How to stay well to do well

How to stay well to do well

At certain times of the year your body needs a bit of extra help to stay well. When you start a new course you tend to meet lots of new people and, unfortunately, that means you get exposed to new germs! When you’re under pressure to meet deadlines or you’re experiencing revision and exam stress your immune system also gets put under a lot of stress.

There are a couple of chemical-free ‘secret weapons’ that I use regularly to keep those dreaded bugs at bay. They can prevent you from falling ill with a virus that leaves you bedridden for days, knocking out your carefully planned schedule that you were fully in control of.

First, take an acidophilus supplement

If you’re thinking ‘what on earth is that?’ acidophilus is a probiotic type of bacteria that naturally occurs in your gut and can be found in natural yogurt.

The theory is that 70% of the bacteria in your body that support your immune system reside in your gut. Diet, stress and other lifestyle factors can deplete these good bacteria so topping them up in large doses can help you stay healthy. The number of colds I caught reduced dramatically after I started taking acidophilus regularly and I can’t remember the last time I had the flu.

The secret of success to taking acidophilus is in the number of live bacteria you ingest so make sure you check the number on the front of the bottle. The higher the number, the more potent the pills are, so aim for millions, if not billions. The best but probably most expensive brand you can buy is Biocare. Other brands can work but Biocare really is the leading brand of acidophilus supplements.

Keep the pills in the fridge, start by taking two every day for the first week to give your immune system a good initial boost, then reduce your dosage down to 1 a day for a couple of weeks and over the winter months. After that you could reduce your intake down to 1 capsule every other day.

Secondly, avoid caffeine and energy drinks (which also contain caffeine)

A large, hot latte or quick cappuccino may perk you up in the short-term but, long-term, caffeine depletes your vitamin C stores which you need to fight off germs and viruses, leaving you feeling worse by the end of the day. Look at the ingredients list of most so-called ‘energy’ drinks and you’ll find near the top is sugar, followed by caffeine, then a list of chemicals most of which really only belong in a laboratory, not inside your body!

If you need something that will really give you a boost, get some Berocca or other brand of soluble vitamin C with zinc. Dissolving these in water means you get the vitamins and minerals your body really needs, and you get to increase your water consumption. Eat an apple, banana or some berries to help top up those vital vitamins.

Thirdly, get enough sleep

This may seem like stating the obvious but if you have deadlines looming and you’re getting up early and getting to bed late, or even working into the small hours of the morning to get work finished, you will become run down. Be conscious of how many late nights you’re putting in and, when you can, take time out to relax and have some down time. Have a lie in or go to bed earlier than usual.

If you struggle to get to sleep because you’re stressed about deadlines, exams or making progress with your studies in general, keep a notebook by your bed and write down your worrying thoughts. Getting the thoughts out of your head is the first step towards dealing with them and it may even help you to think of some solutions as you’re writing.

Also, accept that sometimes your brain will switch into ‘overactive’ mode, especially if you have multiple deadlines coming up. If you really can’t sleep and feel awake enough to study or work on an assignment, then get out of bed and do it. There’s no rule carved in stone that says you can’t or shouldn’t study in the middle of the night. I’ve suddenly woken up at 5:30am and written the first draft of an essay conclusion and I sometimes find myself being productive at my desk at 2:30am which is the preferred alternative to tossing and turning in bed.

If you’re really struggling to get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis, try a herbal sleep supplement such as Kalms Night and aim to get to bed earlier. Only use these until you start sleeping properly. Try and avoid visiting your GP for sleep problems as they tend to prescribe anti-depressants and these are the last thing your brain needs if you want it to function properly and at a higher level.

Last, but by no means least, breathe properly

Yes, I know you’re breathing right now but most breaths we take during the day as we’re dashing around from place to place are shallow. Living in a city also makes it a challenge to really fill your lungs with clean fresh air.

Take 5 or 10 minutes each day to consciously breathe deep into your lungs. If you can, go and stand outside in a green space somewhere, preferably next to a tree or plant and take a couple of long, deep inhalations through your nose. Or just stand up next to your desk if you can’t get outside.

