Monthly Archives: February 2010

The Recipe for Student Success – Ingredient Four : A Curious Mind

“Cogito Ergo Sum” – “I think, therefore I am”. – Rene Descartes

When it came to naming this ingredient, I considered calling it a ‘Great Mind’. But I thought that would imply that one needed to achieve or find ‘great’ things that rocked the world in order to be successful, when the truth is, success can mean so many things including, in my opinion, that you don’t necessarily have to make an amazing realization or discovery in order to be successful. Also, I realized that ‘great’ in a way means ‘better than someone else’. I am a firm believer that you do not need to trample or compete with others in order to be successful. And then the perfect term hit me. A Curious Mind.

A Curious Mind is unique. It’s not a passive thing that happens in your brain, neither are you born with one, you have to actively desire it and train yourself in order to obtain one. A Curious Mind is:

1. Hungry. A Curious Mind always wants more. It never gets tired of being fed, and will take a starter, snack, main and dessert when it comes to learning. It loves to discover, especially things it has never considered before. It lives on the edge of what it knows and what it can do, and endeavours to push itself even further.

2. Open. A Curious Mind is always open to new ideas and ways of seeing things. Sure, it can have opinions, but it allows others to have theirs, and will always try to see things from their point of view.  A Curious Mind considers many possibilities before deciding which path to follow. It is open to changing attitudes and doesn’t let others dictate what it believes.

3. Balanced. A Curious Mind tries to keep a balance between all of the things that concern it. It will have interests, and can focus on those, but will not neglect other important things either. It is calm, yet sharp. It thinks before it leaps. It’s decisive yet it considers other options. It is can make rational and logical decisions, but it can also be passionate and creative.

How to Cultivate a Curious Mind

1. Read. The single most important thing you can do to cultivate a Curious Mind is to read. Not only books, but also blogs, websites, Wikipedia, ebooks, magazines, newspapers and textbooks. In fact, reading is so important, here are three further tips to help:

  • Diversify. Try reading things outside of your comfort zone to expand your general knowledge. Can you imagine not having tried chocolate before? You would be missing out! There is so much knowledge out there, it doesn’t make sense to only stay in one area. Who knows, you may end up finding something new and fascinating.
  • Focus. Having said that, it might also be good to have a subject that you concentrate a bigger proportion of reading time to. If you spend between 30-45 minutes a day reading, that equates to about one book a week, which can make you an expert in a subject in a year. If it sounds too much to you, even two or three years isn’t that long if it means being a pro at something. Sometimes it helps to have a solid foundation of knowledge as well as a good general knowledge, otherwise you might end with too many half-eaten cakes. (Ok, obviously I am very hungry right now).
  • Write it down. As much as I don’t like to admit it, we tend to forget most of the things we read. Keeping a reading notebook can really help you retain some of the information you invested those hours into. It doesn’t have to be entire chapter summaries, sometimes a few quotes or lines that you liked will suffice to remind you of a fact that surprised you, or an interesting plotline or a character you liked.

The same rules also applies to listening to podcasts. Podcasts and audiobooks are fantastic ways for you to ‘read’  and gain knowledge if you feel you don’t have too much time to physically sit down with a book often enough.

2. Meet people. Try to meet new people who are different from you, make friends with them and ask them about their background, opinions and ideas. Don’t be too nosey if they feel uncomfortable, but most of the time people are more than happy to talk, chat and debate. Don’t ignore cultural differences, use them to your advantage to open up your mind to new ways of thinking.  A lot of the things we believe in are because of the way we were raised, our society or our early education. We were conditioned to think that way, so we hadn’t had the chance to make up our own minds, until now. Experiences like this can turn things you were so sure about upside down, and that’s a good thing.

3. Meditate. Sometimes, our minds get slowed down from jumping from thought to thought constantly. You can get a more balanced mind by clearing up some of the clutter. There are lot’s of different types of meditation, but contrary to popular belief, it isn’t about pushing all thoughts out of your head. Instead, it is about becoming aware and acknowledging when your mind has wondered off and bringing it back to the centre. With practice, meditation can help you control your mind to be calmer, more stable and less easily distracted.

