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Hi I am a perfectionist electrical and electronics student who struggles with studying because I cannot focus on the subject or context as I cannot let go of the questions or details that trouble me. I always feel like I must be an expert regarding the subject and be able to answer all the questions that one might raise no matter how stupid or unrelated those questions are. That is why I am not academically successful and satisfied. What mindset should I adopt to overcome this situation? I feel totally frustrated and hopeless. I tried out psychological help but it keeps coming over and over.

  • Quite related: What are some strategies to deal with perfectionism?. – Anyon Oct 26 '18 at 12:28
  • How long has this been going on? A few weeks or even a couple months is probably not a big deal. If you have been unable to focus for many months, you definitely need to go back to that psychological help. In the short term I'd suggest talking to your professor about the text/notes in particular and why you feel they are unsatisfying, and see if the professor can suggest a reference that might suit your needs better. – A Simple Algorithm Oct 26 '18 at 14:14
  • See also this almost-duplicate: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/89032/… – henning Oct 26 '18 at 16:20
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I tried out psychological help but it keeps coming over and over.

First this is important. If you have received any behavioral or medical interventions you'll need to discuss with your health care providers and let them know you're not progressing.


My overarching question back to you is: Have you considered aspiring to be a perfectionist in time use and efficiency?

Collect necessary information before studying: Make sure the materials you need to study are handy before engaging the study: syllabus, texts, notes, assignments, etc. Minimize wandering off for extra materials along the way.

Set goals and time: Before studying, state clearly what the goal is and how much time you'll allocate to it. E.g. "I'll spend 2.5 hours in this lab report, and I will spend no more than 2 lines of text for each point I wish to score."

And it's fine to set up a time for deep diving as well: "Tonight, I'll spend 1.5 hour and binge reading/searching this theory. I don't know what would come out of it, but I will enjoy this adventure and bonus for me if I can find a few new insights."

Go through a set of checklists before doing anything: Have a set of "mantra" before committing to anything. It's up to you what they should be, but generally focus on return of investment. Here are some I always ask myself:

  • Is the objective of this work "SMART" enough? (SMART: Specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time/duration is clear.)
  • Is this work in alignment with my value?
  • Is this work going to propel me forward in [whatever endeavor: studying, career, etc.]?
  • What will I likely gain if I do this work?
  • Is there any other work I can/should do which will bring a better gain?

Ask this before, and ask this whenever you change your focus or attention onto something else. Keep a diary on your daily time use efficiency and review them often.

Have a "mind dump": When strayed thoughts invite, instead of immediately engaging them, jot them down somewhere. It can be a paper pad on your desk, Evernote/OneNote, post-it, voice messages, etc. Put them in one collection point, and revisit them during your "wild hunt" time.

It may be more useful to see these strayed thoughts as a group periodically. You may found that something you wondered last month was resolved in the class this week. By putting these questions together instead of deep diving into each of them immediately, you can better see the landscape.

  • Having a mind dump is gold. – henning Oct 26 '18 at 16:11
  • of course I say yes to your question – EEstudent Oct 26 '18 at 22:50
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Dealing with details is what makes good engineers (of any type so I don't get roasted), that way bridges don't fall down, rockets don't fail and the lights stay on...

Try and work out where you need to go for detail and what you can just accept...

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I can't deal with psychological issues, of course, but there is another side to this. When you deal overly in detail, you run the risk of missing the big picture. Insight into why a system works as it does can be as valuable as knowledge about its intricate details. If you miss this (missing the forest for the trees) you may not be able to integrate all of the "knowledge" that you have gained.

I suggest that you build yourself a habit of stepping back to look at the bigger picture on a regular basis. Hourly if you are working hard or daily.

Buy yourself a deck of index cards. Periodically take a blank card and write on it the "key idea" underlying what you have been looking at since the last card. What is the big picture here? Why are these details important.

These cards become a sort of table of contents of what you have learned. If you can force yourself to look at the overall system, even if just for a moment, you can build a habit of capturing the big picture.

But, for it to work, you need to make it a habit and to do that you may need to really force yourself to do it initially.

The advantage of index cards over, say, your laptop, is that a card can only hold a small amount of information - a couple of sentences. You can also carry them around with you, including a few blank cards, and review or record new thoughts. They can be sorted, etc. You can even take a small set of cards and create a new card to summarize the big idea contained in that set, leading to a hierarchy of "big thoughts".

I can't guarantee that this will get you out of the microscopic view situation, but it can help you avoid missing what it is really all about.

  • Wasn't it a really small seal that took the shuttle out? small details can be so important... – Solar Mike Oct 26 '18 at 14:37
  • @SolarMike, wasn't it ignoring the big picture of how the system interacts with the weather? Do you recommend ignoring the big picture? I didn't recommend ignoring details. – Buffy Oct 26 '18 at 14:40
  • Do you mean how that seal acted with temperature? And when you put "When you deal overly in detail..." what di d you really mean? – Solar Mike Oct 26 '18 at 14:43
  • @SolarMike: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_Challenger_disaster – Buffy Oct 26 '18 at 14:49
  • read Professor Feinmann's book... Very revealing... – Solar Mike Oct 26 '18 at 14:53

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