Tag Archives: learning

15 Ways to Have a Better Semester

stacks of binders with papers

Organize All the Things!

“There’s a word for students who go to class: Graduates.”

I’m a horrible student. I barely go to class, I drop and withdraw, I judge teachers by going on ratemyprofessors.com, and sometimes I never open the books, let alone read and take notes.

But I love learning. I love education. And when I go, I am the best student. I love notebooks. I love the excitement of the first day, and seeing how the class will unfold. When I apply myself.

But I don’t particularly like college.¬†At least the way it’s currently set up. Memorization, the tiny percentage of great teachers, required classes, forced minors, lousy advisors, unorganized registrar, and the senseless work — all these things are not what education make.

With that said, getting a degree is an important, sometimes critical step, to getting a better job. Most degrees lead to higher-pay, better conditions, and a meaningful career. If anything, the process of receiving the degree should leave you to look differently at the world.

So I’m determined, despite all odds that shoot up against me every semester, to have a better semester. To be a better, more proactive student. To increase my GPA. To actually begin summer feeling like I’ve learned something. I was a great student in high school not TOO long ago, and I want to make my family proud — and myself. I CAN do this.

So here’s my list of ways that I’m going to try in order to have a better semester. Past students and current, feel free to add your ideas as well. Hopefully we’ll all learn something.

  1. GO TO CLASS. Yes, studies have shown that those who attend class get better grades. Who would have thought? Sometimes, life gives us curve balls, and it’s hard to get everything done. My tip is to pretend like you’re waking up for your job — you wouldn’t just not go to work, so bring that attitude to attending every class.
  2. Organize your assignments for the semester during the first week of school. The first week of school is really just time to get the syllabi from your teachers, and plenty of students add/drop. Most let you out earlier than the scheduled time. So take this extra time to write in your planner (YOU HAVE ONE, RIGHT?) all of the assignments on their due dates that appear on each class syllabus. Write, in a different color (like red), if you have it, your important exams, paper due dates, and presentations. Also write it on the day a week before it’s due, to remind yourself that you should start that assignment so you don’t forget.
  3. Track what you do each day to the 1/2 hour or hour, and block out: time worked, class times, and time sleeping. See how you spend your time and make a conscious effort to block time for studying. I strongly encourage you spend your breaks wisely. For example, I have a 2 hour break this semester, so I know that is plenty of time to get homework done.
  4. Go to a quiet place on campus like the library (we have a quiet floor) to study and read/take notes/do your assignments so you don’t have to go home and risk being distracted.
  5. Write realistic goals for what grades you want to achieve, and calculate your ideal semester GPA. If you don’t know how, I will show you down below.
  6. Utilize the campus writing center, learning center/tutors, and counseling centers, seriously! They are free and valuable resources to help you write papers, edit, learn useful studying tips, and have a safe place to vent.
  7. Look at the university calendar and also write down those important dates like last day to drop, advising/registration for next semester, etc. so you’re well aware.
  8. Print out a degree evaluation so you know what classes you need to take still. Most advisors in my experience do little to help you, so make sure you are taking the right classes so you graduate sooner rather than later.
  9. Seriously invest in eating better and exercising. Spend 30 minutes walking around campus briskly, or use the gym – most are free on campus — and use your meal plan to eat the salads and sandwiches at the cafeteria instead of the grill area. Don’t drink monster or soda — but on those days you need caffeine, try the Monster Absolute Zero (I swear by this stuff), Diet Coke or Coke Zero, or switch to Vitamin Water/plain water. A cheap way rather than relying on those vending machines is to carry around a refillable water bottle — it’s also eco-conscious! Bring snacks so you don’t have to turn for the candy machine: try easily portable ones like trail mix, protein bars, pretzels, or a banana.
  10. On exam days, eat brain food like blueberries, salmon, and a good breakfast so you’re alert, not hungry, and don’t forget to study.
  11. After class, immediately review your notes when you have free time (like when you’re waiting for the teacher in your next class). Quickly highlight or underline important pieces while re-reading them. Do this after every lecture.
  12. Every week, I like to re-write my notes. I do this for many reasons. First, I often doodle a lot and write messy, and my papers become a mess and sometimes unreadable. Second, because writing (and re-writing) helps you to remember things better. You also get the chance to reword sentences that you may have copied verbatim from listening to your professor, to a language you may understand. Also, it is another way of studying – you obviously have to read the words in order to write them over, so you are reading the material again and helping it to stick.
  13. I don’t like the weird ways some people claim help them take notes better, like splitting the page down in half, or whatever, but this is what I do: I write important words, phrases/formulas to remember, and anything I want to study further or need to research to clarify, in the margins and on top of the page. This is the same concept. For some courses, I like to write a summary of what I learned on the bottom of the last page in my own words. It helps when studying for a test.
  14. If you actually open the book, you’ll find a lot of great tools to help you study. Most have questions and vocab at the end of each chapter, and a chapter summary! This is gold. Read the chapter summary before a lecture where you know the professor will give you a quiz/make you discuss, and you’ll be more prepared, even if you didn’t read the entire chapter.
  15. Don’t be afraid to drop a class or reduce your work load. College is HARD. I can attest to that ūüôā Sometimes you cannot do it all. Sure, there are people with 4 kids and no husband around to help and they go to school full-time and have 2 jobs, and have a 3.5 GPA, but I’m not her. So don’t compare yourself to other people and feel like crap because you need to realize your personal limit and say, I can’t do all of this. I need to cut down. Because if you don’t, your grades WILL suffer. And your sleep will definitely suffer. And your sanity, well…that’s already gone.

