Don’t be disheartened! It may be Christmas and you have to revise while everyone else is having fun, but don’t give up on the possibility that you might actually get down to some quality work among all the distractions on offer. Getting started may not be the mountain you think it is!
Here are some top tips from us to help you find your way.
Firstly, recognise what drives procrastination:
If you are like most people, your main driver will probably be a sense of overwhelm based on some very high expectations of how hard you think you will have to work this Christmas. Often this is increased by a belief that you have not worked hard enough up until now and that you must catch up on great swathes of work before you can even start to make progress. This belief is unhelpful even if it happens to be true. This belief will stop you from valuing your efforts and in doing so, will hijack your motivation to even try.
This is a classic recipe for PROCRASTINATION.
Now let’s be clear – no one finds procrastination easy. It’s not an easy option. It’s essentially a very painful experience because overall, no matter what you are doing that isn’t your revision, you continue to feel guilty that you are not doing your revision. It’s a painful state to exist in. All activities become tainted, all social encounters infected and at this time of year, when you could legitimately have some guilt-free time off, it can mean that your holidays become a twilight zone of discomfort, guilt and avoidance.
So why continue procrastinating? Because the discomfort of procrastination is as nothing compared to what you imagine it’s going to feel like when you do, finally, get down to the huge amounts of work that you think are waiting for you.
This is actually the crux of the problem of procrastination. An inflated sense of how much work awaits you. It’s deeply off putting and we quite naturally avoid beginning that work.
Procrastination – The friend of clunky thinkers everywhere!
The problem with this way of thinking is that it’s clunky. It’s black or white and there’s no middle ground and no sliding scale of the value of work. In your mind is simply a picture of intense sessions of work or no work at all. There is no sense that small pieces of work, over time, contribute to the whole. Neither is there a sense of pieces of work that build and gather momentum naturally over time.
It’s a static, linear, fixed model that we hold in our heads. Something like “I must work 6 hours a day throughout the holidays if I am to get anywhere at all.” The fact that this sets us up to feel even further behind if we don’t achieve these goals is neither here nor there. We continue to believe it and feel guilty when we don’t succeed.
The world is not linear or clunky:
We know if we stop to think about it, that the world doesn’t function like this. It’s us – we have got into a guilt-fuelled mental trap that holds us hostage to a very rigid sense of what ‘must be.’ And yet we know that as humans, we don’t function like this. When we learn a sport or a musical instrument, we know that at first it feels hard. Everything is difficult. It takes time and effort. And the skill at this stage is to have teachers who don’t challenge us too far, too fast and who make the learning fun. A few months and years down the track, we are effortlessly and unconsciously performing all sorts of activities which took us so much time and effort to achieve in the early stages. Learning is not linear. It speeds up, it slows down, it has peaks and plateaus and is a malleable experience. Sometimes the smallest effort can create a shift that moves us rapidly forward.
How athletes learn to perform:
We do have a much more flexible sense of performance when we think about athletes. We know that their training regimes change over time. We know that they go through cycles of effort and rest and we know that they can deliver their best performances under pressure. We instinctively know that athletes are human and do in fact need work, rest and play. We recognise that they cannot eat, breathe and sleep their training, they need time off. Their recovery and recuperation is built in to their training regimes and is therefore guilt-free. And we know that they use a great deal of psychology in order to get themselves up and running every day when they are training.
Value the preparation time:
Procrastinators everywhere can learn from this approach. Beginning with very small pieces of work. Even just getting your books out, sorting your notes and tidying your room has immense value, as we know from Steven R Covey’s book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People’. Starting at the beginning and setting yourself up right pays enormous dividends quickly, when you start to perform well because you are organised and know where stuff is. But it also gives you time to just potter around, in your study space, getting used to the whole idea. It gives your unconscious mind time to prepare itself ready for the work it will do. Just remember, anytime getting organised is high value work, because your brain is also organising and categorising your work.
Set yourself really small times to work. The issue here is that you won’t believe that it is helpful. Your overriding beliefs that “It’s got to be hard work or it’s no work at all,” will keep you feeling that you haven’t made any significant impact on the overall goal. But the way we learn is repetitive. Anything you can do to mimic how your brain works is valuable. Getting organised and categorising stuff mimics how your brain remembers. Going back over easy pieces of work builds your confidence and your foundations.
Find out what you know!
Before trying to learn anything on any topic, get out a blank piece of paper and scribble down, at speed, anything and everything you know about that topic. Find out what you know already! You will be amazed! Most of us know far more than we think we do. Fast track routes to remembering involve practicing recall. Doing this is recall. Scribbling down what you know already – is recall. When you do this, you are revising. And fast track ways to remember information include creating a context for where you place additional information in your memory. By already being clear about what you do know, you can add new information into your already existing information.
So ….. begin with what you know and add to this.
Environment is everything:
If you dread going and working in your room – don’t go. Go somewhere else. A local cafe or library. Don’t worry about the time out that it takes you to walk or travel there, that is all useful time that your brain will be quietly preparing to remember what’s coming next and processing what it has just learned. Trust yourself that time spent getting yourself into the best working conditions will pay off later because the work you do will be of a higher quality.
For goodness sake – make some of your revision fun!
Find the fun stuff. If it’s Geography and rivers, look up on Youtube about unusual rivers, documentaries about river rafting or communities managing life on the river’s edge. Look at the Severn River bore and find a way to incorporate it. Don’t forget with the internet you can always find a cool, new way in to a dull topic. Look up “How can I make X topic interesting?” See what people say. Have some fun. Before you know it – you are working!
So the long and short is: students need a christmas break. Students need a change of gear. Students need some time off to recharge as well as time to study. Think about athletes. In the off season they use the time to rest and recuperate, we should do the same.