4. Sleep. In a way, your mind is like your body, you have to wake it up in the morning, feed it and let it grow. But you also have to let it rest. Olympic athletes have the healthiest bodies in the world, but even they don’t spend all their time training. They have to let their bodies recover and rest often, and your mind works in a similar way. Sleeping and napping can help you feel energized, and make your mind more receptive. Sleep can also greatly help with retention and recall.

Fairly obviously, we are here at university as students to grow our minds. However, there are two ways of going about it, one is passively letting knowledge seep into our minds, with only what people decide to tell us making up what we know and think. Or, we can seek to develop a Curious Mind, one that pro-actively seeks to find things that build discipline, character and imagination.

I’d love to hear what you think, do you consider a Curious Mind important to success? Let me know in the comments!

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The Recipe for Student Success – Ingredient Three : Great Health

Whenever I fill in a form that asks for my occupation, the answer I always put is ‘student’. That’s because being a student is a full time job. Unlike a ‘real job’ where you do what you’re paid for within set hours, as a student from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed almost everything I do is somehow related somehow to university.

My job as a student comes with a job description. Part of my job as a student is to socialize, to make friends and connections with dorm-mates, course-mates and professors. Another requirement is being frugal, (depending on your financial circumstances) since most students don’t have piles of money under their beds. Finally, it is also my job as a student to do all of the assignments and reading and attend of lectures and so on. These requirements can create pitfalls that keep me from being as healthy as possible.

obstacles to great health

1. Drinking too much. For some reason, it has become a cultural rule that the best way to make friends is to have a drink with them. Personally, I am not opposed to this, and actually I think it’s a great way to bond with people. However, I do think there is a line between just a social ‘drink’ and a social ‘binge’. Of course, there are some special nights where it’s sometimes nice to drink ourselves silly, but most of the time is that really necessary? There was once a time when I would have gone past the line far enough that I would barely remember the entire night. Looking back at it now, not only was that extremely dangerous, as well as expensive, I probably would have had way more fun if I knew what I was doing and perhaps didn’t make such a moron of myself.

2. Giving into peer-pressure. Now, this may sound like something we were told not to do in high school, but unfortunately I still see it happening at college level. It may be disguised as a ‘suggestion’ or whatnot, but it is what it is. Sometimes when we’re trying to impress people, we do what they say against our better judgement. I’m all for the ‘try-everything-once’ mantra, but for me there are just a few things that are a little too risky, and I don’t think I’ll gain much ‘experience’ from trying them anyway.

3. Buying cheap food. I can’t speak for everyone here but I would say I fit into the usual ‘student’ financial bracket if there is such a thing. I’m not exactly loaded, but I’m not struggling either. There shouldn’t be much reason for me to skimp on food, even though it is tempting. The cheapest food, especially cheap meals, most of the time aren’t good for you. They are filled with additives and flavourings to make up for their lack of real taste and nutrition.

4. Not cooking at home. Every now and again there comes a time when you are absolutely swamped with work and you just don’t have time. Occasionally ordering a take-out is fine, but having three or four a week is bordering on lazy. Not cooking at home is a pitfall to good health because unless you’re ordering salads etc. it’s unlikely that what you get in a polystyrene box is good for you.

Most of these pitfalls can be helped. Almost all of these aren’t forced on you, you can choose the better alternative if you want to. All you need is a little willpower plus the want to be a healthier, more productive and happier person.

3 ways to great health

1. Get enough sleep. Getting enough sleep is crucial to your success as a student. Even a 20 minute nap will boost your concentration and therefore your understanding and retention levels. At night, try to calm your mind down before going to bed by doing some meditation or light stretches. Alternatively, drink a cup of camomile tea or listen to some soothing music. Make sure you’ve packed everything you needed for the next day so that you’re not tossing an turning at night in the vain hope you’ll remember to grab something in the morning. Try to go to bed at the same time every night, even if you only have an afternoon lecture the next day. By maintaining a routine, your body will be able to relax easier when it comes to bedtime and you’ll be able to sleep deeper and wake up feeling more refreshed.

