Here’s Everything You Need to Know to Study Smarter Not Harder

Harry S. Truman

It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.


Developing Smart Study Habits or Skills?

Whether we are learning at school or on the job, one thing is very clear: we need more than just effective study skills to keep us ahead of the pack and on top of the material we are learning. Don’t get me wrong, learning effective study skills is a very important component, however, study skills alone won’t make you a great learner.

Your first and primary goal is to develop smart study habits that will promote and enhance your learning experience. This article will explore these habits in some detail and provide you some relevant suggestions and guidelines.

Please keep in mind that this article is for information purposes only. Please seek the guidance of your physician before undertaking any strenuous exercise or nutritional program.


Creating an Ideal Study Environment

The environment you use for study purposes is as important as the study skills you utilize to help you accelerate your learning ability. Taking the time to set up your study environment, will assist you immeasurably with developing smart study habits.

With this in mind, what are the characteristics of an ideal study environment? Let’s explore them below.

First of all, your study environment must promote ease and relaxation, however not so much that it puts you to sleep. 😉

Creating a relaxing study environment requires piecing together a combination of visual, auditory, gustatory and physical objects that naturally relax and promote a deeper state of learning.

Your environment should at the same time motivate and inspire you to reach new heights and levels of excellence. This may involve hanging up inspirational photos or setting up your environment with tools and materials that make you more efficient and productive throughout the learning cycle. It doesn’t really matter how you choose to spice up your environment, as long as it helps keep you motivated, inspired, productive and focused.

Below is a list of characteristics you must focus on to create an ideal study environment.

A Low Stressed Study Environment

First of all, you must remove all stress inducing stimuli from your environment. This could be physical objects, sounds, smells and anything else that distracts you from your objective. Mainly pay attention to colors. Very bright colors such as reds and yellows naturally stimulate thinking, however they can also trigger higher levels of stress on an unconscious level of awareness.

Dark colors such as blacks, dark grays and browns are probably the most unwelcome colors if you desire to improve your focus and concentration. If the walls or objects within your study environment are predominantly made up of these colors, then you are doing your brain an injustice, and making learning far more challenging than it should be.

An Authentically Pleasing Study Environment

Your study environment must be authentically pleasing to your senses.

Studies have shown that the most ideal colors that promote prolonged learning are pastel blues and greens. These are very calming and soothing colors that will help keep you inspired and focused. In addition, they can also promote and encourage creative thought.

Setting up an authentically pleasing study environment will also keep you inspired. If for instance, you find inspiration within the natural wonders of our mother earth, then populate your environment with pictures and paintings of beautiful panoramas, or purchase some indoor plants and strategically position them around your study area. Your imagination is your only limitation.

A Study Environment that Enhances Your Personal Learning Style

For the purpose of this discussion, it’s important to understand that you have intrinsic personal study preferences that naturally enhance your ability to learn information. Your environment must be designed in a way that naturally promotes and enhances your ability to learn using your personal learning style. This involves utilizing space and tools effectively while organizing your environment sensibly in ways that makes learning a lot more fun and enjoyable.

A Study Environment that has Adequate Ventilation, Lighting, and Water

The air we breathe, the light we receive, and the water we consume are vital for survival. Without these three essentials, we cannot function and will simply cease to exist.

If your study environment does not have adequate amounts of all three ingredients, then your productivity will likely suffer as a result.

The oxygen you inhale has to be of the highest quality. Sitting around in a stuffy environment will lead to a stuffy and foggy brain. Opening a window (even just a little bit) will go a long way toward improving your thinking.

Light is another critical component to effective learning. Essentially, you are looking for natural light that comes from the sun. If this light isn’t available, then a light box will do the trick.

If your environment is dark and murky, it will accelerate the feelings of tiredness, procrastination, and laziness. Therefore, always make sure that you have adequate natural lighting at all times.

Finally, don’t choke your body with caffeine or alcoholic drinks while you’re studying. Have a fresh jug of filtered water that is at room temperature on your desk at all times. Water will keep your body and brain hydrated throughout your study session.

A Well Organized Study Environment

Spend time organizing your environment in a way that will boost your productivity. An unorganized environment makes learning more difficult. Moreover, disorganization means that you must spend valuable time searching for things that have been misplaced or thrown away accidentally. This is pretty much the essence of procrastination, a deadly trap that sneaks up on us when we least expect it.

Clean up your environment today by finding a place for everything including books, stationery, materials, resources and anything else you need on hand to help improve your productivity and learning. You should ensure that you have all the tools you need for your studies at arm’s length at all times.

Visit your local store and purchase containers, drawers, a file cabinet, and other small stationery materials that will improve your organization and the systemization of your learning environment.

