Q: Have you ever wondered why some people achieve some things with ease, whilst others find the same things near impossible? Even though we all have different genetic capabilities, why is it that some people reach their full genetic potential, whereas others don’t even come close?
When it comes to our children’s academic performance and their future success, wouldn’t you like the keys to unlock their full potential and the powerful tools to build them a strong solid future?
Regardless of the genetic make and model, the road we travel is largely guided by our thoughts, and driven by our feelings. It is only when we understand the cyclical relationship between emotions, cognition and behavior that we become empowered to intervene.
Momentum from experience
One of the most influential yet underestimated aspects of learning is emotion. How we feel towards something effects how we think about it, and subsequently what we do about it. On the positive end of the scale, are things which we enjoy, have confidence in and a motivation towards. At the opposite end however are those things that we dislike and have no motivation towards. Whether or not something (including school activities or particular school subjects) falls towards the positive or negative end of this scale largely depends on cognitive cycles that develop and gain momentum following our experiences. Because most experiences occur incidentally, many of those cycles are driven automatically. If we understand how to modify those experiences however, not only can we break those cycles; we can reverse them in a positive direction.
The fear cycle: A barrier to true potential.
The following describes the processes by which a child’s ‘weakness’ begins, progresses, develops and spirals out of control, often into adulthood. The cyclical pattern described below is the number one reason that many students fail to reach their true potential, why many drop out of school and why many students struggle with their HSC subjects far more than they need to. The cycle can apply to anything, so “X” could be Mathematics, English, Homework, Essays, Exams, Creativity, Art, Sport, Social Interaction, Public Speaking – the list is unlimited. Cycles which start during school years often continue into adulthood, and can last a lifetime if not altered.
· The child approaches X with no confidence. (Thought: The belief they are not good at X. Emotion: Fear of the unfamiliar).
· Their lack of confidence impairs them from doing well at X. (Despite our conscious thoughts and actions, our subconscious beliefs act as an invisible yet powerful force).
· Their poor performance reinforces the belief that they are not good at X. As an emotional side effect, the fear of unfamiliarity now turns to fear of failure, and by doing so produces a ‘wound’ in the child’s self-esteem.
· Now reattempting X is like running a race with a wounded leg. The reinforced fear handicaps their efforts, and results in poor performance again. This experience further reinforces their original belief and associated fear.
· At some point, this poor performance is likely to attract some form of criticism. Even if done so with constructive intentions, the criticism of what they are already feeling vulnerable about only adds salt to the wound and reinforces the existing negative cycle more than ever.
· By this stage, the pain and fear of failure has become so great, the minds defense mechanisms kicks in. So now the conscious mind interprets X with frustration, irritation and perhaps even hatred. Either way, the child has formed a negative attitude towards X.
· This negative attitude will affect how they perceive anything to do with X. For example, even if they do better the next time they attempt X, the child is less likely to notice their progress and instead focus on their failings or other negative aspects about X. (This psychological effect is similar to the ‘placebo effect’ in reverse). By this stage the child has become especially sensitive to criticism about X, and is likely respond poorly to praise even when they do well at X.
· Now that the belief and fear is so strongly established, the negative wheels are set in motion. From this point forward the cycle continues to gain momentum and spiral out of control. If X happens to be a school subject or something which they will have to continue doing for the rest of their school life, some of the more detrimental signs that a negative cycle is in place will appear during High School. Other than a negative attitude, the student will struggle finding motivation to engage in any learning associated with X and may experience difficulty concentrating on X-related activities. Motivation and difficulty concentrating will of course impair their performance leading to poor marks, criticism and further drives the cycle with more and more momentum.
The negative cycle which may have begun back in Primary School becomes especially problematic around HSC time, even when the student tries to force themselves to learn and study, their motivation and concentration are only impaired further by the stress they now face about how their HSC marks will affect their future. Whilst it is never too late to intervene, parents must understand that the more momentum these cycles have gained, the more difficult it becomes to slow the cycle and then reverse it.