Studying for an extended period of time is the ultimate insight into the basic idea of “improving”. Becoming more efficient at tasks or even learning how to maximize our own potential is something most of us spend a lifetime trying to gain control of. As medical students we’re lucky that we have tests every so often to put the principles of self-mastery to the test.
So what are these principles? We’ve all heard of them through age-old mantras and repeated by wise old sages at the perfect time to help the Hollywood hero pick him or herself up and save the day. As I go through Step 2 studying, every now and then I come across a story (usually through my twitter feed) or some inspiring advice that really hits home. Here are 3 I found real useful:

 

Learning doesn’t work like a staircase, it works more like an ocean wave

The most amazing thing about dedicated a chunk of time to studying is that you never really know when exactly it is that you got better. It doesn’t happen suddenly that’s for sure. This process is best captured when doing questions repetitively. After awhile you start seeing and answering them in a different light, and sometimes if you’re keen to reflect you’ll think back to when you were using a more rudimentary thinking process and kind of be amazed at your progress.

That’s because we don’t learn in a stepwise progression that was long the accepted model created by famous psychologist Jean Piaget Nope, we learn more like the waves of an ocean. Old waves of primitive thinking being slowly overtaken and surpassed by new waves of information. These surges push forward and sometimes fall back rhythmically until they ultimately take the place of what we once thought to be so certain. It’s a much more beautiful model of learning in my eyes, and much more forgiving too. It allows the individual to regress ever so slightly only to push back when he or she is ready. This is how toddlers learn to walk and develop the fine more skills needed to throw spaghetti at the television. Learn more on Time.com’s great article.

Learn to differentiate the forest from the trees

I’ve heard this a lot the past couple of years, even once by my basic science professor a long time ago. Simply put, it’s easy to get lost in the details and think you are being productive but truly have no idea where you are going. The business world likes to differentiate people who do either of these into the “managers” who have direction (know which forest to be in) and the “workers” who get caught up with toiling away (lost in the minituae). This is a bit of advice I’ve always taken to heart because I’m definitely someone who can start learning about one thing, only to wake up from my tangental binge, hungover on wikipedia having no idea how I got to “The History of Egypt“. I’m sure there was a reason I’m here, just give me a second to remember…

Get used to being a sugar cookie

Admiral and Navy SEAL, William H. McRaven, recently gave a commencement speech where he talked about some of the training their cadets are put through. One training exercise that he felt really prepared them for the real world is the weekly uniform review. Each cadet is given the week to clean and iron out their uniform to perfection, and then display them to their officer. Every week the trainees spend 7 days paying attention to every little detail in the hopes of passing that review. However when that day comes, none of them actually do. Instead they are failed and forced to roll around on the banks of the beach, then stand back in line covered in wet, cold sand effectively giving them the name “sugar cookie”.

Throughout the months of training some of the cadets drop out from the seemingly pointless nature of the exercise. Admiral McRaven feels they never understood the point; don’t stop chasing perfection, no matter how many times you fail because in the process you will become great.

I think of this every time I spend umpteen hours studying a section in Kaplan, only to miss a few obvious questions on Uworld. Then go through the section again, and still miss questions on my next exam. The reality is that I’m never going to be satisfied, and these exams will always find some deficiency in my knowledge. But I won’t give up and walk away, I’ll just keep being a sugar cookie.

So those are my 3 favorite bits of advice/stories that I picked during my breaks this week. It’s amazing the great content you’ll find being shared on Twitter (highly recommend making an account and following people in your field). Anyway, I’m officially 3 days away from taking my school’s practice test and then a couple weeks away from taking the real deal. Wish me luck!

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