Throughout my learning journey, I have had the privilege of being surrounded by hard-working people my entire life. From my mother, who is currently studying at university after graduating high school in 2018, to my classmates throughout high school, many people have inspired me to be better. Towards the end of high school, it became clear to me that when I was left to push myself, I rarely had the motivation to do it.
On to university
My marks started to drop and with it, so did my attitude. What I once thought was easy, because of the all of the help I had received when I was younger, became much more difficult. This meant that I had to find out for myself the strategies and techniques that would work the best for me so I could achieve my goal of studying medicine. What I found to be the most important, however, was my mindset.
Despite completing my first two years of university in a half-hearted way, I had stubbornly thought that this should be enough to reach my goal. “I will work harder when I get in,” is what I thought to myself. I had no interest in the material in front of me and there was no way for me to get over that. It was at the end of that second year at university that I was rejected from medicine for the 3rd time. Whether it be a university application or a job interview, there is never any feedback and so I had no idea what I needed to work on and how I could get better to satisfy these critics.
The following year I did not apply again. There was an incredible amount of self-doubt and other career paths, such as becoming a teacher, started looking more attractive, more possible. It was that year where, instead of taking a full load of science courses, we were encouraged to take electives. I had an interest in computer programming and took it for the first semester. It was the most work I had put into a university course throughout my entire degree. And the results showed. My brain, after a semester of coding functions, started to put together a simple equation:
Effort = Results
Maybe it was that simple? The more effort you put into something, the better the results. Like lifting weights at the gym or kicking a ball; the more you do it, the better you will be.
Becoming a better learner
From there, my goal was to change how I felt about the subjects I was taking. I had to switch from disliking the pressure of study to embracing it, seeing it as a necessary task to reach where I wanted to be. With that, my mind accepted the volume of work and even enjoyed it on occasion but that was not without some convincing. There are three concepts that introduced to my method of learning that helped me achieve First-Class Honours and now, the opportunity to study medicine here in Canberra. Those three C’s are:
When I started to ask myself, “why do I need to know this?” or “how can this help me?”, the answers began to come to me more easily. Not only does it give the learning a purpose, it opens up room in your mind to fit it in. As a general rule, we typically do not like unanswered questions. As an example, how does it feel when asking someone what the plan for dinner is only to receive the answer, “I don’t know”? I hate it. Now that question you have asked does not have an answer and as a result, your brain, your soul and your stomach is infuriated.
So when we begin to ask ourselves questions, our brains will do their best to answer them. However when it cannot answer it, an empty spot in your mind is left for where that information will now fit. One or two Google searches later, that spot will be occupied by a new piece of knowledge but what is more important, is your brain has the directions to find it because it is the answer to that question you asked yourself. Every new bit of knowledge starts with a question.
The best memories that we have as people are the ones that are associated with strong emotions. You will always remember the happiest days, the most awesome sights and the wonderful experiences. The images, ideas and connections that stand out from the rest will be the ones you that you will never forget. This is something we can use to our advantage! Sometimes, what it takes to remember the most mundane of topics is your imagination. The invention of a meaningful story or the most ridiculous thought you can picture, anything that will unlikely forget, can be the key to recalling those pesky chemistry laws or parts of English essays.
Our creativity is also important in our motivation. Once we have acquired all this knowledge, what can we do with it? We must be able to use those chemistry laws that we just so vividly imagined as written in the sky amongst the clouds and rainbows for something. Calculating the concentration of a cup of salty water? Better yet, how many molecules of water would be in my cup? How many molecules of water would be in me? We can use our creativity to apply the knowledge we are desperately hanging on to in order to better remember it.
As we learnt earlier, there is (unfortunately) no replacement for effort. It is something we often confuse talent for. When we see for the first time an athlete who is exceptionally skilled, we neglect the years and years of hard work that they have put in, and offer “talent” as an explanation for their abilities. We can never know the hours that person may have spent kicking a ball against the fence, or practicing their co-ordination with a cricket stump and golf ball. It is the same in academics. We believe that students do their homework because they are “smart” and the rest are labelled the opposite because they do not do their homework. We fail to realise that it is the same as sports. The students who work harder receive better results and those that do not, are considered not “intelligent”.
Now this does not have to be a draining experience, something that makes you miserable and not want to do it. However, it is necessary to come to terms with and accept one really important fact. Studying is hard. If it were not, would we need to spend so much time at school and university? Would there be such a big emphasis on learning? Would we give people who are knowledgeable as much respect as we do? We often think that it is not because again, we compare ourselves to the people around us who appear to know more without even trying. But once we admit that it is tough to push your brain, to make new connections, to discover new ideas and to learn new skills, then we can get over the dread we all have when it comes to studying.
I hope that by sharing a bit of my own experiences that you can appreciate the inadequacy we feel around not being smart enough, not working hard enough or not achieving the goals we set is very common. However, those are thoughts that we do not have to live with. It is possible to become a better learner and through better learning, you can do anything.