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Study Tip: Dress Up Your Tools

"Why can I remember every lyric to my favorite childhood TV show's theme song, but I can't seem to remember where to put the apostrophe in a possessive noun, or the correct order of operations in math?"

Memory can be frustrating because it seems we have little choice in what we remember unless we're willing to repeat repeat repeat until it's burned into our minds. But our brains also hold onto many random ideas and trivia that we know have no real importance in our lives. Educators, psychologists, and researchers agree that when you're interested in something, you're much more likely to achieve success with it. So, what do you do when you really can't get excited about the War of 1812, The Scarlet Letter, or the quadratic formula? The answer is surprisingly simple: trick your brain.

Your brain is as gullible as it is intelligent. If you can trick yourself into being interested by something that you would normally not care about, your brain is more likely to remember it. One of the easiest ways to trick your brain into being interested is to create positive feelings and experiences around the subject or task you don't like. Here's one easy (and fun) way to get your brain invested:

1.) Decide what subject/skill you want to improve.

2.) Get a notebook or journal with a blank cover. (My favorite are these composition notebooks from Staples because the completely blank cover and non-glossy texture makes them really easy to work with.)

3.) Gather your favorite art supplies. You can use crayons, pencils, markers, paint, stickers, washi tape, duct tape, scissors, glue sticks, colorful paper, photos, magazine cut-outs -- anything that will stick to the cover, and lays flat.

4.) Decorate to your heart's desire! Make sure that your final design is something that brings you joy, even if it has nothing to do with what's on this inside. You can make a math journal covered in quotes from your favorite authors, or a history journal covered in pictures of your favorite animals. If you need some inspiration, check out these great ideas from The Spruce Crafts.

5.) On the first page of the journal, or on the inside cover, write down a goal or two that you hope to accomplish by using the journal. Try to create a goal that has a measurable outcome. For example, instead of writing "build my vocabulary", you might write "learn one new word every day". Instead of "boost my math skills", you might write "get an A in Pre-Calc".

"But Janice, why not just buy a notebook that already has a cool design showing my favorite character or colors/patterns I like?"

Well, you can do that, and the journal will still give you visual joy when you pick it up. However, the extra time and effort you spend to decorate it will give your brain more positive experiences to associate with the journal, making it all the more precious to you. I have piles of empty journals with beautiful covers, but every journal I've decorated myself is well-used, and the information well-retained.

Have you tried this trick? Leave me a comment below, and tell me how it worked out for you!

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