Let’s start with why.

Although this is not really a book review, I did recently read this book. I found it entertaining, at times repetitive – Apple is the primary, exemplary case – and both inspiring and instructional. The final chapter touched my emotions in a way a management book rarely does. So why, then, would I blog about this here, for students aiming to improve their academic performance. The answer to that question is very simple.

Why are you in university? Let’s start with why. I am very confident in stating that if you examine the question: what am I doing day-to-day in my university life, you will quickly discover your why. Are you here it to learn new things? Are you here it to make new friends, meet new people? Are you here to plan your next vacation? Are you here to party?

Looking and your what you do gives great hints to why you have chosen to be in university. Now ask yourself another question: is your why aligned with the idea you have of yourself, four years from now?

If you take Simon’s concept (it goes too far for me to call it a theory, sorry Simon) and use the simple model he provides to organize your motivation, you may find that you see your actions, your behaviors and your decisions reflected in the mirror of WHY?

And there is nothing wrong with that – if the why is something that you can get behind. The interesting thing about balancing your life in university today with the purpose of university, which is preparing your to think and act in the future, is that a variety of why’s can apply. Your mission – if you choose to accept it – is to create that magnificent why that makes what you eventually do incredibly easy for you to stand by. Whether others agree or not.

(Hint: when you feel unsettled by your own explanation, its probably because you know you’re lying to yourself…)

Intuitively, you understand the purpose of university, yet in the clutter of temptations (sorry, opportunities to express yourself, meet new people, develop your skills) you may loose sight of why you do what you do. In my direct experience, students who excel have a very clear explanation of why they do what they do – also when it comes partying hard. It is when someone cannot explain why there are more parties than lectures in a week, that I get worried.

Watch the video and this weekend, start with why. It’ll make coming monday very interesting indeed!

Performance as a dynamic measure

Case-in-point. Your course material encompasses A, B, C and D. These are the four elements which you must master to have understood the course.

You are tested for elements A, B and C. That is 75% of what you were originally had to master. You are able to recall perfectly elements A and B. That is 66,666% of what you were tested on. This is 50% of what you were originally required to master according the the course material covered in the course.

Because you have “completed” the course, you need not master C and D. There now exists a gap in your knowledge that you have no incentive to fill. Does this make any sense to you?

The question

Sadly enough, this how most education systems in the Netherlands (where I live) function. Perhaps it is the same elsewhere in the world – I believe it is – but my experience with education systems in other countries is limited, for obvious reasons.

The question is not whether the failure of the systems is the status quo or whether it can be changed. Rather, the question is: given this inadequate system, what can I do to get the most out of my education?

Inadequate system

Why is the system inadequate? In the case-in-point, one of three things go awry in your education. First, the course requirements could be unrealistic, meaning that quantity is prioritized over quality. This is beyond your control, as the teachers is responsible for this. Then the testing is inadequate, as you are not receiving the opportunity to demonstrate your mastery of the entire body of knowledge you are required to learn. Also this is beyond your control, as the teacher is responsible for the fairness of your testing.

Finally, regardless of your obvious lack of knowledge, the system allows you to move to the next level – leading you to believe you are prepared for what is to come, and effectively setting you up for failure further down the line. This, as a final check and balance, is also beyond your control, as the system rewards the discrepancy between your behavior and the results it produces. Or is this final point beyond your control?

A system which fosters learning

We know (for a fact) that positive reinforcement of behavior is a key driver in developing habits. This means that positively rewarding behavior which leads to substandard academic performance, in the long run leads to impoverished academic development. And this is exactly what is happening to most students today. It is not that you lack intelligence in any way. Rather the system that should stimulate the development of your intelligence is failing. It is broken, fundamentally dysfunctional and the victim of this system is you.

The sad truth of the matter is that there is a vast body of knowledge available, from both research science and practical experience, which provides solid building blocks for a system which prioritizes learning and development.

Performance as a dynamic measure

What would happen if the result you got from the test you took was taken as a starting point for further learning and development? It is a concept which is so foreign to the education system you are a part of today, because the current system is a one shot game (perhaps with a re-sit). You either pass or fail. And if you fail, perhaps you can try again later.

