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Lessons learned: How looking back can help you get ahead

By Parker Nann, 2nd-year Commerce student

I love winter break. My birthday occurs over winter break, I get to see my family and friends from home over winter break, and I can relax in peaceful bliss knowing that school is safely four and a half thousand kilometers away (I live in Vancouver). So when I walked out of my last exam of 2015 I was ready for anything that was specifically NOT exam related. I chose to sleep a lot, eat a lot, and exercise far too little in proportion to my caloric intake. I mean, it’s the holidays. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could spend our entire semester on winter break? I would enroll at that university. However, our beloved campus looks a little snowier, feels a little colder, and seems a little more… 2016-ish? , and we can no longer deny that we are all in for another challenging semester.

While on break, I managed to NOT think about school and NOT think about exams quite successfully. Whatever mistakes, regrets, or ‘wish I had done’ moments from my fall term were left behind, forgotten in a trail of turkey gravy and eggnog. While this ‘forget the past focus on the future’ mentality prevents us from getting bogged down in past mistakes, and is therefore useful for busy times of the year, reflection is crucially important for learning and improvement.

That’s why I suggest using the first two weeks of classes (generally the quieter times of the semester) to look back on the previous term to identify some habits, tricks, and strategies that you think were helpful or harmful to your studies in 2015.

In no way am I suggesting for you to relive the anxiety of exams (that’s really quite mean), but I do suggest that you take the time, while you still have it, to thoroughly examine your experiences from last term and commit to keeping or changing some things for 2016. You can call these ‘After New Year’s- New Year’s Resolutions’. Anything, including diet, sleep, exercise, favourite study spots, your biggest procrastination vices, and so on are fair game for you to reflect upon as these all contribute towards your academic success in their own ways.

Here’s an example of what I came up with.

  • During fall semester, I had trouble getting work started. Once I was actually in the flow of things, I could stay concentrated for a while, but a mix of YouTube videos, distracting thoughts, and Facebook messages prevented me from ever getting started in the first place. Now that I am looking back on my semester, I can see a pattern of me sitting in my room with my laptop open, and my phone within reach whenever I had trouble getting work started. I had not noticed this recurring pattern before, as I never had the time to properly reflect on my habits during the term. However, this reflection leads me to my ‘After New Year’s- New Year’s Resolution #1’: Whenever I need to get things done, I will put my phone on silent, and in a drawer across the room so that it takes effort to retrieve it. I will turn off the WiFi on my laptop or keep a pad of paper beside my desk to write down all of the distracting thoughts that pop up in my mind so that I can deal with them later. This resolution should help me curb procrastination, and waste less time on simple tasks.
  • On the health side of things, I noticed that I always became unfocused at certain points of the day. Looking back at the semester, it seems like I may have simply not been drinking enough water in the gaps between my meals, even if I was at home. While dehydration seems so unassuming, it can really hurt your focus. Furthermore, I had no idea that I was letting myself become dehydrated until I really took the time to reflect on my hydration habits! So my ‘After New Year’s- New Year’s Resolution #2’ is to fill up a pitcher of water every evening so that I will have an EASY supply of water for the next day in my room, and to fill my water bottle completely in the morning, and at lunchtime each day, ensuring to drink it entirely between meals. This resolution should help me remain more focused, awake, and healthy!

I hope that my examples have given you some inspiration to do some reflection of your own. You can do as much, or as little reflection as you like, but 2-4 resolutions should suffice. So go forth, look back, and get ahead!

Photo courtesy of Zach Dischner under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.