Macadamia Crème Brûlée Square

If you love crème brûlée as much as I do, prepare yourselves for this miracle creation. I may have outdone myself with this one.

I don’t usually stray from recipes too far when I’m baking, but I had a brain-wave I couldn’t resist testing. I started with the idea of a creamy butterscotch slice with a brûlée top. When I went to trial it though, I ended up leaning further toward a true custard, but I couldn’t resist the addition of condensed milk.

Perfectly complimenting this slice is the addition of the shortbread style base, and the mellow macadamias on top – have to say I’m pretty chuffed with the results.

So what we have here has ended up bearing a strong resemblance to a true crème brûlée. Which turns out, dare I say it, also resembles a fancy take on a classic kiwi custard square. Either way, I’m not complaining!

I share this with the warning to not eat too much at once! Moderate your intake – I’ve had to send my partner away with the half of the slice I hadn’t eaten yet to stop me overindulging (more than I already did).

– Ingredients –

Base:

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Pinch of baking powder

Custard:

  • 1 tin/400gm sweetened condensed milk
  • 600ml full-cream milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 6 Tbsp cornflour
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 30g butter

Topping:

  • 5/8 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup macadamia nuts

– Method –

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC and line a 21x25cm baking tin with baking paper so all sides are covered.

Add all ingredients for the base into a food processor. Process untill it forms small lumps/crumbs. Using the back of a spoon or spatula press it evenly into the bottom of the tin. Bake in the centre of the oven until golden – around 20mins.

While the base is in the oven, begin making the custard. Melt butter in a saucepan then add condensed milk, vanilla and milk. Allow to boil, stir often to prevent burning or a skin forming.

In a separate bowl large enough for the milk mixture, whisk the egg yolks and cornflour until they form a smooth paste.

Add a splash of the boiling milk mixture, whisking quickly to prevent the egg yolks scrambling. Repeat a few times. Add the rest of the boiling milk mixture – it should thicken fairly quickly untill almost stiff and whisking becomes difficult. Pour the custard onto base and smooth it as flat as possible. Let cool then smooth sandwich-wrap over the custard and leave to set in fridge for a few hours/overnight.

If you don’t have a blow-torch: Place oven rack as high in the oven as it can go (while still fitting the tray) and pre-heat to your ovens hottest temperature on grill.

Sprinkle sugar evenly, covering all the custard. Make sure the baking paper isn’t protruding more than a couple of centimeters above the custard. Place tin under the grill. Check on it as you may need to move the tray around so the sugar melts evenly. Remove as soon as the sugar is liquid and golden – this should take 7 – 11 mins.

Cut macadamias to desired size. As soon as slice is out of the oven sprinkle the macadamias over so they stick to the sugar before it solidifies.

Allow to cool before removing from tin. Chill in fridge to set before cutting. To cut you will need a big knife and to use a quick, hard chop to crack through the sugar without crushing the custard.

 

Enjoy! And as always, let me know how you get on!

Achieving Your Goals: 6 Psychological Hacks

Why are long-term goals so hard to stick to? Why is it so easy to self-sabotage no matter how important the goal is to you? It seems baffling that we can work in such opposition to our own best interest. We all do it, and it leaves us all kicking ourselves, so why do we do it again and again!

Why are long-term goals so hard to stick to? Why is it so easy to self-sabotage no matter how important the goal is to you? It seems baffling that we can work in such opposition to our own best interest. We all do it, and it leaves us all kicking ourselves, so why do we do it again and again!

Here’s the thing, the reason we struggle with long-term goals even when they’re of high value to us, is exactly because they are long-term. They’re distant, so in the ‘now’ we can’t achieve gratification from them, they can’t satisfy us while we wait for them and work for them. Unfortunately, we’re attracted to things that offer instant reward, even when it may be miniscule relative to how rewarding reaching your long-term goal would be.

 

Why Do We Fall Off Track?

It makes sense, we can only experience life in the ‘now’ and the future is intangible. This makes it hard to pick something in the future over something that you can have right on the spot. It’s a psychological phenomena that we all have to try to work around. What causes it is delay discounting and preference reversal.

Delay discounting is where the more distant a reward is, the more it drops in value to us which can lead to preference reversal, which is the tendency to set out for a larger more distant reward, but end up opting for a smaller but sooner reward instead.

This is why we go for the sleep in, the Netflix binge, the party, or the one-too-many pieces of cake, even though it would be rationally expected that passing that test, graduating, lifting that P.B, or reaching a healthy weight would be by far more satisfying and more worthwhile. For some, the perceived value of a reward drops off quickly the more distant it is, while for others the percieved value doesn’t reduce that much at all with distance. This is why some of us have so much willpower and self-control, but others find it incredibly hard to stay on track.

 

 

Strategies for Success:

1. Treat Yo’ Self:

With the knowledge that we prefer and opt for immediate rewards over delayed rewards, it makes further sense that you are more likely to stick with a long-term goal if pursuing it offers immediate rewards – rewards that present either during or following a behaviour.

‘Immediate rewards’ can be natural, such as endorphins or just enjoying an activity, or can be created by you or others, such as receiving praise or a treat. To reward something you don’t do much of, you can also introduce rewards according to the Primack Principle. According to this principle, lower probability behaviours are reinforced by higher probability behaviours. Basically this means that giving yourself the option to engage in an activity you do more of after you complete an activity you do less of acts as a reward and increases how often you do the ‘less often’ activity.