Stop. Rather, you say to yourself: I have mastered elements A and B (see case in point), I am struggling with element C and I have no idea where I stand on element D. What can I do to master all these elements which my teacher, from his experience, has stated are elements of knowledge on this topic so I can build on this.

Why is this so important? In an earlier blog I eluded to the fact that the new is born from the old. Any gap in your knowledge which is maintained for no other reason than a lacking education system therefore impedes your ability to make the connection and move from the old to the new.

Learning is truly a continuous process

When your performance is taken as a dynamic measure of your ability, suddenly tests are not a cut off point. Tests become opportunities to advance your learning and development. Rather than being at the end of the learning curve, they are now a part of your learning curve. Thus these tests become starting points for growth and stimulate behavior which takes you from a performance model to a development model of education in which intelligence is not given, but developed. In which you have the opportunity to reach your potential.

What’s the catch?

The argument above has a major weakness. It assumes that the system, not you, provides the test-as-a-starting-point mentality. This is not true.

In fact, you can take your test results as starting point for learning and development. If you think about it, you have all the tools you need to this. You can reflect on your performance and see what you can change in your behavior, preparation, skills and habits, to produce a different result.

The question then becomes why you would attempt to do this in a system where the behavior which led to a result which you can improve is seen as a victory rather than a learning opportunity.

I cannot imagine what the incentive is in the system, but I can see the tremendous benefit in this approach for you.

Book review (4): They call me Coach – John Wooden

The Student Achievement Program Education Learning StudyingWho can ask more of a man than giving all within his span? Giving all, it seems to me, is not so far from victory. – George Moriarty

This is the quote accompanying the first chapter is this wonderfully inspiring book about the life and time of late John Wooden, a man whose coaching career in university basketball is an awesome story – pure and simple.

What is more, the quote simply summarizes a basic philosophy of success which is a solid basis for any endeavor you may undertake in life.

In an honest, conversational tone this book discusses events and people from John Wooden’s career. His candidness lets his words travel to your heart and give you a glimpse of the great passion he had for the sport of basketball.

If you keep to busy learning the tricks of the trade, you may never learn the trade.

A simple phrase, yet very true. Also in learning and educating yourself – there comes a time when learning the tricks to learning is over and you need to get down to it. No matter how much training in using your brain efficiently you receive, you will only graduate from university when you apply that training to your curriculum.

The great thing about this book is the metaphor of coaching basketball which can be applied to many aspects of life. In sharing his experience, with that his wisdom, with you, John Wooden shows you a possible direction you can steer your mind in which enables you to grow and be successful in a way which is fulfilling for you.

To me, the most inspiring aspect of this story, and I am cherry picking from many possibilities, is the chapter in which John Wooden discusses his definition of success.

To me it rings very true and requires a strong command of yourself to live up to. In the end, he says, only you can judge whether or not you were successful. Perhaps you may fool others, but deep inside you will always wonder wether you could have done more, done something different and perhaps changed the turn of events in your life. Only you will know.

The phrase at the start of this chapter summarizes it best, and it is a thought I want to leave you with.

Succes is peace of mind, which is a direct result of Self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the Best you are capable of becoming. 

Is this the question that comes first?

My mac ran out of battery, so I am sharing this scribble with you from my notepad and mobile…










Ok, I got home and finally could charge my battery. What, you may wonder, brought about the scribble you see above? 

In a sense, it’s all there. I am sure as a student you know that if you work hard enough you will get the results you want. Really, you do.

You have the ability to read and take notes, an agenda and the ability to review your notes and plan study sessions. You do not really need anyone to explain this to you.

Perhaps in the field of techniques such as mind mapping and SQ3R, you can get some training; yet basic comprehensive reading strategies you develop through reading and effort.

As all these thoughts collided in my mind, the thought occurred to me that students who have followed their interest, their passion, are engaged in their studies most of the time. They plan, read, write – relishing in what they learn and, even in tough subjects, seemingly have the drive to make it happen.

Why would you want to do well in university? Probably because you care. Because you care about what you are studying. And this means that what you choose to study influences, perhaps, your desire to do well.

