Ritualize Your Study Time

Ọgbọ́n ju ágbára

Wisdom is greater than strength.

I’ve been reading Ìjàpá stories lately. Ìjàpá is the trickster tortoise among the Yorùbá who is always using his cunning intellect to outsmart the people and achieve his (usually greed-based) goals. Ọgbọ́n ju ágbára is most definitely Ìjàpá’s motto. Although this is generally a noble adage, for Ìjàpá there is another issue: Ìjàpá is extremely lazy, and he uses his intellect to avoid any and all work – and thus always finds himself embroiled in some conflict.

Ọ̀ràn kìí yẹ̀ l’órí alábaun (ìjàpá).

The responsibility for trouble never misses the head of the tortoise.

When it comes to our studies, many of us are like Ìjàpá. We are very quick to comprehend new topics and absorb new information, but we refuse to study and practice what we learn. The lecture was exciting, the class was engaging, the teacher laid everything out elegantly and gave us a homework assignment for extra practice. Well, since we understood it in class….it made perfect sense when the teacher explained it…there’s no real urgency to engage in these repetitive homework exercises…we’ve got this. Ọgbọ́n ju ágbára!

And like that, we outsmart ourselves. We become our own Ìjàpá. Of course the reality is that intelligence alone is not enough for mastery. We also need to develop or strengthen our base level of intelligence through study and practice. Jordan and Kobe were genetically gifted athletes with a natural talent for basketball. However, what made them legends of the game was their extraordinary commitment to training and practice.

But of course, we already know that. The issue is that if you want to see how fast a child can run, send him on an errand to the place where he wants to go. Simply put, we often neglect study and practice because it can be boring! This is where we can use ritual as our medicine against what is sometimes unexciting. We have our morning ritual of waking up, showering, dressing, and eating breakfast. We have our ritual related to going to the gym or working out at home. We may ritually pour libations every morning. Perhaps we perform religious rituals every five days, or every eight days, or every 42 days. A ritual is simply a series repetitive actions that we perform at regular intervals.

We can ritualize our study time as well to make it habitual and more purposeful. Here are some ideas that you can use to ritualize your study time. Make these steps a consistent part of your schedule for 30 days and pay attention to how you start to feel about study time.

  • Put your phone in airplane mode and place it in another room
  • Take a quick bath/shower
  • Put on some comfortable clothes that you wear specifically for studying
  • Burn a fragrance (incense, essential oil, etc.) – our sense of smell is strongly connected to our memory – that you use specifically for studying
  • Drink a healthy, brain-stimulating beverage (coconut water, sorrel, sea moss, ginseng, herbal tea etc.) and treat that beverage like a “pre-workout” supplement for your study-time
  • Play a particular type of soft music that helps you to focus
  • Recite your list of academic affirmations (i.e. “I am focused, I catch every detail, I will put in the necessary hours to ace my exam,” etc.)
  • Work in the same location, preferably a quiet and well-lit place. Use earplugs if necessary.
  • Make a to-do check list of topics/assignments that you plan to complete
  • Any other ritual elements that you like
  • Do the work!

By implementing steps such as these you ritualize your study time and thereby increase its meaning. We train our brains to associate the drudgery of studying with the euphoria of acquiring new knowledge (and getting good grades). It is a lesson in voluntary hardship and delayed gratification that will serve you throughout your life.

Now get to work!

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