What you practise, you become good at (even the ‘bad’ stuff)

Posted in Inspiration & Ideas

I don’t know if it’s because it’s a new year, but I’m more conscious than ever of how important it is to be willing to change the way we think.

When we practise thinking a certain way, what we think becomes what we actually believe (even when it’s not true!)

A personal example (with very painful reminders….):

‘I’m rubbish at maths and I hate it.’

I thought this for most of my life. Every childhood experience I can recall, at both school and home, re-enforced for me that there were ‘people who could do maths’ and ‘people who couldn’t’ and I was someone who couldn’t.  Unwittingly, my own well-intentioned mum cemented this belief by reassuring me that ‘You’re good at other things. Some people are just not ‘mathsy’ people. I’m not and you’re not’. And I believed her. Why wouldn’t I? 

I practised this belief for years. When maths was hard I knew it was just evidence of what an ‘unmathsy’ person I was. Of course, none of this was helped by the quality of most of my maths experiences in school. Doing exercises from a set of cards from an old ice cream tub (with absolutely no input first), copying endless examples of the board and queuing up to get them marked right or wrong or the horrendous experience of literally feeling I would wet myself with fear every Monday morning for our ritual humiliation of ‘quick fire’ times tables practice and tests.

I wasn’t learning maths; I was just doing maths activities. No thinking, no wondering, no questioning, no application, no talking. No actual learning and a lot of practice believing it was me and the maths that were the problem.

I now work as a Primary Maths Consultant. When I tried thinking differently and it took me on a journey I could never have imagined.  I learned to love maths. I learned to love learning maths. I learned that instead of being scared about what didn’t know, it was just I hadn’t learned it yet! I could learn but I had to go out and find the information and expect to need time to understand it. None of this was easy and I didn’t expect it would be. I’d learned by then that anything worth having isn’t easily achieved and I’d have to always work hard at it.

Changing the way I think has changed the way I act and ultimately changed my whole life.

Thinking you’re ‘rubbish at maths’ affects every part of your life. Your self-esteem and your confidence is constantly under threat in case your lack of maths skills are ‘found out’. How much you believe you can progress in your work. How well you can manage your finances at home and how you ‘measure up’ to others. Believing this led me to limit my expectations of myself and not try as hard. I thought other people just found learning easier than me and because I practiced thinking this I became utterly convinced it was true.

I don’t practise this belief or anything associated with it anymore.  I’ve successfully re-built my ‘thinking pathways’ in my brain.

I now know it isn’t math; maths is central to everything I do and the world I live in built upon mathematics. And It’s not me;  I just haven’t learned the things I don’t know yet so it’s up to me to do something about this. It’s the way I was taught to think and how much I practised thinking this way.

What were merely thoughts turned into actual beliefs.

When we practise thinking a particular way, what is actually a thought (and may not have any truth within it) becomes a belief and that belief manifests itself in the reality of how we feel and act.

 So, what have you been practising thinking and what are the children you teach thinking and believing?

Are they full of ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘I just haven’t learned this yet?’ 

Do they believe ‘Some people just aren’t mathsy people’ or ‘Everyone can learn maths when they are given the opportunity and time to learn.’

Do they believe that learning should be easy and if it’s not then ‘I’m not clever because this feels hard ‘ or ‘I expect and hope to feel challenged and that way I’ll know I’m learning and improving my skills.’

For more information on how what we think is then what we believe and ultimately who and what we become, read about Prof. Carol Dweck’s groundbreaking work on ‘Growth Mindset’ on-line.

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