If you are at a loss for this answer, perhaps you want to reflect on your choice and rethink what you want to learn more about.

If the reason to perform is clear to you, probably the performance follows naturally.

The bootleg publication!

This week I decided to bootleg a guide for students based on all the writing I have done so far (about thirty blogs and maybe twelve drafts of book chapters). The basic design is in; thanks to Oliver! And it looks sweet! Rather than make this bootleg production of ours a compilation, as all my blogs are first drafts (see my first post ever for an explanation), I am going through the material and crystalizing the material into some sort of logical order. If you have any thoughts on what I am writing, please let me know; I would greatly appreciate your help. Here is the first version of the introduction to this bootleg publication. Enjoy!

(The bootleg publication will be syndicated through a shared file when done!)

The greatest lesson your university education has for you

Is the added value of your university experience truly the information written in books? This is available to you anywhere, in any library or on the internet. Perhaps it is the lectures which make all the difference? Then again you will find many interesting lectures on similar topics online or in archives.

The information upon which your education is based is, in fact, available to you anywhere, anytime. So what, then, makes a university education such an important experience?

Reproduction is not Education

You hold in your hands advice. Good advice resulting from seven years of focus on high achievement students’ abilities to perform well in university. Yet if you expect to read a quick and easy guide to passing exams, this is not that. Rather, what is written here helps you to learn and do well in university by creating the most valuable university experience you could have. You do only get to really be a first year student once in your life.

Easily you can trick yourself into believing that doing well in university is solely related to your grades; that your ability to reproduce what you learn without adding any novel thought or personal experience to the knowledge you will acquire, is what will bring you success in university. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, the advice here is written to show you an view of education and learning which focuses on your ability to learn and grow by not only seeking intellectual stimulation through studying, but also through experiences and adventures in life. The world is not ink on pages, rather you want to venture forth and relate these words to life as you experience it. That is where the value of your education truly lies.

Learning comes natural to you

You were born with the innate ability to learn. And your ability to learn improves through practice. In fact, nearly everything you are capable of doing to day that helps you learn – reading, writing, speaking – is the result of practice and learning.

Your brain is naturally geared for learning that you may are not always consciously aware you are. Learning is a symphony of emotions, information and stimulation that constantly takes place in your brain. And building on that ability, the advice in this book will show you how you can manage your time, your emotions and your brain to use your natural ability to learn and create a marvellous university experience.

Whether you can learn is not the question; rather, how you will learn, is.

Four tenets of learning

About student performance in university much research exists. From my experience and in my understanding four tenets are of importance when you want to focus on learning and accomplishment:

  • Your mindset about learning
  • Your emotions during learning
  • Your effort in learning
  • Your habits of learning

The advice in this book is related to those four tenets, from your mindset to the skills and behaviours accomplished students develop over the course of their studies.

The greatest lesson your university education has for you?

You learn how to manage your ambition, through distraction, challenges, temptation, setbacks and accomplishment. In the end it is not your academic accomplishments, but the accomplishment of your character during your student life, which holds the greatest lesson for you.

On the following pages you find advice on how to shape that experience in such a way that you grow and develop your potential, which is greater than you may think.

Who holds you accountable?

The Student Achievement Program Education Learning StudyingTake charge of your accomplishments in university.

How? Make yourself accountable to yourself.

What will you use as a benchmark when you reflect on the results you produce? In the end, the only thing that matters is your own standard. And you can set any standard you want for yourself. The question you want to ask yourself is this one:

“What standard can I set for myself that helps me unfold my own potential.” 

One of the things I believe is that living means growing. And growing means going from where you are to where you can be. This is easy to forget when you are good at something; being accomplished gives you positive feedback, from your activity and from your environment.

There is a reason that we are attracted to new things; it means you have learnt something new and wants to share that with us. That is why what you are good at today will only give you pleasure for as long as it is interesting to you. When the novelty wears off.

That is why learning and growing is so important. At what rate you learn and to which heights you grow are very much up to you. To set the best kind of standard for yourself, you think about your values. When you have a clear set of values in your life, they serve as tremendously powerful guides in your decision making.

