Why You Shouldn’t Put Too Much Pressure On Yourself While Studying – And How You Can Do It!
Last week a student called me and shared with her experiences with me. Let’s call her Steffi. And one thing in advance: Steffi is a true master at putting herself under pressure. But one after another. Steffi reported that she was stuck in her studies and didn’t know what to do next. Seven exams – this semester alone. In addition, there are two exams that she pushed. There is also housework waiting for her and the part-time job to finance her apartment also costs a lot of time. Steffi wanted to know how she was supposed to do it. I recommended her to pursue A level biology tutor.
“Why do you want to take a total of nine exams in one semester?” I asked back. “In order to stay within the standard period of study,” I got the answer. “And the grades also have to be right so that I can hold my first cut and write a doctoral thesis later.”
Basically, I have nothing against high goals – so I suggested spreading the workload over several semesters, studying one module after the other and agreeing an individual study plan with your student advisory service. You could organize the examination phase backwards with my learning planning method and also complete the learning units in stages. I reeled off my standard repertoire, which works in (felt) 99 percent of the cases and contains at least one impulse that ensures positive lasting effects.
That wasn’t the case with Steffi. Steffi started to cry.
“As if I were stupid.”
Oops. Did I say something wrong? When she had calmed down, I asked what was going on. It burst out of her: “In principle I know what I have to do. But I can’t do it. I can’t get myself up. I can’t stick to my plan. Every time I decide to learn a little bit, I see how much is still ahead of me and think to myself ‘I can’t do it anyway’. And then again I don’t do anything all day. Like I’m stupid You can’t imagine what that is like. “
Yes, I can.
The problems that Steffi reports carry around with many students. They weigh tons on their shoulders. But these problems do not come from studying; they are homemade. It is their own expectations of themselves. These students put themselves under such pressure while studying that their entire organism goes on strike. They ask the impossible of themselves and in the face of this insurmountable hurdle they lose their courage.
Instead of working a tiny bit on their goals, they do nothing and postpone important learning units. They crowd out their work. But that only makes it worse: Over time, the blockage grows and becomes more and more threatening. At some point these students can no longer see a way out, change courses or end their university career prematurely. Even though they have much, much greater potential.
Positive pressure vs. negative pressure
I’ll tell you in a moment how I helped Steffi. Maybe these approaches will work for you too, if you find yourself under a lot of pressure while studying. First, however, we need to be aware of why too much pressure is bad and how this destructive mechanism settles in your mind. I’ll keep it short – I promise.
There is a theory that pressure can appear in a negative form (stress) and a positive form (eustress). Timothy Ferriss is writing about it if you want to read it up. In any case, stress is the more familiar form and it makes you feel bad. You use more energy than usual, you are irritable and you don’t enjoy your work. Persistent stress weakens your immune system and makes you sick. The greater the stress, the more serious the effects.
Eustress, however, gives you wings. This form of pressure drives you on and ensures that you can grow beyond yourself. Thanks to positive pressure, we can stay focused for hours, get by with little sleep and get completely absorbed in something. But over time, eustress can also turn into stress. As a rule, this turnaround happens when your own expectations are too high.
How students put themselves under pressure while studying
Many students set high goals. As I said: I am a friend of demanding goals – but a goal in itself is worth nothing. Implementation is what counts. If you plan to pass your next exam with a 2.5 CGPA, that’s a good goal. But how do you want to achieve it? If you don’t think about how to implement it and don’t make a plan, your goal is nothing more than high expectations. A high expectation that haunts your head all day and robs you of your last nerve.
There are other examples of this type:
- “I have to pass my next exam.”
- “I have to get a very good grade for my thesis.”
- “I have to study in the standard period of study.”
- “I have to pass all the exams this semester.”
- “I absolutely have to do a semester abroad.”
These can all be sensible goals – if they are feasible. Without a smart plan and determined execution, these endeavors are worthless. Worse still, you are even harming yourself with these goals because you are only building negative pressure with them. And this one will block you and kill your motivation.
But don’t worry: there are a few pressure-reducing measures that I can recommend to you with a clear conscience.
How you can put yourself under less pressure – 4 realistic tips
There are tons of ways you can deal with pressure. It mainly depends on your personality and the current situation in which you find yourself. But there are also a handful of universal strategies that always work. Here are four realistic tips that can help reduce the pressure on yourself while studying:
Tip 1: take out the rubbish!
Exaggerated expectations (and thus negative pressure) arise in your head. Often a destructive thought is enough that triggers a momentous chain reaction in you. For example, if you want to start preparing for exams for a demanding lecture, the first impression is usually: “Shit, that’s a lot!”
