Updated: Mar 1
Have you ever thought of the reason why you find it so hard to sit and study for a couple of hours or even stay in class for an hour paying full attention yet you can spend hours binge-watching movies, scrolling through Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook? For Korean drama lovers, this can even go on for days without getting tired. Maybe you have or maybe you have not but the answer is not so far from us. This is simply because of the "activation energy" each activity requires. In science, activation energy is the minimum amount of energy needed by reacting species in order to undergo a reaction. This definition almost holds when thinking about learning and being on your phone or TV. Here, I will define it as the maximum amount of energy needed for people to enjoy or to be engrossed in what they are doing.
In science, the higher the activation energy, the more difficult it is for the reaction to proceed and this applies to why we like to watch TV or stay on social media rather than study. Studying has high activation energy compared to watching TV or using your phone. Have you realized that once you open your book and start reading, you are not really understanding anything in the first few minutes? During this time, you are just reading and getting your mind prepared to be able to understand the incoming paragraphs. It is also in this time frame that you can lose interest in reading or studying. However, as time goes on, you will finally be able to "connect" yourself to what you are reading and that is when you begin to understand all that the paragraphs are saying and even make sense of the initial paragraphs you didn't understand. The first couple of minutes before you get to the stage of understanding what you are reading is what I call the activation energy of learning and this consumes a lot of energy which is why I defined it as the maximum energy needed.
On the other hand, when it comes to watching TV or surfing the net, the activation energy you need is quite low because your interest is peaked almost immediately and less stress is involved.
Just like the diagram of activation energy in science, the activation energy in studying and TV follows the same trend. The higher your activation energy, the more energy you need just like in studying. Since we naturally don't want to waste energy and spend a lot of time, we just give up and grab our phones which require less energy.
So, the topic here is how to enjoy learning and we can learn to do that in a similar way that reactions do which is with the help of enzymes. Enzymes are biological catalysts that lower the activation energy of a reaction to allow it to proceed faster. Lowering the activation energy of studying, will allow us to start understanding what we are reading faster, and the more we enjoy the reading, the more interested we will get. However, learning how to enjoy learning does not happen overnight as biological enzymes work. This takes some time and discipline as well as some willingness.
As can be seen from this diagram, enzymes make the reaction proceed faster to products. The product here for us is to be able to enjoy learning. So, what are some of the "enzymes" we can use to help us?
The first enzyme is Progress. One of the main reasons why studying is hard is because we sometimes do not recognize the progress that is happening. Progress is an intrinsic reward that will cause you to continue doing whatever it is that is resulting in improvement. This is what reinforcement is like, hence causing you to like studying.
To be able to keep track of your progress, you have to notice where you started from and also learn to acknowledge the changes no matter how small. It's quite similar to a map where you start from the bottom and every improvement results in an increase in level. Just looking at the map and your progress will encourage you to do more.
The second enzyme is Friends. For some of us, learning by ourselves seems too much but doing it with friends makes it more bearable and enjoyable. Here, you share the burden with your friends and you all get to benefit. However, not all your friends can help you reduce the activation energy of learning as some might make it even harder to understand what you are trying to study. So choose those you will study with care if you want to enjoy studying. You can have you and your friends quiz each other, and listening to each other can serve as an encouragement to promote studies and enable you all to understand the concepts you have issues understanding. The best thing about this is you can always ask questions if you lack understanding and you are comfortable doing that.
The third enzyme is your goals. This is a point that I think is very interesting. Settings goals will help motivate you to do your best even though you are having a hard time. Someone may be hoping to go to medical school right after graduating college and this can be their motivation throughout college. To be competitive, they have to do good in most of their classes to qualify and this is their "strength statement" and the reason why they are able to enjoy their classes right from day one. In terms of studying for a class, one tip I have learned over the years is, if you start by saying you don't like the class, you never will and you won't do good. However, no matter how intimidating the class is if you confess to doing excellent, you will. This is more of a physiological issue but works very much all the time, at least for me.
The last enzyme I am going to give is your own interest. Being able to connect what you are studying to something you already like will help you remember and like what you are studying. This is more like an intrinsic connection that confers an interest in something new. Every subject has millions of connections to everything else in the world. Making the effort to see how something dull applies to something interesting to you can make all the difference in making studying enjoyable. This is how I personally study terms that I find hard to remember at first. I just connect it to something I know and remembering it becomes easy.
Learning without a doubt can be hard and our phones or TV seem like the best option to free ourselves. Indeed they are good for relaxing but to be able to keep up with our continuously modifying world and make changes in it, you have to be willing to make efforts that others may not want to make. Staying at home and studying makes it even harder but let your goals motivate you to go beyond your fixed narrative.
Always me and us.