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Start Fast, End Slow or Don't Procrastinate

Most students take the approach of 'Start Slow, End Fast'. This is so fundamentally wrong. You have to turn that around and 'Start Fast, to End Slow'. Say you have been assigned a big semester project; the best way to deal with it, is start working for it right away, rather than starting three days prior to the deadline. It is important to take small, manageable steps, so that you never get frustrated with a task. Just give it a try! It works!


Study in Small, Manageable Chunks

Your brain is like your stomach. It can only digest a certain amount of input in a given period of time. When you feed it too much, well, then bad things happen. Cal Newport suggests study sessions of about 50 minutes. After your study period, plan a break. Give yourself a small reward for having stuck to your plan. The ability of focusing longer can be trained since your brain behaves like a muscle.

Read the Newspaper

You should start reading the newspaper every day. I am not talking about the local newspaper or your school's newspaper, although reading those are better than reading none. Take advantage of the Internet and challenge yourself to start your days by reading two articles out of the New York Times or another major newspaper of importance in your region/country. Consciously pick articles that deal with subjects your are NOT interested in and/or familiar with. Doing so and being consistent will bring many benefits over time. You will become conversant in subjects, about which many of your peers have no idea. This puts you ahead in many situations of (a student's) life. Whether it's that great example about politics you can now contribute to class, or your familiarity with technical words or names of important people; using your new habit, you will draw a clear line of distinction between you and people who don't care about newspapers.

In the beginning you will feel a little bit frustrated because you don't understand half of what you're reading. That's normal and, trust me, it will disappear over time. You will also start realizing that many people talk about topics without being correctly informed, or sometimes, without having a clue what they're talking about. You will get used to it, and you may choose to teach them from time to time. You will gain their respect very fast, and people will think twice about what they tell you in the future.

Don't try to substitute reading newspapers by watching the news on TV. Watching the news on TV does inform you about what's going on, but it fails to hone your writing skills and it will be harder to remember names and words you have not known before. Also reading is one way of training you brain for focus.

Again, start your day by reading two newspaper articles and challenge yourself to really learn something new each time. For environment's sake, you should consider subscribing to an electronic version of your chosen newspaper. You can also just read the articles on their home pages, which is for free. Public libraries or your school library are other places where newspapers should be accessible for free.


Having the Right Mindset, Delaying Gratification and Discipline

Life is difficult. That is a fact. Thus, studying and learning is difficult, too. The good student needs to understand and accept this basic fact. Once life's difficulty is accepted, we transcend the issue and focus on our progress. By acknowledging that learning is not an easy process, we also make that barrier obsolete. By truly accepting any kind of adversity, we neutralize it.

Understand that not understanding a concept, and then working on it until the problem has turned into clarity, is the process of learning. Problems we do not understand are positive, because they bring us forward, provided that we don't ignore them.

But how do we face problems the right way? There are a variety of tools that can be used and they're all over-arched by the theme DISCIPLINE.

Delaying gratification is the process of putting hard and regular work first. In today's fast paced world we have adopted the common misconception that everything should be instantaneous, which is certainly wrong for the good student. He knows that his/her efforts will only be gratified in the intermediate to distant future. Mastering a language for example is based on painfully learning its vocabulary, its grammar and the use of its verbs, which can be a tedious process. However, it is the only way to go if you truly want to master a language.

Humans have a natural tendency to avoid delaying gratification. Psychiatrist Dr. M Scott Peck, MD writes in his book The Road Less Traveled

…This inclination to ignore a problem is once again a simple manifestation of an unwillingness to delay gratification. Confronting problems is, as I have said painful. To willingly confront a problem early, before we are forced to confront it by circumstances, means to put aside something pleasant or less painful for something more painful. It is choosing to suffer now in the hope of future gratification…


Accept Your True Nature

We are born as true explorers, curious about everything that surrounds us. Little infants make perfect scientists. They observe the world, try things and learn from their mistakes. They want to know about everything and are not afraid to ask questions. To them, there is no stupid question. Many people lose this innate curiosity, but some don't. If you belong to this group of people or if you feel more intellectual than most of your peers, then you probably are! It is important to accept your true nature and mingle with like-minded people. This has nothing to do with being arrogant or anything! It's about knowing, respecting and supporting yourself!

