity can be related to all dimensions of life. In particular, the metacognitive functions have been correlated with higher intelligence and better academic performance.
Of course, obesity or more generally, inadequate nutrition is not a linear problem because it involves multiple dimensions such as socioeconomic status, social stigma, cultural values and more. However, simply taking better care of our nutrition can help us use this factor as a catalyst in our journey to academic success.
b. Physical Fitness
Just as nutrition is important, physical fitness is also intricately connected to our performance in school. Studies have shown that just as little as five hours of moderate to high-intensity activities per week has a positive effect on physical health, attention, well-being, mathematical performance, and maintaining a healthy weight (Ericsson & Karlsson, 2014).
Regular activity not only leads to increased cardiovascular fitness, but has also been shown to have positive short and long term effects on cognitive performance including attention, working memory, fluid intelligence, spatial processing, and verbal processing (Baxter, Royer, Hardin, Guinn, & Devlin, 2011; Busch et al., 2014).
This is why we must explore how to better manage our health and well-being by consuming a nutritious diet, getting adequate exercise, and high-quality sleep.
How to Better Manage Your Health?
Since this is a complex topic, MindWorks has selected some credible resources which help you think about your health and vitality and move towards healthier living:
This process of finding the right diets and establishing healthy life habits can take time. Moreover, since this field of knowledge is ever-changing, scientists uncover new information about diets and exercise and health all the time. This means we need to be agile and work through these changes. Health, as Thompson explained, is conversations unfolding over time, which suggests that it is a lifelong process of continual growth and change. The sooner we can harness the power of well-being, the sooner we can achieve meaningful growth and success.
Lastly, let us explore our last factor, the Environment, that can accelerate our academic success.
Have you ever had the following experience?
You are in "the zone" when suddenly, you receive a call from your good friend who requires help with his problem. After spending half an hour helping him out, just as you are getting back to studying, your phone rings again. You pick it up and realise that you have received some Facebook or Whatsapp messages. After another 15 minutes of replying to those messages, you return to studying, only to realise that you have forgotten where you have left off.
Or maybe you were studying in your comfortably equipped bedroom thanks to your mum and dad. You have a soft, comfortable chair, widescreen computer, silent aircon and a huge, soft and cosy bed. In addition, you have everything you need in the room – Royce chocolates, a coffee machine, soft drinks, chocolate-coated biscuits, finger food and more!
But the moment you start studying, all of the above-mentioned items start enticing you. You struggle to fight off the temptations but alas you cave in. The next thing you know, you have finished all the food, watched the latest blockbuster and fallen asleep! Regret and guilt shame starts washing over you.
But in both those cases, it is important to not feel overwhelmed with regret and perhaps even self-loathing.
You may wonder why I know such experiences so well – it is because I have done all of this before! Not just once, but many times.
So what should you do?
Find a quiet, comfortable environment that is free of distractions. It is possible to break habits by changing cues.
My advice would be to go to the school or public library. You could go to cafes as well if that is what you prefer. A different designated studying environment will serve as a reminder for your brain to become ready for focused work.
Be aware of your own studying style and choose the environment that will ensure you are in your optimum performance state – some people study better with friends but others are unable to do anything productive at all!
Based on a study done by Gilavand in 2016,
"The learning environment dramatically affects the learning outcomes of students. Schools' open space and noise, inappropriate temperature, insufficient light, overcrowded classes, misplaced boards and inappropriate classroom layout all makeup factors that could be confounding variables distracting students in class."
Similarly, learning environment elsewhere such as at home or in the library has demonstrably shown to be impacting students' academic performance. Some critical factors to take note of are open space, presence of noise, quality of light, and adequate set-up.
You can ask yourself the following questions to assess whether your current environment is allowing you to study in your optimal state or not:
Do you feel comfortable moving around? Can you recline my chair a little if you feel some uneasiness? Is there enough space around you to stand up and stretch every once in a while?
Do you frequently hear external noises or are you able to focus in the quiet? Is it possibly too quiet? Studies have shown that listening to classical music while studying can increase memory retention. Is there a particular classical music playlist online that helps you focus better?
Does the presence or absence of others impact your concentration? Does it help to study together with friends and clarify each others' doubts? Does it feel better to study alone?
Is there enough light in the room? Is it possible to sit near a window and enjoy natural light? Studies also show natural light improves academic performance, so have you tried placing your study desk by a window before?
Do you have all the important materials within your reach? Can you easily access your writing tools or geometry box? Are you within reach of water or a healthy snack to replenish regularly?
You can slowly begin to tweak your lifestyle in the domains of regulating emotions, controlling your mind, attaining your best health, and designing the optimal study environment to accelerate your academic success.
Lastly, here is a bonus factor: getting private tuition is the most reliable way of accelerating your academic performance.
5. Private Tuition
A private tutor can serve as an expert in a particular subject area as well as a coach or mentor, helping in cognitive and metacognitive skills as well as subject-specific knowledge. For example, studies show tutoring can lift average performing students to the top 2% and improve scores across all grade levels for high performers.
This is because intelligence is not a fixed trait, and getting the right resources and guidance makes a critical difference between those who are able to realise their dreams and those who get left behind.
A personal tutor who provides one-on-one tuition in Singapore can help you with adjusting all the previously mentioned factors as well as give invaluable insight into the subjects. However, finding a home tutor can be difficult. Allow MindWorks Tuition to help you: our experienced team of coordinators work around the clock to find the best tutor that meets your needs. Click the button below and request a tutor now:
More About Tutor Young:
Tutor Young is the founder of MindWorks Tuition and a humanistic educator with over six years of full-time tutoring experience in math and science subjects for secondary school, IP, IGCSE, and JC students. A graduate of Singapore Management University, he has extensive knowledge about the Singapore education system, students’ tutoring needs, and tutoring best practices.
Under his guidance and expertise, MindWorks has become the most reliable and trustworthy tuition agency in Singapore, which consistently provides high-quality service by finding the perfect tutors for all students. As a futuristic thinker and an empathetic leader, Tutor Young specialises in peoples’ development to provide meaningful services to both the students and his team at MindWorks.
Begin learning with him now by subscribing to his YouTube Channel!