Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Student Facing Pressure

Here is an old post. My successful lawyer friend, who had once dropped out of medical school, was quite excited by this piece. He envisioned student newspapers noticing it and printing it. So I dreamed of that too…  As it happens, according to my hit count, this is my least-read post. How strange.

Passing school is hard enough without self-imposed pressure. Tom was a student in my boarding house taking medical lab technology. As the semester passed he kept trying harder, and worrying more- only to barely keep his head above water.

I remarked that back in high school I tried setting goals of several study-hours per night. My goals were too high. But the funny thing is, when I lowered my expected number of hours, my actual number of hours increased (although I still didn't meet my goals).

Since then I have learned from Nancy Greene that for world-class skiers the final barrier between winners and also-rans is not muscles or coordination but the pressure barrier. In students pressure may be mistaken for laziness, making us withdraw from others at the very time we should be honestly reaching out.

Tom kept floundering. He said that my story sunk in when I repeated it after a month. It helped him, but eventually he was studying 24-hours a day, or so it seemed, and he was still headed for failure. I uged him to get help such as from the Student Resource Centre or Counseling Services. Tom, however, was too stubborn or proud. "But I already know what to do," he muttered "I just have to try harder." So I tried another tack, advising him to consult an instructor. "But that wouldn't do any good," said Tom, who still had some sort of psychological resistance. I said, "How do you know for sure? Remember, your instructor used to be a student himself. Maybe every year there are students like you. Maybe he knows some little study tricks."

So Tom got help. Never again was his outlook so bleak. It matters little what Tom's instructor said; the point is that Tom got outside of his own head, outside of his "closed loop" thinking. That's why he passed.

Still curious? Tom no longer was allowed to study around the clock on weekends. His instructor said, "You have to reward yourself." Tom was allowed on weekends to study only from noon to three. "With a noon start," I noted "you won't despair when you sleep in."

"Pressure" plus "closed loop" equals "bad scene." Happy studies, everyone.

Sean Crawford
(September 2012)
re-posted October 2015


~Originally published at my university student newspaper, The Gauntlet for Dec 8, 1994

~I learned in college not to kid myself that I would study more (i.e. make up for lost time) as midterm exams approached. For me any midterm extra motivation was nullified by the extra pressure. So instead I would trudge along at the same pace all year, right from day one.

~ I profited by the advice of successful guerilla leader Chairman Mao Tse Tung (Mao Ze Dong) who wrote in his military instruction manual to always give the troops eight hours sleep. For me the "loss" of study time was more than made up for by being able to listen well in class and being happily alert as I studied.

~What do you think?

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