Put your hands on the lower part of your ribcage, just above your waist, and inhale slowly and gently through your nose for a count of 5, or longer if you can, until you feel your lower ribs expanding and your hands moving out with that expansion. Breathe out by blowing slowly and gently through your mouth to make it a good cleansing breath that completely empties your lungs so your hands move back inwards.

Repeat this 5 to 10 times, or more if you can. If you get dizzy (because your brain isn’t used to having so much oxygen!), stop, sit down or lean against the tree and just breath normally.


Take good care of yourself and stay well.

If you have any questions about any of the above or any other tips that you use to stay well and healthy, I’d love to hear them. Post your comments or questions below or add them to The Unlocked Learner’s Facebook page.

5 Rules of Formal Writing

These 5 rules of formal writing need to be incorporated into every essay and assignment to ensure your writing style meets higher level academic requirements and to ensure you achieve higher grades.

How to Get into Your ‘Study Zone’

How to Get into Your ‘Study Zone’

Ever have days when you need to work on and complete tasks you’ve planned and prioritised only to find you’re ‘not in the mood’? It could be because the task is challenging, you’re feeling tired (as I am writing this!), or there’s some other reason you’re lacking the motivation to get started.

So, how can you change your mental state so that you can tackle those tasks and be productive enough to produce a successful outcome? In other words, how do you get into your study ‘zone’? 

You’ll often hear incredibly successful people, including athletes, talk about their ‘zone’; that mental place and space where they’re focused entirely on completing the task ahead and overcoming any and all challenges facing them in order to succeed. Being ‘in the zone’ requires mental and sometimes physical preparation, the right tools or equipment, focus, motivation and enthusiasm, creativity and an entirely positive state of mind.

If you’re struggling to get your study session started, implement these 6 strategies to get into your study zone.

1. Prime yourself for the task ahead

Spend about 5 or 10 minutes pre-thinking and visualising what it is you need to get done. See yourself completing the task successfully and enjoying the process. Visualise the task as easier than it is by thinking through what you already know about it, and reminding yourself that you know how to complete it. Remember that difficult tasks become easier as we make progress with them.

It may help to do this in a place where you can close your eyes to block out any distractions and take some long deep breaths to oxygenate your brain. This will allow you to ‘meditate’ over these thoughts and develop more clarity in your thought processes.

You could also do some quick cardio exercise such as 10-20 jumping jacks or 30 seconds of on-the-spot jogging to get your blood flowing and increase your energy levels. This will enable you to shift your mental state and increase your motivation levels. If necessary, schedule time to go for a walk, run or have a gym session before you study to help clear your mind and improve your focus.

2. Assemble your toolkit

As always, make sure you have the right study ‘toolkit’ for the task ahead at hand. This should consist of all of the materials you need for that study session including relevant textbooks or research papers, paper, pens, pencils, dictionaries etc.

Make sure your water glass is topped up before you begin and prepare some healthy snacks to have on hand in case you get peckish. Remember, your brain alone burns about 40% of all the carbohydrate energy in your body so studying hard will make you hungry.

3. Remove your distractions

This is your #1 rule and habit for successful study as it requires consistent, sustained attention and focus. Switch your phone onto airplane mode or even switch it off completely. If you’re working on your computer, make sure all the Social Media feeds and push notifications are switched off and log out of anything that isn’t study related, including emails.

If you need music in the background, use the Focus@Will website or app or listen to a classical music playlist on Spotify or from your own collection. I’ve never once met a student who can study and focus successfully on reading complex texts or on writing a great essay or report whilst listening to their favourite pop, rock or rap songs that contain lyrics!

4. Allow transition time to fully focus

Quite often when shifting our focus onto a challenging task we need to allow ourselves some ‘transition time’. It may take the first 10 to 15 minutes of your scheduled time chunk to adjust to the mindset of focusing on and tackling the study tasks you have to complete. Allow yourself this time and spend it skimming and scanning over your reading material, or thinking through the organisation of the task ahead, whether it’s reading, writing or creating something.

The following 30-45 minutes, at least, should be spent on sustained and focused study. This is exactly why your productive study sessions need to be at least 45 minutes to 1 hour long, and ideally 90 minutes to 2 hours.