In fact, when it comes to time management, your values help you stick to your priorities. In the end, when you hold yourself accountable, you know what served you and what did not when you reflect on your actions in relation to your values.

And your values are in fact a reflection of your standards for yourself. So there you have it. To take charge of your accomplishments in university, take some time to figure out your values. Then act accordingly, and your accomplishments will always ring true to your real self.

Rely on yourself

What is one of the greatest lessons university teaches you? Self reliance.

Self reliance is worth pursuing in life. We have a great way of learning about self reliance in our educational institutions. While you are a student at university you may set your own schedule, follow your fits and fests, and decide what will be a fulfilling university experience for you. And you can make it on your own.

The confidence that whatever challenge life throws your way, you can handle. The confidence to size up a challenge, physical, intellectual, emotional, and take action in spite of doubt, fear or embarrassment. Because it is the right thing to do. For you. Because you can. And you know you can.

Self reliance means that you, independent of the good opinion of other people, make choices which influence the course of your life. This does not mean that you neither search nor heed good advice. No, but it does mean that you trust your own judgement.

The only way to learn self reliance is by making choices, taking decisions, following through and accepting the consequences. This is the only way you learn from what cloth you are cut. And this is the only way for you to understand which decisions and actions bring you closer to actualizing what you have deep inside you.

Bravely dare and make mistakes. Foolish is the one who does not try because of what others may think. Breaking through the barriers and failing terribly, in the public eye or in private are excellent ways to learn. Be daring, go out on a limb – who knows, the response you get might surprise you. But if you never try…

In a sense, the university is a playground. With so many experiences you may enjoy, so many avenues you may pursue, making choices becomes important. The feedback in this system is ruthless; if you make enough choices that do not move you forward through the system, you will end up paying the price.

That is why it is important that along the way, you make sure you reflect on the choices you made, and the results you got because of your choices. This way you can think over choices you may make in the future and based on your experience, take decisions which work to your advantage.

A pleasurable conundrum. As you want to learn self reliance, you must venture out and experiment. Yet venturing out and experimenting requires some measure of self reliance to begin with. So it comes down to a simple starting point: do you believe you are capable of growing and developing your self reliance? Do you trust yourself to learn from mistakes and enjoy both the good and the bad experiences in life without regrets?

Have a little faith in yourself. I know you can grow, if only you remain open to learning. And the best teacher in your life will be you yourself. Trust yourself, and self reliance will follow. And there is no better time to learn this than while you are at university.




Book Review (2): Anthony Robbins – Unlimited Power

The Student Achievement Program Education Learning Studying

Tony Robbins

The beginning. I think this is a classic in the personal growth canon. And for me, it is the book that started me on this wonderful journey of exploring my deepest motivation and drive. Tony Robbins’ words in his book Unlimited Power, in his audioprograms Personal Power II and the Time of Your Life helped ne find resilience to adversity and hard times and inspired me to pursue my dreams and visions by building, shaping and honing my character. Therefore it seems good to start off this series of book reviews with this wonderful, original and insightful piece of writing from 1989.

This book was suggested to me by my housemate during my first year in university. He and I were both interested in personal development and he suggested I pick up Tony Robbins because he had found it insightful and entertaining. It was the first book I ordered online via the now famous Dutch Bol.com webshop, and I have reviewed and re-read it several times since 2003.

Before this happened, I had seen Tony Robbins on the infomercials with his Personal Power program; and I had dismissed his program because of that first introduction. All though I was engaged by his charisma and charm, his did not seem like a program I would be interested in because it was sold, with a discount and a bonus CD, through television. But my housemate’s opinion gave me enough confidence to, with my reservations, pick up this book and give it a shot.

A good story. Not only is the content of this book worthwhile and useful, it is also wrapped in a good story. A very important lesson in life for me has been that stories are what bind people together; the story of where we came from, of how we met, of where we are going, or of what we accomplished together. I have, through my work, met few people who do not enjoy a good story.

Not only are stories entertaining, they hold valuable lessons. And from the first page Tony takes you along in his story and he shares the lessons he learned throughout his life, in what I believe is a very open and honest way.

