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.

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