The story you tell yourself about school determines how you succeed and fuels motivation. What is your story?
I want to start with my story around academic success or lack thereof. As part of my job, I needed to pass a programming certification on the Perl language this year. I was not excited. Perl frustrates and confuses me, and I love to avoid it. I had to earn this certification, so I mapped out a study plan and started working on it.
After a week of studying, I was really tired. There were so many other things going on at work and in my personal life, and I just couldn’t do it right now. So I would take a break from studying. A couple of weeks later I would think about the certification I still needed to get, decide my break was over, and commit to another study schedule. I would follow my study schedule for a week or two, and then decide I was tired.
Do you notice a pattern?
I had this goal I needed to achieve but was constantly starting and stopping on it. When we do this, it feels like we are taking a break and we are really good at convincing ourselves of valid reasons to stop. It can even feel positive, thinking, “I’m just burnt out. I need a little break and then I’ll work even harder.”.
Sounds innocent, right?
But it isn’t a break, and it is a way of sabotaging ourselves. I was quitting on my goal of earning this certification. If you are doing this with your coursework, you are quitting on your dream of a college degree. You may pick that dream back up and start again, but today, when you stop, it is a decision to quit.
Why we do it
First, recognize this is totally normal! We all do this. The story about the Perl certification is real and is exactly what I did earlier this year. It is a very innocent way of dealing with our brain fatigue—though it isn’t really dealing with the issue at all.
The problem begins when our brains are driving activity with negative thoughts. We create a story about ourselves. Maybe you’ve noticed some of these swirling around in your brain:
- This is so hard.
- I’ll never be able to do this.
- If I don’t get this degree I am letting everyone down.
- If I don’t get this certification I will lose my job.
- I have too much to do.
- I’m just not smart enough to do this.
When these types of thoughts are our motivation to study, it makes total sense for us to get burnt out and want to quit. Are you as exhausted as I am reading this?
Create Academic success by changing your story
The real issue we have is in our thinking about the task at hand or the story we are telling ourselves. To stop sabotaging our studies we need to figure out what we are thinking. Most of our thoughts are unconscious, but when we slow down and pay attention they are there.
Then, decide if you want to continue to think the same thoughts and telling the same story. Does this story feel good to you? Is it helpful to you? If not, you can choose to create a different story and think different thoughts. This might sound really simple, but it isn’t necessarily easy. It’s also one of the most important factors in college success.
When I realized I was 2 months into my certification prep and still a long way from passing, I got real with myself. I took a look at my thoughts and noticed the two big thoughts driving my every action were “This is so hard. I’ll never be able to do this”. It is such a defeating story. Makes sense why I would decide to quit all of the time—if I believe I can’t do it, what’s the point in trying?
I sat with this story for a while and decided it was total crap.
I was ready to stop sabotaging myself. Continuing to think this way was never going to get me what I needed, which was to pass this exam. Here’s what I decided to think instead: “This is hard, and I can do hard things.“
Anytime I would feel overwhelmed I would repeat this to myself. If I doubted it, I found proof in my life where I had done something hard (earned a degree, had a baby, bought a home, etc.) All I changed was this one thought, and as simple as it sounds, it gave me the fuel I needed to keep going. I had a new story about myself and felt determined. Then I used that determination to keep doing the next thing. I still didn’t particularly enjoy the material that I was studying, but I kept working at it a little each day. Because of this shift in thinking, I passed that certification!
Even if this specific exam had not gone in my favor, this process is still the best step to keep making momentum forward. Remember, failure only exists in your mind.
This is such a powerful idea, and I can’t wait to see the progress you will make in your life when you stop sabotaging yourself with stops and starts, examine your story, and decide on a new story that drives you to academic success. Take this further and learn to stop feeling overwhelmed and get motivated for college. Take the challenge below, and let me know what awesome things you are accomplishing!
Try It Yourself: 20-minute Challenge
- Identify one course you are stopping and starting.
- Set a timer for 5 minutes and write down everything you’re thinking about the course. Include the good, bad, and ugly.
- Identify one or two thoughts that feel the most real. Which ones do you think are driving your actions?
- Make a decision: Does this thought serve you? Will it help you reach your goal?
- If not, decide to give it away and create a new thought for yourself. Write it down. Repeat it to yourself every time you feel like stopping.