I’m writing this on a Sunday morning. Feet up and cozy in my fuzzy slippers, steaming coffee in hand. I’ve got my clear plan for studying this morning, but first I need to address an issue I keep hearing about from those who have asked me to help them on this journey.
One of my student mentees emailed me this morning: Please help. I feel like I’m floundering. I don’t want to study all the time. I’m in ‘all-or-nothing’ hell and don’t know how to get out of it, and right now its stuck in ‘nothing’. Help!
Can I ever relate to that feeling! As a super intense and driven person absolutely intent on achieving goals that some say are “unrealistic” (whatever that means), it took me awhile to find ways to keep myself going, keep the study schedule even on boring days or overwhelmed days or just blah days. There’s some switch in my brain that turns to the OFF position sometimes, and it used to make me absolutely twitchy until I figured out what was going on and a few effective work-arounds.
If you’re stuck in all-or-nothing hell, here’s some ideas to help.
- STOP COMPARING. Stop comparing your insides to someone else’s outsides. We all know students who appear to never struggle with study motivation. But those who seem the most confident are sometimes the ones who struggle the most – silently.
- USE TIME AS YOUR BEST FRIEND. I’ve learned that what works best is to study every day for a set amount of time, taking regular timed breaks so my brain is more efficient. This will help you avoid procrastination and those frantic last minute cram sessions (that really don’t work anyway).
- DON’T CHECK IN SO OFTEN WITH HOW YOU FEEL. While it is vital to do what you need to do to stay emotionally healthy, you can waste tons of time asking yourself if you feel up to the next study marathon required. Just DO IT. Just pick up the books, grab the q-bank, review the Powerpoints, run through some flash cards as if you absolutely felt like it.
- TRICK YOUR BRAIN. Everyone’s experience is unique. Some people need to find ways to push themselves, others need to find ways to justify taking breaks or finding balance. Try setting up rewards for consistent daily studying – like a favorite snack after an hour of intense study, or checking in on social media at the end of a productive study day, or imagining you’ve got a reality-show camera documenting your good study habits. It may sound hokey, but these mental exercises do actually work!
- GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION. To have a blah day. To feel unmotivated. To even feel like you’ve just spent four hours studying and can’t remember a single thing. Just like the weather, your feelings will change. Clouds are replaced with clear blue skies. Sunshine follows rain. Snow melts. Blah days end and brain-fog lifts. Rather than feeling frantic when those down-days happen, remind yourself that the feelings will pass.
- SCHEDULE JOY. Medical school is intense. There’s an enormous never-ending volume of information to learn and retain. Since this is a life-long learning journey, start NOW to schedule JOY into your life. For the rest of your life, you’ll be busy. For the rest of your life, you’ll be learning. Don’t put off joy.
I promise you, every single human being experiences blah days, days when the motivation runs dry and the “off” switch seems stuck. Stop comparing, use time as your friend, ignore the unmotivated feelings and just study anyway, trick your brain, give yourself permission (to be human!), and make sure you intentionally incorporate JOY into your daily life.
This path we’ve chosen is exciting. And boring. And overwhelming. And worth it. You can do this!