While there are many different ways to study, the overarching theory that studying is difficult is a proven one. It requires two specific commitments from us – tangible and intangible. Tangible things being time, books, materials, and intangible being the mental load needed to make your synapses fire and learn those facts.
Studying. Is. Hard.
Studying something you don’t like can feel almost impossible. It’s the grownup equivalent of eating your vegetables as a child. I personally still gag at the thought of peas. If you told me I had to go back and study 10th grade math, bleh.
The reality is that we must study things we don’t enjoy all the time to pass the ever-important tests we need to meet career-defining milestones such as certifications or degrees. It’s not fun, it’s 100% necessary, and you CAN do it.
Explain the hate
To understand why we hate a subject, we first need to look at hate itself. Hate is a very powerful feeling. Research has shown that people form strong bonds when we have shared dislikes. Maybe you’ve immediately bonded with a classmate while commiserating over a particularly difficult topic. Sometimes bonding over dislikes can be a quick road to finding common ground.
While I won’t touch on hate in a broad sense (there’s too much of it going around these days), we can analyze our feelings of dislike as they relate to less emotional things – chemistry vs. political candidates.
We tend to dislike things for a few reasons:
- Fear of the unfamiliar
- Feeling wronged by someone/something
- Learned behavior from caregivers or communities
- Feeling powerless
Hate tends to grow when there is an absence of compassion. Though we rarely think about hate and studying as related topics, there are a lot of tie-ins between the emotion and the action.
Why self improvement is so hard
Most humans seek self improvement, and the road to self improvement is usually paved with things we find difficult, disagreeable, and may try to avoid. Studying for an exam that gets you to the next career level is a great example. You’re on the path to improving yourself, but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.
How often do we feel powerless when we’re not good at something? How often are we worried that we don’t know something well enough and will fail? When you think about it in the context of comprehending hatred, it’s pretty understandable that studying certain things can trigger pretty powerful emotions which can impede your study efforts.
A term that helps explain the above. Psychological reactance is when we feel our choices or freedoms are threatened. It often happens when others are telling us to do something – go to bed earlier, don’t spend money on X, stop smoking, etc. While these are only suggestions, we perceive these as threats to our choice and autonomy. Sometimes we even do the opposite.
So it might seem simple to say to yourself, ‘Just go ahead and study organic chemistry,’ but maybe your brain throws up the psychological resistance flag and that can contribute to your hatred or dislike of the task
Psychologist Elizabeth Doren Hall has been researching psychological reactance and recommends taking a mental note when you find yourself in this situation. When you notice it happening, try to reframe the scenarios so they’re not actual threats to your freedom.
How to embrace our non-favorite topics
There’s a lot of power in understanding your own motivations and anxieties. Knowing a root for your emotional response can help you tailor your actions and responses to better suit your emotional needs and personal goals.
That said, you need to study for things you don’t like. How?
1. Embrace compassion
Cut yourself some slack. That doesn’t mean avoid, it means to acknowledge you don’t like something, that you may feel anxiety around it, and then move forward. Deal with your stress and anxiety. Understand your dislike and be okay with it. There’s a lot of power in accepting our emotions.
2. Explore new study methods
Most of us never learned how to properly study. There are many different methods (Pomodoro, Feynman, etc.) to use to help you nail down a particularly difficult topic. It might take some trial and error, but if you commit to trying a few ways, you’ll find one that helps get you over the hump of that particularly difficult task.
3. Set yourself up for success
Don’t try your most hated topic when you’re tired, hungry, or stressed. These states factor into having a less-than-stellar study experience. Sleep, have a snack, throw on some study tunes, and find a comfortable place with natural light. Your frame of mind and environment play a huge part when it comes to mental success.
4. Treat yo’self
There’s nothing wrong with a proverbial gold star as long as you accomplish your task. Let’s say you employed the Pomodoro Method and successfully completed a few 20-minute study blocks. Get that latte. Watch that movie trailer you’ve been intrigued by. Go snuggle your puppy (this is a favorite reward of mine).
It’s okay. Really. Our world is not always an easy place to be. Studying is a difficult and complicated process that isn’t just about cracking a book and sitting still for hours. Science has repeatedly shown us that spacing out studying is far more effective.
Be kind and study on.