Because evidence shows that immediate rewards predict sticking to long-term goals, why not hack that? If you’re having trouble sticking to a goal because you don’t enjoy the work you have to put in to achieve it, then add in some of your own rewards! It’s a behavioural fact that we are more likely to engage in a behaviour which we are rewarded for, so the more a behaviour is rewarded, the more we do it.

Ideas for Reinforcement:

  •  Make sure you do that work somewhere you enjoy. Ensure that you’re comfortable, warm, fed and your space is clean and pleasant so that it’s a nice, enjoyable environment to be in. It’s proven that having a rewarding environment acts to reward the behaviours performed in that environment.
  • After a set time or after getting a set amount done, allow yourself a treat, or a set amount of time doing something you enjoy.
  • Get someone to join in with you, having social support can be motivating and more fun, therefore more rewarding.
  • Reach out to someone close to you and tell them about the work you just put in for your goal, hearing them be proud and praise you can act as a reward.
  • If there are alternative methods to achieving your goal and you aren’t enjoying the method you’re currently using, try another way! This is very relevant for achieving diet and exercise goals – there is no one-way to be fit, healthy, gain or lose weight. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, change it!

2. Lock it In:

Another strategy to beat preference reversal is to lock ourselves in with a commitment that holds us accountable to take away the option of switching to opt for the immediate reward.

This could be signing up for a competition, a challenge or event, getting a coach or a tutor. Just book yourself into something you can’t get out of! So next first of January before you have the chance to back out of your resolutions, sign up to something straight away.

3. Break it Up:

As the saying goes, you eat an elephant one bite at a time. Long term goals can feel unattainable and huge which can make them hard to stick with. It can be helpful to create some smaller, (challengin enough to be motivating) more attainable seeming goals which will help you progress towards your overall goal.

By breaking your goal down into manageable chunks you will be more motivated to work on them as the completion of each goal is less distant, and less daunting.

Completing smaller goals will fuel you on by rewarding you with a sense of achievement each time, making you feel more capable, and more confident in your abilities, which will in turn motivate you to keep working towards your end goal. Celebrate the small successes!

 

 

When You’re Struggling:

1. Don’t Be so Hard On Yourself:

It can be defeating to repeatedly fall off track, it can make you feel incapable, and cause you to just give up altogether. The best thing you can do is accept that this tendency to slip-up is a human thing, it’s not just a ‘you’ thing and it doesn’t make you terrible. Be compassionate with yourself and accept that these things happen. It’s more adaptive to take failure as a lesson that you can apply to getting back on track. Most of the time a single slip up isn’t the be-all and end-all of reaching a goal – but giving up definitely is.

It’s important to have confidence in yourself and your abilities because believing you are capable can make you try harder, which ultimately makes you do better – it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. This may sound like empty ‘believe in yourself’ motivational B.S, but it’s a very real thing. High self-efficacy is shown to predict better performance. Self-efficacy is the belief in your own capability to manage and carry out an activity successfully. Having high self-efficacy increases motivation and planning, which leads to improved performance and higher levels of success.

It isn’t always that simple to have a positive mindset, but sometimes there are things that can help. Focus on your good qualities, what you’ve achieved in the past, and the areas of your life you are succeeding in. Take a moment to feel proud of those things, and acknowledge what you’ve got going for yourself. Write it in a journal to refer to when you’re stuck in a spiral of negative self-talk.

Just because progress might be slow or hit a downward curve doesn’t mean it won’t take an upward turn for the better if you keep persisting through the slip-ups. It’s amazing how much we can do if we simply have confidence. Fake it till you make it, it’s ok to give your ego a boost.

2. Have Perspective:

Sometimes we get down on ourselves for not achieving a goal quickly enough. It’s important to remember that often these time-frames we set for ourselves are societally shaped. For example, things like, graduating by 21, having a house by 25, getting married by 30, are societal expectations, but you do not need to fit into that mould to be successful!

Success at any age or stage is just as worthy an achievement. You don’t have to be in a rush to live your life. Go at your own pace, and don’t compare yourself to others – you never know what their experiences have been behind the scenes to get them to where they are, so their experiences are not comparable to your own. You have never missed the boat to do or achieve anything – you dictate your own life.

3. Get Your Priorities Straight:

This also relates to neglecting goals. We can be very aware of the lack of work we put in to a goal even when in reality, we may be doing so because another area of our life is a priority at that time. In these cases neglecting a goal can be necessary, it’s not failure or laziness, it may simply be that you need to be putting your time and energy into another area of your life or another goal which takes precedent.

Take a step back and look at the bigger picture, allow yourself to prioritise. You don’t have to achieve every goal you have for your life ASAP – you aren’t superhuman. Be realistic with the timeframes you set and accept that you have your whole life to achieve your goals. Just because you aren’t working on something or succeeding at something right now doesn’t mean you’re failing or that you won’t ever achieve it.

 

 

Strategise and be sensible in your goal setting – achieving your goals doesn’t have to be a joyless back-and-forth battle. Play it smarter, not harder.

 

 

Need help with a specific goal?

 

 

References:

1. Kirby, K. N., & Herrnstein, R. J. (1995). Preference reversals due to myopic discounting of delayed reward. Psychological science, 6(2), 83-89.

