I have never studied in my life, and now I feel physically sick when I try to

I’m in my mid twenties, and for various reasons I basically never seriously studied anything in my life. I did the bare minimum in school, and a typical afternoon didn’t involve any studying for school at all (maybe 15 minutes once in a while).

I’m now trying to study complex material from a book outside of my comfort zone. It’s been a few days since I started, but I keep getting an headache and even a bit of dizziness after studying for even just 30 minutes. I just can’t go any longer and I need to stop. I can maybe put in another 30 minutes after a bit of rest, but then it gets pretty bad and I’m done for the day.

I know I don’t have something like dyslexia or anything like that because if I’m just reading a fantasy book or something on reddit I have no problems of this kind.

Here’s my question: are these symptoms going to pass, or have I messed up my brain by basically never studying or concentrating in the first 25 years of my life? Anyone have any similar experience?


Welcome to the community!

Though I can’t rule out that you have an undiagnosed condition that’s making things difficult for you, I seriously doubt you’ve permanently messed up your brain due to your lack of study.

My suggestion would be to prioritize consistency over duration, and slowly work your way up. So, if I were you, I’d create a /study Beeminder goal, and set the slope to 5 minutes a day. Then I would do that every day until 5 minutes felt consistently manageable. Then I would up my commitment to 7 minutes, etc.

I think by staying consistent while reigning in your ambitions, you’ll see progress while avoiding burnout, and give your brain time to learn the new skills needed for studying. While studying challenging material will always be mentally taxing (and should be, in the same way working out in the gym should make you sweat), I think you’ll find that you’ll get used to the strain over time, and may even start to relish it.

In addition, I would also create some additional meta goals to help me improve my study habits, routines, and strategies. For instance, if I were in your shoes, I would create a /study-upgrades goal, starting with a modest slope of 1 or 2 upgrades per week, to which I’d add a +1 data point every time I did something that has the potential to improve my ability to study in the future. So, that would include things like installing a pomodoro app, organizing my desk, buying a desk lamp, or anything else that improves my ability to study. In this way, you can start to take advantage of the power of marginal gains.

One thing I’d look at for some of my first upgrades would be ways to reduce the friction and distractions surrounding my study time. Exercising self-control is a taxing thing in and of itself, so anything you can do to eliminate distractions during your study time has the potential to make a big impact. If Reddit is your vice, consider using an app like SelfControl, or studying away from your computer altogether. If you find yourself struggling to stay off your phone, put it in another room. Decide on one place where you always do your studying and nothing else, and keep that location clear of distractions so your brain knows what to do when you sit down.


That’s reassuring hearing it from someone else (it’s what I’d hope but I’d like some outside confirmation).

Great suggestion I’ll implement right away.

I certainly hope so.

I’ll read that article and consider this. Maybe a bit too meta for me? Maybe not. I’ll think about it.

I’ve done this with coldturkey, otherwise I’d always be getting distracted. I should definitely consider getting off the computer altogether though…

Well, in short, thanks both for helping me be more hopeful about this and for giving me suggestion on how to make it easier as I get started.


Is this in the context of school, where you have externally imposed evaluations and deadlines, or is this for the purpose of self-study?

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Self-study. I assume you mention “externally imposed evaluations and deadlines” because they are helpful and self-study lacks them? It might be obvious at this point, but I don’t know much about properly studying. :slight_smile:

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Everything is a muscle. What seems hard now will appear extremely easy with consistent effort.


I think this is probably something you should actually discuss with a doctor if you’re genuinely concerned. There are so many things that can cause these symptoms, from anxiety to needing (better) glasses to migraines. Personally, I had trouble studying and got easily tired (with a real heavy-headed awful feeling) when I had a low iron count, for instance. Beeminder can’t diagnose that kind of thing for you! That said, I think it’s entirely possible there’s nothing physical wrong and it’s just something you’re not used to doing.

It is worth checking how you’re working. Is there enough light? Are you sitting in a comfortable position with good posture? Craning your neck or cramping your shoulders can make it physically tiring as well, and good lighting is always important in being able to read text, study diagrams, etc. If you’re using a screen, is it too dim or too bright? Is the font size comfortable for reading? Is your desk at a comfortable height? Etc.

Those things aside, studying and concentration are skills you can learn and improve. We learn things best as children while our brains are still developing, but despite the adage about old dogs and new tricks, there’s no reason your brain can’t continue to adapt now. :slight_smile: Working up to the amounts of studying you’d like to eventually do by smaller steps is a good idea. Personally, I might be inclined to try shorter sessions where you stop before you’re tired and gradually increasing the amount you do.

Finally, a lot of people function better with rewards, whether that’s getting to read a chapter of a novel, checking off a task on Habitica, grabbing a snack… I usually set my rewards according to my mood. “Ten more minutes and I can go for a walk… one more pomodoro* and I can grab my snack… three more pages and I can read for 10 minutes…”

* You can find out more about the pomodoro method here. The gist is just that you set a timer for 25 minutes and you work in a focused way for that time. When the timer goes off, you get a 5 minute break. After 4 sessions, you get a 15 minute break.


That would be amazing. I hope you’re right :slight_smile:

I actually scheduled an appointment in a while to talk about this.

Oh, absolutely. I know this forum is full of people interested in this sort of thing though. “AnonymousBee” is an account made to avoid tying the fact that I’ve never studied in my life to my real name, but support czars can probably see my email address and figure out which one I am. Shhh :slight_smile:

That’s what I’m hoping. It’s “just” studying that’s the problem, I don’t seem to have any other cognitive issues, and maybe I’m just getting too worried/obsessed by this.

But “just” not being able to study because I slacked off in the first third of my life would really, really suck.

Definitely what I’m going to try first.


I haven’t even tried. :slight_smile: Unless I thought you needed help with your account, I wouldn’t look!


Assuming you have any medical thing in check, or going to get them looked at… I think this is pretty common. A good chunk of the people I know who had trouble finishing college is because they were able to do well in school up until then without having to work hard at it, and then at college, they’re double demotivated. 1) because they struggle for the first time at school, and without having the practice of having to struggle academically before, they have self-doubt and self-worth questions and it can take them to a bad place and 2) they see their peers who may not be as “smart” as they are do just fine, since those people may have a lot more experience working at things academically.

I’m saying this not because I think any of these are you, but because there’s probably a fair amount of emotional stuff bundled up here.

Taking the emotional part out, if you said: “I haven’t had to prepare food for myself ever, but I’m now 25 and living on my own and I don’t do a good job making dinner. I’m worried I’ll never be able to make dinner. It’s a lot of work. When I have to chop a bunch of vegetables, sometimes my hand cramps up. My food is not nearly as good as my parents who have been making dinner together for 30 years.”

One those emotions are taken out, it’s easy to say… Well, of course! It takes work and practice and realistic expectations! You’ll slip up and be disappointed and… that’s OK! You’ll get better as you practice and you’ll eventually forget ever not being awesome at it.


OK, so, great post all around, but actually

This does describe me pretty well. Kind of uncanny, actually.

Very, very reassuring. Thank you. :slight_smile:


I absolutely second the suggestion to see a doctor about this. Good luck!