(Re)defining Power. What Tony does quickly is help you redefine power, your personal power to take charge of your life and make it work for you. And from that point in the book I was hooked. Could it be that I was able to turn my life into a fantastic voyage? How? What need I do to make it so?

All though the lessons are there, in the pages, there is no substitue for the school of life. Taking the lesson’s in this book to heart helped be push forward through life and pursue an unconventional career – but an extremely fulfilling life of engagement and inspiration. The seeds were planted when I read this book, but they only came to bloom two years later, when I needed to get in motion. Badly. In a hurry.

The starting point. Tony’s programs always start with your beliefs. Pick any program and you will first get a good review of what goes on in your inner world; in your mind and how that effects what materializes in the outside world; in your reality.

And it is simply true. When you learn and become the master of your mind, your thoughts, your urges, your needs, your emotions, you see the tremendous effect the way your mind works has on your life.

He speaks of how you can choose to respond to events in your life. This book confronts you with your ability to reflect upon yourself, and your life, and if you read it in the spirit in which it was written, there is tremendous power in the lessons on choosing your responses. You grow simply by planting the seeds of these thoughts in your brain.

Physiology. Tony talks about your physiology and how it affects your day to day state. But what he also does is constantly give you a way to apply what he speaks of; immediately and with results.

The force of his writing does not come from the words he puts on paper, but the action these words inspire. And by taking action as you read, you quickly find yourself making the words and lessons your own.

A great read. When you read this book by Tony Robbins, look back at my blog and you will see that many of the lessons in his book are reflected in some way in the writing here, nearly ten years after I first read his book.

Perhaps mixed with new ideas, different experiences and novel research, the principal lessons I have tried to convey to students can be found in the core of Tony Robbins’ philosophy of life, achievement, success and power. It is a timeless one that holds value for anyone who wants to learn from him.

Time matters

The Student Achievement ProgramIt is quite simple. An economist could say time is a scarce resource. A businessman would say time is money. A life coach may say time is emotion. But what do you say? I have all the time in the world? Think again – you have got as much time as you have. That’s it. How you spend your time, on what, with whom and where matters.

Inevitably students in my programs will tell me about their time; there are too few hours in every day to get all the work done; it takes forever to read certain chapters (or books…), not enough time today – but in two weeks I will have more time.

These remarks always make me smile, in a good way. It is as if there is a sudden realization that the concept of time has changed overnight. But every remark hides the thought that it is the amount of available time that is the problem. That is strange, because you have had the same twenty-four hours in day for every day of your life! Not a day has gone by where you did not face the fact that the rotation of the earth in relation to the sun took approximately twenty-four hours, providing some hours of daylight and a some hours of starlight.

No revolution that changed the universe took place – at least not the universe in this reality. In your own universe, the world you experience in your mind, something has changed. Suddenly, demands are being made on your time, demands you will learn to handle over time. Demands that will help you grow. But at the start, just like any beginning, the change is confusing, challenging and since you may have no direct response to it, a bit daunting.

And as with other things, you will learn to manage the increased demands in ways that will move you forward and bring you closer to your goals in university.

Inevitably, the question arises on how to get more done in less time. Well it takes time to develop a skill, such as studying. Seeking an escape into speed-reading, mind mapping as a shortcut or skipping-chapters-and-reading-slide-decks is actually quite counterproductive; speed reading, mind mapping and lecture slides are tools, like a hammer. And a hammer is only as good as the carpenter who wields it.

The Student Achievement ProgramYou will become efficient and effective with your time. Two realizations are important in this process.  The first is understanding on which activities you are spending your time. The second is learning how you can optimize the time you spend on these activities.

How do you understand what you are spending your time on? Keep track of your time. Do you use an agenda? An agenda is a marvellous tool that helps you work into the future. If you take last week’s agenda and reflect on it day to day, looking at what you planned to do, what you did and what you accomplished in that time, then you can learn.

The second step follows the first almost intuitively; as you reflect you will notice where time is being lost and you will, especially if you have many things that need doing, start to think about spending your time more effectively; by applying one or more tools in you studying and learning repertoire.

