Let’s get one thing straight: studying is boring, right?
You know the feeling: every time you have to read a textbook or review for a test, you start thinking of a million things that you’d rather be doing – like skydiving, or watching paint dry. You know, fun stuff.
Of course, studying is just something you have to do – which leads to the obvious question: if I have to do it, is there at least a way to make it fun?
The answer is yes, and today, we’ll be covering some mindsets and practical tricks you can use to make studying something you look forward to more often.
But first, a disclaimer: there’s no way to make studying fun all the time.
After all, working through difficult, challenging material is a necessary part of the learning process. However, there are some things you can do to make studying more fun, more of the time. Let’s go through them, shall we?
In the book The Freshman and His College, published in 1913, Francis Lockwood revealed his secret to making studying more fun:
“In the long run the secret of study resides in our ability to bathe our thought, our task, our lesson in the stream of interest.”
Interest is the key element. To be able to dive into the more detailed and more challenging aspects of any topic, you can’t jump straight into the minute details – you have to be excited about it first.
Nobody reads The History of Middle Earth before reading The Lord of the Rings (or at least watching the movies), nor does anyone go digging through C# documentation unless they’re interested in building something in C# – like a video game.
The best educators in the world understand this innately. It’s why Bill Nye spent so much time showing us how electricity behaves rather than diving straight into the details of Ohm’s Law. It’s why David Attenborough dedicated his time and energy to showing how sharks hunt their prey – not trying to explain how the dorsal fin affects fluid dynamics.
For example, I always found it hard to remember the name of the type of ship that Portuguese explorers used to sail down the western coast of Africa in the 1500’s – caravels. But once I started actually using caravels in Civilization V to build my empire and make sure I got far enough ahead of Gandhi so that he couldn’t nuke me, the name stuck in my memory.
During Carol Dweck’s research for her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, she observed that students approached learning in one of two ways: they either looked at difficult courses with a fixed mindset or with a growth mindset.
Students with fixed mindsets believed that intelligence and talent were set in stone. For example, if they found a certain math problem difficult or challenging, they’d think, “I guess I’m just not a math person.”
In contrast, students with growth mindsets believed that they could change and grow in every area of their lives. If they came across a challenging equation, they thought, “Hm. I can get better at this… But I have to tough it out.”
In her book, Dweck demonstrated how a student’s mindset played a huge role in how interested they were in their studies, especially when things became difficult. She did this by following pre-med students who were taking a weed-out course that had an average test grade of C+; this course was designed to “weed-out” people who weren’t a good fit for medicine early on.
Here’s what she found:
“Most students started out pretty interested in chemistry. Yet over the semester, something happened. Students with the fixed mindset stayed interested only when they did well right away. Those who found it difficult showed a big drop in their interest and enjoyment. If it wasn’t a testimony to their intelligence, they couldn’t enjoy it.”
She then compared these fixed-mindset students with those who had a growth mindset:
“In contrast, students with the growth mindset continued to show the same high level of interest even when they found the work very challenging. Challenge and interest went hand in hand.”
This means that if you want to succeed and enjoy your studying, you have to reframe how you think about your classes.
Instead of thinking of them as a series of tests that show just how intelligent or unintelligent you are, think of them more as ongoing opportunities to learn and grow.
If you can apply this growth mindset to your life, you’ll find that studying and tackling homework assignments for any subject will be much more enjoyable and much less boring.
Studying with a partner is great for accountability and for making the act of studying less of a drag.
At the same time, though, there are two main points of failure that you have to watch out for:
- You might distract each other and become tag-team champs of procrastination.
For example, during my freshman year, I tried to study with people at my dorm… But all we ended up doing was opening up Duke Nukem Soundboard and wasting all of our time.
- Your partner does all the work and you never learn anything.
If you have a super-smart study buddy, then they’re going to finish the assignments a lot faster than you. While it’s kind of nice in the short term, ultimately, you won’t learn anything because they’ve already done all the learning for you.
The key with study partners is to be selective and to find someone who stays on task. Once you’ve found your guy (or girl), you have to make sure that when you’re working together, both of you are clear on the solution to a problem before moving on.
Having an environment that’s conducive to focus and deep concentration is important to enjoying your work.
One tip is to add in things that you enjoy and can look forward to, but at the same time, aren’t distracting.
For example, I have a carefully curated Ultimate Study Music Playlist on YouTube that I use for when I need to focus.
Another thing you can try is to go to your favorite coffee shop or your own super-secret spot in the library when you need to get some hardcore studying done.
Also – personally, I’ve also found that having a good drink next to me helps a lot.
For example, almost every morning I make a pot of my favorite cinnamon clove tea and sip it while I do my writing. I don’t know why, but the ritual of actually having the tea in a pot and pouring it into a glass tea cup is pleasant and makes me look forward to doing my writing by association.
Your motivation to complete a task is partly dependent on the reward you’ll get for doing it.
While rewards may come in the form of big, one-off returns – like getting a good grade, being able to graduate college, and not having to live in a van down by the river – rewards can also mean smaller, but equally rewarding payoffs.
These smaller rewards can be an effective incentive to finishing your assignments, or even just to putting in a certain amount of time into studying that day. They might come in the form of getting to watch Game of Thrones guilt-free that night, or eating a gummy bear every time you finish reading a paragraph of your textbook.
(Although I’m not sure how effective that really is – I mean, I would just eat all the gummy bears and close my book, wouldn’t you?)
One thing to note is that these rewards should be high-density fun, like going out with friends, or letting yourself play Overwatch for a while. Unlike dumb rewards that make you more tired afterward – like going on Facebook or refreshing your Twitter feed – higher-density activities actually rejuvenate and replenish your energy stores as you do them.
Another thing to remember is that it’s important to pre-plan your rewards.
As the author Piers Steele notes in his book The Procrastination Equation, rewards are much more motivating this way because they build anticipation. This means that knowing in the back of your mind that you’ll get to do something fun once you finish studying will make you that much more motivated to power through it.
Now, there are a lot of things about schoolwork that you can’t control, like boring professors, dry textbooks and pointless assignments… But if you attack your schoolwork with a mindset of genuine curiosity and try to work on everything you can control, then there is a good chance that you will find doing schoolwork a lot more fun.
If you want more stuff on how to make studying more fun, be sure to check out this podcast episode!
What other tips and tricks do you do to make studying more fun for yourself?