2. Woolley, K., & Fishbach, A. (2017). Immediate rewards predict adherence to long-term goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 43(2), 151-162.

3. Kurth-Nelson, Z., & Redish, A. D. (2012). Don’t let me do that! – Models of precommitment. Frontiers in neuroscience, 6, 138.

4. Stock, J., & Cervone, D. (1990). Proximal goal-setting and self-regulatory processes. Cognitive Therapy and Research14(5), 483-498.

5. Chemers, M. M., Hu, L. T., & Garcia, B. F. (2001). Academic self-efficacy and first year college student performance and adjustment. Journal of Educational psychology93(1), 55.

6. Wrosch, C., Scheier, M. F., Carver, C. S., & Schulz, R. (2003). The importance of goal disengagement in adaptive self-regulation: When giving up is beneficial. Self and Identity, 2(1), 1-20.

Apricot Fudge Slice

Condensed milk is my weakness, and this apricot fudge is condensed milky goodness on steroids. I fangirl for this slice – and it’s so easy! It’s super quick and doesn’t require baking, just mix it all together and forget about it in the fridge for a while and you’re good to go.

Not going to lie, I love pretty much anything that has condensed milk in it. Condensed milk is my weakness, and this apricot fudge is condensed milky goodness on steroids. I fangirl for this slice – and it’s so easy! It’s super quick and doesn’t require baking, just mix it all together and forget about it in the fridge for a while and you’re good to go.

If you love lolly cake (a classic Kiwi treat) you’re bound to love this too. I find that the mix tastes a lot like lolly cake, with the lollies exchanged for apricots…. so it’s essentially lolly cake for grown-ups. I have zero qualms with that.

apricot slice

Also, on an amusing note, it turns out we don’t have a rolling pin at my flat, so I had to use my flatmates hammer. Gotta do what you gotta do.

Remember that you’re allowed to eat things just for the taste. Life is for living to the fullest, and in regards to food, that includes eating to help your body and mind function well, as well as eating things you enjoy, these two things are not mutually exclusive –  you can do both. Health doesn’t require exclusively eating ‘healthy’ foods and shunning all things people tell you are ‘bad’. Your health won’t be ruined by treating yourself. You just have to strike a balance!

– Ingredients – 

  • 1/2 tin condensed milk (200gm)
  • 125gm butter
  • 75gm sugar
  • 1 packet crushed wine biscuits (sweet plain cookies, or graham crackers)
  • 3/4 cup dried apricots, chopped
  • 3 – 4 Tbsp desiccated coconut

– Method –

Prepare a slice tin with baking paper.

Crush the biscuits to crumbs. I suggest using the handle of a rolling pin to do this.

Chop butter into a saucepan and melt gently with condensed milk and sugar.

Stir the crushed biscuits and the chopped apricots into the butter mixture.

Press into the prepared tin and sprinkle with desicated coconut.

Place the tin in the fridge to allow the slice to set before cutting. Store in fridge.

 

 

Happy eating! And make sure to let me know what you think below!

 

The Awareness Series: Anxiety Disorders

In all likelihood, many of you will be familiar with it too, whether through personal experience or someone you know, even whether you were aware of it or not. Anxiety disorders are very common, so it’s important you educate yourself about what having an anxiety disorder means, for your own sake, your loved ones, and the sake of others in your community.

I decided to begin my mental disorder awareness series with a disorder I am personally familiar with. In all likelihood, many of you will be familiar with it too, whether through personal experience or someone you know, even whether you were aware of it or not. Anxiety disorders are very common, so it’s important you educate yourself about what having an anxiety disorder means, for your own sake, your loved ones, and the sake of others in your community.

To start, I’m going to clear up a commonly confused interpretation of anxiety. Anxiety is the feeling of anticipation and worry over a future threat, as is perceived by the individual. Everybody experiences this. Feeling anxiety is not exclusive to individuals who have anxiety disorders. During an extremely stressful time, you may experience very intense anxiety, which is normal, and real, and should be attended to. For people with anxiety disorders, however, anxiety plays a more impactful role in their lives. What makes an anxiety disorder a disorder is, surprise surprise, disordered anxiety – anxiety which is excessive, persistent, and having a negative impact on an individuals life or functioning. It most often is brought on by an interaction between genetics and life events, experiences, or learning.

Some don’t understand how anxiety works, which leads to misunderstanding. It’s not as simple as just calming down, or taking some deep breaths, or telling yourself that what’s causing the anxiety isn’t worth feeling anxious about.

 

The Brain and Anxiety:

Inappropriate Threat Perception:

The fight-or-flight response exists to prepare you to face a threat. A threat is something that could cause you harm. Something that is dangerous. This response prepares you to either fight off an attack to defend yourself or to escape to save yourself. In people with anxiety disorders, this response is activated for things that are not actually a threat. For example in social anxiety disorder, one may be anxious and afraid of calling the doctors to the point that their fight-or-flight response is activated. This shouldn’t happen because calling the doctors doesn’t pose any risk or danger – calling the doctor can’t injure or kill you.

Brain Activity in Anxiety:

In the brain, when we perceive something we think is a threat to us, our amygdala (the center of our brain which controls our emotions and survival instincts) gets notified to send us into this ‘fight-or-flight’ mode. In people without anxiety disorders, this should be shut down if what was deemed threatening is realised to not actually pose you any risk, this is processed by your prefrontal cortex (your major logic and thinking region). Your prefrontal cortex then can communicate with your amygdala and stop the anxious response.

