Essential Life Lessons (Part 2)

As Labor Day approaches, some students have returned to school, while others are enjoying their last days of freedom before classes begin. For those of us who have graduated from formal education, the school of life remains in session, and some ground rules still apply.

Put in the time.

Continuing to stick with an assignment even if you’d rather check Facebook or play a video game will strengthen your self-discipline and impulse control. Persevere. “A year from now you may wish you had started today.” (Karen Lamb)

Choose challenging but encouraging teachers.

The best teachers are inspiring, supportive, interesting, and will push you a bit. They see what you’re capable of and remind you of your potential. They will also require a lot of you in terms of effort, time, and energy, and at times this may feel intimidating. However, excellent teachers won’t belittle, insult, or embarrass you, alone or in front of your classmates.

Find good study partners.

Surround yourself with people, or least have a few people, who have similar interests, goals, and study techniques. You can encourage each other, celebrate one another’s achievements, and brainstorm. When one of you is having a bad day, the others can offer moral and practical support. “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” (Jim Rohn)

Eat a predominantly healthy diet.

Your brain thrives on a healthy diet. Some people thrive on a Paleo diet, others on vegan fare, and still others may be able to manage (for awhile) on candy and soda – but eventually this last option may catch up with you, compromising your physical health, along with your emotional and mental stability. Eating breakfast is generally a good idea. Eat at regular intervals throughout the day, and try for a balance of protein, fiber-rich carbohydrates, and healthy fats. There seem to be almost as many diets out as there are people, and individuals vary in their nutritional needs. Figure out what works for you, perhaps with the help of a health professional, and strive to stick with your plan the majority of the time. Your brain needs a steady supply of glucose in order to function optimally.

Get adequate sleep.

Staying up all night is not the best way to study for a test or finish a term paper. Although there are those unusual people who claim to need only a few hours of sleep a night, it’s recommended that as a general rule adolescents get between eight and ten hours of sleep a night, and that adults get between seven and nine hours. Sufficient shut-eye is essential in order to process and organize incoming information and express yourself in an intelligible manner. Plus, it’s just no fun dragging yourself through the day feeling sleep-deprived, cranky, and rundown.

Some lessons may need to be repeated.

We don’t get everything right the first time, and that’s okay. We are unique in our strengths, weaknesses, experiences, expertise, and interests. Taking a class a second (or third) time can sometimes be what is needed to really cement the material in your mind. “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.” (Margaret Thatcher)

Try for a healthy amount of stress in your life.

Yes, this may sound like heresy. However, while too much stress (or distress) can lead to anxiety, depression, dysregulation of the immune system, increased propensity toward addictive behavior, and a host of other woes, too little stress (or stimulation) can result in boredom and apathy (and, ironically, perhaps some of the same symptoms of excess stress). The optimal level of stress (called eustress) engages you but doesn’t overwhelm you.

Capitalize on your strengths, and work on your weaknesses.

Concentrate on how you can grow and what you can accomplish, while also acknowledging where you may struggle. Don’t expect everything to come easily or to be the best at everything. Have a realistic, healthy, yet humble self-esteem.

Strive for excellence, not perfection.

Perfectionism can lead to procrastination, which can lead in turn to paralysis. Instead, focus on doing your best – and your best will change from day to day, depending on how much sleep you’ve had, your nutritional state, your mood, your level of enthusiasm for the task at hand, and what else is currently going on in your life. Be kind, honest, and firm with yourself about your workload, your priorities, and what is possible without driving yourself into the ground. “You measure the size of the accomplishment by the obstacles you had to overcome to reach your goals.” (Booker T. Washington)

Have an open mind.

Be willing to set aside what you think you know, in order to continue to learn. If what you thought was right is actually right, you’ll just reaffirm it. If you were mistaken or lacking adequate information, wouldn’t you rather admit it and move forward? “The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.” (Carl Rogers)

Life provides an infinite amount of lessons, for which we are fortunate. Try meeting challenges, be they scholastic or otherwise, with the question, “How can I learn from this?” and see how this may positively affect your level of happiness and well-being.

Please also see my initial post on Essential Life Lessons for more tips.