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. 

Training, practice & competition

The Student Achievement Program Education Learning StudyingDuring the past weeks I have been reading They call me coach by John Wooden, a marvelous story of his life and philosophy. While reading his thoughts on working with the potential talent, ambition and drive for excellence and performance, I realized that in learning perhaps we can use the metaphor of training, practice and competition to better understand how you can positively influence our academic performance.

Training

The basics are what it all comes down to. Learn the techniques and apply them to your studies. This is what you do in training. Your trainer, more experienced or expert in techniques, shows you the basics and shows you the way to the more refined techniques. As the techniques become second nature to you, you use training to hone your them to the finest detail.

Practice

Techniques are only useful when put into practice. In basketball this is playing games with team members and friends, in learning this means picking up a book or following a lecture to engage in active learning. During practice you do not only see how your the basic technique works in a real life situation, but you also get to fine tune it to match the specific requirements; you get to make it your own.

Competition

Finally, you get to play competitions. We will call them exams. Here is where all your training of techniques and practice in the field come to play. You prepare, increase your commitment and drive yourself to perform. When you have prepared well, you will perform at the best of your ability. And since you can only learn in education, you will always come out a winner.

In university

When you look at the way you study, perhaps you spend some time in practice, perhaps none. And exams occur on a regular basis during your terms.

I sincerely doubt you spend a lot of time training your ability to learn. Yet this is where the largest gains are found when you want to increase your performance. Certainly your ability to learn is there, otherwise you wouldn’t be in university. Rather it is the techniques you apply to learning and the time you spend refining them while reading your books or following classes, which make all the difference in your performance at university.

Train and practice the fundamentals; there is a reason training is the starting point of excellence.

Image credit: http://basketball-junkie.tumblr.com/

It takes discipline to learn discipline?

The Student Achievement Program

Aristotle

We are what we repeatedly do… is an old saying attributed to Aristotle, yet is the summation of his ideas by the philosopher Will Durant. The wisdom hidden in these words has lasted through the ages. The habit of discipline is one which we have touched upon many times in this blog.

Accomplishment is the culmination of habits that are related to the realization of your ambition. The paradox lies in the habit of discipline; learning discipline requires discipline. And this simple statement of fact in itself points to the key to not only shaping habits which help you grow, but also in accomplishing any feat in life, be it in the arts, athletics or academics.

How do you learn to write? Certainly not by pondering the act of writing. No book was ever written through thoughts of authoring. Any book is the result of the act of writing, not the thought thereof. Not the pen, but the hand that wields it, puts words to paper.

How do you run a four minute mile? Again, all the thought about the act of running in no way conditions your body for the accomplishment of that feat. Putting on running shoes and running a mile, yard by yard, is what shapes a runner. Not the shoes, but the feet that wear them, take each step of the way.

How do you improve your mathematical ability? Merely thinking of the numbers and the rules which apply to them will not suffice. It is the time you spend solving problems and reflecting on the process of solving the problem which provides you with insights into the rules which govern mathematics. Not the method, but the mind that applies the method finds the solution.

The act of living. No matter what you do in life, it is the act of living which makes life worthwhile. It is as if you have received this marvelous gift named time, so use it to accomplish something that feels worthwhile to you.

Living is to apply yourself to life. To rejoice at the challenges you are presented with, and your ability to learn to overcome them – time and again. When you chose to apply yourself, you chose discipline. And discipline is a good thing, because it affords you freedom.

The only way to understand discipline is to make it a part of your life. Every day hold yourself accountable for what you set out to do. Discipline is not about making yourself right or wrong. Discipline concerns itself with findings ways for you conduct yourself in ways to further your abilities.

Discipline is a habit you learn. To master the habit of discipline, Aristotle’s words may serve as good advice, in any age:

“These virtues are formed by man in his doing the actions.”

 

Image credit: http://images.suite101.com/1998402_com_448pxarist.jpg

Always look on the bright side of… your ability

Optimism. After another interesting read today, the old adage that the more you learn, the more questions you have rings true. Optimism is a wonderful thing; in fact, a recent assessment and training  I did on my emotional intelligence showed that I had greater than average level of optimism.

The first thing a dear colleague said to me when we discussed this was: “Be happy, imagine what it would be like when you see the world and its events for what they truly are.” There was, as there always is, truth in his advice. In fact, so much truth that I did not give his remark any more consideration until I read today’s article optimism and student performance.

If you do not want to be disappointed, do not expect anything. That is one way to go through life. A realistic view of life, or a pessimistic one – you decide which is which – will save you a lot of heartaches, discomfort and disappointment. When you expect to fail and you do, you psychologically win; being right is a great way to make yourself feel good.

Yet when you set a different expectation for yourself; one where you may need to perform at a level just beyond your current ability, do you win when you do not live up to your own expectations?

Did you get the question? Do you win when you do not live up to your own expectations? 

It depends on your frame of mind. When you are in the able or not mindset, then you probably think that you let yourself down. You tried, you reached and you failed.

Writing things like this has become a gut wrenching experience for me, because it is so fundamentally untrue it nearly hurts. There is no greater accomplishment in life than to try.