In the brains of people who have anxiety, however, scans show that there is lower than normal activity in the prefrontal cortex, and elevated activity in the amygdala. This means that the prefrontal cortex isn’t recognising that the perceived ‘threat’ isn’t a real threat, so it’s not communicating with the amygdala to get it to shut down the fight-or-flight response. This leaves the amygdala to be over-activated, maintaining the feeling of anxiety even if it is a disproportionate reaction.

Chemical Role in Anxiety:

A chemical in our brain called Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) also plays a role in regulating our anxiety. When GABA binds to its specialised structures in the brain it lowers brain activity by reducing the electrical impulses. When we experience anxiety, GABA gets released as part of a cycle to prevent prolonged anxiety by reducing electrical activity in the amygdala, allowing, essentially, for you to relax. In people with anxiety disorders, there is overexposure to the stress hormone cortisol due to prolonged and excessive stimulation of the fight-or-flight response. This exposure to cortisol eventually results in a break down of these specialised structures in the hippocampus (a brain area involved in memory and emotion, part of the anxiety regulatory system) that GABA binds to. These structures are required for GABA to carry out its function. Fewer of these structures means less GABA can take effect. This means when you have an anxiety disorder, activation of the fight-or-flight response doesn’t get turned off as quickly as in someone without an anxiety disorder, and their anxiety isn’t as regulated, because this chemical in the brain has less opportunity to take effect.

 

Treatment:

There exists a variety of treatment options available for those who suffer anxiety.

  • Different prescription drugs exist that can improve chemical functioning. They can relieve excess exposure to cortisol, allowing broken down structures in your brain to rebuild so that GABA can work properly. Some increase the functioning of other beneficial chemicals that improve anxiety symptoms such as serotonin. Doctors work with you to ensure they work well for you individually and are appropriate. The use of medication is better paired with therapy to treat the root cause as well.
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can help you change the way you think, so you no longer perceive inappropriate things as threatening.
  • Therapy can also equip you with the tools you need to cope with bouts of anxiety so that it doesn’t have as much impact.

Symptoms and Different Anxiety Disorders:

While I can’t cover all anxiety disorders in this article, keep in mind that anxiety disorders share anxiety as a symptom, and ‘anxitey’ presents its own umbrella of symptoms that are common among the different types. The main differentiation between anxiety disorders is the stimulus that triggers anxious symptoms. For all disorders, for clinical diagnostic criteria to be met, symptoms must cause the individual significant distress and impair functioning or impact their life. If you or someone you know is being affected by anxiety, it’s worth taking some action to get on top of it, treatment really does help.

Different disorders have different criteria, their own extra symptoms, and their own different and specific triggers of the anxiety which differentiate them. Here are some of the more common anxiety disorders:

Generalised Anxiety Disorder:

As is suggested by the name, Generalised Anxiety relates to anxiety which doesn’t have a specific trigger, and can arise from little or no provocation. According to the current diagnostic criteria, Generalised Anxiety involves excessive anxiety and worry that is difficult to control and lasts most days for six or more months.

The anxiety and worry lead to three or more of the symptoms below:

  • Restlessness
  • Easily tired
  • Concentration issues, experiencing ‘mind blanks’
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Trouble with sleep

 

Panic attacks and Anxiety:

Panic attacks are a very real and terrifying experience for some who suffer anxiety disorders. Symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks may be similar, however, during a panic attack, the symptoms are significantly more intense. These symptoms may include:

  • Overwhelming fear
  • Racing heart
  • Rapid breathing
  • Trembling
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling of choking
  • Fear of death
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Feeling disconnected from yourself and/or your surroundings
  • Chills or hot flashes

Anxiety may build up gradually to exhibit some of these symptoms as a response to a stressor. Panic attacks often occur without provocation or warning, although they can also occur as a response to a stressor as well. Because of the severity of these symptoms during a panic attack, unlike anxiety, the experience may feel like a medical emergency, resulting in the fear of death or of losing control.

Phobic Disorders:

Phobic disorders are anxiety disorders where there is a specific thing, whether it be an object or situation, that the person responds to as a threat, even though it doesn’t pose any danger. In phobias, people go out of their way to avoid encountering their fear. If they are exposed to their fear, they feel extreme discomfort and anxiety which may result in a panic attack.

Examples of phobias include agoraphobia and social anxiety/social phobia, and some common and more well-known triggers such as snakes, spiders, blood, and needles.

Agoraphobia:

Agoraphobia is often thought to be a fear of leaving the home or being outside, and while this can be a part of agoraphobia, that’s not what the disorder exactly is. Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder which involves extreme anxiety or fear about more than one of the following situations in which they may not be able to escape or get help if they begin to panic:

  • Public transport
  • Open space
  • Enclosed space (e.g. aeroplanes)
  • Being in a queue or a crowd
  • Being alone out of the house

Social Phobia:

This is an anxiety disorder I personally struggle with and is also very common. People with social anxiety disorder fear that they will behave in a way, or show anxiety symptoms (for example, blushing or sweating) that will cause embarrassment or humiliation.

