Study Skills – Beware these two thoughts…
Sometimes we get all caught up with the small issues of our lives and end up viewing them as more important than they really are. I suppose you could say we see them as everything. For example, you’re studying for a test and it’s hard and you get completely absorbed in the work that you’re doing. You get so absorbed that the work ends up feeling as if that is all there is. This experience could be pleasant or unpleasant.
If the activity you are doing has no feeling of urgency or importance, you feel as if you are succeeding at it, and you are completely absorbed, the feeling is quite pleasant, but could be quite energetic.
Sometimes, however, while doing a task you might find it difficult. You might find it too difficult. You might get stuck and not know what to do occasionally and start to doubt whether or not you can do it. If this thought combines with the thought that you must do it, then there’s a problem. It doesn’t take much to realise having these two thoughts together is going to cause you some stress, but the problem is that we rarely notice we are having them.
Are these thoughts true?
Let us examine these thoughts a little more carefully.
- I can’t do this – PROBABLY NOT ENTIRELY TRUE…
The most we can say is that “I am really finding this very difficult and I may not be able to do it with the time and energy that I have at the moment.” or “This is so hard that I am not really enjoying it anymore and I can’t be bothered.”
- I must do this. – FALSE – This is never true, but it could be that the activity you are doing is important to you and you would really like to complete it.
Are these thoughts useful?
Firstly, of course the answer is no. But, to realise that is not enough obviously otherwise it would be easy to not have them. What would be a useful inquiry would be the question, “Why do our brains do this?” If we had an idea about why our stupid brains did this and made our lives more difficult, maybe it could be a little helpful.
How did we get here?
We evolved to be here over millions of years and millions of generations. Our great great (… x 300 )…grandma almost certainly wasn’t human. Our ancestors lived in a very different environment to us and we share very similar DNA.
In ancient times, if you were relaxed and care-free, you probably wouldn’t survive. If you were more tense and anxious, you would more likely run if you heard a sudden rustle in the bushes and occasionally that rustle would be a predator and so the tense and anxious people survived and passed on their tense and anxious genes. The relaxed people shrugged off the rustle, because it was usually just the wind and many of them lived a more happy relaxed life, but a few were eaten by predators. Over time, the population evolved to be more tense and anxious, in general to think the worst became a habit. We have inherited these genes. It is not our fault, but it is our responsibility to deal with our brain. We didn’t evolve to be happy, we evolved to survive.
How important is this task really?
The importance of the task will often be viewed as much greater than it is and then suddenly much less than it is. If you find it hard due to thoughts like the ones above, you might just convince yourself that it doesn’t really matter at al. Occasionally it might be true that it doesn’t matter, but sometimes it actually does matter… to you. You actually might really want to succeed at that task, but you manage to convince yourself that you don’t really care, because the experience of having these conflicting thoughts is so unpleasant that you’re looking for an escape.
- The alarm bell should be that you’re struggling and feeling uncomfortable. Check to see if these thoughts are present.
- Take 3 slow deliberate breaths. If you’re in a lesson and you don’t want people to notice you, just breath normally and focus on the sensation of breathing, the sounds around you and so on for a few seconds.
- Remind yourself of why they are not (at least completely) true.
- Ask yourself how important the task is to you. Think carefully about what would really happen if you failed. Be honest with yourself.
- Remind yourself that it is ok to fail. Failure is necessary for any form of progress.
- Don’t get cross at yourself for having these silly thoughts. You didn’t choose to have the brain that you have. However, it is your responsibility to make the most of what you have.
- Begin again. Start afresh with a new clearer frame of mind.
A bit about the author, Paul H:
Paul is a qualified and experienced Physics, Maths, and Science teacher, now working as a full-time tutor, providing online tuition using a variety of hi-tech resources to provide engaging and interesting lessons. He covers Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Science from Prep and Key Stage 3 through to GCSE and IGCSE. He also teaches Physics, Maths, and Chemistry to A-Level across all the major Exam Boards.