The process of planning is useful, be it solely as a mental exercise. Your ability to think things through is your ability to learn and grow. Managing your time is as essential a tool as comprehensive reading in being an effective learner. When you spend too much money on beer during the week, the weekend sucks. Let me say that again: When you spend too much time drinking beer during the week, the weekend sucks.

Get it? Time is valuable, be mindful of it. Money you can always make more of; time is really limited. And thinking about what you spend your time on, making choices between what is important to you, that is a skill that will reap rewards in your studies.

Take a look at last week’s agenda: see anything you want to do different?


Source Image Roger Federer/Rolex

Source Image  Agenda

Let’s (re)define performance…

The Student Achievement ProgramWhat is possible? For you? When you want to increase your performance in university, what you are capable of today is not interesting. What you are potentially capable of is.

Setting clear goals for yourself helps (according to today’s article). All though I want to take care not to see goals and goal setting as a cure all to learning in university, goals are an important step in getting you to realize your potential. And that potential is greater than you think.

When you begin to set your standards for yourself, you want to work from where you stand today; what you know about yourself now, looking at your past performance and understanding your own potential.

Too often, I hear students talk about how good other students are, like they have some superhuman a ability to pass exams. Without studying. Sure… In my experience (seven years spent with some of the highest achieving students I could have ever met), the secret is called effort. Students passing exams without studying, are few and rare – if they exist at all. And if such genius appears in your class  you might want to think again about your frame of reference.

The other 99,99% of accomplished students get their results through effort and their ability to develop their mind. That’s it. These students look at what is possible for themselves; not in comparison to others.

Given that a bit of competition may feed your motivation, disappointment awaits you if you compete to outdo the other. There is little satisfaction there. Satisfaction comes when you outdo yourself, your own expectations; when you experience an increase in your ability. Seeing the results of your efforts is the greatest motivator there is.

The Student Achievement ProgramFocus on yourself. An obsession with competition is detrimental to your performance, because it forces you to focus on the other. And when you spend too much time thinking about the genius who is not studying, you lose time you could spend cultivating your own mind. To be competitive, you must focus on yourself. Olympic athletes, when you listen to their comments on their performance, generally have an clear idea of their performance and ability. They are very focussed on themselves, and know that they must give their all. That will determine their score in the end, not what their competitors do. To perform at their peak, athletes focus on their own strengths, not their competitors, and work constantly to perform at their very best.

The past does not equal the future. When you want to do the best you can, focus on yourself. You are a unique individual, and your starting point will determine your growth. What you are capable of today, and what you will be capable of tomorrow are related to each other but one does not define the other. Remember the growth mindset?

Going for your own goals, your own ambitions, requires dedication. Performance is nothing if it is not personal. You can be intensely proud of your growth, yet feel you have lost if you compare yourself to students who are ahead of you in their personal development.

When you focus on your own game, set your own goals and work towards them diligently and deliberately, that is when you succeed. The goal itself should not become the end, but a means to grow and learn from your experience. Do you know that studies show an increase in GPA simply by setting specific, clear goals for yourself?

Goal setting theories can explain why; a clear goal makes doing what is relevant to the goal and discarding what is not is easy. Goals bring focus to your actions. And focussed actions bring you closer to your goals.

How is this relevant to what is possible for you? The greatest threat to your growth is comparison. When you lose sight of your strengths and ability to get to the next level for yourself, you lose sight of your own potential. When you find yourself saying: I am not like the other, the smart one who get it all in one go; think again. In seven years, I have rarely met a student who truly excelled, that did not focus on her studies and work towards specific study related goals.

I can do this is probably the most powerful starting point in any learning endeavor, and saying It is hard, but that makes it worthwhile means that you know you have got what it takes. Do not compare yourself to others, they are not the competition. The real contest is in your mind – between your self-doubt and self-efficacy. Believing you are a winner means you have won half the game.

Performance is growth: going from where you are today to where you can be tomorrow. In the end, it is your capability to move yourself forward, not how well your peers are doing, that defines how far you will go. What is possible for you? Go find out.