Bonus: Calculate your Goal Semester GPA

It is important to set goals. So a good way of focusing on being a better student is to set a realistic, yet challenging and specific GPA goal for the semester.

  • Make a table with 5 columns.
  • In column 1, list your current courses.
  • In column 2, list a realistic yet challenging goal letter grade.
  • In column 3, list the credit hours (most are 3, but some can be 4 and intensive classes can be 6)
  • In column 4, for each class list the points equivalent to your letter grade goal.
    A=4.0      A-=3.7       B+=3.3      B = 3.0      B-=2.7
    C+=2.3       C=2.0       C-=1.7       D+=1.3      D=1.0      D-=0.7        F=0
  • In column 5,¬†multiply the number of credit hours by the points for each class. These are the quality points. Here’s an example:
    Biology |   B-    |   3 cr hrs |  2.7 pts  |  8.1 quality points
  • Underneath this table, add the number of credit hours.
  • Add the number of quality points.
  • Divide the total quality points by the total credit hours — that’s your projected GPA.
    example: credit hours: 15. quality points: 38.1.  38.1/15 = 2.54
    The projected GPA is 2.54

This formula works for calculating a close estimate of your end of semester GPA if you are good at tracking assignments and you have a good idea of the grade you think you’re going to get for each class. You can talk to your professor to ask how you’re doing and to ask for a grade estimate.

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Are You Happy? No? Then Change Something

are-you-happy-infographicvia

I found this awesome infograph and it inspired me to write a brief post. The graph asks, Are you happy? If no, then change something. If yes, then keep doing what you’re doing. If you’re not happy, but don’t want to be happy, you can also keep doing what you’ve been doing. I think this illustrates very clearly that you are responsible for your own happiness, and that change begins with an awareness of the need to do something about it.

You’re not going to wait around and become happy. You’ve got to put a little work into it, and deserve that happiness. So how to do this?

Step One: Change your Attitude.

Happiness is an emotion, just like the hundreds of other emotions we have the ability to feel and comprehend and put into thousands of words. Instead of thinking negative thoughts, think positive ones. Instead of being upset about something, think of something that you can be happy about. Even if it’s, “Well, I could be dying or dead.” Because some people are dying or dead. You still have an entire life to live, so don’t waste it.

Step Two: Realize that Change is Possible.

You’ve also got to seriously believe that you can change your life. It is YOUR life, and¬†although there are some things we cannot change (the economy, the climate), there are lots of things that you can change. This is called your locus of control. What things inside your locus of control can you change? You, your relationships, your job, your education, your location, your inner thought processes, your behavior and your actions.

Step Three: Decide What Your Goals Are.