Some activities which may be affected by social anxiety include things such as eating in front of others, asking for help in a shop, answering or making phone calls, public speaking or performing, meeting or talking to new people, or even being observed doing some kind of motor skill such as writing, running, or playing a sport. In some cases, it can cause extreme self-awareness resulting in the inability to perform behaviors naturally, which causes more anxiety.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD):

People often joke about OCD, but the reality is that the disorder severely impacts the lives of those who have it. The obsessions or compulsions that an individual has are time-consuming and interfere with their day-to-day functioning or cause them distress or harm.

Obsessions in OCD are intrusive thoughts or impulses that are unwanted and may be disturbing, out of character, against their wants or needs, and that the individual may or may not know are irrational or extreme. The intrusive thoughts may cause the person a lot of distress as, even if they know it is extreme, depending on the nature of their obsession, they can truly be fearful for the wellbeing of others, even that they may cause harm to their loved ones.

The anxiety caused by these thoughts can result in behaviors adopted in order to cope. These behaviors are called compulsions. The behaviors may be used to prevent anxiety or distress, reduce it, or prevent something terrible they believe may happen from occurring. They’re defined as repetitive physical or mental behaviors. The behavior may be not connected in any logical way, or they may be obviously excessive.

 

 

Anxiety disorders are more complex than they appear, and can really impact peoples lives. Encourage people who are suffering to get help, or seek help yourself if any of this sets off alarm bells for you. Anxiety doesn’t define who you are as a person, it isn’t an expression of who you are, but an expression of an affliction you have to deal with.

 

 

 

 

References:

1. Martin, E. I., Ressler, K. J., Binder, E., & Nemeroff, C. B. (2009). The neurobiology of anxiety disorders: brain imaging, genetics, and psychoneuroendocrinology. Psychiatric Clinics, 32(3), 549-575.

2. Lydiard, R. B. (2003). The role of GABA in anxiety disorders. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 64, 21-27.

3. Nuss, P. (2015). Anxiety disorders and GABA neurotransmission: a disturbance of modulation. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 11, 165.

4. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub.

5. Verywellmind. What Happens to Your Body During a Panic Attack?https://www.verywellmind.com/what-happens-to-your-body-during-a-panic-attack-3024889.

6. Thriveworks – Counseling and Coaching, (2017). Agoraphobia DSM-5, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment 300.22 (F40.00). http://thriveworks.com/blog/agoraphobia-causes-symptoms-treatments/

7. Social Anxiety Institute. DSM-5 Definition of Social Anxiety Disorder. https://socialanxietyinstitute.org/dsm-definition-social-anxiety-disorder

8. Beyond OCD.org. Clinical Definition of OCD. http://beyondocd.org/information-for-individuals/clinical-definition-of-ocd

Study For Success: Do’s and Don’ts

If you’re wanting to give your grades a boost or ensure that the information you’re studying actually gets learned rather than being forgotten the instant you leave the exam room, you’re in the right place. Here are some methods to ditch, and some to adopt to perform to your potential.

Whatever level you’re at with your education, you want to be putting your best foot forward when it comes to studying. Unfortunately, research has shown that the most commonly used and popular methods of study are actually relatively ineffective for your learning and remembering. Lesser known are the successful, proven methods that actually work.

If you’re wanting to give your grades a boost or ensure that the information you’re studying actually gets learned rather than being forgotten the instant you leave the exam room, you’re in the right place. Here are some methods to ditch, and some to adopt to perform to your potential.

 

Common Mistakes:

Learning Styles:

There is a commonly believed and promoted myth that studying in accordance with ones preferred mode of learning is the most effective study strategy. This is the myth of ‘learning styles.’ Just because it’s plausible, doesn’t mean it’s true. The vast majority of individuals do not fit perfectly into tidy boxes, we are more complex than that. As with most things, we all lie somewhere on a spectrum, not entirely one thing, and not quite another, often somewhere in between.

In one study, students who were instructed to use their self-prescribed learning style to study either performed equally as well as, or worse, than the control group who studied without this instruction. Moral of the story: don’t confine yourself to a ‘learning style’ when there are more successful and evidence backed methods out there.

Highlighting:

Highlighting is a trusty go-to for most students. It’s easy to do, makes you feel like you’re actively engaging with material, and adds some aesthetic points to your notes. It seems like a win-win, but unfortunately, it’s basically useless, (sorry). Highlighting has been shown to have no impact on learning. Basically, studying with highlighting does nothing to improve your performance, so you’d be better off-putting your effort into a study method that’s actually going to do you some good.

The issue that’s been found with highlighting is that it tends to be misused. It can be an effective method if used properly, because highlighted information stands out more than unhighlighted text, helping you to remember it. We tend to, however, either over highlight or under highlight. Over highlighting stops the highlighted text from standing out anymore rendering it pointless, while under highlighting misses important information. It’s also been shown that performance suffers when you are tested on the information you missed out of your highlighting.

Essentially, highlighting as a study technique on its own is unhelpful. I would advise that you use highlighting to complement other techniques, to allow you to go back and identify the information you want to cover.

Rereading:

This again is a super common method, and while it does improve performance above if you hadn’t studied, it’s one of the less effective methods. If you are pressed for time or don’t have time to learn how to properly use one of the highly effective techniques shown here, rereading is worthwhile. On the occasions when you’ve left yourself enough time to not have to cram, you’re better off using your time doing something else.