2. Eat a minimalist diet. A minimalist diet doesn’t mean you don’t eat much. It means that instead of choosing processed ready meals or fatty takeaways, replace them with fresh and simple ingredients in a home-made dish. A lot of minimalist recipes only require a few minutes to prepare. Even the cooking process is quick and minimal, such as just steaming or quickly boiling, which means that it shouldn’t take you a lot of time to prepare even the most satisfying meals. A minimalist diet can also save you money, especially if you spend a few bucks each week on junk food. On top of that, it can help you boost your concentration and energy levels throughout the day.

3.  Plan exercise time and do it. Eating healthily is only half of the battle. The other half is exercising, and there’s no getting away from it. Student life means that your body can spend hours at a time sitting at a desk. If you don’t really do any exercise, don’t start out with something extreme like jogging everyday. Instead, just take a walk or do some stretches. Schedule time out to do exercise and actually do it. If you can’t find the time to fit it in, don’t give up. There are many exercises you can do even whilst at your desk. You don’t have to aim to have a model’s body or to be able to run a marathon. Just getting your heart pumped a little releases happy hormones which will lift your mood and make you more willing and able to learn.

Depending on your academic course, you could have it easy. You could have a few days off a week, long weekends and generous deadlines. Or you could be on the other end of the spectrum, the one with library marathons and late-night cramming. Either way (or if you’re somewhere in between) it’s easy for your mind to be full about your job as a student, instead of thinking about what you are apart from that.

Above the outer label, you are a human being, with a real body that hopes and dreams. But without your body, can you accomplish those dreams? You may not want to be a pro-star athlete, but essentially in order for you to achieve your best, your body needs to be at it’s best. Without it being at optimum levels, it becomes something that can hinder your potential. Think about any time when you didn’t get enough sleep, your body probably felt tired and you might have found it difficult to concentrate. Because you didn’t take care of it, your body stopped you from doing your best. Take good care of your body, and it will take care of you.

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The Real Meaning of Minimalism

Today I’ve written a guest post over at Rose’s blog, Simple Wings . Rose shares her journey toward simplicity and success as a striving minimalist and university student. If you like Minimal Student, I highly recommend you check out her blog.

 

Update: Just in case the link has expired, I’ve posted the article here (in any case please check out Simple Wings!)

 

As a facet of simplicity, minimalism is largely misunderstood and can be a wonderful way of inviting simplicity into your physical space. Today, Jessica of Minimal Student talks about her experiences of minimalism.

Minimalism

Minimalism. The word has so many ‘new-age’ connotations attached to it that when people outside what I like to call the ‘minimalism/simplicity sphere’ hear it they immediately think of somebody living in a hut in a forest without a phone, computer or television. Or they think of bare and boring houses with cheap furniture and everything hidden away.

I’ve found from what little experience I have that when I say ‘no thanks’ to buying more clothes or carrying more luggage on trips in front of people I tend to get puzzled looks.

‘But it’s so cheap! Why not buy it?’
‘Don’t you want to take that with you just in case?’
‘Don’t get rid of that! What if you need it one day?’

When people walk into my bedroom they’re a little shocked by the simple lack of stuff. My wardrobe is only half full, I don’t have papers all over my desk or knick-knacks on my bedside table. All I own is just my guitar, laptop, some clothes and a few books. Everything else, including my furniture and bike, is rented. Some would say that my room looks cold and impersonal . Actually, I think it’s the very opposite.

Minimalists only buy what is essential. This means that almost everything they DO have was subjected to intense scrutiny before purchase. Each item has to pass all of the questions: ‘Do I need it or do I just want it? How often will I use it? Is it worth it?’ With a little perspective and willpower, not very many items pass the minimalist tests.

So, you see, instead of being another ‘throw-away’ or ‘why not’ purchase, each item is actually carefully chosen by minimalists, to make sure that they have enough love and time to care for it. Believe it or not, for every item you own, you pay for it in some way, whether it is by the bigger house you rent to store it, or the time you spend cleaning, maintaining or fixing it. If you have fewer things, you have fewer costs. If you have fewer costs, you have more freedom.