You cannot start on a road trip without knowing where to go, can you? Sure, you can just kind of jump in the car and go, but you’ve got to at least know where the highway is, which direction you feel like going in, and where your keys are (damn!). Write down what it is you’d like to change about your life (see If Your Life Sucks, Do Something About¬†It), and why. Then figure out how you’re going to do just that…

Step Four: Make Action Steps and DO IT

You can’t be WINNING if you’re not even trying. So once you figure out what your goals are, then you have to figure out exactly how you’re going to do it. This can take a bit of research, but it’s totally worth it, especially if you want to avoid wasting time (and probably money) through trial and error. These are action steps – your to-do list from here on out. But just writing it down isn’t enough, you have to do it. You can’t change your life without actually changing anything, duh. So don’t look stupid (even to yourself) by not following through. Don’t you care about your own life, and think you’re worthy of being kept a promise? Then don’t break your own promises to yourself.

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Why You Eat When You’re Sad

This is an extension of the post I did a few days ago called How to Stop Emotional Eating – For Good. Emotional eating can take many forms, but most people can probably agree that it is when you are sad that the cravings for cookies and ice cream start calling. I wanted to do a more in depth exploration of why this happens, and of course, ways to help overcome it.

Stress.

The number one reason we will eat is due to the stress that negative emotions cause us, especially sadness. Most times, stress goes hand in hand with depression and can either be a symptom or a factor in being sad. When we’re stressed, our bodies release the hormone cortisol, which creates cravings for unhealthy foods and stores these extra calories in the belly, the visceral fat region which is a danger zone for heart attacks. Some people also feel the need to soothe their oral fixation caused by anxiety or any other emotion, which can be soothed by the repetitive motion of picking up handfuls of food into the mouth.

So how to reduce stress? There’s plenty of techniques, but here’s just a few to get you started:

  • Meditation – it sounds corny, but it really does work. Search around for some meditation videos on YouTube like this one or this one, and lay down face up (or however you’re most comfortable) with arms down your side and preferably headphones on. Listen to the music, or the music with guided meditation (helps with imagery). A good meditation session will leave you less stressed and relaxed like you’ve just woken for a nap.
  • Nap – if the meditation isn’t your thing, then you can take an actual nap. It doesn’t quite solve anything, but it does help you to sleep on some hard decisions.
  • Deep breathing – breathe deeply through your nose for about 5 seconds, hold for just a sec, and slowly release through your mouth for about 5-10 seconds. Do this for a couple of minutes, especially at moments of high stress, and see how you feel.
  • Yoga – yoga is another thing that’s not for everyone, but if you like it, you’ll love it. You can also do some basic stretching (not yoga-y) while using the deep breathing technique to really reap the benefits. You can do a quick pose when you’re feeling stressed at the office, or you can do it every time you wake up (and do the Sun Salutation).

Numb or Distract Ourselves.

Going back to the pain/pleasure principles discussed in the¬†How to Stop Emotional Eating – For Good¬†article, people don’t like to feel pain and will instinctively find any way to stop pain and increase pleasure. This often includes distracting ourselves from difficult news or emotions. Food is a way to distract ourselves from the pain and to induce pleasure with the chemicals and sugars found in foods. The repetitive act of eating is soothing, as well as the sensations of food which cut off our thoughts.

Habits/Learned Associations, such as from Childhood.

Most moms can admit to using an ice cream cone as a pick-me-up for their children when they get a minor injury, such as falling off a bike. However, if used enough times, the child can learn to associate good feelings with food. Food is seen as the way to make the pain go away, or to stop crying. Maybe moms should start using carrots instead of cupcakes, and the world will be a better place ūüôā Ahh, but even though this may be an ingrained response from childhood, it is fairly simple to unlearn the association. One way is fear – imagine spiders and other gross things on your favorite junk food item or literally throw dirt on your junk food item before you’re about to eat it (a waste of food yes, but for an important point). Or as soon as you feel a craving for that specific treat, such as ice cream, pinch your wrist very hard. Soon you will learn to associate the junk food with pain.

As an example: One time I spent far too much time on Youtube watching gross videos about decaying animals, just for the curiosity of how flies and maggots play the role in the circle of life. I had also watched a fascinating time lapse of all kinds of fruit decaying and molding in a bowl. Unfortunately, the next day my sister gave me a cherry to eat, and I literally could not stomach the thought of eating that cherry. It disgusted me to look at the fruit and be reminded of that video. So it can be done. Next time I’ll try to find something about ice cream.

Ignoring the Larger Problem(s).