From this objective statement, a firework of pessimism can arise in a split second: “But that’s a lot. Is there enough time for that? It’s complicated too. Do I even understand? How am I supposed to do this? I can’t do it at all. I’m stupid. The others are much smarter than me. I can’t do any of that. “
One negative thought leads to the next and an honest inventory (“But that’s a lot!”) Turns into sad resignation (“I can’t do all of this.”).
If you find yourself trapped in such a destructive thought pattern, it can help to write those thoughts down. By putting your thoughts on paper, you get them out of your head. No matter how messed up you are – just let it all out. Especially the negative currents that cause you to feel guilty or fearful. You don’t need this trash. Put it in front of the door so that it can be disposed of.
Tip 2: divide your goals!
At the beginning we talked about goals. You will definitely remember: goals can only be used for something if you can implement them; otherwise they fuel unrealistic expectations and can be depressing. A tried and tested means of overcoming this unfavorable mechanism is to break down large goals into small sub-steps. That way, your goals will become more tangible and easier for you to achieve.
An example: Suppose you want to pass your next exam with a very good grade. Your overall goal in this case could be:
- Pass “Introduction to Whatever” with 3.2 CGPA.
So far so good. However, you shouldn’t stick to this goal. It is much smarter to break this goal down into small intermediate goals and assign them specific actions that you can easily carry out. Like this:
- Interim objective 1: View lecture materials
- Intermediate objective 2: Read lecture notes
- Interim objective 3: Summarize the lecture notes
- Interim objective 4: Work on exercises for Chapter 1
- And so on
So you determine small milestones on the way to your big goal. All you have to do now is mentally deal with the next, small intermediate goal and you can work your way forward step by step. Your big goal will now be able to put you under much less pressure because it only acts in the background. First and foremost are the intermediate goals. If you then provide them with specific deadlines and regularly revise your planning, you will also ensure professional self-management that guides you relaxed through every exam preparation.
Tip 3: create a schedule!
Speaking of deadlines: Stress or negative pressure often only arises because tasks are poorly planned or not planned at all. Uncertainty is the biggest problem here: because you don’t know what to take care of when, you constantly have the feeling that you have to think about everything. You can never switch off, but you also fail to focus on one important thing. Your mind is scattered and roaming wildly.
A schedule can help you with this issue. First, collect all important tasks and to-dos on a list. Include your intermediate goals from the previous tip and assign a specific date to each point. Also estimate the duration of each task – realistically! For example, if you set yourself up for next Monday to repeat three chapters of the lecture, read a book, study seven case studies, and write 25 pages of your thesis, your schedule is everything – just unworkable.
This brings us to another advantage of this planning strategy: Excessive expectations and unrealistic goals become clearly visible. And according to objective standards. Your available time is not negotiable. You can work on your time management (for example, with the next reading tip), but if you realize during your planning that you actually cannot achieve a previously set goal, it is your duty as a smart person to give up this goal. Or correct.
Tip 4: Define ONE realistic daily goal!
Intermediate goals and time planning ensure that you put yourself under less pressure in the long term – but you also need a strategy for your daily challenges. What I particularly like to recommend to stressed students is setting a so-called “daily goal”. With this concept, you define a daily task that you can definitely do. Not ten tasks, not two – really just one. And this doesn’t even have to be very extensive.
“But if I only work off one task from my to-do list every day, I will never achieve my goals!”
Take it easy, let me explain: Your goal for the day is not about “just” taking care of this one goal. Rather, it is a fixed point that should give you support. Your daily goal is a minimum of what you can achieve. For example:
- Read 10 pages
- Learn 5 vocabulary
- Combine 2 slides
- Write 1 page
- And so on
Yes, these may be small steps, but if you do even one of them every day, you’ll consistently get a little further. You don’t stand still; you create a productive dynamic. With every little success your motivation will grow. It is very likely that you will not stop after reaching your daily goal, but will tackle the next intermediate goal. In this way you come into a completely natural flow without having to put yourself under pressure while learning. You just have to achieve your daily goal.
Learning under pressure can work. Many students even need the stress to get going and to deliver top performance. However, if you put yourself under too much pressure, you run the risk of a dangerous state of blockage. At some point your mind will strike – and then you will find yourself in the same situation as Steffi.
To prevent this from happening, I recommend the four strategies from this article as an acute measure or as a preventive treatment. Here is a quick overview so you never forget it again:
- Take out your trash – and make destructive thought patterns visible!
- Divide your big goals – and define small intermediate steps!
- Create a schedule – and correct unrealistic expectations!
- Define a daily goal – and spark a productive dynamic!
One last thing: Don’t convince yourself that you’re stupid because something doesn’t work the way you thought it would. Firstly, it’s not true and, secondly, there is no point in making yourself bad. If a certain path did not lead you to your goal, you just look for another. Forgive yourself for possible mistakes, tick them off and immediately start over. Prove to yourself that you can do better. Step by step – as in tip 4.