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The joy of a love-based education

‘If you try hard enough—anything is possible.’ This seemed to be my study motto in the past. I viewed education from what I’ll call a “checklist” point of view. For a long time, I forced myself to do things I didn’t want to do because I thought they would be good for me. I viewed education as doing what you needed to do to get an A.

But I recently read an excerpt from James K. A. Smith’s book “You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit” that changed my view of education and transformed how I study. 

Smith discusses how people’s desires—what they love and worship—will ultimately shape their identity, and he advocates for people to use the power of habit to shape their desires. He argues that our loves and desires should guide the process of learning, not the other way around.

Smith’s argument, in a nutshell, is that our habits shape our desires and our desires shape our actions and identity; therefore, we should use the power of habit to guide ourselves to desire virtue. Habits, like imitating others and practicing integrity, will develop and “recalibrate” our desires until we become people who live out virtues.

I began applying this philosophy to how I study—focusing on developing habits that would make me a good learner, instead of focusing on what I could do to get an A, and I experienced transformational results. Within the first week of changing my mindset, I already enjoyed studying more.

I started setting time for myself to study my questions and curiosities, even if they were outside of the designated course material. I put less pressure on myself to get assignments done as fast as possible. After a while, I realized it is far better to put effort into the inward goal of truly learning the material rather than the external goal of a good grade. 

Yes, not everything will be enjoyable—we will sometimes be required to study what we don’t love to study. Ironically, I have an assignment I’m avoiding right now as I am writing this. But if we develop powerful study habits, we will become life-long learners, regardless of the subject content. We will experience the pleasure of developing an education that spans beyond the to-do list in a syllabus. Only then will you see education as it is—a joy. 

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” —Philippians 1:9

Photo by Sterling Zoe Rubottom