It can take time to get back into studying after the summer break or resume studying after having a job. It may feel daunting to get back into a routine of lectures and organising the workload, which is likely to include listening to pre-recorded material in preparation for tutorials.
As the term gets underway, you will be given assignments and have deadlines to meet. You may notice that it is harder to concentrate on written assignments. They require time and a lot of patience to tolerate the challenges of this type of work. It may be tempting to delay getting started until inspiration comes to focus on the task. The delay in getting started may be due to worry about making mistakes or being unclear about what is expected.
As time goes by and the work accumulates, it can cause tension and worry that there is not enough time to finish the task. The paradox is that we intend to study and complete the assignments, but we may not trust that the result will be good enough. So we procrastinate, which exacerbates the tension, and we may have doubts about our ability to do well academically.
To build confidence we can focus on our experience of learning new things, such as learning to read and write. It took time and effort, and a lot of practice to develop the knowledge and skills.
Similarly, we can develop study habits to enable us to get our work done and meet deadlines. Creating habits help us to adapt to new situations, manage our time and our energy. Often, we delay getting started not because we do not want to complete the assignment but because we are unsure what we have to do or are unclear about what is expected. Also, we need to manage our expectations that we should get the work done to a high standard in the first attempt.
A good strategy is to develop a beginner’s mindset – with curiosity and openness. It is viewing learning as an opportunity to learn about the world and expand our knowledge and skills. When we connect with our curiosity, and we are willing to take the initiative and try something. Developing our belief in our capacity to learn strengthens our ability to persevere when the material is challenging (Bandura, 1997).
To get back into study mode, we benefit from creating an environment that supports our work. We can set up cues that will remind us of what we want to do. For example, if we want to start going outdoors for walks or a run, we can increase the likelihood of doing it if we set up a cue to remind us of what we want to achieve. We can leave the trainers by the front door to remember to do it. To turn it into a habit we need to be consistent with our efforts.
It will take a bit of time to establish consistency, so it is essential to be alert, and when we notice we are distracted, we can remind ourselves of what is important to us. For example, starting to work on an essay, but delay it because of feeling tired or think it is too difficult, and instead we talk to a friend or watch Netflix. These other activities can seem more interesting and less effort, so it will make it harder to focus on our work. First, we need to become aware of what is happening. Next, remind ourselves that we want to do well in our work. Then, focus on the benefits of understanding the subject and completing the assignment.
Strategies to develop the mindset to study effectively
Make the most of brief periods: We often think we need a block of time to get a piece of work done. However, if you have half an hour between lectures, make a few notes of the key ideas mentioned in the previous class. It will help to remember the content and can be good notes for revision later.
Focus on the process, not on the results: Focusing on what we are doing now will help us problem-solve and complete the task to do well academically and at work. When we get distracted, we need to notice it, and without judgment, bring our attention back to the task. When we focus on results, our thoughts go to the future, preventing us from focusing on what we need to do. The result is important, and we are more likely to achieve it if we do something right now. When we train ourselves to focus on learning, our work will be better, and we can surprise ourselves with what we can achieve.
Focus on your values: Seeing ourselves as people who want to do well and derive a sense of achievement can support our commitment to persevere with our efforts. Focusing on what matters to us help us to understand and manage frustration and disappointment when we make mistakes.
Maintain an optimistic attitude: When we focus on our ability to learn, we can maintain our hope that we will be able to make progress with our efforts. We develop our skills with practice, and as we see we are making progress, we will notice we are learning, boosting our motivation and sense of achievement (David, 2016).
Create cues or prompts: finding ways to remind us of what we want to achieve will serve as memory aids so that when we see them, it will trigger us to take action. For example, putting Post-it notes in places associated with our work will remind us of what we need to do.
Take small steps: Breaking down the tasks into small steps helps manage our energy level and our expectations of what we can achieve in a time. For example, instead of thinking, “I need to work on my essay or dissertation”, we can divide the assignment into smaller steps to do in short study periods of half an hour or under an hour.
Prepare for setbacks: The learning process is not linear. We make mistakes, and things may take longer than we expect. Grades are essential to pass and do well; however, when we focus on learning, results will be better because of our work to understand the material and our flexibility to adjust to the learning process (David, 2016).
Look after yourself: It is essential to maintain our energy level to manage distractions and emotions while doing hard work. Learning is challenging because we are putting ourselves outside of our comfort zone. Developing healthy habits provide us with the resources we need to do well and keep well.
Bandura, A. (1997) Self-Efficacy. The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.
Ben-Shahar, T. (2009) The pursuit of perfect. How to stop chasing perfection and start living a richer, happier life. New York: MacGraw-Hill Books.
Brown, P.C., Roediger, H.L. & McDaniel, M.A. (2014) Make it stick: The science of successsful learning. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard Business Press.
David, S. (2016) “Emotional agility. Get unstuck, embrace change, and thrive in work and life.” London: Penguin
Duckworth, A. (2016) Grit. The Power of Passion and Perseverance. London: Vermillion.