It’s so simple and seems to obvious, and yet too many people clutter up their lives with unnecessary things. Think about the millions of home with basements, attics, lofts and sheds full of boxes, crates and tubs of things that they haven’t touched in years. If these people had a fire, most of that stuff wouldn’t be worth grabbing. If they wanted to move house, or start an adventure, the only way they could do it is by dropping everything that they don’t need and hit the road. If they don’t need something that much, then why not ditch it now?

I’m not saying that everyone should be ready to go backpacking in Australia tomorrow. What I’m saying is that minimalism allows a person to not be weighed down by all of the material things they own, or want to own. Instead of spending one’s life earning more money so that they can buy more stuff why not just buy what they need and use the money to help other people. Instead of working eight hours a day to pay for the second car or a larger house to store all their stuff, they could use that time to nurture meaningful relationships with their partners, getting closer with family or making life long friends. They can pursue their passions, broaden their horizons or just spend time sitting back, relaxing and enjoying life.

So, those people that thought minimalism is living away in a hut, they got it half right. Perhaps not the hut part, but definitely the part where you can get away from the stresses and expectations of life. Minimalism is about living life how you want, to the fullest, because, after all, the person with the most toys isn’t the winner, it’s the person who has the most fun with them that wins.

 

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The Recipe for Student Success – Ingredient Two : Perseverance

“By perseverance the snail reached the ark”.Charles Spurgeon

The second ingredient to student success is Perseverance. On the surface, perseverance and passion may seem alike.

Perhaps you’ve experienced it before. You quickly develop passion over something, a new hobby, project or interest, and you fervently try to find out as much as you can about it. You buy all of the equipment, the books, you watch videos and read how-to’s. And then you try doing the thing you are passionate about. And then, you find, you’re probably not that good at it. “That’s ok”, you tell yourself, “it’s because I’m a beginner”. So you keep trying… but you keep failing, or it doesn’t work out quite how you wanted it to. After a while, you can’t use the beginner excuse anymore, and so you conclude that you’re not good enough, or it wasn’t for you, so you give up. And then you move on.

The passion was long gone. But what would have happened if you had persevered? You never know, you may have been great at it. How many things have you started, had you not given up, you would have been brilliant at? You could have been amazing, fantastic even extraordinary.

You need passion to get you started. But after the passion has died down a little, and the voices of criticism start to creep in, that’s when you need perseverance to pull you through. When everyone, even yourself, is telling you to give up, to stop wasting time, as long as there is a tiny voice still inside you saying “I don’t want to, I’m onto something”, perseverance will drive you to your destination, if you let it.

I wish there was an easy five step method for making up some perseverance. But the truth is, there isn’t. The only thing that can help you during difficult times is simply sheer willpower. Just knowing that if you carry on, keep going and practising, that you’ll eventually get there. But, here are five great people that I would bet you’ve heard of. Each of them failed many times, but you know their names because their perseverance pushed them to greatness.

1. Michael Jordan missed more than 9000 shots in his career. He has lost almost 300 games and was trusted 26 times to take the game winning shot but missed. And yet he is considered to be one of the greatest basketball players of all time.

“Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it”. – Michael Jordan

2. Bill Gates invested his own money into his first business, a project called Traf-O-Data. The project flopped. After many trials and tribulations, Bill Gates when on to create, well you know, Microsoft.

“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure”. – Bill Gates

3. Thomas Edison made thousands of wrong attempts before he was able to create a working light bulb:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. – Thomas A. Edison

4. Abraham Lincoln failed in business many times in his life, as well as having lost nominations for political position half a dozen times. Not to mention the loss of his sweetheart at the age of 26 and suffering a nervous breakdown at 27.

“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other”. – Abraham Lincoln

5. J.K. Rowling was rejected by twelve publishing companies for Harry Potter, which went on to become the best known children’s (and adult’s) story in the world.

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default”. – J.K. Rowling

Some of the things you’re doing might be on the difficult side. Student life may be getting tough. You might not be doing so well, or you may be failing all over the place, but take it as an opportunity to learn from your mistakes, and don’t give up. Anything worth having is worth fighting for.