Learn To Embrace Your Fears

Our time at school is meant to help us grow intellectually and spiritually. To achieve this, we must learn to think outside the box. We have to challenge ourselves and push us to our personal limits. With intelligence, courage and creativity we have to cross our own boundaries by consciously stepping out of our comfort zone.

It is fairly easy to be the good student if we only navigate in safe waters. However, there is no point in dedicating time to learning, if we are not willing to challenge ourselves on the highest levels. Instead of picking the easiest course, let's pick the hardest one. Instead of taking a course we feel comfortable with, let's take a course that challenges us! Everyone can play it safe. Not everyone has the courage to try new things and fail repeatedly.

Our culture tends to categorize us very early in life. If you have talent in sciences, then you are put on that track and your artistic side is completely neglected. Likewise you might be strong in expressing yourself creatively but you have a hard time to think analytically or linearly. I challenge you to break that pattern. As human beings, we owe the full spectrum of potential to ourselves. Combining and nurturing all your possibilities is fun and leads to unknown paradigms in life. Our time at school is there for exploration. Let's be pioneers and cross frontiers as often as possible. Take a course in a field you are a complete novice and show off your new knowledge upon completion.


Create Complexity Using Simplicity and Combine Accuracy With Freedom

We have to accept that most of us are not geniuses. Maybe that's good since many so called geniuses may be very brain smart, but unfortunately they are life stupid. In the worst case, they lack social abilities, and hence have to spend most of their lives feeling lonely and not understood. So let's be happy that we are not part of that group and focus on what we can do to improve our results in any given field.

Opposed to what many people think, it's not so important to master complexity. Instead, we should aim at understanding basics in order to create complexity consisting of simple elements. I think an analogy might help clear up my line of thought. As you may know, understanding how to write words is quite simple. Nonetheless, it is not easy to create a compelling story by placing those words in a logic sequence that is enjoyable for the reader. The most read and enjoyed books are not highly complicated ones using difficult diction. It's the books written in clear, understandable and easy to read words that have most success. A good author knows how to combine different skill sets. Generally, he's able to combine creativity, storytelling and writing into an astonishing, artistic output.

So let's not aim at becoming masters in any given field but let us focus on understanding basics and combining our many skill sets in a creative and intelligent way. It is by making interesting connections that we can show off intelligence. I had this epiphany while challenging myself with a course that combines art and technology. Bringing together the two independent and quite different parts of our brain can be a daunting task, especially in the beginning, when you have no experience. For example, I have to be creative using a programming language. It never occurred to me why I should use such a precise field of knowledge in order to make visual art. How can you combine accuracy with artistic freedom? It just so happens that an enormous realm of potential and opportunity lies within the intersection of these two domains. Moreover, you will see that being playful with a precise set of rules is challenging and pushing your boundaries.

That being said, challenge yourself by making you work on your weaknesses and combine them with your strengths. It will be spectacular and you will broaden your intellectual horizon.


Write, Reflect and Don't Forget

In today's world, students are exposed to an overflow of information. Our brain has a hard job to determine priorities. That's why we have to create stimuli that tells our brain: This is important. Please remember! There are several ways you can achieve that, but a very efficient one is writing about what you have just learned. When you write about a given topic, you draw on what you really know. Moreover, you develop your present knowledge into a more advanced version by connecting it to outside concepts. The more connections you can make between your many pieces of knowledge, the better you can retain and apply them. That is exactly what I am doing with this page. Since I do not want to forget my advice, I write about it and publish it to the world.

For the sake of being complete - Another form of supporting your memory is repeating information right after you have received it. Many people suffer from being introduced to people, and just minutes later, their names are forgotten. These situations can be quite embarrassing. A useful technique is repeating their names in our minds after we have been introduced...Jeff is a nice guy. Jeff is a nice guy and he wears a funny suit, stimulates your mind to remember Jeff's name.

I shall also mention the power of mnemonics ( pronounced:knee monic) - for example, HOMES stands for the Great Lakes Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior. Will you ever forget again?

That being said, there is a difference between writing which you have done for a class, and writing which you have done because you chose to. Obviously, we are only going to voluntarily write about subjects we are truly interested in, or passionate about. And that is totally fine! After all, you should study what you truly care about.

One final thought about writing and education. In certain schooling systems it has become a habit to expose students to a minimum of writing. I don't care much about that 'fill in the blanks mentality', since it is not compatible with the reality of life. Tedious copying of sentences might seem redundant, but it is a perfect way to have something turn into second nature.