1 | Being Too Headstrong
Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised by this one. I wanted to hit the ground running in college and do well in my courses. I wanted to pile on multiple courses and max out my units. However, I listened to the advice I received from upperclassmen and eased into college with a regular course load. My GPA was a 3.8 that first quarter, which was good, but being a perfectionist, I knew I could do better.
So for winter quarter, I said challenge accepted. I piled on a heavy course load, maxing out my units and taking difficult pre-med science courses. I worked HARD. A few weeks into the quarter, I had bright red blood in my stool. After a week of bleeding that was getting worse, I spoke with an advice nurse on the phone. As an ignorant pre-med, I didn’t understand the significance of the progression of bright red blood turning to black tarry stools. She urged me to go to the emergency department. I replied that my chemistry midterm was tomorrow and I couldn’t miss it. (Yeah… I cringe thinking about that now). I went to the ED, was hospitalized for several days, lost 35 pounds, and was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.
Getting an autoimmune disease like Crohn’s is multifactorial, and I wouldn’t say that I got Crohn’s because of the stress, but I can confidently say that that first flare was triggered by the super high stress. The literature is conflicting on whether or not stress exacerbates or triggers inflammation and flares, but many patients, including myself, will attest from personal experience that it certainly does.
Unfortunately, my overly ambitious and headstrong nature didn’t end there. Even though I was hospitalized and missed 2 weeks of a 10 week quarter, I refused to take the rest of the quarter off, against the advice of others. Heavy on medications and low on weight, I returned to classes, made up missed assignments, and earned a 3.7 GPA that quarter. Annoyed that my GPA had decreased from my first quarter, I vowed never again. And for the rest of college, I earned 4.0’s every quarter. This sounds good on paper, but if I could do it again, I’d do it much differently.
2 | Stressing the Small Stuff
And that brings us to point number two. While the headstrong nature had some benefits, such as doing well in my courses, it led to unnecessary stress. Again, Crohn’s is exacerbated by stress, so my health suffered due to my inability to relax and see the bigger picture. Instead, I always wanted perfection for myself and beat myself up any time I fell short, even if it was something small.
And that’s clear with regards to my school work, but it extended to other areas of my life as well. In the gym, I wanted to see consistent progress, so much so that I pushed myself to the point of injury… multiple times.
After several years, I’m at the point where I still appreciate the satisfaction of performing at my peak potential. However, I have learned to have more compassion for myself. Things often don’t go according to plan, and instead of forcing a square peg into a round hole, I’ve learned it’s best to manage the situation without judgment. Going back to working out, I now focus less on maximizing my gains and instead focus on longevity and enjoyment.
3 | Inefficient Studying Methods
Fueled by my desire to crush it in every class and set the curve as many times as possible, I figured I just needed to study harder. I recently went over why this is absolutely not the case, and how you should study smarter rather than harder.
I would sit down and study for hours and avoid taking breaks. Of course, this led to rapidly diminishing returns. Had I practiced the Pomodoro technique and broken up my study sessions, I would have maintained a higher intensity over a longer period of time, and ultimately I would have gotten more done in less time.
I didn’t effectively utilize active learning methods either, like flashcards, mnemonics, or condensing and summarizing my notes. Instead, I took notes and just re-read them, and only occasionally did practice questions. It was brute force and intense. It ultimately worked, but by adopting more effective study habits, I would have been able to achieve the same results in less time.
4 | Not Prioritizing Sleep
Going along with inefficient study methods, I pulled one all-nighter in college during my first quarter, and that was enough for me to learn how terrible they are. In that setting, your cognitive performance is dramatically decreased. For simple exams testing contextual knowledge, this isn’t as big of a deal, although it’s still suboptimal. But cognitively demanding courses, like physics, math, organic chemistry, or neuroscience require you to be fresh and work through novel problems, not just regurgitate information. A fresh mind is critical.
Even though I stopped pulling all-nighters after the first one, I still didn’t prioritize my sleep. I used to say “sleep is for the weak” or “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”. (I know, many of my behaviors were cringeworthy). Staying up late and waking up early, fueled by adrenaline, only added to my stress and hindered my mental and physical performance.
While sleep deprivation is often unavoidable in medical school and residency, there’s no excuse in college. There will be several times in your career where you don’t get enough sleep, but even the act of optimizing for higher quality sleep during these few hours can make a drastic difference. I go over how to sleep smarter in my earlier videos, using sleep hygiene and sleep science to your advantage.
5 | Not Structuring My Days Ahead of Time
I really learned to love the art of scheduling and discipline in medical school. This opened up an entirely new way to live more effectively – maximizing both work and play.
In college, I didn’t approach each day with a plan. I simply had my course schedule and maybe one or two extracurriculars in my calendar, and the rest of my day, including gym workouts, was more “do it at some point.” As you can imagine, I missed several workouts, particularly around midterms and finals. It was only during senior year, after getting accepted to medical schools, that I approached weight training seriously and made sizable gains (which were promptly lost in medical school).
If I scheduled my day as I do now, juggling my multiple extracurriculars, coursework, and working out would have been much easier, and I likely would have gotten much further in terms of strength gains and progress with certain extracurriculars that ended up becoming neglected.
6 | Feeling Like I Had to Drink Every Time I Went Out
Here’s yet something else that’s cringe-worthy. In college, I felt like I had to drink when I went out to party in order to have a good time. Of course, I don’t prescribe to that anymore for multiple reasons.
First, binge drinking is just not good for you, no matter how you cut it. Second, even the argument of moderate drinking, such as the suggestion that 1-2 glasses of red wine can be beneficial has recently been debunked. And third, I don’t like the way I feel the following day.
Since medical school, I’ve found myself drinking far less – only a handful of times per year, and I couldn’t be happier. I have a blast going out, even without alcohol. This is likely common sense for most of you, but for some reason, I had bought into the narrative that when you go out to bars, clubs, or apartment parties, drinking was the way to go.
I’m glad I’m no longer so foolish. I’m sure, looking back, there will be things I do today that will make me think “how in the world did I think that was a good idea!?” Anyway, college was a great learning opportunity for me, and much has changed since then. Hopefully, you can avoid making the same mistakes by learning from mine.