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Photo Credit : Tony Blay


The Recipe for Student Success – Ingredient One : Real Passion

The Recipe for Student Success – Ingredient One : Real Passion

 

“If there is no passion in your life, then have you really lived? Find your passion, whatever it may be. Become it, and let it become you and you will find great things happen for you, to you and because of you.” T. Alan Armstrong

There’s no denying that going to college can get pretty expensive, not only in money but also in time. Firstly, there is the initial debt that comes from paying for tuition and accommodation, and then there’s the time we lose having to work to pay it back. Going to university is a huge sacrifice, the question is, is it worth it?

The answer, I think, is yes, if you possess what is one of the most important ingredients in student success – Real Passion, with capitals.

Real Passion is magical. It creates motivation, determination and perseverance. It gets you up in the morning, it energizes your day and it pushes you to the best of your ability.

In an ideal world, everyone would love the subject they’re studying. There may or may not be other reasons for choosing it, but the main reason is that they want to learn. Now, this may seem obvious but up until now, I’ve met too many people that have forgotten the reason why they came to university. They spend too many nights out, they skip lectures and cram in all the work in at the last minute. They’ve forgotten their purpose, which is very sad, especially when I see it happening to my friends, the people that I have really come to care about. Of course, I myself am not perfect, and every now and again I have a lazy night in when I don’t do a shred of work but eventually, I find my way back on track by finding my Real Passion.

What is Real Passion? This can be answered by asking what Unreal Passion is. Unreal Passion is lust,  it’s based on fickle things like beauty or money and it eventually burns out. If you’re doing a subject because of salaries and titles, your happiness won’t last. Real Passion means putting genuine love into everything you do, even if people tell you it’s stupid and it doesn’t pay well. It may not always be practical but as they say,

Do what you love and the money will follow.

Passion has many meanings, but the most crucial part of any kind of passion is desire. It may not be very ‘Zen’ of me to say it, but this kind of ‘desire’ is different. Here, it is the desire to quench an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, a desire to do the best that we can and a desire to be happy.

I know it isn’t always rainbows and butterflies, sometimes academic life is tough, and full of rough patches. But that’s ok, as long as deep down inside the passion is still there, then you can keep going. If you’re having trouble finding it, try:

1. Meditation and reflection. Sometimes we get so caught up in our lives that we leave things that are important but not urgent at the back of our minds. Quiet meditation, even for a few minutes, can help us find the reasons why we chose to be here in the first place and let them generate the passion that we lost from the stress of everyday life.

2. Reading. The essays, articles, posts, books and other works of the great experts can be really inspiring. They create goals that you can aim for, maybe even one day surpass. I can guarantee that those people didn’t get there without a dash of Real Passion.

3. Visualisation. Connecting the previous two suggestions, visualisation is a powerful tool. If you can visualise yourself in your dream job, you’re a quarter of the way there already, because you know where you’re going. You can figure out how to get there later. If you had no boundaries and no fears, where would you be in ten years time?

4. Going home. If it’s possible, going home for a little while (perhaps for one weekend) can really help make you realise how far you’ve come since you left. I went home for the first time in months after leaving for college and I was surprised at how both the same and different everything seemed. Not much had physically changed, my home still smelt like home and even my old room was just as I left it, but I was changed. I had come so far in so little time, I was so amazed, I didn’t want to stop. When I got back I was completely motivated to keep moving forwards.

5. Focus. Sometimes we lose our passion for something because we spread what passion we have over too many commitments. We want to try out new things, make lot’s of friends, fit more things to do into our lives. Most of the time this a good thing, we should make the most out of the opportunities that we get in college, but every now and again being spread to thinly can make us forget where our real passion lies. Bringing it back to what we love best and focussing on that can help recreate the passion we once held for it.

All being said, it is important to distinguish between temporarily forgotten passion and passion that has died. When it is time to move on, it’s time to move on, and letting go of attachments to once-have’s and what-could-have-been’s can be just as important. Nevertheless, it all boils down to how greatly you need to have passion, how influential it can be and how crucial an ingredient it is in The Recipe for Student Success.

