Create Your Environment for Success

how to be successful how to learn human anatomy medical student nursing student physiotherapy Nov 03, 2020

Did you know that sometimes you sabotage your chances of success in developing a new habit before you have even started it?

But did you also realise that you can accelerate your chances of reaching your goals by making some simple small changes?

The environment you create for yourself can make all the difference between success and failure.

Let me give you an example. If you are trying to lose weight, but every day you have a habit of buying a cake or doughnut on your way home, this will not help you lose weight.   You know that you need to stop buying that doughnut because you are not stupid. But if you keep passing that same shop on the way home, your brain will automatically send you signals as you near the shop that you need to go in the shop and you need to buy a snack because it will taste sooo good and make you feel sooo much better – which to be fair it does… for a minute or two, but then you spend the next hour beating yourself up about giving in to temptation and being annoyed at yourself for not being able to control your urges.

Well the truth is that it is not entirely your fault. Not buying that doughnut becomes a battle of will, which you will lose because your brain is telling you to do something that it has done every time you have gone home.  Instead of focussing on all the positive benefits of not eating unhealthy food, your brain just feels deprived and ‘in pain’ at the loss of not having that food. And the strongest motivator of human behaviour is to avoid pain, so you will find it extremely difficult to not buy that doughnut.

To stop this soul-destroying battle of will, instead of having a bust-up in your head, you could try and change your route home so that you did not have to walk past that shop. The cues for you buying the evil doughnut would be less compelling. Or, you could buy another more healthy snack at a different shop, before you get to the shop of temptation, so that you establish a new healthy habit in a new environment, which is easier than trying to break a bad habit.

So how does this apply to studying?

You can do lots of things to change your environment to improve your chances of studying more efficiently. For example, digital distractions are a total minefield for studying. Whilst you have a phenomenal brain, which is capable of doing many things at once,  there is also a limit to how much it can tolerate before it goes ‘Oh go on, just check your messages or take a look at Instagram/tictoc/(insert your favourite social media platform here)’.

Or maybe you are a Netflix junkie? Netflix are so clever in cueing up the next episode. Whilst your brain goes ‘I should really be studying/going to sleep, but…’ tick, tick, tick the seconds count down and bang, the nest episode has started. Your brain is very quick to say ‘oh well the next episode has started and it’s only 30 minutes – how bad can that be?’

(Personally, I do not watch much TV and especially not reality TV as I could not really see the point of watching other people lives, and could not understand why people get hooked onto things like ‘Love Island’ or ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians’. But recently by accident I happened to come across ‘Indian Matchmaking’ on Netflix and OMG, before I knew it 3 hours had gone by! I was totally sucked in! All it took was the right triggers for me to be drawn into the world of reality TV. So I had to humbly climb back down from my moral high horse with my views of people watching reality TV)

 So how can you avoid the inevitable and irresistible urge to check your phone? TURN IT OFF!! Or at least put in on airplane mode.

Now I understand that this will seem like cutting off oxygen for some of you, but like any habit – start small and build up. Plan in some digital-free time every day to study. If you have never done it before start with 15 minutes and build it up. Do not study for more than 45 minutes in one stretch as your brain will get tired and will not take things in as effectively. You are far better off studying in shorter intervals, but making them good quality study periods by focussing and taking the decision to study without distraction.

 Another thing you can do is to set aside a space in your room, which is specifically for studying. If you are anything like me, I would sometimes study lying on my bed, but I also go to sleep on my bed, so there is a temptation to just have a ’quick nap’ or watch something on my iPad/laptop. I learnt that for me to most effective at study I had to avoid the bed.  For those of you experiencing ‘lockdown’ this will be even more important to set aside a space in your room which is for study – it does not matter how small it is. If there really is no room then try using a special light for studying, so that your brain will begin to associate that light with a cue to focus and concentrate on your studies.

 You can change your habits of a lifetime if you want to... even at my age. I have recently been changing small things in my life, which are beginning to make a massive positive difference not just to myself, but also to those around me. It is never too late.

Now it’s your turn…what change can you make to your environment to improve your chances of success? Send me message – at [email protected], I would love to hear your stories.