This is related to numbing/distraction, but usually the problem is far worse than normal thoughts throughout the day. Perhaps you have a dark secret that even yourself cannot bear to think about – do you have a sudden urge to eat potato chips or the like? Some people hide their disparity about their failing marriages or their cheating husbands by gorging on food at night because they can no longer cry about it, or the food helps them ignore the problem. This is when it is time to see a professional, to uproot these issues. Being raped or molested is another huge reason girls will overeat, as a way to provide a buffer so that they won’t be noticed by predators. Short of seeing a therapist, which is highly recommended (especially if you’re eating to cover up feelings about serious depression or suicidal/harmful thoughts), you can try these things:

  • Journal! Write it out, and tackle your feelings head on. Write a story about it, in third person if you must, and share it with someone. Chances are there are a lot of people who can relate, too. Sharing makes it easier to go through the experience.
  • Pick up a creative hobby to do instead of eating. Can’t write or talk about it? Try drawing or painting. You don’t have to be good at it, just do it for the therapy.
  • Try CBT therapy on your own. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a technique that many therapists are skilled in. You can try a simplified version by yourself, if you’d like: CBT’s goal is to find out the reasoning behind your behaviors and to try to alter your thinking patterns and inspire better behaviors. For example, your undesired behavior is that you eat too much, and your cognitive functioning is that you eat because you’re sad. Write out why you do this, and find the real problems. If you’re crying, or it feels hard, then you’ve found the real reasons. Once you’ve pin-pointed the thoughts that are making you do this behavior, then it’s time to find out how to change those thoughts and therefore your behavior. Whenever you think a negative thought, change it into a positive. Work on your self esteem. Change your surroundings so that you can change your problem. And then you can also consciously work on changing your behavior. The two are related, so you’ll start seeing improvement both ways. It’s usually a long, difficult and drawn out process – which is why professional help is recommended. I’ll write a post more about CBT later, however.
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How To Stop Emotional Eating – For Good

Eat Eat Eat Me... Hunger is a basic sensation that all creatures feel and respond to with the appropriate action: to eat. Hunger stems from the very basic idea of stimulus and response as well as the pain principle. The body realizes that there is a lack of nutrients caused by an empty stomach. The body then releases chemicals that inflicts an uncomfortable feeling of emptiness, weakness, and desire to eat (called appetite). The body searches for food to stop this discomfort. This then additionally becomes motivation Рa call to action.

So hunger is already very complicated, even in the state of nature. Operating on biology, chemistry, motivation, the pain principle, and the most basic behavioral psychology of stimulus and response. This is important to understand. For a more thorough explanation, click here.

The pain principle – we don’t like feeling pain. It is a natural self preservation tool used to survive in the state of nature. Hunger pangs, terrible contractions of discomfort which begin 12-24 hours after not eating, can be so painful that it is difficult to concentrate on anything else. Add to this state the decreased level of blood sugar and general feeling of lightheadedness and anxiety, and hunger can be almost unbearable. Most people living in developed countries rarely feel real hunger pangs because they are able to eat at normal intervals – every 3-4 hours or so. However, the biological response is still rampant, and once the first sign of discomfort hits, many people instinctively race to stop the pain.

Motivation – The most basic ideas of motivation stems from the pain and pleasure principles. There are two types of motivation – extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic is when we are motivated by external things, like a piece of cake, when then stirs a biological response. Intrinsic motivation is internal, and could be anything from a thought or a memory that triggers the same biological response. Motivation is the desire to act to accomplish a goal or fulfill a need, such as eating or sleeping

Behavioral psychology Рthe most basic theories of behavioral psychology stem from the stimulus and response theory. A stimulus is noticed, a response follows due to that stimulus. The stimulus could be anything Рa rabbit sees movement in the bushes, and flees to escape a preconceived notion of danger. the rabbit knew to flee because last time she saw movement in the bushes, a snake came out and lunged at her. The fear response kicked in from seeing the stimulus and caused her to flee. Now the rabbit knows that whenever she sees movement in the bushes, that she must run to avoid getting eaten. In humans this could transfer over to almost anything. The alarm clock makes an annoying buzzer sound, you shut it off and get out of bed. The commercial shows a delicious looking cheeseburger, you decide to buy from that restaurant that night.

What does this have to do with emotional eating? Everything.

