I’ve become the kind of person who gets excited for the first day of school. My summer and winter breaks have been spent planning the next semester, waiting in anticipation to get ahold of the syllabi for my classes. I get butterflies when I introduce myself to my classmates. I’ve found joy in an organized binder. I’ve probably broken records for writing down all the notes that could possibly fit onto one notebook page. There’s something about a full week of classes, assignments, and studying that really lights my fire.
I haven’t always been this way, though. It took a few semesters of trial and error to fall in love with the academic lifestyle. When I hear a friend or a classmate complaining about their classes, a little part of me wants to take their hand and say, “Listen. I can help you never be bored during your semester again.”
At this point, one reading this may groan, “Here we go: Another nerd preaching about how fun school is…” — and they’d be halfway right. A nerd is someone who is “boringly studious.” In response, I’d argue that my approach to school is anything but boring.
Hear me out.
The Key is Transformation
My love of school goes beyond taking notes and organizing my binder. Going to school means having a routine focused on learning, a solid schedule full of tasks to complete, and small goals to accomplish. Each day can hold an abundance of positive rewards when you’re in the full swing of the semester.
Reading an assigned chapter of my biology textbook for thirty minutes has become interesting instead of tiring. Practicing a set of algebra problems is entertaining and challenging instead of just frustrating. How? The key is transforming the way I think about the task at hand.
The Three Graces: Curiosity, Mindfulness, and Gratitude
In Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi writes, “How we feel about ourselves, the joy we get from living, ultimately depends directly on how the mind filters and interprets everyday experiences.”
Csikszentmihalyi goes on to describe the habits that happy people practice, telling us that a person must provide rewards to herself, and “develop the ability to find enjoyment
and purpose regardless of external circumstances.”
This feat is both easier and harder than it seems for students like me. Easier because every individual has the same opportunity to transform their thoughts and habits, but harder because it demands a perseverance in our attitudes about what we believe is worth our time pursuing.
I’ve found that curiosity, mindfulness, and gratitude are the most effective tools I can use to transform, divert, and direct my thoughts to a more peaceful and focused place. The second I feel bored of reading those last two biology sections, I take a moment to zoom out, follow my breath, and spark a few new thoughts.
The new thoughts might look like this:
Curiosity says, “The function of plasma membranes is hard to understand. How can I find a better way to grasp this?” Mindfulness says, “I’m learning about new things I never knew or thought of before now!” And gratitude says, “Hundreds of years of scientific study has allowed me to learn about the happenings inside of a microscopic cell, which is pretty darn cool.” The pairing of those three thoughts with the rewards of good grades has been vital for my every day outlook on going to school.
It’s Not Always Peachy
Some days it’s hard to care about plasma membranes and linear equations. Finding contentment in menial everyday tasks can feel impossible during the particularly long and stressful periods of life. On those days, thinking about school in a positive light seems far-fetched. I’m all the way back at square one, not even wanting to get out of bed. If I can’t will myself to put my laundry away after staring at it for two weeks, how can I possibly find happiness while studying? This is where a mindful meditation practice can swoop in.
Tom Ireland of the Scientific American writes, “MRI scans show that after an eight-week course of mindfulness practice, the brain’s ‘fight or flight’ center, the amygdala, appears to shrink. This primal region of the brain, associated with fear and emotion, is involved in the initiation of the body’s response to stress.”
Mindful meditation can help center your thoughts, calm your emotions, and redirect your body’s usual response to stressful situations (such as an upcoming test, chores piling up, a busy day at work). I use a few free guided meditation apps, with my favorite being “Stop, Breathe, and Think.” Even without the help of guided meditations, you can always step back, count your breaths, and be aware of the senses within your body wherever you are.
The positive rewards of mindfulness can spill over into your everyday life, too. Each day can hold something worth being proud of when you dive into a schedule of work, school, and daily chores with an attentive mind.
This semester I challenge you to dive into thoughts of curiosity, mindfulness, and gratitude, along with a short meditative practice whenever you feel off kilter. I wish you a love of learning this semester! To those respectable people who read this entire article and concluded, “You have some good ideas, but you’re definitely still a nerd,” I would not disagree.