These 4 Factors Are Stopping You from Achieving Your Peak Academic Performance: Part I
In the practice of tolerance, one's enemy is the best teacher - Dalai Lama
Techniques and knowledge are just a part of being able to do well for your exams. Other than these, there are also accelerators and decelerators that we need to control to be in a peak performance state.
Have you ever had a day when you just felt like studying? Can you remember the experience of time flying by as you study effortlessly, completely calm and fully present? A day when your mom called you for lunch, and you heard yourself call out, "Just wait for a little, let me finish the last part!" A day when you postponed plans with friends to study?
Can you remember your own version of such a day? If yes, congratulations! You have experienced the delightful feeling of being in the 'flow state'. In such a state, your mind, body, environment seem aligned to elevate your experience, acting as accelerators to fully engage you in studying.
Now, the reverse may also be true. Have you had a day when you felt so demotivated that you didn't feel like getting out of bed, let alone study? Perhaps you were feeling low after a quarrel with your friends or family. Perhaps you hadn't slept well for the last few nights and felt exhausted. Perhaps you kept getting distracted by the noises around you.
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. Decelerators will disrupt the flow state, and regardless of how long you spend sitting on your desk, you will feel stuck and helpless.
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
If you haven't already, make sure to read through the first 7 Rules to gain more practical study tips before reading on this last rule designed for lasting emotional and psychological change.
Rule #1: Know the syllabus and the keywords
Rule #3: Manage your time effectively
Rule #5: Know how to read
Rule #6: Take notes in class
We will explore the first two factors in this article today: your Emotions and the Mind.
"I just do not feel like doing this today". Many people regardless of age will feel this way when they are not in a good state of mind while doing a task.
This happens because emotions like boredom, anger, depression, sadness or excitement about some other life event, circumstance or thing seep into our present experience, making us ruminate instead of being mindful. These emotions make us agitated, like an itch needing to be scratched, and they have the power to slow down your progress significantly or even stop you entirely. Common symptoms are easily becoming distracted, unfocused, and unmotivated.
We are all human beings and "to err is human, to forgive is divine".
Know that it is okay, an inherent part of being human, to worry and become consumed by emotions. Do not beat yourself up because self-depreciation, disappointment and regret are also potentially powerful emotions that can pull you down even further.
Instead, forgive yourself.
We all want to be good students and no one wants to go down the slippery road that traps us in negative cycles. Remember that emotions come and go, but once a habit is formed, it is difficult to break it because every time we see the cue (for example: "homework due tomorrow") we resort to the default behaviour pattern (example: procrastinate) until the cue changes (example: "homework due tonight") changing our behaviour (example: panicked work).
Beware of the Procrastination Cycle!
Does this sound familiar? Yes, it has happened to almost all of us before. For example, in this famous Ted Talk, Tim Urban describes the processes occurring in the mind of a 'master procrastinator':
However, in order to set ourselves up for being in the 'flow state', we must learn to control and optimise both the internal and the external. In this case, the internal refers to our physical body and mind while the external refers to our immediate environment.
One common visual representation of our emotions comes from our body language. For instance, remember the day when you felt you were in the flow state. You probably walked with your head held high, shoulders rolled back. When you sat down to study, you were at peace, sitting upright at a desk with a clear focus.
But now think back to a day when you felt sad. Can you feel your shoulders slump and head bow down as you walk across the school corridor? Can you feel yourself drag your feet on the floor?
But have you ever thought whether changing one's body language could also influence one's emotions? You'd be surprised to realise just how powerful our body language truly is!
In her Ted Talk, Amy Cuddy actually declares that body language may shape who we are! Watch it below:
Another study, done as early as 1996, explains how the physical act of smiling may make you happier. The muscles of your face used in smiling activate those brain patterns of positive emotions while sitting up straighter instead of slouching have the potential to lift your mood and leave you feeling energised and ready to focus!
Can you guess which of these study postures would best accelerate your studying journey to reach peak performance?
That is right, the third one! Sitting upright on a desk not only eases back pain but also lifts mood and helps achieve better focus.
Now, let us look at the second factor which contributes to our performance:
Let us begin with some simple thought experiments.
Think about an incident that made you really happy and excited. Visualise the details, and run the experience through in your mind exactly as it happened. Maybe you remember a particular birthday celebration when your family and friends organised a surprise party. Maybe you remember the time you won a competition which was exceedingly challenging because of your untiring efforts. Maybe it is a moment as simple as sitting in front of the TV in the summer on the day after your exams were complete, soaking in the sunlight and feeling utterly relaxed. Maybe this moment is as extravagant as a holiday abroad when you explored the streets of a beautiful city with awe-inspiring sky scrappers or the suburban fields and fresh air.
Can you feel the happiness at this moment? Even though none of these events is occurring in the present, merely thinking about them brings you joy and uplifts your mood almost as much as when you first experienced that memory.
Now, try something else. Think about a day when you were low and upset. Do you remember when you felt unhappy because you scored badly on a test, and were then reprimanded by your parents? Even you couldn't believe that you had performed so poorly. Or that time when you quarrelled with someone who always seems to get on your nerves?
How do you feel right now? Definitely not happy! Yes, you are right! If you are surprised by how powerful and immediate the effect of these memories is on your mind, try this last thought experiment:
Think of your favourite food on a plate in front of you. Perhaps you visualise a MacDonald’s or KFC meal, or a Godiva chocolate, maybe Din Tai Fung or a piece of tiramisu.
Reach out for it. Slowly bring it closer to you. Smell in the deliciousness. Bite it. Think of the way it feels.
Are you salivating? Because I am!
Such is the power of our minds.
Similarly, to study well, concentrate and train your body and mind so that will be in the right state so that you will always feel likes studying and get your well-deserved 'A's!
How do you do this? Studies such as those done by Cheema and Bagchi (2011) and Blankert and Hamstra (2017) have shown that goal visualisation positively impacts people's performance. This is a widely known and used phenomenon in the domain of sports, but it can also be applied in other areas of life!
For example, use the power of positive thinking by visualising your academic goals in terms of real experiences. How would it feel? What experiences can you relate your goals to? Maybe take inspiration from online images and make a mood board to put on your desk.
Such visualisation of your goals can also happen during meditation. Click here to learn more about Visualisation and Visualisation Meditation from this informative and credible article by Headspace.
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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.
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