Summer weather and activities can be a distraction and a difficult temptation to resist while studying for the EPPP. How do you study for the EPPP when you would rather be soaking up the summer sun?
A rush of dopamine rewards us when we give into temptation. This is how habits are formed. When you do something that is immediately rewarding you are strengthening those neuropathways, eventually making it easier to give into temptation and more difficult to be disciplined the next time you are tempted.
For example, say you have a set EPPP study time for each afternoon and you are constantly faced with the temptation to participate in outdoor summer activities that force you to choose between studying and being in the sunshine. The decision to skip studying becomes easier with each temptation that is given into, therefore making discipline much more difficult to accomplish over time.
The good news, however, is that discipline becomes much easier to accomplish when those neuropathways are strengthened over time. We know that dopamine is a factor in habituation and that the more you choose to study, the easier that decision will become. Incorporating immediate reward into your EPPP studies could therefore help studying become a habit.
You can create a habit of studying by making short term goals and rewarding your accomplishments. Because taking breaks is part of successful studying in general, perhaps reward yourself with thirty minutes of your favorite summer activity for every two hours that you study. Both rest and reward will benefit your success. Furthermore, creating a study schedule will allow you to prioritize studying as well as make time for the summer adventures that you don’t want to miss out on.
Furthermore, understanding willpower might help you understand how to operate more productively when you study for the EPPP.
The American Psychological Association summarizes and explains Walter Mischel’s, PhD, marshmallow experiment.
In the experiment, a child is given the option of having two marshmallows or one. With the decision to wait for the researcher to return, the child gets two marshmallows. If the child cannot wait, he or she can make the decision to ring a bell and get one marshmallow immediately. This study produced insight into the use of willpower which the APA describes “as a basic ability to delay gratification.” The APA summarizes Mischel’s description of willpower as a hot and cool system;
“The cool system is cognitive in nature. It’s essentially a thinking system, incorporating knowledge about sensations, feelings, actions and goals – reminding yourself, for instance, why you shouldn’t eat the marshmallow. While the cool system is reflective, the hot system is impulsive and emotional. The hot system is responsible for quick, reflexive responses to certain triggers – such as popping the marshmallow in your mouth without considering the long-term implications. If this framework were a cartoon, the cool system would be the angel on your shoulder and the hot system, the devil.”
The failure of willpower happens when someone is exposed to “a ‘hot’ stimulus [which] essentially overrides the cool system, leading to impulsive actions.” The subjects of Mischel’s study whose cool system was overridden by the “hot stimulus” of the immediate marshmallow tended to show patterns of willpower failure into adulthood. On the other hand, the subjects who could resist the immediate single marshmallow and wait for the delayed gratification of two marshmallows were, as teenagers:
“more likely to score higher on the SAT, and their parents were more likely to rate them as having a greater ability to plan, handle stress, respond to reason, exhibit self-control in frustrating situations and concentrate without becoming distracted”
The willpower exhibited in the study held up throughout the children’s adolescence and adulthood. The APA suggests that “An individual’s sensitivity to so-called hot stimuli, it seems, may persist throughout his or her lifetime.”
Though there is no definitive evidence as to why willpower comes more easily to some than to others nor is there an explanation of whether such “patterns might be corrected”, understanding what the research says about willpower could, perhaps, help you understand how you operate. When you understand how you personally respond to a “hot stimulus”, you can tailor your short-term goals and reward system and work towards the ultimate goal of passing the EPPP.