Often, we mistake the improved ease in reading a text for having learned the material. This is called the ‘illusion of competency,’ and is just the result of familiarity with the writing improving fluency. The benefits of rereading are actually, unfortunately for all of us who do this, not very significant.

Summarisation:

Once again, summarising information seems like a good idea, which is why a lot of us do it. It can be a good idea too, but only if you know how to do so effectively, which it turns out a lot of us actually don’t. If you’ve been taught how to summarise, go for it, it’s a good way of further processing information you want to learn, but otherwise, it’s not going to be much help to you, so you’re better off skipping it. If you want to keep using this method but you’ve never learned how to summarize, it’d be a good idea to look into how it’s done for it to be of use to you.

Cramming:

Need I say more? If you use this type of study, you likely know it’s not the best. Leaving it to the last-minute doesn’t allow you to learn properly, you will likely forget the material quickly afterward, miss some crucial information, and you will not perform as well as if you had adequately prepared over time. However, if you really have to, cramming is the only option, and it does improve your performance above if you’d done nothing, so better to give it a shot if you’ve left it too late.

 

Effective Methods:

Practice testing:

Practice testing can be done in many different ways and is a highly effective method of studying, time and time again shown to outperform other common methods. Practicing retrieving information from your memory makes it easier to do so in the future. The benefits of testing withstand time, as it improves how long you retain the learned material. To use practice testing to your advantage, repeat testing until your responses are correct, from there, any further testing will further boost your performance higher still.

Some ideas for this method could be, testing yourself with flashcards, answering textbook questions, using past test papers if you can get your hands on some, or using Cornell note-taking (leave a column blank next to where you’re taking notes and later create questions based on the material in the column for yourself to answer when you go to study). My personal favourite technique is to test my memory by covering my notes, writing out what I remember and elaborating on it as much as I can, checking my notes, and repeat this until I can recollect more, and more accurately. Whatever practice test style you wish to use, you will see benefits from it, although more in-depth, elaborative methods show better performance in tests than do more basic ones.

Distributed practice:

We tend to leave our study for later, closer to a test or exam. While that seems logical, evidence actually shows that spreading your study out is a much more successful strategy. Distributed learning is the act of breaking up your study into separated sessions, with longer breaks proving more successful than shorter breaks. More forgetting between study sessions facilitates learning and improves performance, who’d’ve thunk it?

Obviously, the amount of time you have before a test needs to be taken into consideration, because clearly, you cannot space your study sessions so far apart that you sacrifice the number of study sessions you are able to fit in. To use this method to your advantage, you’d ideally not wait until a test or exam is coming up, but study periodically throughout the whole term or semester. Maybe set aside a day each week, right from the start, to go over what you’ve learned, you’ll be happy you did.

One research paper found that a group assigned to six study sessions, each separated by 30 days, performed better in a test than a group assigned to the six study sessions performed only one day apart. The one day apart study group was found to outperform the group who did the six study sessions back-to-back on a single day (cramming). In addition to this, as would be expected, distributed practice testing performs better still than distributed study.

Teaching others:

Join a study group to discuss and help one another understand the content of your class, or bug your family and friends by teaching them about what you’re learning. Teaching other people is a performance boosting study tactic. Explaining to others can help you understand what you’re learning better, and also help you identify holes in your knowledge.

A study showed this to be effective, by comparing the test results of three different groups. One group studied as they normally would, another prepared a lesson on the topic, and the third taught the information as a study method. The group that prepared a lesson out-performed the normal study group and the group who taught a lesson outperformed them both.

Environment:

Location, location, location! Its been found helpful for your ability to recall information to study it in an environment similar to that in which you will be required to recall it. So basically, if you will be in a silent classroom test condition, then you should study in an environment as close to this as you can get. If your tests are held in the same place as your lectures, attending your lectures will help in your tests because being in the environment in which you learned material can help to trigger memories of it.

Studying in the same space, and not using that space for any other activities, helps you build an association with that location and studying, making it easier to concentrate. It can be tricky to concentrate in a spot you’re used to doing something else in.

Sleep:

I’ve said I before, but I will say it again. Sleep is so important! Make sure you get some good sleep after your study sessions and before your test. While sleep is not a study method in its own right, it’s included here because it will help all your hard work pay off.

Consolidation occurs during Short Wave Sleep, transferring memories from temporary storage in your hippocampus, to long-term storage in your neocortex, stabilising them. During sleep, your brain processes information which is useful for your future plans, and transfers the information you learned but weren’t conscious of, into consciously known information.

 

If you’re gonna do it, you may as well do it right. Ditch your old study methods and give your performance a boost with these well researched and evidence-based study hacks. You have the resources you need right here to help you smash your goals.

 

For more advice for students, see my post: 7 Tips From a Bad Uni Student to New Uni Students

 

 

 

References:

1. Kirschner, P. A. (2017). Stop propagating the learning styles myth. Computers & Education106, 166-171.

2. Rogowsky, B. A., Calhoun, B. M., & Tallal, P. (2015). Matching learning style to instructional method: Effects on comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 107(1), 64-78.

3. Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest14(1), 4-58.

4. Born, J., & Wilhelm, I. (2012). System consolidation of memory during sleep. Psychological research76(2), 192-203.

5. Nadel, L., & Willner, J. (1980). Context and conditioning: A place for space. Physiological Psychology, 8(2), 218-228.

