Learning Resolutions for the New Year
Why is it that making New Year’s resolution lists brings us such joy? In that sweet frenzy of carving out a person who does all the things they promise, we can see for a twinkling moment what we’d look like as a perfect being. It’s exhilarating. But can it ever be real? Why can’t we seem to carry out our different learning resolutions each year?
The great American poet Wallace Stevens reminds us that, “The imperfect is our paradise.” To make good on all our resolutions would immobilize us, freeze us in place as people, no longer on the hunt for something better, truer, more perfect.
So we shouldn’t despair when our learning resolutions inevitably lose their resoluteness but try instead to understand where bad habits come from. How they tick. And through our analysis, we might extend our reach a little further beyond our grasp.
Here are some Gooroo-certified learning resolutions for the imperfect learners among us aiming for the stars of wisdom.
#1 Stop working in bed.
Habits, good and bad, are formed by repetition. I cannot emphasize enough how important this truth is to self-improvement.
One habit we have all formed without having to think about it much is sleeping in our bed. Our bed is our sanctuary, our place of calm where not much is asked of us but to cast off the strains of the day and surrender to the tender arms of Morpheus (Greek god of sleep). Because we do it every night, the link between bed and sleep is as strong as any we’ve got. It’s also why bringing work under the covers is such a doomed idea. No matter how strong you think your will power is, or how unstressed doing work in bed might feel, the habits baked deep into the crust of your physiology will win over. You’ll either fall asleep with wrinkled papers stuck to your brow or, at best, you’ll work sluggishly, distractedly, and without the benefit of wide-awake alertness.
#2 Can the cram.
So much of success in learning comes from understanding how your memory works. Waiting until the night before to study for your test or write that term paper may leave you feeling like an invincible warrior in the academic trenches when you get it done, but you’ll be sorry when you forget it all within a few days. In order for short-term, operational memory — whose storage capacity is limited — to encode itself into the endless storage facility of long-term memory, it’s essential to do the work in pieces over time. My biggest educational regret is my history of cramming because I’ve forgotten so much of what I fleetingly thought I’d know forever.
#3 Do it today.
Recent studies suggest that procrastination is not the result of laziness or proof of an inability to manage time; it is a form of managing negative moods associated with the task at hand. Any of us can recall the feeling of sitting blank-faced before an unbegun document and thinking in destructive loops: I’m not smart enough to write this…Even if I do write this it won’t be good enough…If it’s not good enough, that’s proof that I’m not a good writer.
We deal with the negative feelings swirling around these treads of insecurity, anxiety, or low self-esteem by putting off the task that causes them. And, in the very short term, watching a Netflix episode (or six) makes us feel better. That’s the dastardly thing about procrastination: it rewards itself and perpetuates its own evil-doings. But as soon as that episode ends and we have to face ourselves in the black mirror of our computer screen, all of the negative feelings about the work we’ve put off come flooding back with torrential force. Beat the vicious cycle before it starts by investigating the negative feelings associated with certain types of work. You can only vanquish procrastination if you can understand and outsmart the conspiring forces that send you down its sticky path.
One of the best ways to work smarter and not harder is to annotate what you read. Most of us were taught this skill in our early years of schooling but gave it up as reading assignments swelled in length and reading itself became easier with practice. But what we lose is an understanding in our own words of what we’ve read. Good writing will seduce us into believing we know exactly what’s going on. But then we’ll get called on in class to give a summary and grasp at straws and half-thoughts. As you read, briefly summarize the material in the margins. Write down questions, points of disagreement, and emotional responses. And always underline words you don’t understand to look up later. This is the best way to nurture the garden of your vocabulary.
We at Gooroo wish you a happy new year, a hopeful new decade, and a life full of learning. Let us know what your learning resolutions are this year! As always, we’re here to help.