In an earlier post, ‘How to Effectively Rest From Your EPPP Study,’ I explained the importance of taking breaks at regularly structured intervals. I gave various ideas of things you can do when resting from your EPPP study prep.
Neuroscience supports the benefits of regular structured breaks from intellectual labor. Neuroscientists have developed techniques to monitor activity (usually defined as electrical impulses) and chemical changes in the brain during study or thought processing. The monitoring of brain activity and chemical changes indicate that studying/reading too long results in a depletion of chemicals in the brain cells necessary for efficient processing of information. This is known as the Principle of Neurotransmitter Depletion.
Based on this Principle, I recommend you do not wait until you are feeling mentally exhausted before you take a break from your study schedule. Make and take planned breaks, as this will keep you fresh and focused throughout your studies. These planned breaks should be both short (5 to 10 minutes) and long (20 to 30 minutes).
Few people would dispute the value of punctuating intensive study with short breaks to rest the brain. This is especially true for something as mentally intensive as studying to pass your EPPP. However, even though we all know that it is important to give our brains a recess, many of us find it incredibly difficult to stop and let our brains be still.
Keep Your Breaks Low-Tech
Have you ever paused from your study to take a break, only to have a little voice inside proclaiming that you need to be constantly productive, that you should be doing something “useful”? If the answer to this question is yes, you are not alone. Many of us find that when we break from studying, instead of resting our brains through activities like exercise, listening to music, yoga, walking, eating a proper meal, or just plain doing nothing at all, we often feel compelled (sometimes against our better judgment) to get busy with things that have been proven to increase cognitive overload.
Activities that increase cognitive overload include reading emails, going on social media, sending text messages, keeping busy on our smartphones. Even though these activities are harmless in themselves, they have been proven to increase the business of our minds. This means that longer and longer breaks are required before our brain is sufficiently refreshed to return to study. (We’ve dealt with this problem in more detail here and here and here.)
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t check your smart-phone for messages when you enter one of your strategic study breaks. But what I am saying is that the majority of your downtime shouldn’t be consumed with these things. If you have a smart-phone, leave it behind when you go for a walk, listen to music, or do yoga, or whatever it is you do to refresh your brain. (You can read more about why it’s important not to overload your working-memory in our posts ‘When You’re Not Studying‘ and ‘Don’t Overcrowd Your Working Memory.’)
Don’t Think About the EPPP
Also during your study break, try not to think about the EPPP at all. You should avoid letting your mind go over and over the things you’ve been memorizing. Instead let your brain breathe so you are refreshed to return to your work with new vigor.
Even though it may feel like your brain is doing nothing during these periods, your unconscious will actually be working very hard to solidify everything you’ve been learning.
Jan Brogan, in her article ‘When being distracted is a good thing‘, quotes Harvard researcher and psychologist Shelley H. Carson, author of Your Creative Brain. “‘If you are stuck on a problem, an interruption can force an ‘incubation period,’ she says. ‘In other words, a distraction may provide the break you need to disengage from a fixation on the ineffective solution.’'” (Read more about this in the section ‘The Neurological Benefits of Interruption’ in our post about EPPP study during the holidays.)
- Don’t Overcrowd Your Working Memory
- When You’re Not Studying
- Long Term Memory and the Danger of Multitasking
- Resist the Tyranny of the Urgent (Part 1)
- Resist the Tyranny of the Urgent (Part 2)