In my earlier post, ‘How to Develop an EPPP Course of Study over the Holidays (part 2)’ I shared that one of the reasons we often find it difficult to study during the holidays is not because we don’t have enough time – quite often we have even more time during the holidays. Rather, the difficulty arises because the holidays bring so many distractions.
Because of the distractions, we often enter the holidays with ambitious plans for how much we’re going to study, but time somehow slips away from us. Before we know it, the holidays are over and we haven’t done anything productive.
I explained that this problem can be overcome by developing a study schedule that allows you to keep forward momentum with your EPPP studies without compromising the integrity of your holiday celebrations. This post continues offering holiday eppp study tips by considering the neurological benefits that holiday celebrations can bring. I will suggest that once your holiday study regime is in place, you should take full advantage of the benefits afforded by periods of rest and recreation. Instead of seeing your holiday time as an annoying interruption to your EPPP study, you can begin to see it as a valuable time for your brain to solidify and “incubate” what you’ve learned before.
The Neurological Benefits of Interruption
Since the mid-90s there has been a growing body of research showing that what you’re doing when you are not studying is often just as important as when you are studying. This is because it is during our rest periods that the brain organizes and stores the material we have learned.
You know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever had the experience of struggling over a difficult problem, and then finding clarity when you have returned after a rest, a shower, some exercise, or a good night’s sleep.
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.’
Perhaps the most famous example of this was the ancient Greek scientist Archimedes. When King Hiero of Syracuse was concerned that his crown might not be pure gold, he tasked Archimedes with the job of determining the volume of an object with an irregular shape. According to legend, the problem stumped Archimedes until he took a rest and went to the public baths. It was while taking a bath that the solution presented itself. Archimedes realized he could determine the volume of an object by seeing how much water it displaced. Archimedes was so excited by this insight that he ran naked through the streets of Syracuse crying out, “Eureka!” (Gk. “I have found it!”)
Whether the story is true or not, it illustrates the important point that giving your brain a rest can free mental resources to achieve new levels of inspiration and clarity.
Keep Your Holidays Restful and Sober
Precisely because of this, it’s important for your holidays to be restful.
Unfortunately, holidays are often full of stress. It is ironic that Christmas and New Years are supposed to be times of relaxation and fun, yet often family members bring their baggage and unresolved issues into the holiday. As much as possible, try to avoid holiday stress with family members since stress and anxiety can cause us to forget things. Develop a plan beforehand for how you’re going to respond to stressful situations so they don’t catch you off guard.
Also avoid over-drinking during the holidays since too much alcohol use can result in memory loss.
Keep Your Holidays Joyful
In our earlier posts in this series we gave advice about how to study little and often during the holidays, preferably getting your EPPP prep out of the way in the mornings. During the rest of the time, allow yourself to enjoy the holidays and don’t be weighed down thinking about all the EPPP study prep you need to do. Remind yourself that any study regime requires structured breaks (see our earlier post ‘Don’t Get Too Tired Part 1’) and during the holidays these breaks are simply longer than usual.
Use the extra time as an opportunity to connect with your partner, and to pursue activities you have recently been neglecting, whether that’s watching your favorite TV show, hiking, reading, doing yoga, or enhancing your cognitive faculties through reading literary fiction.
Also during your study breaks, 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.
The Unconscious at Work
Even though it may feel like your brain is doing nothing during these periods of rest, your unconscious will actually be working to solidify everything you’ve been learning. Below are some resources that discuss the power of the unconscious during periods when you are not engaged in deliberate thought:
- The Incubation Effect: How to Break Through a Mental Block
- Creativity—the unconscious foundations of the incubation period