Dealing with unhelpful beliefs about learning
This article is written for students – but it’s relevant for everyone, including parents!
Gremlins and negative beliefs
Some people have a totally positive attitude towards themselves and their ability, but most have some doubts. Identifying and removing them is a key part of being successful.
What are Gremlins?
Your Gremlin is that voice in your head that sends you negative messages like, “I’m no good at this,” and “this looks too much for me” or “just one more (bar of) chocolate won’t harm me”.
When you hear these nagging messages, you need to be able to turn them around to your advantage. Here are some common things your Gremlin might say, along with their ‘turnarounds’:
Sentences beginning with I can’t are a common way for your Gremlin to control you. I can’t do Maths, I can’t do algebra, I can’t find time to do this work, I can’t… etc, etc.
Turn these around by saying simply, “How can I?” Looking for a way is much more productive than giving up. Become a creative problem-solver.
“I’m no good at…”
Another classic. Turn it around by saying, “How can I be good enough?” You don’t have to be brilliant at everything. It does help to have something that you’re good at in life, but it doesn’t have to be one of your school subjects. Just be good enough to get where you want to be – to reach your goals.
.. late, behind, rushing, messing up, tired, etc. Thinking these thoughts will not help until you turn them around. How can I not be late or rushing? (see the section on time management). How can I be less tired? (see the section on health).
“I can never remember what I’ve learnt…”
Oh really? Never? This is hopeless – I mean what’s the point in learning anything if you can’t remember? That’s true – but of course you can remember. Your memory is fantastic! You may just need to use learning skills more effectively. Read the sections on learning skills – and use them! Your memory will magically improve – I guarantee it!
Other ways to be negative
Your Gremlin comes up with the same things over and over. But you can come up with some conscious negative stuff all by yourself. Here are some examples:
“I’m too far behind – I don’t know where to begin…”
OK – relax! You need to find out exactly what you need to learn, break the learning down into small chunks and make a study plan. Get a list of everything you need to know – a copy of the syllabus would be great or ask your teacher. Have a look through the Time Management section and work out a study regime that works for you.
“This subject is so boring; how can I learn it when it makes me fall asleep?”
Don’t think about the subject – think about the process of learning it. Try to create the best, most colourful notes as a piece of art; work with your friends; learn using stories – and make them really silly or funny stories; put on some up-beat music; think, “If I can learn this stuff, I can learn ANYTHING!” Try to learn it in record time. Go for it and get it over with.
“I sort-of understand it”
This means that you can’t really explain it. If you can’t then you are unlikely to be able to answer a question properly in the exam. So, test yourself. Discuss it with a friend. Look up a different source of information, such as a new internet site.
“There’s too much to remember”
Your memory can be amazingly good – if you are organised and committed. Get your resources and syllabus together, make a plan and follow my learning skill tips. And don’t forget that you don’t have to remember everything to get a decent grade.
“What’s the point of learning this – I’m never going to use it.”
Use it for what? Work? If that’s what education is all about, it’s largely a waste of time. We might as well go straight to work after we’ve learnt to read and write and learn the job as we go. This is a pointless thought and you’ll have to get over it. You could say that you’re learning it just in order to get your qualifications, which is often true!
“If I have something difficult to learn, I’ll stay up all night until I get it”
Well, if that works for you then great. But I guarantee that you’ll burn out sometime – and you won’t see it coming until too late. This is a classic mistake. Break up your work into small chunks with regular de-stressing breaks. It may seem like you’re on a roll (I’ve done it many times) but your brain simply doesn’t work as well during long, unbroken work sessions.
“I don’t learn fast enough – everything takes me too long.”
Learn steadily, using the ideas I talk about in the learning skills sections. Make a plan, learn in small chunks using the learning cycle, reward yourself for each bit learnt. I’ve known many students who’ve worked slowly but smart and at the end of it they know enough. Being able to stick at a project until you succeed is a skill that employers will pay you well for!
“I can’t get everything done without sacrificing my social life.”
That sounds a bit dramatic. If you don’t get your grades, then you won’t be able to afford a decent social life later on! Make sure that your social life is high in quality rather than quantity. Go out less often and have more fun. Don’t go out just for the sake of it. And don’t allow your friends to just call you up, or visit unexpectedly and drag you out. Set aside definite times for working, eating, T.V. and socialising. Hard if you’re not used to it (have a look at the time management section for tips) but getting your personal organisation sorted is well worth the effort.
“I can’t sit and study for long periods of time without becoming tired or distracted.”
Then don’t! Break up your learning into short periods. Experiment with what works best.