There are days where the mere act of turning on your laptop and flipping through First Aid just feels like way too much effort: It’s impossible to stay interested in the material, or have the focus to constantly study, and some days are just so much harder than other days to keep going. But sometimes we don’t have a choice, and we need to get through that huge to-do list. Here are some tips and tricks I’ve picked up that ensure I will have a study session when I need to but don’t want to!
Tip #1: Film yourself while studying
Okay I know this sounds weird at first, but trust me, it works. Put your phone on your desk and create a hyperlapse of you during a study session. Firstly, this kind of makes you feel like somebody’s watching you, which psychologically tricks you into studying. Secondly, if literally anything else (Netflix, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, etc) feels more interesting than studying, this forces your phone out of your hand. There have been too many times I’ll go put my phone away in a drawer but somehow find it back in my hands 5 minutes later. The only way to access your phone is to end your video, so this is much more effective! Thirdly, creating that hyperlapse lets you go back at the end of your study block and watch yourself in a few short, sweet seconds, which allows you to see where any of your distractions were. It’s pretty interesting to see how long you spent staring at a wall or making coffee in order to do anything but study!
Tip #2: Action over inaction
The hardest part of a study session is always starting. I find that once I actually start, it’s easier to build the momentum and keep going. I think of it like working out… the hardest part of a workout is changing into your workout clothes and getting yourself to the gym! The actual workout part always feels amazing! The hardest part of studying is sitting down, opening your laptop and starting. If anything, go through the motions of a study session and maybe you’ll be able to trick your brain into the routine! After all, human beings are creatures of habit! Any sort of action is better than inaction, so I highly recommend just starting even if you don’t feel like it!
Tip #3: Play Doctor
Sometimes when we’re on this long journey we lose track of what our long-term goal actually is. Sitting in front of textbooks and starting at a screen for 12 hours a day can inevitably suck the living soul out of you. Sometimes the best thing you can do to motivate yourself is play Doctor! See if you can get yourself into a clinic for a day, or volunteer your time! Sometimes hearing an inspirational story, or feeling like you’re physically helping somebody out can remind you of why you’re on this long journey and help you ground yourself to study to get to that point! Reminding yourself that you won’t be sitting behind a computer screen for your whole life can be helpful in getting yourself to actually sit behind the screen and study.
TIp #4: Stay connected
All too often the one thing that motivates me is knowing my friends are going through the same thing as me. Staying connected with your peers in medical school is so important as they are the only ones that can truly understand what you are going through. A good rant or venting session oftentimes clears my head and reminds me that I am not the only one dealing with a lack of motivation or frustration with the material. If you’re somebody who likes group studying, that can also be an effective method to study. If you’re like me and group studying just doesn’t work for you, try to just picture your friends studying and hopefully even just the thought that others are working hard will make you want to study too!
Tip #5: Change your study environment
Studying in one place can make your brain very bored. If you’re really struggling to study, try going somewhere new. Perhaps a library or coffee shop that you don’t normally study at can provide a much needed change of scenery. If you’re not somebody who likes to study in public, perhaps just try switching to another room, or changing the position of your desk. Sometimes something as minor as this can trick your brain!
Tip #6: Make an agenda the night before
Every night before I sleep I plan out my next day. This is super helpful because when you wake up you aren’t wasting precious minutes of your day trying to come up with a plan that works! Going to bed knowing what you have to do the next day can keep you in a positive mindset, and waking up having a list of things ready to accomplish can set you up right away to have a productive study session!
Tip #7: Give yourself rewards
Whenever I have long study days I love to give myself rewards. Start your day off with your favorite coffee, tea, or smoothie so that you feel good when you’re getting started. Schedule rewards during your day, such as a one hour lunch break where you can do anything you want, or a good meal to look forward to for dinner (my personal guilty pleasure), or an episode of your favourite netflix show before you sleep! Having something to look forward to can make the day go along easier! It breaks up your day into chunks and oftentimes internally makes you want to be productive so that you deserve that reward.
Tip #8: Take a break
If you’re really struggling to have a productive study session, or if you’re really not in the mood, sometimes you just need to recognize that and take a little bit of a guilt-free break. Watch a movie, hang out with your family and friends, or grab a drink! But make sure it’s a guilt-free break so that you can be present and enjoy it and come back to studying with a fresh mindset. There’s no point in stressing out about all that you have to do if you’re trying to give your mind a break! It’s important to know what our limits are and that sometimes it’s just healthier to give your mind a rest. Make sure it’s always within reason and that every day is not a break!
Tip #9: Stay healthy
Staying healthy physically and mentally is so important and can directly affect your productivity. Schedule in consistent workouts so that your brain and body remain fresh and active! Take care of your mental health too by scheduling breaks and times to hang out with those you love. If you stay healthy internally and externally you will have a better mindset and capability to deal with all the studying that needs to be done!
Tip #10: Remember why you started
At the end of the day we all went into medical for some reason or another. Finding the intrinsic motivation is perhaps the hardest and most important of them all. Medical school requires a lot of discipline and a lot of sacrifices, so it’s always important to hold the reason why you started close to your heart. Sometimes that is the only thing that will keep you going on the days that you need it the most.