When we eat, it is meant to fulfill a need. In nature, this need is strictly biological. We eat to stop the hunger pangs, and we eat to gain nutrition and to feel satiated. As a complex society, hunger means something completely different. We eat because we’re hungry, yes, but we eat for other reasons, too. We eat because we are bored. We eat because we are tired. Angry. Frustrated. Stressed. Sad. Annoyed. Happy.

Eating just got so much more complicated. Eating is no longer just a necessity, it is a social function. Eating is everywhere, at funerals, weddings, work meetings, movie theatres, and eating is shared as a community. Eating is also done after buying or cooking the food, not after hunting or gathering for hours or days. Eating is an easy task, and we don’t even have to cook at all to eat – we just pay other people to. Eating is done on purpose, and it is done as a social obligation. It is also done absentmindedly, when one is not paying full attention.

How do we stop emotional eating for good? We start paying attention.

  • Next time you eat, take note of the time and how you felt right before eating. Note how hungry you felt (on a scale of 1-5) and your mood.
  • Then write down exactly what you ate, including portion sizes and beverages. Note the time when you are finished.

Do this for a day, or a few days, to get a better view, and then sit down in a quiet spot and take a good, hard look. Do you notice any patterns of eating when not particularly hungry (at a score of 1 or 2), or only waiting to eat until you are starving (5) and then eating a large amount in one sitting? How about your mood? Do you eat when you are happy, sad, or mad? How long does it take you to eat? If you are eating in less than 5 minutes, then you are waiting too long to eat, or you eat too fast and don’t feel satisfied because you don’t notice what you are eating. The general rule is that the body needs 20 minutes before it realizes that it is full.

  • If you are not eating when you are hungry, wait until you feel like you’re at a 3-4 before eating. Consciously force yourself to wait until you feel physically hungry. Don’t just eat because it is a certain time of the day (“lunch time”) or because that’s when you’re friends are eating.
  • If you are waiting until you are at a 4-5, find out why you wait until you’re starving until you eat. Do you have a pattern of eating large meals in-between longer periods of time? Do you, for one reason or another (which you should find out and write down), skip meals?

Steps to Stop Emotionally Eating

If you are eating when you are sad/depressed/angry, catch yourself the next time you realize what you are doing. Stop yourself in your tracks and ask yourself, are you really, physically hungry? Do you need to eat to gain fuel and nutrition, or do you feel sad and need to distract yourself with food?

Physically remove yourself from the eating area and go somewhere else where no food is allowed. Stay there for at least 20-30 minutes, if not more.

Bring something to do, such as a journal to write in, polish to paint your nails, or a favorite book to read. Keep a stash of things to do and keep them around you so that whenever the feeling strikes you, you can distract yourself.

Do this every single time you find yourself eating when in a depressed state. Soon the process will become automatic, and you will disengage the link of [sad + food] to [sad + something else]. 

A lot of people have found that writing is the most helpful, so that they can write out their feelings and get it off their chests and away from their minds. But you can pick anything that is not food and that is ideally creative and constructive, not destructive. Find something that you genuinely love to do and find yourself getting lost in.

List of things to Do Instead of Eating

  • write a poem
  • write a short story
  • draw a picture of yourself
  • draw a picture of your pet
  • make a list of things you love about yourself
  • make a list of your goals and how you’re going to reach them
  • watch your favorite movie
  • watch a new movie
  • play a video game
  • find an online game to play
  • write a letter (real or online) to a friend
  • call a friend
  • go to the movies and skip the snack line
  • go to the mall and just walk around the area, avoiding the food court
  • go to a new park and walk around or enjoy the view
  • go to the beach and read in the sun
  • go play tennis
  • go read a book
  • write a book
  • paint a picture
  • go through your closet and organize your clothes
  • clean your entire room
  • listen to music really loud and dance in your room
  • talk a walk around the block with your dog or a friend/family member
  • start a blog or website
  • talk to people on forums
  • play with your pet
  • use stumbleupon to find interesting new sites
  • go through your photos and re-organize them or make a scrapbook
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How Positive Psychology Can Help Improve Your Life

Most psychology topics deal with dysfunction or mental illness, and it can take a toll on how we feel about the state of human life and question the intentions of people. However, the burgeoning field of positive psychology explores what makes life worth living, which can be a radical inspiration in the midst of  this crazy/beautiful life.