5. Apply creative, multisensory learning strategies

Let’s face it, reading lengthy academic papers isn’t the most ‘entertaining’ of tasks, even if the knowledge and meaning we extract from them are interesting. However, there are ways to make your study session more interesting and, therefore, engaging for your brain. Use your visual brain to create diagrams or images that represent the theories and concepts. Or create rhymes and songs if you’re more of an auditory learner.

All academic subjects have a real-world context. So as you’re studying, think about that context and lateralise your thinking to apply it to real examples and scenarios that you know of. This will enable you to bring the ideas ‘alive’ so you see them as far more than just black and white ‘textbook’ concepts.

6. Discipline yourself and your learning environment

Finally, if you find that focusing on your studies and getting into your ‘zone’ pose continual difficulties, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Am I in the right place to study and focus without interruption from gadgets or even other people? Sitting at a desk in a quiet library/room is usually best but are other students your main distraction?!
  2. Am I in control of my distractions or do I allow them to get the better of me? Download the Action Over Distraction help sheet if you need to work on this.
  3. Is this the right time for me to study? Can I focus well enough at this time & if not, why not?
  4. Have I set aside enough time to complete the tasks I have planned or do I need to revisit my schedule?
  5. Have I implemented strategies 1-5 above?

The most successful people, and learners, know how to complete tasks and achieve success by overcoming challenges, even when they’re tired, stressed or ‘not in the mood’. Knowing how to change your mental state so you can put yourself in your study ‘zone’ will enable you to achieve greater study success.

Improve Your Study Approaches to Achieve & Succeed

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What to Feed Your Brain for Optimum Performance

What to Feed Your Brain for Optimum Performance

If you’re revising and studying intensively, you need to take very good care of your most important asset, your brain. This incredible organ remains the most complex and least understood in the human body. Research has proven that the brain has some fundamental nutritional requirements so a diet rich in healthy brain food is essential if you want it to perform at its peak.

1. Hydrate your brain regularly & consistently

Your brain is composed of 75% water so in order for it to function properly it needs to be hydrated properly, and regularly.

Your basic level of water intake should be 1.5 to 2 litres of water every day. That includes plain tap or bottled water, herbal tea and, to a lesser extent, fruit juice. Caffeinated drinks such as coffee and coke don’t count as caffeine is a diuretic so it triggers your body to excrete water.

Avoid sugar flavoured waters as these can contain as much sugar as a can of coke and it’s ‘synthetic’ sugar such as sucrose and aspartame which can cause headaches. Stay away from so-called ‘energy’ drinks as these are also just a mix of synthetic, toxic chemicals which have no nutritional value and cause weight gain and headaches.

If you don’t like drinking plain water, add a small amount of no added sugar fruit juice to each glass. Alternatively add small pieces of chopped fruit or cucumber to your glass, then pour on the water.

Headaches, tiredness and lack of focus can all be caused by dehydration. If you regularly get headaches, feel tired and struggle to focus, drink 2 large glasses of water before you start studying. Top up your glass during every ‘brain break’ which should be every 45 to 60 minutes. You will need to urinate more often but you’ll feel far more alert and your entire body will function better.

If you tend to forget to drink water when you’re out during the day, use a free app such as WaterMinder and set reminders at optimum times during the day that suit your schedule. If you have an iPhone, you can also use Siri to remind you to fill up your glass every hour.

2. Give your brain plenty of energy

Your brain alone uses up around 40% of your carbohydrate intake which explains why we get hungry and ‘the munchies’ when studying intensively!

Instead of reaching for Type-2 diabetes-inducing sugary junk, ensure you’re getting a regular intake of complex carbohydrates such as pasta and rice. Spelt pasta, which you can buy in most large supermarkets, is preferable to white as the carbohydrate sugars are released more slowly into the bloodstream and it’s more easily digested.

If you can’t find spelt pasta, choose wholewheat and always choose wholewheat, wholegrain, granary or even spelt bread. You could even invest in a bread maker (club together with your housemates) so you don’t have to buy industrially made sugar and preservative loaded loaves.

3. Maintain your myelin to enhance your neuronal function 

Your neuronal stems are coated with a fatty substance called myelin. Think of it like the outside insulating layer of an electrical cable that protects the delicate wires inside that carry the signals.

A healthy layer of myelin protects the neuronal stems and increases the speed at which electrical impulses travel between your brain cells. Good nutrition is vital to support and maintain the cells that create the myelin (oligodendrocytes), in addition to the actual myelin itself.