Do you think that Real Passion is important? What else do you think is vital in The Recipe for Student Success? I’d love to hear your opinions, comment below!

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Image Credit : Xapa

30 Thought-Provoking Life Questions for Every Student

There are no right or wrong answers. Just the one that is true.

1. How did you feel when you woke up this morning?

2. How long did it take to turn on your phone or laptop?

3.  What is your dream?

4. Are you trading time for money?

5. Where will you be exactly one year from now?

6. Where will you be five years from now?

7. Is this where you thought you’d be five years ago?

8. Do you own anything you absolutely can’t live without?

9. How do you feel when you know you have a lecture in 5 minutes?

10. How do you feel during your lectures?

11. If you met you professor(s) outside of class, could you be friends?

12. How much do you have in common with your course-mates?

13. How much does your degree mean to you?

14. Can you see yourself spending the rest of your life in your field of study?

15. What will be the first thing you do when you graduate?

16. Have you met anyone life changing?

17. Have you learned anything life changing?

18. Have you learned anything that surprised you?

19. Do you feel challenged?

20. What are you grateful for today?

21. Have you met someone new this week?

22. When was the last time you said hello to a stranger?

23. If you won the lottery, would you leave university?

24. If you could spend a year abroad where would you go and what would you do?

25. Do you have any regrets so far?

26. If you weren’t here, where would you be?

27. Are you aiming to be the very best?

28. Are you doing your best?

29. What did you learn today that you didn’t know yesterday?

30. Are you happy?

Zen and the Art of Minimalism – Part 2: Mastering the Art

In part 1, I discussed Minimalism and Zen Philosophy. This is part 2 of 2 of ‘Zen and the Art of Minimalism’ where I explore the connection between minimalism and art.

What does the word ‘art’ really mean? People can spend years answering this question. Quite obviously, it doesn’t purely mean paintings and sculptures. The first result of the definition of ‘art’ on dictionary.com is:

art

/ɑrt/ Pronunciation [ahrt] –noun

The quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.

Here, art is defined as a type of ‘expression‘, which can be interpreted as ‘transferring one’s thoughts and emotions into the material world’. Minimalists believe in the virtues of not having more than what is needed, and therefore ‘expresses’ this attitude by not hoarding material things. At first glance, a minimalist home looks bare, cold and neglected, but a closer look reveals that every item is touched with the minimalist’s love for it’s indispensable value.

What’s more, a lot of people think minimalism is synonymous with depravity. These people are confusing minimalism with frugality. Not all minimalists are frugal, and some invest quite a bit of money on higher quality and longer lasting possessions, which can be simple, but very beautiful. Each item is chosen with intention and care, just like how an artist chooses colours and carefully mixes them together, so that they all work in harmony with each other.

On a superficial level, there is little doubt that minimalism has a lot to do with aesthetics. Getting rid of stuff, means that there is less clutter and  more space, which in my view, is more aesthetically pleasing. For me, there’s nothing more beautiful than empty space, clear surfaces and simple design.

And just like most pieces of art, minimalism is all about what is essential. The really exquisite pieces aren’t tainted with superfluous flourishes or ostentatious garnishes. Each line, carve or brush stoke is done intentionally because each one has a direction, meaning and purpose.

When you eliminate the excess, you’re left with what has more than ordinary significance. Having only a few things that you know you can’t live without means that you are bound to cherish them more than if you had a house full of clutter. Minimalists may look like they don’t care for clothes, gadgets or books because they own so few, but we do care. Everything we own matters to us in some way, otherwise we wouldn’t still have it.

An elegant painting begins with a blank canvas. Each brush stroke is precious, building up, around and intertwining with each other to create an exquisite masterpiece.

A magnificent sculpture begins with a lump of rock. The artist chips away the excess stone to reveal the statue waiting inside to show itself.

But art isn’t just paintings and sculptures.

It could take a short time, or it could take a lifetime. But your home, or your life, is like a large rock or a white canvas waiting for you to express your own unique brand of  art on it.

The art of minimalism, that is.

I’d love to hear your opinions. Do you think there is a relationship between minimalism and art? How do you like to think of minimalism? Please comment below!

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