Mental Growth

Why is studying so hard?? Thoughts on willpower and brainpower

Written by Moritz Schröder

Once again, it’s exam period. Once again, students are trying to cram all the semester’s workload into just a few days. And once again they hate their brains for not remembering the knowledge as fast and easily as they wish.
In my opinion, two variables determine how effectively we study: willpower and brainpower. The first one you need to overcome your laziness, turn off the computer, sit down on your ass and actually study. The second one is needed to process the information, put it into context and remember it.
So far, this is all common sense. The question is though if it is possible to influence those variables in your favour, thereby improving your studying abilities by increasing the time span and intensity that you can concentrate. Luckily, it is :-)


One of the most interesting concepts that I learned about during my master in Behavioral Economics is the concept of Ego depletion. It was first described by Roy Baumeister, a professor of psychology who formulated the idea that willpower essentially works like a muscle. If we use it a lot, we eventually get tired. And when our ‘willpower reserves’ are empty, we are much more likely to give in to temptations that we usually would have avoided.
In the experiment he conducted, he showed that people who initially resisted the temptation of chocolates were subsequently less able to persist on a difficult and frustrating puzzle task. This is due to the fact that their willpower had been depleted.

So when we study for a while, we flex our willpower muscle and eventually get tired. This is why we then get distracted by facebook, our neighbor or even the birds outside the window. We simply run out of willpower to focus. Interestingly enough though, willpower works exactly like a muscle, which means that it can be trained! The more we push our limits, the more often we don’t give in to the first available temptation, the longer we will be able to focus in the future. And given time, we are able to massively increase our willpower this way.


I do believe that some people are born with more brainpower than others, which gives them the ability to process information faster. This is what commonly is referred to as ‘being intelligent’. But I also believe that brainpower can be trained and that the effort that is put into that makes a much bigger difference than initial talent. Our brain has to be fucking trained! It has to be challenged, it has to be stressed, it has to be everything done to get it to engage! Otherwise it will slowly, but constantly deteriorate, eventually turning us into narrow-minded retards.
Now I know that that sounds very drastic and far-fetched. But honestly, have a look at how we spend a lot of our free time nowadays: we are either partying and drinking or being online, surfing on facebook, posting pictures of funny cats on 9gag, and reading tweets (stupid people posting their opinion about irrelevant things in 140 characters or less). Do we honestly think we can keep living like that for the next 20 years and not turn into retards?? We do, because we feel smart now. But the only reason for that is that we are still young and, apart from bad spare time choices, are still constantly challenged by our studies. As soon as we get a repetitive 9 till 5 job, settle down and do the same things over and over again, our brain will go into stand-by mode.

That’s why we have to learn to get our brain to engage now! It’s exhausting, it’s stressful and it’s very difficult to do if you are not forced to (after all, that’s the reason why we do all our studying right before the exam and don’t manage to spread it out over the semester like we know we should). But you have to find these little extra tasks that will keep your brain sharp, otherwise our mind-numbing lifestyle will eventually take its toll.
I myself know that I don’t have the best hobbies to encourage brain activity. I am constantly on facebook, I love watching retarded youtube videos and I am probably partying more than most other people. But I also try to read at least half an hour every day to broaden my horizon. I furthermore challenge myself by trying to improve my Swedish, reading, talking and writing as much as possible.

And lastly I write this blog, which is actually a great way to train both willpower and brainpower. Right now it is after 1 am and I have been writing on this for more than two hours, even though I just came back from the gym at 10.30, am freaking tired and just want to go to bed. But it was something that had to be done, so I forced myself to mobilize the willpower to finish it. It also helps me to collect my thoughts, get them organized and be able to formulate them in a trenchant way, thus building brainpower.

It’s these little things that, if executed consistently, over time make the difference.

Published in Mental Growth

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