There are many things that the science of positive psychology has taught the world since its introduction just over a decade ago, such as that most people are happy and resilient and that strong relationships are critical to one’s sense of happiness, but perhaps the most significant one is that the good life can be taught. It is not by fate or genetics that people become happy. Happiness and feeling satisfied in one’s life truly is a journey that must be discovered through trial and error, of break ups and make ups, of reading and learning and experiencing all that life has to offer. So how can this scientific breakthrough help your life?

Don’t be afraid to take risks and experiment. Grow out of your comfort zone and do something a little bit crazy. Explore a new city or town, meet a new friend, try a new dish. Take a class you would never have thought to take, read a book in a genre you thought you’d hate. Try a new exercise, a new fruit, make a recipe from scratch. Bake vegan brownies. Browse around Wikipedia and learn something new. Discover new heroes and inspirational figures. Watch the sunrise, watch the sunset. Learn a new sport, learn a new language. Try a new hobby. Try painting. The ideas are endless.

Keep your mind flexible by always reading and learning something new. Read a new blog article per day (such as this one) or a new chapter in an inspiring book. And keep your heart full by nourishing your relationships with your family, friends, and significant other. Give hugs and kisses, and talk on the phone and in person. Have deep, meaningful conversations.

Think about the positives, not the negatives. Whenever you catch yourself thinking a negative thought about yourself, catch it and re-write it in your mind so that it states something positive. Review an affirmation everyday and read your goals to keep your vision in your mind. Free write every morning in a journal and get out all of that negative thought garbage out of your head and literally rip up the page and throw it away. On a new page, write 10 things you love about yourself and 10 things you could do today to work towards your goals on improving yourself.

Think of your goals in a positive light, not negative one by stating that you wish to achieve financial abundance, not to get out of debt. Work out everyday to become a healthy, thin person instead of losing weight. Say that you want to only put healthy things in your mouth, don’t say that you want to stop eating junk food or drinking alcohol. Think of what to replace in your life, not what to get rid of, which usually has a negative connotation. Think back to operant conditioning, where the positive reinforcement system is better than a negative punishment. Think of giving yourself positive things in your life to increase good behaviors, rather than thinking of always adding punishment or decreasing good things to decrease bad behaviors. Not only will this way of thinking help you think of life as more satisfying and positive, but it also tells you more clearly what kind of life you are after, and not what you are not after.

Inspired by Psychology Today’s What is positive psychology and what is it not?

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Keep Your Mind Sharp During the Summer (For College Students)

DSC_4657Summer is usually a time to take a much needed 2 1/2 – 3 month vacation from the rigors of college life. But what happens ends up being is ample time to kill off some brain cells and forget the concepts we spent all semester studying. By all means, go and have some fun, but it couldn’t hurt to throw in some educational stuff in there, too.

Go for a walk. Or a run. 

It is scientifically proven that exercise not only feels good, and makes you healthier, but it also keeps your mind sharp. A healthy cardiovascular system means that your brain gets enough blood pumping, which helps you to remember and focus better. If you go a step further and walk or run for a cause or competition (or both, which is fun), then you get to experience the unforgettable joy and pride of helping other people. Want bonus points? Search for the articles that back up how awesome exercise is for your body. Biology majors and anatomy/physiology types will love this.

Go to a Museum

This is a pretty fun way to spend a day with someone special and have a nice outing, plus you’ll forget you’re actually learning. It’s different and if you have to go in a new city to go to one, then you get to make a day out of it, too. There are many museums for art, history, culture, and pretty much anything you might be interested in. Some of the smaller ones are free, and others only require a donation — or you can pick up free passes at your library. Another perk is the AC! Don’t know where to go? Just do a quick Google search for museums in your area.

Go to an Aquarium or Zoo

Like museums, aquariums are a great way to spend a day with one or two good friends or a date, and they are actually pretty fun and interesting. Plus, who doesn’t love sea animals? Some aquariums will offer special things like “feed the sea lions” or an Imax movie about dolphins and sharks. Zoos offer similar perks, but it’s also fun because there are many exhibits and different animals to see. Going to the zoo is a great place to have a picnic (and it’s cheaper than buying food there).