Treat your study environment as a small business that needs to be organized from top to bottom for it to function efficiently and promote a deeper and more profound learning experience.

A Quiet and Tranquil Study Environment 

Your study environment must be of a soothing and calming nature.

Take time to determine what will soothe your brain into a deep state of learning. Also, identify and find calming music or natural environmental sounds that you could potentially play in the background as you study.

Conduct some further research into the power of smells and essential oils. Some essential oils are well known for their relaxation properties and naturally calm the mind and promote clarity of thought.

A Study Environment with Minimal Distractions

Sometimes it’s not so much what is added, but rather what is removed from your environment that determines how successfully your study session will be.

Your environment should essentially be a distraction free zone. This means removing absolutely all people, noise, and visual distractions.

Remove people by closing your door, or at the very least separate yourself by partitioning yourself from others.

Filter out all distracting outside noises as much as possible. If you cannot remove these noises then simply fill your environment with music, nature sounds or even a trickling water fountain that will dull outside noises and promote a deeper and more fulfilling learning state.

Finally, remove all moving distractions from your study environment. Anything that moves or shuffles around within your environment will distract you and pull you away from your ideal learning state. This could be people, pets, or even those little desk accessories that we tend to play with a little too often.

A Physically Comfortable Study Environment

Your environment must be comfortable.

For the purpose of this discussion, comfort is created in three distinct ways. First of all the room temperature of your study environment must be comfortable and on the slightly coolish side. The higher the temperature gauge rises, the lazier your brain becomes, and the more effort it takes to achieve your ideal learning state. A solution for this is to keep the temperature slightly cold, encouraging you to wear more than just a t-shirt.

The second guideline for achieving comfort has to do with the clothes you wear while you are studying. Ideally, your clothes should be loose, soft and smooth to the touch. If on the other hand, you are wearing tight clothing, then this will likely slow down the circulation of blood to your brain — creating discomfort and irritation.

Finally, make sure that your desk and seat are as comfortable as possible — allowing you to study for extended periods of time without too much trouble. If you get tired of sitting consider purchasing a height adjustable desk.

Creating an Ideal Study Environment


Nourishing Your Body and Brain

There is no doubting that our health and well-being are intimately tied to our clarity of thought. As such, within this section, we will take a look at our mental diets, including the suppressants and stimulants that guide and transform our thinking patterns. We will also discuss exercise and how it benefits the brain.

Common Thinking Suppressants

We must be very careful and aware not to fall into the habit of consuming foods and beverages that are likely to make us feel sluggish or lose concentration.

Within a few hours of undertaking your study regime, be sure to avoid consuming the following foods and beverages:

•  Carbohydrates
•  Caffeine
•  Large meals
•  White bread
•  Starches
•  Dairy
•  Fries
•  Sugars
•  Alcohol

All the above foods and beverages can sabotage your learning by promoting foggy thinking, sluggishness, limiting concentration levels, dulling your senses, and stimulating tiredness. Even though caffeine initially works as a stimulant, it soon turns into a suppressant that dehydrates your body and leads you down a fatiguing spiral of sluggishness.

Common Thinking Stimulants

The following list of supplements and foods have been shown to improve thinking and encourage better concentration:

Vitamin A, B, E, Lecithin, Sodium, Magnesium, Iron, Potassium, Chloride, Copper and Zinc, all work together to stimulate the brain and improve our ability to think. However, please be aware that moderation is the key. In the meantime please consult with your nutritionist for further guidelines about the supplements that you should be taking to improve your energy and concentration.

All veggies and fruits, proteins found in salmon, beans, and meats are known for their stimulating effect on the thinking processes of the brain.

Partaking in a Regular Exercise Regime

I’m sure we have all heard experts talking about the fundamental connections between the body and brain. Essentially what this means is that whatever you do to your body will affect your brain and your process of thinking. Consequently, the thoughts you feed your mind with will likewise influence your body in immeasurable ways.

For the purpose of building smart study habits, it is critical to understand the importance of exercise in promoting higher energy levels and a greater clarity of thought.

Exercise is an essential aspect of life that we must incorporate into our daily routine. It improves your oxygen intake and releases unwanted tension and stress. Mixing up your weekly exercise routine with aerobic activity, strength training and stretching is the most sensible strategy to follow. Likewise, you should also be exercising your brain to improve your thinking and and retention of information.

Study Nutrition Guidelines


How to Find Your Ideal Learning State

Having already created your ideal learning environment and laid down the foundations for implementing effective well-being habits, you are now ready to delve head-first into the process of developing your ideal learning state.

Finding your ideal learning state is something that initially requires a little work, time and effort. However, once established you will be able to trigger this state in an instant and turn your mind and body into a very effective study machine.

Here are some suggestions that will get you started on the right track.