Vitamins B12 and D are argued to be significant contributors to myelin production. Vitamin B12 is found in fish, lean red meat, chicken, cheese and eggs while Vitamin D is also found in eggs, fish-liver oils and oily fish as well as from sun exposure. All the more reason to take a break and go for a walk!

If you’re a vegan it may be wise to take a Vitamin B12 supplement as deficiency can cause anaemia which leads to low energy, in addition to damage to your nervous system, of which your brain is a vital part. A Vitamin D supplement can also get you through intensive study in the winter months and prevent you from slipping into ‘hibernation mode’ over the winter break, especially if you have January exams.

Not all supplements are equal as many of the cheapest brands contain only small amounts of the actual nutritional support you require. Always check the label for additives including bovine gelatine. Higher Nature and Solgar are two of the best brands for vitamins and minerals although Solgar can be expensive. I’ve researched and picked out some of the best value vs quality supplements for you below:

4. Snack on walnuts & dark chocolate

Walnuts are packed with Omega-3, a vital essential fatty acid (EFA) your brain needs. On days when I’m completing complex tasks that require higher levels of concentration my favourite mid-morning or afternoon snack is a portion of walnuts and 2 or 3 squares of dark chocolate. Yes, dark chocolate is also good for your cognition!! At least that’s what some Portuguese researchers have discovered (although the study was conducted on people over 65) and I’m certainly not going to argue 🙂

All nuts, including walnuts, contain high levels of fat, as does chocolate. And even though it’s largely non-saturated fat you still need to keep your portion sizes small. A portion of walnuts is about 6-8 and a portion of good quality dark chocolate is about 3 chunks. Oh, go on then, 6 if you’re studying really hard 😉

Bear in mind when indulging in your chocolate that anything less than 70% will contain higher levels of added sugar and milk. So I’m afraid the average bar of cheap dairy milk chocolate won’t have the same positive impact on your cognition, it’ll just make you gain weight. Always think quality over quantity!

As with any living organism, dehydration and starvation of essential nutrients will cause your brain, and you, to suffer. Regular and nutritious feeding and watering on the other hand will enable you and your brain to thrive. And that will empower you to learn more efficiently and, of course, successfully.

Never Fail an Exam Again

Never Fail an Exam Again

If you’re currently experiencing exam failure ‘fallout’ there are a few actions that are essential to you getting back on track so you not only pass the resit, but also learn how to never fail an exam again. Lots of people don’t know about or implement these actions so end up repeatedly making the same mistakes in their resist that led to exam failure in the first place!

1. Reflect

First, grab a pen and paper and honestly ask yourself the following questions to develop your full awareness of why you failed.

  • Did you know your subject material well enough before the exam?
  • Did you struggle to memorize the information?
  • If you struggled, why was that?
  • Did you focus on the struggles or the successes in your learning?
  • Did you plan your revision approach?
  • Were you motivated enough in your learning?
  • Were your revision strategies effective enough?
  • Did you ‘blank out’ in the exam? Which usually happens as a result of not memorization material using effective strategies

Write down the answers to these questions.

2. Regroup

Take some time to think about the failure but avoid dwelling on it for too long. If you feel really miserable, depressed or think it’s the end of the world because you’re a complete failure, take heart in the fact that some of the most successful business people, athletes and even academics have failed at some point in their lives.

They became successful because they chose not to allow that failure to ruin them. They chose to reflect on why they’d failed. They refused to stay down about it. They got up, regrouped and faced the challenge again with a different mindset. They implemented fresh approaches and strategies in their learning that they believed would work and they succeeded.

3. Revisit your study approaches

Go back to the answers you wrote to the questions earlier. Now write the answers to the following:

  • Do you need to plan your revision better?
  • Do you need to use more effective study approaches?
  • Do you need to implement more effective memorization strategies that better suit your style of learning?
  • Do you even know what your preferred learning styles are? If not, you need to find out.

If you need help figuring out what went wrong or working through how to fix it, book a 1-1 Study Coaching session today.

Your first 15 minute session is always free!

By learning to implement the right mindset and empowering yourself with more effective study approaches, you can learn how to never fail an exam again.

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