Watch a movie in a foreign language 

Subtitles are allowed, of course, so you know what’s going on, but you’re brain is able to get a workout while watching a movie. By both reading the subtitles, and listening to words in a new language, you’re working out your brain double time. There are a ton of great foreign films just waiting for you to explore them — so don’t be scared to branch out of your comfort zone. If you’re into a second language or if your major is Spanish or Chinese, then you can turn the subtitles off ¬†(or don’t look down) and try to see if you recognize what they’re saying. You will learn language faster if you immerse yourself in the language and hear other people speaking it properly.

Learn online – for free!

There are a ton of websites available to help you in your research, but why save them for school? There’s educational websites for every type of major and interest, and you may even get a head start in some of your school courses if you learn some great concepts during your own time and pace. So next time you’re bored online, why not do something relatively productive? Here’s a brief list, Google for more:

There’s obviously many more, but this list is just to get you started.

Write in a Journal

Writing helps you to process information and decompress from the day. It is a repetitive, soothing activity and usually done during quiet times or with soft music. You can drink a cup of coffee or tea, and write without fear of deadlines or editing. It is also a great way to form to-do lists and goals, and to reflect on your innermost thoughts and behavior. And the more you write, the better you will be, and the easier it will be to think of ideas for future papers. Even just 10 minutes a day will help.

Read, and Read Some More

Reading is obviously the best way to keep your mind sharp during the summer, but I’m not really talking about the steamy romance novel you read at the beach. Sometimes it is good to read an intellectually stimulating book. For one, you learn something new, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. Biographies are very entertaining if you choose the right author (and a person who influences or inspires you), and you can learn a lot about their success or life lessons. Fiction can also teach you great words, and how to evoke emotions with the words you choose. Expand your vocabulary and you’ll always get good grades on your papers. Stuck in a literary rut? Try something completely new and out of your element. You’ll diversify your writing and vocab, and you might find that you love Shakespeare, just not in a school setting. You can even read the classics for free if you download a Kindle app on your mobile device or PC.

This is just a short list of ideas, and most of them are free or cheap. Anyone else got any more ideas they’d like to share?

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If Your Life Sucks, Do Something About It

SadYou know when you get in one of those moods, and you start to feel pretty frustrated with your life? Maybe even depressed? I was feeling it a couple of nights ago, and fueling the fire with more and more pitying thoughts. After a while, I started to get sick of it. I forced myself to stop the lonely pity party and do something about my problems. I’ll make it easy and even provide some suggestions so that the next time you’re feeling this way, you’ll be able to stop yourself and attack it at the source.

The only way to get yourself to stop feeling like your life sucks is to be proactive about your problems and find solutions.

The “Do Something About It” Template
you can use this template to really think about your goals. What part of your life can you not stand the most? Which area is the most pressing? Your health? Your job? Your wife or husband? It’s time to align your life with your priorities. It starts with defining exactly what it is that upsets you or stresses you out the most, and then finding a model (ie: a person to look up to) so you know what it should look like. I strongly recommend that you write this down; fill in the blanks on a piece of paper or online journal:

  • Something you dislike about yourself: ¬†___ (choose one each time for simplicity)
  • On a scale of 1-10 (10=most), how much do you dislike this? ___
  • Why does this part about your life suck?
  • How did you end up in your current situation?
  • Whose life (or facet of life) do you look up to or wish to be?
  • How do you think you can emulate this person’s life so you can improve your own?
  • What tools or resources will you need to have? What will you have to learn or buy?
  • Define your goal for this change: ___
  • Now make steps for working towards this goal, of changing what you dislike about your life.
  • What can you do this year? This month? Today?

Examples to get you thinking and on the path to change.
Here are some ideas of common life suckers and how to change them. I can’t give all the answers, and I wouldn’t know them anyways (since there are many paths to the right choice), so I’m going to lay out all the options I thought of for each of the scenarios and it’s up to you to put them to the test and see which change will work.

