How to Take Breaks Effectively while Studying | FE Electrical | PE Power

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Picture this, you’re studying for the FE Electrical or PE Power Exam and everything is going well. You’re being productive, covering lots of content or doing many practice questions, you feel motivated and confident for the exam. But then you see that your phone is sitting next to you and you look at it and think: “I’ve been studying quite a bit, I think I deserve a 5 minute break”. And then you pick up your phone and it turns out to be a mistake.

Fast forward 2 hours and you’re still on your phone, responding to messages, scrolling through social media or watching videos. You suddenly don’t feel like studying anymore but you feel guilty for wasting precious study time. Suddenly, the feelings of being motivated and confident for the exam have faded and you feel guilty and disappointed in yourself, but you still can’t stop scrolling through your phone. Everything was going so well before you picked up your phone, so what happened? The answer is stimulation.

The Science Behind Stimulation

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Every time you do something stimulating such as scroll through social media, your brain produces high amounts of a chemical molecule called Dopamine. This chemical is known as the ‘molecule of more’ and makes you feel good and stimulated. Once you perform this stimulating task, your brain sets this high amount of dopamine as your baseline and makes you motivated to pursue even more dopamine such as watch videos or movies. Now if you suddenly begin a low-stimulation task such as working or studying, your brain has no desire to do it anymore because the dopamine release from such an activity is far lower than the new baseline.

History of this Mechanism

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Your brain is developed to produce dopamine in this way because thousands of years ago, this system helped our hunter gatherer ancestors to survive. The brain would release dopamine when they chased after and hunted prey, and this motivated them to continue doing so and feed themselves and their families to survive. In today’s day and age, however, corporations hire neuroscientists to exploit this mechanism and produce highly addictive products which generate revenue. The level of stimulation that these products give is tremendously higher than anything our ancestors ever had access to. This unnatural level of dopamine is foreign to the brain which is why it is so addicting. Your brain does not realize how producing so much dopamine in response to watching hours of netflix or instagram impacts your life, it is simply following a biological mechanism that you were born with. Similarly, it does not realize that being truly productive while working or studying is what truly improves your life and makes you more happy and satisfied in the long run, it simply sees the lack of dynamic colors, sounds and entertainment and produces much less dopamine since it is technically less stimulating.

How to Use this Mechanism to Your Advantage

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Since this baseline level of dopamine dictates your amount of motivation, you can carefully control what the baseline is. Once you begin a low-stimulation task such as working or studying, you will lower the baseline and feel much more motivated with each minute of studying up to a point. Once you have this motivation, do not suddenly decide to do any highly stimulating activity such as watching videos until you’re done studying for the day, no matter how tempting it may be. This way, your levels of motivation will not fluctuate and you won’t need to exert extra willpower to convince yourself to study after watching videos.

How Do I Get Rid of Distractions?

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First of all, make sure your phone is out of reach. Secondly, you can try using free softwares such as “Focalfilter” to briefly block distracting websites during the hours in which you’re supposed to work or study. According to the famous book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, the trick to pruning bad habits is to make them less accessible and keep them as hard to reach as possible. Your brain, despite being the most complex instrument in the universe, still operates by some simple rules, and the ideas discussed in this blog are some of them.

What Do I Do During My Breaks?

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You can do anything that isn’t extremely stimulating and many of these activities are up to you to discover. I personally like to take a walk outside or take a second to stretch my arms and clear my head. Some people who study in groups also like to converse during their breaks which can be effective.

Famous Practitioners of this Strategy

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This concept brings us back to some of the original lessons we learned as children. There is a time for work, and there is a time for play, and it is important not to mix the two as we tend to do as adults. In fact, one of the most intensely productive people of the 20th century, President Theodore Roosevelt lived by this idea. He would schedule the hours between 8:30 AM and 4:30 PM as those where he would cultivate intense focus without any distraction. This example was also used in the famous book “Deep Work” by Cal Newport, and has historically been the true method to perform quality work efficiently and also enjoy the process.

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