Archive for October, 2009

The elusive thing called motivation

Posted: October 23, 2009 in Motivation

I get so many students who come for counselling because of this elusive thing called motivation. When you need it most, it often decides to disappear. You look and look for it but can’t seem to locate it within you. It then affects your mood, you feel lousy and useless, you think you are not gonna make it and then you decide maybe you should give up now with just 2.5 weeks left to A’levels. So I figured I should write about it but in different parts so that each post won’t be so long (I got feedback that my posts are too long and tedious to read).

Motivation is a tricky business to write about though because there are so many different theories about motivation. So I think instead of being all theoretical, I’ll draw on the experiences of some of the students that I’ve seen for academic motivation and write about what worked for them and what didn’t. Hopefully that would make it more ‘real’ for you and help you find your own motivation.

the-mentalistI’m a big fan of crime dramas and one of my recent favourites (apart from Criminal Minds) is the series ‘The Mentalist’. It follows the story of Patrick Jane who uses his amazing powers of observation, people profiling and uncanny ability in drawing conclusions to solve crimes in a way that no one else can. It’s almost like he’s a psychic, although he confessed that his so called ‘psychic’ abilities is really the result of good observation.

Wikipedia defines a mentalist as one who uses “mental acuity, cold reading, hot reading, principles of stage magic, and/or suggestion to present the illusion of mind reading, psychokinesis, extra-sensory perception, precognition, clairvoyance or mind control“.

Now I don’t have an idea what a great number of those terms in that definition means but since channel 5 started showing ‘The Mentalist’, I’ve been getting strange questions from people I just met, whether in school or outside.  After the initial introductions and upon knowing that I am the school counsellor some would inevitably ask,  ‘you’re a counsellor? So you can read minds like a mentalist is it?’

I know that students are sometimes afraid of coming to look for me because they think I’m gonna unearth their deep dark secrets just by looking in their eyes. They think I’m gonna point out all their flaws, see where they fall short, see through their veneer and then ultimately give advice on how they should live their lives. Which are all not true. I have good observation skills (I’m very good at jigsaw puzzles) but I can’t read minds. And I often choose to point out strengths, points of resilience and untapped potential instead. 🙂 I am not a mentalist.

examPromos starts next Monday. I probably should have written about exam anxiety earlier but oh well, better late than never! Any of us can have exam anxiety (yes, even the straight A students) and a little anxiety is in and of itself not a bad thing. It’s a signal that this exam is important to us and a little anxiety can help get our adrenaline going and help us stay focused and alert. It becomes a problem when the anxiety starts to become debilitating and then ends up paralyzing us such that we ‘blank out’ which I’m sure is a phenomenon many of us are familiar with. 🙂

When we talk about exam anxiety, it’s important to recognize for ourselves that there are two types of people who gets exam anxiety. One are the students who didn’t prepare well for the exam in which case it’s rather reasonable and rational that they would feel anxious. Another are the ones who did prepare and in fact felt pretty confident but after stepping into the exam hall their heart starts to race, palms sweat, recurring thoughts that ‘I’m gonna fail’  and then the ultimate happens – they ‘blank out. So what can we do to prevent exam anxiety?

Well, in the first scenario in which exam anxiety is attributed to unpreparedness, the simple answer is uhh…prepare? Duh. There’s no magic formula for that I suppose. But what if you didn’t manage to prepare? Or what if you did prepare but you still feel anxious? Some of the following strategies might be helpful:-

  • Get plenty of sleep  before the exam itself. Which means no last minute cramming. Which also means that at some point the night before the exam, you just gotta close your book, tell yourself ‘it is what it is’ and then go to sleep. I tell students that we are vessels of knowledge. If the vessel breaks down, it doesn’t matter how much knowledge we managed to cram in, we wouldn’t be able to deliver anyway.
  • Before entering the exam hall, avoid cramming last minute and definitely avoid classmates or other students who are anxious and who express negativity. Anxiety and negativity can be infectious! If the wait is killing you, pick a quiet corner (or spot) and distract yourself by reading a magazine or listen to music.
  • Remember that your exam grades is not a reflection of your self-worth. A grade is just a grade. It’s true that it plays a role in whether you would get to promote or not, or whether you would get into the university of your choice. But it doesn’t define who you are and all of your future successes. So let the grade remain as just that – a grade.
  • Expect that you will have some anxiety and that it’s normal. Don’t be anxious that you’re anxious!
  • If you feel anxiety creeping up, give yourself positive statements such as ‘I’m just going to try my best’ and breathe in deeply and breathe out slowly a few times.
  • If you do blank out and can’t for the life of you remember anything and find yourself not being able to do any of the questions, don’t focus on the ‘blanking out’. Think about the next small step. Leave the ‘big’ questions and focus on the small ones. Or if possible, have a drink or go to the bathroom.
  • Remember to counter your negative thoughts such as ‘I’m not going to do well’ with rational thoughts such as ‘I don’t have to be perfect’ etc.

If exam anxiety is really plaguing you and you can’t figure it out, talk to your teacher or to me about it. You don’t have to go through it alone. Below are some useful articles that you can read to find out more about exam anxiety and how to beat it. All the best!!