Have you ever had the experience of being so totally involved in what you were doing that you didn’t notice what was happening around you? Perhaps you didn’t notice that the sun had gone down and you were now sitting in the dark. Had you perhaps skipped dinner entirely? If so, you’ve experienced getting into ‘the zone’ or flow state. You were so entirely focused on what you are doing that it is almost an art form. This is something that you can emulate when studying to make studying easier. It also reduces the effort required to get motivated each time.

Getting into 'the zone' to make studying easier
Getting into the zone to make studying easier

Flow state

Named by the psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in 1970, the term ‘flow state‘ describes a particular mental state in which an individual is so completely focused on one task or activity that they disconnect from other stimuli (both internal and external).

I’m sure you can imagine how being so thoroughly engrossed in one single activity can be beneficial to your productivity in that activity. Without distractions, day dreaming, or self-consciousness the mind is able to focus all of its efforts onto one single goal. To be in that state when studying would allow significantly more progress in the time available.

So what is required to get into this flow state?

This is something often associated with elite athletes, such as those in this Telegraph article. But you can just as easily use it to make studying easier.

According to the productivity tool Asana, it is a simple 6 step process.

  1. Balance challenge and skill.
  2. Establish clear goals.
  3. Reduce distraction.
  4. Stop multitasking.
  5. Don’t force it.
  6. When in doubt, do something you like.

It is no surprise that these are the elements of the Revision Workshop I can offer you if you are struggling to get started with revision. If you can set clear goals aligned to your ability and longterm goals, and create the right environment for study, most of the battle is won. It even includes the requirement to enjoy oneself in the process, which is a key part of our tutoring at Green Tutors.

What does it look like?

In order to better understand the process, let’s go back to the expert, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. He tells us that the following six factors define the flow state experience:

  • Intense and focused concentration on the present moment
  • Merging of action and awareness
  • A loss of reflective self-consciousness
  • A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
  • A distortion of temporal experience, as your subjective experience of time is altered
  • Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding
  • Immediate feedback
  • Feeling the potential to succeed
  • Feeling so engrossed in the experience, that other needs become negligible

How can students create this?

These things might feel far removed from your experience of studying, but this is where we must clarify the difference between school attendance, homework, and personal study time.

When you set aside time to study you are taking control of your learning experience. This does not tend to be the case in a classroom environment, guided by rules intended to manage behaviour in large class sizes. Your timetable, classes, clothes, goals, and even lunch are out of your own personal control. This is the opposite of the flow state, and can build a negative association with the learning process.

In taking control of your goals in the time you do have a say over, you will be able to recreate this sense of ease around the learning experience, and focus on the things that you personally will find rewarding for your longer term goals.

Clearly this needs to happen in an environment where you can spend an extended period of time away from distractions or demands. If this isn’t something you have at the moment, this article may help you to create it.

But we also have to remember to give time for all sorts of activity and avoid burnout. Believe it or not, there is more to life than studying.

Left/right-brained activity.

I have heard many times that we can be left-brained or right-brained. Not only is this not true, it isn’t helpful in dispelling the myth that we are intrinsically ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at anything.

According to the theory, tasks carried out by the two different sides of the brain are either logical, language-based (left brain) or creative and artistic (right brain). The theory would suggest that we can be either logical or artistic, but not both.

Left and right brain function image from http://scienceoflearning.jhu.edu/

The Science of Learning debunks this myth for us by explaining how inefficient it would be to have a powerful processor at our disposal and only ever use half of it. The reality is that we tend to use both sides in the course of a day, but may be primarily using one or the other at a time.

Switching things up to make studying easier

This is important to note when studying, as we can fatigue our brain by forcing it to use one side or the other for hours on end. If you have just spent an afternoon of double maths and physics and come home to write an essay, your left brain has probably lost the will to live and won’t cooperate. However if you spend some time making a mind map with images and different colours to plan your essay, your right brain will step up and give the left a break, so that you can still be productive without fatiguing your brain.

When you have something to complete and it feels like your mind is wading through fog, try switching to a task that uses the other half of your brain.

It is also useful to use checklists for tasks that you do frequently. This can allow you to complete them without having to use the logical part of your brain to plan them effectively, so saving some mental juice for the task itself.

Bear this in mind when planning your studies to make better use of your energy.

How do you get in the zone? I’d love to hear in the comments 👇👇