6. Fiorella, L., & Mayer, R. E. (2013). The relative benefits of learning by teaching and teaching expectancy. Contemporary Educational Psychology38(4), 281-288.

White Chocolate Swirl Fudge Brownie

I present you with my best-friend’s brownie recipe which I have coveted for years, and now finally got my hands on to share with you all. It’s so fudgy, dense, and rich – you are guaranteed to fall in love!

My flat smelled of these brownies for a full day and I couldn’t try any. It was too dark by the time I got them out of the oven to take photos, so I had to leave it untouched for a full day until I’d photographed it. That I managed this, my friends, is a true achievement.

Now, however, I’ve eaten too much of it, and as I write this, I’m feeling super unwell. On that note, I wouldn’t recommend eating 4 pieces in a row, both because you will feel sick like I do now, and because that’s definitely not advisable health-wise. It’s all about balance, guys. But! Remember that when you break your diet like I just did, be chill with yourself, one slip up won’t ruin your progress, so don’t throw in the towel. Move on and give your body some nutritious fuel at your next meal.

Now, I present you with my best friend’s brownie recipe which I have coveted for years, and now finally got my hands on to share with you all. It’s so fudgy, dense, and rich – you are guaranteed to fall in love!

White Chocolate Fudge Brownie
If you like fudgy brownies, this is for you.

– Ingredients –

  • 150g butter
  • 250g dark chocolate
  • 2 cups caster sugar
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup self-raising flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 200g chopped white chocolate or white chocolate drops

– Method –

Preheat oven to 160°C, line a 20x30cm tin with baking paper.

In a microwave-safe bowl, heat butter and dark chocolate in the microwave for 60 seconds, and then for short bursts if needed until melted. In a food processor, beat sugar, eggs, and vanilla essence, (I don’t have a food processor so I did this by hand and it still turned out beautifully). Beat in the melted chocolate and butter mix, flours, and cocoa. Stir white chocolate into mixture.

Bake for 10 mins, then cover with tin foil and continue baking for another 30-40 min.

The Food Bible

Whatever your health and body goals may be, this right here is a compact summarisation of the ‘need to knows’ on what you put into your body. Welcome to Wellth’s Food Bible. Let’s make some miracles happen.

Here it is! Welcome to my wellthy take on healthy eating. Nutrition may not be my area of expertise, however, as nutrition plays a big role in health which is what Wellth is all about, I have done my research so that along with my own two cents, I may lay down some science-based wisdom on the topic and not be talking to you out of my ass.

Whatever your health and body goals may be, this right here is a compact summarisation of the ‘need to knows’ on what you put into your body.

Weight Control:

Everywhere you look, there is someone weighing in on different diets and quick fixes. No skinny tea is going to cause you to lose fat. What does lead to fat loss, is the consumption of fewer calories than you are expending. Simple as that. Reach a caloric deficit and your body has no choice but to dip into pre-stored energy resources (i.e. fat) in order to keep you up and running. Alternatively, if you are trying to gain weight, eating an excess of calories will do just that.

While reaching and maintaining a caloric deficit is simple in theory, many of us know that these things are easier said than done. To reach a deficit you may think you have to eat boring foods and next to nothing, leaving you starving and lured away by temptation until you fall off the wagon entirely, landing right back where you started. But this does not have to be the case. There are ways you can make it easier to maintain a deficit.

Maintaining a Caloric Deficit:

Although you can reduce portion sizes of energy-rich food to create a deficit, this can leave you feeling hungry and unsatisfied. Studies have shown that weight loss is more successful when small portions of energy-dense foods are exchanged for larger, satiating portions of low-energy-dense foods. Basically, load up your meals with lots of low-calorie foods. This will leave you satisfied, and still put you into a calorie deficit. If you don’t know how many calories you should be eating, or the caloric content of different foods, then there are resources that can help you such as MyPlate by LIVESTRONG.COM and the MyFitnessPal app by Under Armour, or just hit up good old Google. You may want to consider consulting a nutritionist to ensure you’re doing what is healthy and right for you.

Burning Calories:

It is important to take into consideration the amount of exercise you do in relation to your calorie intake. If you are trying to reach a calorie deficit but you do no exercise, you will need to consume fewer calories than you would if you did exercise, because you will be burning fewer calories. This applies if your goals are weight maintenance or weight gain also: the more exercise you do, the more calories will be required to reach your goals. Exercise is important for all health and body goals. Muscle growth is essential for healthy weight gain, and to gain muscle, you need to be exerting those muscles. For the goal of fat loss, exercise is helpful both for allowing you to stay in a calorie deficit through burning calories and for increasing your muscle mass. Muscle requires energy to move, and a higher muscle mass requires more energy from your body to use them even in everyday life as well as during a workout, meaning your calorie burn will be higher. So if you aren’t already, it’s definitely worth getting into fitness. There are bonuses all around.

Protein:

Increasing the amount of protein in your diet (in accordance with your calories, be it calorie deficit, calories for weight maintenance, or calorie excess for weight gain), has many benefits. Diets with elevated protein aid in muscle maintenance or gain (dependent on your goals) and loss of fat. Along with this, protein helps improve satiety, helping you stay fuller for longer, so it’s helpful in the maintenance of a calorie deficit. Another bonus of a higher protein diet is that it increases thermogenesis. Thermogenesis is a metabolic process in which your body uses energy to keep itself warm. This means that increased thermogenesis helps keep you in a calorie deficit because it increases your calories burned.