To try and fail makes you a winner, simply for going beyond your comfort zone and acting. To try and win makes you a winner, simply for going beyond your comfort zone and acting. They are both the same. The result is irrelevant; in fact all that matters is trying – because that is where growth is.

An optimist may say; “Hey, I tried, I failed, but at least I did it. Maybe next time I will succeed.” In fact, this optimist is more likely to try again. And again. And if we know anything about accomplishment, we know that trying eventually leads to mastery.

Whoaa there friend! Let me venture a guess at your thoughts. Trying the same thing over and over again wil not get you any different result. Very true. In fact, simply doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result is about as foolhardy as not trying at all. And it gets real tedious – real fast.

Rather, you can use your natural predisposition to learn from experience and alter what you are doing; to take a different approach to accomplish what you set out to do.

Think of it as training to run a ten kilometre run (6.3 miles). The first run you do, you don’t go for eight kilometres and see what happens. You are better of setting up a benchmark for yourself by testing your general condition; can I jog for thirty minutes straight?

This initial step may have no direct relation to the end goal; but it is a good starting point for your training. If the answer is yes, you can start a slightly intensified training. If the answer is no, you want to build your general condition over one or two weeks until you can break into a comfortable jog for thirty minutes before starting your running schedule. Knowing that you can go it for thirty minutes may give you just the kind of confidence you need to stick to your initial training schedule when it gets a bit tough.

In your studies, when you look at those humongous books you are required to plow through in university, you may consider that startin of with one chapter may be a big enough challenge. And seeing that you can master that first chapter, perhaps you will find the confidence to accumulate more knowledge – and make the connections.

When optimism fails you. If you are overtly optimistic, you may actually fall into something called the self-enhancement bias. This simply means that you overestimate your ability. I have found that the times I am so certain of my natural ability to make something work out, it always goes wrong. Yet when my reasoning is complemented with a healthy doubt, I make it work. Do you know the feeling?

Year in year out, I hear students say that they’ll be fine. They know what they are doing and they are going to be just fine. They did not get the results they wanted last term, but the courses were just so hard. And the professors lectures, to which they stopped going of course, were boring and uninformative. (If this sounds familiar to you – keep reading) But this term, the courses are completely up their alley; in fact, they used to be really good at similar courses in high school.

Usually, this conversation takes place after one (if he is lucky) or two terms in which the student has failed to manage himself appropriately, and failed miserably he has. But rather than look to himself for answers, he looks at the courses, the teachers and the system. Or, even more detrimental, he convinces himself he is not able. Yet his bright outlook on life colors his judgement to the extent that it impedes an appropriate response to this dire situation.

Optimism is perhaps one of life’s great paradoxes. It makes life easier and helps you overcome hardships without loosing yourself on the one hand. Yet on the other hand, it may cloud your judgement and keep you from actualizing your potential in the time you have.

A healthy balance between optimism about and reflection on facts will help you reach decisions. And as you look in the mirror and ask yourself: “Am I seeing myself as more than I am right now?” and your nose starts growing, dare to be brave and call yourself on your self deceit.

As for your ability to learn and grow, keep a rather optimistic view of that. It is in fact, truer than you realize.

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.

 

 

 

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

Getting started

The Student Achievement ProgramA month ago, I had a coffee-and-catch-up session with a dear friend of mine. It was a sunday afternoon, and as usual we had a long and inspiring conversation. She was about to set off exploring the world, and I, as usual, wanted to explore the uncharted regions of my mind. We created a mutual pact – that we would both venture forth, and deliver on our ambition. Obviously my friend has the more pleasurable end of the deal, as I believe her to be somewhere “on a beach, in the sun, sipping cocktails and enjoying life- ready to hug the world” (it’s not a real quote, but hey… it adds to the picture right?), whereas I am in Holland, enjoying what can only be described as the worst summer in history. At least I’m inside.

A month after we created this pact, I am taking the next step; a daily blog which will chronicle my unearthing of some interesting findings concerning the quest for mastery at universities and colleges around the world. What is mastery? Well, we’ll get to that at some point – this is the introduction, so hang in there.

Yes, it is true; I am writing a book. However, the more I write, the more I discover the vast number of tangents one can branch out on when exploring a topic such as this one.

The purpose of this blog is simple; rhythm. I have had the pleasure of studying writing at some occasion in my life, and the best advice I got from Professor F. (really, his name starts with an F, whatever you are thinking…) was to write every day (admittedly, I updated my journal twice that term… but still.)

This blog will be my immediate transference of inputs into my brain concerning the psychology of achievement in universities and colleges around the world, with a focus on your ability to learn, grow and accomplish what it is that you want, to paper. Just to get into the rhythm.

For more than 6 years I have been lucky enough to work with some of the most talented students I could have met, and you have all inspired me greatly with your feats – from trips to China to running your own businesses, from accomplishments in sports to academic achievements. Every story has fueled my inspiration – and I trust these chronicles will do your experience in my workshops justice.

So, I guess after years of drinking coffee with people, I finally filled my inspiration-tank enough to put this program to paper. I’m sure I will enjoy writing it. Hopefully, you will enjoy reading it.

(p.s. The challenge is to write the blog before I start my day; so it will not be thoroughly edited. All comments welcome, but keep in mind that this (all) was written before breakfast… thanks!)

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