My name is Sam Martin and I recently graduated from the University of Cambridge. I live in London, love meeting people from all over the world, and was always that kid at school who would take things too far with the Bunsen burner!
I didn´t enjoy studying
Despite going to a really good university, I didn’t always have the best of relationships with education and my schoolwork. If I’m being honest, I didn’t really ‘enjoy’ studying until my final year of university. I saw school, college, and university as places you had to put yourself into a stressed out and sometimes even miserable state to succeed. Achieving what I did came down to forcing myself to study hard, seeing it as a necessary sacrifice for a successful future. The problem with that is that I was never really happy. I never enjoyed the present moment as I was only ever thinking about finishing exams. The problem was every year there would be a new set of exams! There were GCSEs, then A-levels, and then university
exams. This was not sustainable!
Cambridge? Not just Harry Potter...
Going to Cambridge with this attitude towards education really took its toll on me. People always imagine Cambridge to be this perfect place- the beautiful buildings, punting down the river Cam, and Harry Potter themed dinners in huge halls (these dinners are awesome, actual owls swoop by as you eat!). While it does have so much good to offer, Cambridge is also a place of intense stress and endless amounts of work to do.
The Ted-talk that changed my life!
By the end of my second year the problem was that I only ever focused on those negatives of being at Cambridge. I had come to forget how lucky and privileged I was to be there. But everything changed for me after watching one Ted talk. The Power of Positive Psychology
Shawn Achor’s “The Happy Secret to Better Work” has been viewed nearly 13 million times! My one viewing of his talk was enough to change my life forever. Achor is a professor in Positive Psychology at Harvard. Positive Psychology is the scientific study of happiness and what makes individuals and communities thrive. It’s a subject still relatively young but is growing massively because of the dramatic findings of the likes of Achor and various other Positive Psychologists in the USA. In his talk, Achor points to a very simple idea that millions of people have never considered- HAPPINESS fuels SUCCESS.
Only happy after we have become successful?
In society we are often told that we’ll be happy only after we have become successful. That’s exactly the way I had approached education for most of my life. Happiness would be at the end of the tunnel on results day after months of being a miserable slug in the library. But the truth is, that high of getting good grades lasts a couple of days. You then realise you’ve got the next set of qualifications and exams to move on to!
In his talk, Achor speaks about how for the majority of Harvard students, no matter how excited or privileged they felt at getting in, two weeks after arriving their brains were focused almost wholly on the competition, hassles, stresses, and workloads. This resonated with me as I saw this all round me at Cambridge. My peers and I would turn up after holiday periods and on the first day of term would endlessly complain about how much work we were going to have to do, BEFORE we had even opened a book! The harm of this only became evident after reading deeper into positive psychology. It has been found that the brain when positive performs significantly better than when negative, neutral or stressed. When in a positive state of mind your intelligence, creativity, productivity, and energy levels all rise. So in holding a negative or even neutral outlook straight from the start of new term, all that my peers and myself were doing was holding back our true potential. What I realised then was that if any student wants to achieve the best grades they possibly can, then they MUST be in a positive state while studying. So with this new outlook I decided to approach my final year of university in a completely different way. I decided to put my happiness before my success.
Found ways to hack my own happiness and study-techniques
There are various tips/tricks/tools out there that positive psychologists suggest to improve happiness and well-being. But the problem was, none of these were specifically about studying. So what I did was adapt a variety of techniques to create some positive study habits, all of which were centred upon making me more positive in the present moment when studying. I completely rewired my brain to see the positive of every situation at Cambridge. I would stride into the library with a smile and with thoughts that I was about to accomplish something, whereas before, I would lumber in with a frown and with thoughts that I was about to be carrying out a chore. In my third year at university I was the happiest I had ever been, while I saw many of my peers become the most stressed and unhappy they had ever been.
Hacked myself to a First!
I stopped heaping immense pressure on myself and learnt to enjoy each present moment of challenging my mind and furthering my knowledge. The end result of a year of living a life of practiced positivity speaks for itself: In my first two years at Cambridge I came 78th and 76th out of 120 students on my course throughout the university, achieving mid-low 2is. In my final year, I came 28th in the year group and graduated with a First-class degree! To get a First at Cambridge there is an accepted stereotype that you either have to be an absolute genius, or an absolute hermit who locks himself/herself away and studies all waking hours. But what amazed me was that in my third year I was actually working FEWER hours than in my previous two years at university!
SUCCESS WAS A BY-PRODUCT OF MY HAPPINESS
So I now want to share some of these tips with you guys and gals. Every single student has a choice when it comes to how he or she perceives studying and schoolwork. You can choose to see it as a burden that will make you stressed out and sad. Or, you can choose to see it as an opportunity to improve and thrive through increasing your knowledge and skills. In this series the amazing ladies at Young Happy Minds have let me write for you, you’ll find out all of my top-tips for happy and successful study. We’ll have a look at how you can easily pump up your positivity, see how music can have dramatic effects on study performance, and also explore the positive power of recording progress.
So if you’re currently stressed out with all your homework, or can’t bear the thought of going into the library, then be sure to keep up with my posts. Till then, just remember- you can’t change what you study, but you can change how you perceive study.
Other posts in this series of study-hacks: