We've recently been working with Brian Costello on his new Pass Perfection series which is a series of videos designed to help with managing stress and improving your study techniques in the build up to your exams. It is always the way with these things, that you begin to imagine how useful all these tips would've been when you were studying but actually, I've found myself already using some of the techniques just to manage my stress at work and focus on tasks.
Brian started talking about the feeling of being overwhelmed by everything and not being able to figure out where would be best to start, I could identify with this straight away – both when I was at University but also on particularly busy days at work. Brian describes how complex the brain is and working to its strengths so for example, break everything down into chunks, or what Brian calls 'chunking', something that our brain already does subconsciously. It seems like such an obvious approach – break everything down – but actually when you are aware of how your brain should be acting, you can almost pull it into focus when you need it to be. I've found myself working with shorter lists, smaller notepads and breaking down text into bullet points and it does work.
For example, I personally find reading lots of text on a screen overwhelming. I love to read but I often avoid reading online and will print things off. Since working on Pass Perfection, I've found myself taking emails into a separate document and breaking it up into action points. It doesn't seem like much but before 'chunking', I was spending time reading over the email, maybe several times, and finding that rather than take in the information, I'd begin to stress out about what was being asked of me, regardless of the task. Now I find myself working my way through the task methodically and more efficiently because it's almost like by breaking it up, I'm processing each chunk at a time.
Alongside the video series, we also put together an audio accompaniment to help with sleep after studying or before an exam. Again, it seems like a given – you need a good sleep to perform at your best for an exam but it's easier said than done. Never mind the slackers burning the midnight oil as they try to cram as much in as possible – sometimes it's just impossible to switch off from all the butterflies in your stomach and information swirling around your brain.
I'm definitely one of those people that can lie awake all night questioning everything over and over, over-analysing situations and worrying about everything. I sleep lightly and often have a broken sleep so I've found working with my breathing has helped massively with this. By breathing slowly, mimicking your breathing during sleep, and communicating the inhale and exhale to yourself internally, this can really help with getting back to sleep. I've tried it a few times lately. I had a friend staying and normally I would get up to do something to tire me out and take my mind off of it like read a book but I didn't want to wake him. I tried the breathing technique and the next thing I know, it's the next morning!
I think often the key to getting the best out of your brain is by understanding it, understanding how it works and more specifically, the way your brain has chosen to work. The more I learn about myself and understand how my brain likes to work, the more I feel I'm ticking off my to do list each day.