Empirically Informed Life Project
I consider one of my personal strengths is that I am very hard-working. This means that I am very driven and conscientious. If I am given an assignment or a reading, I always do the assignment or read the given material. However, this does not mean that I necessarily remember everything perfectly that I studied. I tend to be able to study more efficiently toward the evening than in the morning. Normally I am very groggy in the mornings but very alert at night, so I tend to study and do homework at night.
Through this project, I attempted to improve two areas of my life. First, I sought to better actively process my academic material. Instead of just mindlessly going through the motions of my readings and assignments, I wanted to be able to genuinely understand and remember what I was learning. My second goal was to improve my physical health and, therefore, feel better about myself. Since arriving at USC in August, I hadn't worked out at all. My goal wasn't to become a fitness guru, but rather to simply create a comfortable attitude toward working out so that I could slowly improve my physical health and mood (https://teamup.com/ksz5uo3hp8skkhh398).
My initial failure to retrieve material that I've previous studied is most likely due to absentmindedness (Gazzaniga, Heatherton, Halpern, 2016). Absentmindness is one of Daniel Schacter's (1999) seven sins of memory and is a type of forgetfulness due inattention. This lack of attention leads to shallow encoding of the information being studied. When the memory isn't deeply encoded, it is harder or even impossible to retrieve. This would explain why sometimes when I study and don't pay attention to the meaning of what I'm reading, I have difficulty remembering what I studied.
In order to improve my academic goal of remembering the material of my readings, I am going to implement the practice of summarization. Summarization involves creating a synopsis of crucial information that omits inconsequential information after studying a large amount of material (A.L. Brown, Campione, & Day, 1981). Bretzing and Kulhavy (1979) used high school students as participants in a study on summarization. There were five different groups of participants, and each group was given a different learning condition to implement while studying for the exam. The participants were then tested on the material they were asked to study directly after reading as well as a week later. A particular learning condition ordered participants to write three lines of text after reading the given material. The three lines of text were meant to represent the most important elements of the reading. The findings from this study concluded that students who summarized after reading performed better on both exams than students who didn't summarize at all.
I scheduled to do half an hour of summarization after I studied or did a session with a tutor. Typically, I scheduled these activities in the late afternoon or evening because I am more alert and attentive around those times. My goal was to spend thirty minutes, after I finished studying, filling a page with handwritten notes of the most fundamental information of whatever I had just studied. This would be how I practiced summarization. In the summarization study conducted by Bretzing and Kulhavy, participants only wrote three lines for their summarizations. However, I considered that I was studying a greater amount of material than the experiment's participants, so I allowed myself more capacity to summarize.
For my personal improvement goal, I decided to use exercise to not only improve my physical fitness, but also improve my mood and attitude toward exercise. Berger, Darby, Zhang, Owen, and Tobar (2016) conducted a study on whether or not exercise enhanced mood and if so how much exercise is enough to enhance it. The participants in this study were college students. The students recorded their heart rates and dispositions prior to exercising. Moods were measured using the Profile of Mood States (POMS). This was done before and after exercise to compare the moods before and after. The study found that a minimum of fifteen minutes of exercise can ameliorate the mood of the student exercising.
One of the reasons exercise enhances mood may be due to the fact that it is an activity that can create flow (Gazzaniga et al., 2016). Flow is an experience that occurs when an activity is so pleasant and captivating that the person preforming the activity forgets about their surroundings. It also causes the person to lose track of time. Flow is a way for the conscious to escape from the outside world. Exercise is also a form of arousal that would in turn create alertness.
My plan was to exercise for two hours for two days out of my week. I strategically placed these time intervals in the morning because I typically feel very dazed and inattentive in the mornings. I am also usually in a bad mood in the mornings. My intent for the timing of my workouts was to force me to wake up and be more alert. I also aimed to be more pleasant in the mornings due to enhanced mood.
I was very successful in implementing my activities. The amount of time I allowed myself for summarization was a perfect amount of time. This is because it was long enough to let me properly think about what I had just learned, but also brief enough to force me to only include the important aspects. However, the time I allotted for working out seemed too long. Since I hadn't worked out in so long, two hours was a very long and exhausting amount of time to work out. To fill the time, I included a very warm up and cool off and stretching into this two hours.
Overall, I think both my academic activity and personal improvement activity helped me achieve my goals. The academic activity was very beneficial for subjects that required memorization and understanding of concepts. For example, when I used summarization after studying Marketing, Psychology, and Microeconomics, I felt that it genuinely helped my understanding of the material and provided me with a sheet of notes that I could use for studying later. However, I didn't think it helped with my Statistics class because it is formula based and there aren't many concepts you can summarize. Instead, repetitively doing practice problems is a more effective way of studying for statistics. As for my personal improvement activity, exercising really enhanced my mood. During the actual workouts, I felt awful and exhausted. Nevertheless, I felt amazing afterwards. I think that the reason I felt so great was because I was proud of myself for doing something that is good for me and my body. In addition, I felt very alert after my workouts. After my second workout, I went on a walk with my friend. This typically never something I would do in the morning because I don't typically like physical activity or being around other people in the morning.
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