How to Study When You Don’t Feel Like It – 4 Steps

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Some viewers have sent me messages asking how I grind so hard so often.  I’m going to share a secret with you. I am, in fact, human. And I too have several moments where doing work or studying is the last thing that I want to do. Over the years, I’ve learned how to work around it and still manage to get a lot of things done. And in this post, I’ll show you how to do the same. If you watch the entire post and follow the instructions, I guarantee you’ll see results.

 

The Core Principle

I am a firm believer that systems produce results. Relying on motivation, inspiration, being energized, or any other fleeting emotion will not sustain you and not deliver the results you desire. I apply this philosophy to all aspects of my life – from regularly exercising, to eating healthfully, to studying and getting work done. It’s the system that delivers the results. Period. Now, let’s go over how you too can create a system that allows you to overcome feeling tired, feeling bored, or just plain feeling like you don’t want to study.

  

Step 1 | Audit Yourself

The first step is assessing your current state. You know that your study habits and strategies are not working, and you want to fix things. The tricky thing about advice is that one size does not fit all. You must first objectively examine your own habits and systems to figure out in what ways you can optimize most effectively. We want to focus on the largest pain points that allow us to put in the least amount of effort and gain the maximum results.

In order to do this, I suggest you keep a journal or open up a note on your phone and jot down what you are doing and how you’re feeling over the course of a day. Who are you studying with? When did you eat? When did you try to study, and when did you begin feeling like you were just over it?

Doing this over a couple days will give you a better view of your current systems and pain points. You may find yourself growing more mindful of how you feel and the things occurring around you, as I did. I now practice meditation regularly and journal every night, which I find quite helpful.

 

Step 2 | Use the Power of Language

Sounds a bit woo-woo, right? Hear me out. The power of language is the most important part of this entire process. This is the foundation of the entire system. Our entire world is understood through language. By making small adjustments, we can very effectively reduce the friction involved in getting work done.  Still not with me? Here are some ways to implement it: 

1 | “So What”

When I tell myself “I don’t feel like studying,” I say out loud “so what?” No, literally, I actually say “so what” out loud, which snaps me out of the limiting mindset. I’m in control, my feelings are fleeting. So why would I follow them? The next time you don’t feel like studying, say it out loud, and then say, “so what?”

2 |  “And” Instead of “But”

Use the word “and” instead of “but” when facing your problems. Subtle, right? See it in action. When you say “I have to study for my midterm, but I’m tired and I don’t feel like studying,” you’re limiting your potential options of action. You’re essentially telling yourself, “well, I need to study, but I can’t because I don’t feel like it!” However, when you say “I have to study for my midterm, and I don’t feel like studying,” you have two separate phrases, and the second one doesn’t negate the first. You’re now telling yourself two independent phrases that don’t conflict with one another.

I know this sounds out there. As someone who is very scientifically minded, type A, and logical, this initially felt like some touchy-feely nonsense, but I assure you it works. Try it out, and see for yourself how effective it really is.

 

Step 3 | Lower the Activation Energy

Dig back to your biology and chemistry classes. Do you remember how enzymes work? They facilitate a reaction by acting as a catalyst, meaning they lower the activation energy. The reaction we’re going to catalyze is getting you to study.

The main problem we have isn’t an issue of actually doing the work. It’s just starting. Starting is the hardest part. So how do we make it easier?

1 | Create Small Sub-Tasks

Take your large task and break it into something small. Once you think you’ve made it small, make it even smaller than that. After the first time, you’re likely not thinking small enough. For example, if you need to read 2 chapters in your biology textbook in preparation for your upcoming quiz, telling yourself to read just 1 chapter or even 1 section is still too big. Instead, tell yourself to read one paragraph. No obligations. Just one paragraph, and then you can assess if you want to keep working or not. More often than not, you’ll find it much easier to keep going.

2 | Decrease the Time Commitment

Do the same with your time commitment. It’s great that you blocked out the next three hours to do work, but guess what, studying for three hours is incredibly daunting. You don’t want to do that. You want to watch Med School Insiders YouTube videos instead. Here’s how you get past that  – you’re not studying for three hours anymore. Instead, you’re studying for only 25 minutes, which is a lot easier than 3 hours. After the 25 minutes are done, you’re getting a break, guaranteed. Seems simple enough. This is the Pomodoro technique in action, and it’s my favorite study hack. 

3 | Choose Easy Tasks to Build Momentum

Early on in the day, I generally like to knock out the difficult tasks first, since it makes the rest of the day a breeze. But I don’t always get the luxury of doing that. There are instances where starting is so difficult, that there’s no way I would be able to tackle the most daunting task first. In those instances, I start with something easy. That can be something as simple as doing my laundry or washing dishes. Once I’ve built the momentum of getting something small done, having a small victory, it becomes much easier to step it up to something a little bigger.

4 | Lower your Expectations – Hero to Zero

This one applies to creative works, such as writing an essay. First, using the steps above, we’ve already told ourselves we’re not writing an essay, just one sentence. And we’re not writing for 1 hour, just for 3 minutes. If you find you still can’t get started, lower your expectations. Intentionally tell yourself that you’re going to write something bad. Not that you’re going to write something and if it’s bad, then that’s fine. No, you’re literally going to write something bad, intentionally. Sound crazy? Try it next time you’re stuck, and thank me later.

 

Step 4 | Add Some Spice

If after steps 1 through 3, it’s still feeling a bit dry, it’s time to add a bit of flavor to the process. I find the methods included here to be particularly useful if you’ve been studying for some time and find yourself running out of steam. This can be done in several different ways. Here are my favorites that have proven most effective:

1 | Vary the Type of Studying or Subject Matter

First, if you find yourself getting bored of looking at your physics textbook, change it up by either doing practice problems or studying for your English class instead. You can either vary the subject, such as going from physics to English, or vary the method of studying, such as reading to doing practice problems. One of my favorite ways to change it up is by doing one or two Pomodoro cycles of Anki flashcards and then returning to my other work. It almost always makes me feel more refreshed.

2 | Incentivize Yourself with Rewards

Find something you’re looking forward to, and tell yourself you’ll be able to do it immediately after you finish your task. Let’s say a new episode of Top Gear comes out, or maybe you’re excited to go out with your friends on a Friday night. Tell yourself you’ll be able to do exactly that as soon as you’re done with your work. Watch yourself become much more efficient. 

3 | Move

Moving has two benefits. First, physically moving your body around with walking or some light exercise is a highly effective way to reset and get into a better mindset, ready for work. Second, moving to a new location can provide enough of a novel stimulus to get you out of the rut and build momentum.

 

Conclusion

By following this four-step system, you’ll be well equipped to get your studying and work done, regardless of how you feel. To really get the most out of this video and optimize your system, I recommend two additional posts. First, 7 Steps to Cure Procrastination. And second, Super Human Efficiency and Productivity.

Good luck!

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