‘Bad’ Foods:

You do not need to entirely remove carbohydrates or fats from your diet. Carbs and fats have been labeled ‘bad’. (Let me just say this about fats real quick: fats are not evil. In fact, there are structures in your brain which are made of fats, in which fats improve function). We’ve been told eating carbs and fats will cause weight gain, but as I explained above, specific foods don’t cause weight gain, an excess of calories causes weight gain. Sure, high fat and high carb foods are high calories, but you can eat these foods and lose weight if you are still in a calorie deficit overall. The whole ‘bad’ food label is no help, it’s better to consider that foods are either high or low calorie and high or low nutrient. In order to be healthy, you need to find balance: provide your body with sufficient energy to function, but not excess energy, and provide your body with the nutrients to support your bodies functions, but not get down on yourself when you eat something low nutrient because you like the taste.

Variety:

From a mental health standpoint, eating a variety of different foods is important for allowing your brain to function optimally. Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals can lead to a whole load of issues you may not have even known about. Here I’ve compiled a basic run-down, courtesy of my university study notes.

  • Deficiencies in vitamin B6 (found in: meats, whole-grains, vegetables, nuts) can result in depression, cognitive decilne, dementia, and autonomic dysfunction.
  • Deficiencies in vitamin B9 (found in: eggs, green veggies, chickpeas, almonds, orange juice) can result in cognitive function impairment.
  • Vitamin B12  (found in: meat, shellfish, eggs, dairy) is required by every cell for metabolic functions, fatty acid synthesis, and energy production. Deficiencies can result in fatigue, depression, memory issues, and neuropathy.
  • Vitamin A is an antioxidant (found in: dairy, eggs, fish, pumpkin, carrots, oranges) and is required for visual perception, gene expression, and neuronal differentiation during development. Deficiencies can result in impaired night vision, blindness, and altered gene expression.
  • Iron (found in meat, shellfish, lentils, spinach) is the oxygen carrier in our blood. Deficiencies can cause fatigue, depression, memory impairment, decreased attention, and irritability.
  • Zinc (found in: oysters, meat, whole-grains, pumpkin seeds, legumes) is required for the perception of taste and smell, as well as the facilitation of DNA production. Deficiencies can result in neuropsychological impairments.
  • Iodine (found in: iodised salt, seaweed, mussels, eggs, sea fish) is used by the thyroid gland to make thyroxine, deficiencies of which can result in cognitive impairment, fatigue, and depression.
  • Magnesium (found in: walnuts, beans, mussels, dark leafy vegetables, sails (if that’s your thing)) is required for the synthesis of energy by all cells. Deficiencies in magnesium can result in depression, insomnia, muscle twitches, and migraines.

Balance:

I’m an advocate for healthy relationships with food. There are many ways in which you can have a negative relationship with food. Eating an excess of food low in nutrients is detrimental to your physical and mental health. Fearing food groups and being excessively strict and restrictive on yourself indicates an unhealthy mentality towards food. Eating food you deem ‘bad’ and punishing yourself for it, or feeling down on yourself and guilty is unhelpful and detrimental to your wellbeing. Studies show that in restrictive eaters with the tendency to guilt and binge eating after breaking their diets, mindfully considering a diet break with self-compassion reduces guilt and prevents binging. It is important that you fuel your body with love.  Put into your body foods that will help it do its job. Treat it well. But also treat you well – eating foods you love that aren’t of much health value, is not going to make you unhealthy if you otherwise treat your body well. Eating foods you love is you allowing yourself to experience life fully and get all the enjoyment out of life you can. This is why you will find recipes for foods on Wellth that are not so nutritious, but definitely delicious. You should be able to let yourself enjoy these foods too. A balanced relationship with food is a healthy relationship with food.

Don’t Judge:

I’m going to leave this here as a reminder to let others live. If a specific style of diet is working for someone, great. There is more than one method to reach the same goal. Just because someone’s method is different, doesn’t make the method wrong. (Of course, some methods aren’t as healthy as others or are total BS, but I’m not talking about those here). Veganism, paleo, keto, or whatever floats your boat is great! If you find a diet you enjoy and that makes you feel good, and whats more, that works for you, that’s awesome. You do you.

 

Eating well can be hard, but your health is worth it. Treat your body right, and don’t be afraid to treat your tastebuds sometimes too. Follow this bible and you may achieve some miracles for your body and mind.

Stay wellthy, and happy eating!

 

 

 

References:

1. Julia A Ello-Martin, Jenny H Ledikwe, Barbara J Rolls; The influence of food portion size and energy density on energy intake: implications for weight management, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 82, Issue 1, 1 July 2005, Pages 236S–241S, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/82.1.236S

2. Douglas Paddon-Jones, Eric Westman, Richard D Mattes, Robert R Wolfe, Arne Astrup, Margriet Westerterp-Plantenga; Protein, weight management, and satiety, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 87, Issue 5, 1 May 2008, Pages 1558S–1561S, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/87.5.1558S

3. Claire E. Adams and Mark R. Leary (2007). Promoting Self–Compassionate Attitudes Toward Eating Among Restrictive and Guilty Eaters. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 26, No. 10, pp. 1120-1144. https://doi.org/10.1521/jscp.2007.26.10.1120