  • You hate your job. Start by finding out what it is that you hate: your boss, your coworkers, the industry you’re in. You may have to switch departments, location, or even find a new career that you love. The first two reasons will mostly consist of finding out how to do those things, and interviewing at a new branch. You may want to brush up on job interview skills and update your resume. If you choose the last option, your goals will also include perhaps going to community college or new training. Research what you want to do and see what schools will allow you to get a job with a degree or certification. What brings you the most joy?
  • You don’t like something about yourself – clothes, weight, hair. Physical appearances are relatively simple to change. If you don’t like your clothes, find out why and start learning about how to have style. Buy a fashion/style magazines (girls, go to Allure or Glamour; men, try GQ) and go online for ideas. Try some retail therapy. Depending on your budget, go to stores like Macy’s Kohl’s, etc. You don’t even have to spend a lot of money: try thrift stores, Savers, Goodwill. Or, swap clothes with friends and ask them for advice. If you dislike your hair, do the same thing, but look at hair magazines and consider a totally new change like cutting your very long hair or straightening your curly hair. A good color change and hair cut will do wonders for self esteem. Weight is a different animal. This requires learning new nutrition and fitness information and implementing better habits daily. Start exercising every morning and eat more vegetables to start. Read a fitness-minded magazine like Fitness or Shape and go online to find a good exercise equipment, video, or gym membership plan. Make sure you also tackle the bigger issues here – emotional eating, large portions, or even depression. Seek professional help when necessary, even if it’s just one session with a personal trainer.
  • You hate where you live – your room, your apartment, maybe even your state. Make sure you define clearly what it is you dislike before doing anything drastic. What bothers you the most about where you live, and what answer do you think will make you happier? Look around for different apartments in the area and find a better floor plan, more space, less money. Tackle roommate issues head on, even if it means you moving out. If it’s your area bothering you, start exploring new cities around you or in a different corner of the state. This could be hard if you live in a large state. Ask around in forums or craigslist for information on other cities and towns in your state for better living areas. If you dislike your state, find out why (the snow, the harsh summers?) and choose states to visit first that don’t have what you dislike. If you hate snow, consider moving south or west where the snow barely hits. If you hate summer, move up north. If you like all the seasons, go towards the northeast. Search online for places to visit and that would interest you – make lists of the perks they would offer – excellent schools? low crime rates? cheap rent? nicer people? no hills? culture-rich city? quiet rural area? commuter friendly? Consider what is important for you. Visit places first and if you like a place, look for jobs and apartments/houses to move there. Make sure you consider all risks and costs involved with this step, especially the further away you move. Make sure it is something you really want.
  • You don’t have many friends, or the ones you do have suck. Look in the mirror first. Are you a bad friend too? Consider working on your weaknesses like being bossy or avoiding calls to hang out first. Then consider what bothers you about your friends. Are they sketchy? Do you feel like you’re being used? Do they never call but hang out with their other friends? Do they lie? Are some of them downright abusive or manipulative? Get rid of toxic friends first. This is an awkward situation, so end it as clean as you can. Be straightforward and end all ties that are holding you down or making you feel awful. If you’re feeling lonely, find out if depression isn’t making you avoid your friends and/or interests. Then force yourself out of your comfort zone and find ways to make new friends — at parties, clubs/bars, libraries, gyms, school, the bus station, the park. Be friendly and don’t be afraid to ask people for their number or email address. Make plans to hang out with people and have fun with new activities. Pretty soon you will introduce him/her to your own circle of friends (and your new friend will introduce you to his/her’s) and your friendships will expand, giving you more opportunities to meet new people.
  • You feel like crap, and you want to eat and live more healthfully. This usually goes hand-in-hand with being overweight. Figure out what your bad habits are and why you do these things. Make an active effort to learn more about healthy eating (magazines, library books, youtube) and start buying more fruits and vegetables. Start small and replace unhealthy versions with better ones that offer more nutritional value and lower calories. And if you eat out a lot, learn to cook a few healthy staples — you will lose weight, eat more vitamins, and save money, too.
  • Your life is a bore, and waking up feels like a chore. If you have the following symptoms: lack of appetite or increase, insomnia or sleeping too much, not interested in things you used to love, isolating yourself from friends and family, feeling down, sad, or irritable, and thinking about suicide or death, you may have depression. If this has been going on consistently for more than 2 months, please make an appointment to see a therapist. It may be hard to take that first step, but it is worth it. Depression may underlie many of the symptoms listed here as hating your life, and may manifest itself into eating too much (or not at all), avoiding friends, hating your job, or not feeling pretty or worthy of affection. If you feel like your life is never good enough, and it is a struggle to do even simple everyday tasks like take a shower, eat, or get out of the bed, then you need to seek help immediately. Search for a psychologist in your area A.S.A.P.
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