What to do Before You Begin Learning

It is critical to undertake the following steps before plunging head-first into your studies.

Initially, these steps might feel cumbersome, however, over time, they will become an important and integral part of your study regime that will strengthen your resolve and enhance the learning experience.

Set Smart Study Goals

Setting smart study goals is always the very first place to begin your journey towards mastering any subject area.

Your goals should be established by following the SMART FOR ME process of goal setting. Your goals must, therefore, be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timed, focused, optimistic, ready, meaningful and exciting.

You should also put into place a rewards system that will help keep you motivated as you reach certain milestones. Only, reward yourself each time you move a step along your journey toward attaining your objectives. However, please be careful not to allow this reward process to distract you from your goal or from the remainder of the actions you must take to bring your objectives to fruition.

Once your goals have been set, it’s a good idea to future-pace the outcome you will now be working towards. Do this by closing your eyes and seeing yourself as having already achieved your goal at some point in the future. Now, gradually pace yourself back toward the present — envisioning all the steps you took that helped you to attain this goal.

Calm Your Mind and Relax Your Body

You have now set your goals, and are ready to begin submerging yourself into that ideal learning state that will enhance your learning experience.

The first step is to learn to relax your body and mind. You will find it difficult to achieve your ideal learning state if your body is stressed or over stimulated with thoughts and unresourceful emotions.

Your best strategy is to take the time to calm your mind and body before undertaking the learning process. Do this by playing some calming background music while you sit or lie down quietly — breathing deeply and bathing yourself within this moment of relaxation. Move through this process for about 5-minutes before putting yourself into an ideal learning state.

Create an Ideal Learning State

As you bathe within a state of relaxation, slowly bring to mind a positive and successful learning experience. Make sure that this memory represents an empowering learning experience where you successfully overcame an obstacle or challenge that eventually led to a positive and outstanding result.

Take the time to close your eyes and visualize this experience. See what it was like, hear the sounds, feel the emotions, taste the aura of the moment and smell the scent of the feelings that made this learning experience unforgettable. Now, take the time to intensify this experience even further by enhancing your sensory memory of this moment.

When you feel that you have achieved a peak emotional learning state (a moment where you are completely and utterly bathed within this learning experience), immediately create an anchor or trigger-word that you will use to instantly capture these feelings of learning at a later time.

An anchor is something that can be attached to your body. It is basically a place you tap or touch yourself each time you experience the feelings that bring about this enhanced learning state.

While tapping your body, utilize a word to describe this experience such as “yes” or “I am in my zone.” Vocally shout this word or phrase as you tap or touch a part of your body — repeating for several minutes.

When this process is completed successfully, you will have entered your ideal learning state.

Each time you repeat this process, you will enhance this memory. Eventually, you will just need to trigger the anchor you originally created to put yourself into this ideal learning state.

The simple act of touching or tapping this particular part of your body while verbalizing your trigger-word out loud will automatically put you into your ideal learning state.

Keep practicing this process over-and-over again until your ideal learning state is automatically triggered by the anchors you create.


Prerequisites for Achieving an Ideal Learning State

Alongside the process discussed above, there are also five other requirements that will assist you with getting into your ideal learning state.

Build Positive Expectations

To be successful with your learning, you must develop positive expectations that enhance your levels of self-confidence. To do this, you must first convince yourself that this material will be easy to learn and master.

Develop a Burning Desire

Developing a burning desire that will keep you studying even when things turn sour, is a very important fundamental aspect that will help improve your learning experience. The question you should be asking yourself here is:

What will I gain from learning this material?

Identifying what you will gain from the subject matter will keep you focused and motivated when things get a little difficult.

Grow Your Motivation Muscle

Developing unstoppable motivation is closely tied to the process of building a burning desire.

To grow your motivation muscle, ask yourself the following question:

How will learning this subject benefit me personally?

Again, here you are looking at both short and long-term benefits that are directly linked to your needs and wants.

Take a moment to jot-down on paper all the ways you will benefit from learning this information. Later on when you feel as though you are lacking motivation, simply refer to this list and reflect on your notes — envisioning in your mind’s eye in vivid detail the benefits that this subject has for your current circumstances and future life experience.

Build a Sense of Anticipation

Building a sense of anticipation is a great strategy for fighting off the procrastination bug.

To develop anticipation, you need to ask yourself:

Why is learning this material important for me?

Again, make a list of all the things you can think of that make learning this subject, topic or information worth your time and effort. The more detail you put into creating this list, the greater sense of anticipation you will build over the long-run.

Build Relevance to Your Life

Finally, before undertaking your studies, you must go through the process of making this material relevant to your life.

As we go through school we often fail to fully assimilate the information we are learning because we do not make it relevant to our lives. However, by asking yourself the right kinds of questions, you can indeed build relevance. As a result, you will assimilate the subject matter you are studying far more readily into your life.

To create relevance, ask yourself the following questions:

What do I already know about this material I am about to study?

What don’t I know, and what questions do I have about it?

What potential skills will I acquire by taking the time to learn this material?

How will these skills benefit me, and what will they allow me to do today and in the future?

How applicable is all of this to my life?

Getting into an Ideal Learning State


The Importance of Taking Study Breaks

The final step along your journey toward creating smart study habits is to incorporate regular study breaks into your study regime.

The following section will break down this process and provide you with a few suggestions that will point you in the right direction.

The Benefits of a Study Break

Taking regular and planned study breaks is known to relieve tiredness while also improving the assimilation of the material you are studying.

Your brain works much like a library cataloging information into relevant sections and topics as you absorb and learn new material. This is all well and good if we are learning in small and manageable chunks. However, the moment we begin flooding our brain with too much information at one time — that is the moment when unfortunate congestion starts to mess things up.

If you’ve ever experienced the feeling of overwhelm, then you know how frustrating this feeling can get — especially when prolonged feelings of overwhelm lead to stress and procrastination.

Did you know that your brain remembers absolutely everything that you ever see, hear, touch, taste, and smell? Yet, most of this information is never correctly cataloged by the brain. As a result, it’s difficult to find.

The primary benefit of taking study breaks is that it allows your brain time to categorize the information you are learning into small manageable chunks. These chunks can then be located and recalled far easier and faster at a later time.


How to Take a Study Break

You may feel at times that you do not need to take a break, or that you simply do not have a chance to step away from your studies. However, keep in mind that study breaks are not designed to be taken when you are feeling tired or overwhelmed. Instead, they should be taken before the feelings of overwhelm or fatigue start to take a hold.

Study breaks are designed to keep your body and brain fresh, which helps improve memory and recall of the information you are learning.

Effective study breaks require that we move through three simple steps.

Step 1: Study for 25 minutes

Studies have shown that the human brain cannot fully concentrate on a particular topic for extended periods of over 20 to 25 minutes.

Even though you may feel as though you are still within your learning zone, you may, in fact, be slowly moving out of that zone, and therefore becoming gradually less focused and productive as the minute’s tick by. However, if you chunk your study time into 25-minute blocks, you will find that your brain will be far more relaxed and focused as a result.

Another reason to keep your study chunks to no more than 25 minutes, is because we naturally tend to remember and recall most of the information we learn at the beginning and at the very end of our study chunks. This means, that if you extend your study chunks to over 60 minutes, then there will likely be more information within the middle of this study chunk that could be misplaced or forgotten.

Step 2: Take a Break for 5 minutes

Your breaks should be no longer than five minutes. They must, however, be used for the purposes of integrating the information you have just learned during your most recent study chunk.

While taking a break you could lie down with your head slightly tilted toward the ground (this will allow for more blood flow to your brain). In this relaxed position, close your eyes and allow your mind to just gently drift over the material you have been learning.

It is important not to try and force yourself to remember what you were studying, but rather watch your thoughts as though observing clouds passing across the sky. Incorporating deep breathing exercises will further enhance this process and allow you to better assimilate the information you have been learning.

The second option you have is to simply take a walk and remove yourself from your study environment. However, it is important not to distract yourself by watching television, listening to the radio or talking with others. Just walk quietly and gently reflect on the information you have just been studying.

Step 3: Review for 5 minutes

When you get back to your studies, it is critical that you do a quick five-minute review of the material you studied during your most recent study chunk. This will further help you assimilate this subject into your long-term memory.

Please do not overlook the importance of this 5-minute review, as it is an entirely critical component of the learning process.

As a final thought, you should also conduct a longer 25-minute review of the material after you have successfully cycled through five study chunks.

Taking Study Breaks


Concluding Thoughts

In this day and age, developing smart study habits is no longer a choice, it’s rather a prerequisite and an essential complimentary process to effective and accelerated learning.

You have an incredible amount to gain when you physically take the time to develop these smart study habits and incorporating them into your study regime. They will not only better prepare your mind for the process of learning, but will also unquestionably transform your personal approach to “thinking” about what you are learning.


Time to Assimilate these Concepts

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Six Steps to Study Smarter Not Harder


Gain More Knowledge…

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Adam is a life coach, mind mapper, doodler and visual thinker. He founded IQ Matrix in 2009 and has created over 350 self-growth mind maps. He also has a Free 40 Day How to Doodle Course where he teaches how to doodle using simple daily lessons. Read more about Adam’s story, and how he created the concept for IQ Matrix. Feel free to also get in touch and send Adam a message here.