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“Go ahead!” or “I can do it!”

    Konrad came home from school with his head hanging. His mother knew immediately what had happened, because that day the math test was to be returned. He had already failed several tests this school year and had always come home very dejected afterwards. This time he seemed especially depressed.
    “Failed again?” asked his mother.
    Konrad nodded.
    “The teacher said that I have to have at least a “Satisfactory” on the next school test so that I can get a passing grade on my annual report card.”
    “Once again, you started studying too late before schoolwork,” his mother reminded him.
    Konrad knew this himself, but he had never particularly enjoyed mathematics and had fallen hopelessly behind with his knowledge during the school year. This was also a reason why he could almost never start with the actual exam material when preparing for a paper, but always had to brush up on basics from far back, or sometimes had to learn them properly. This was very tedious, because he always had the thought in the back of his mind that the actual learning material still lay ahead of him, for which there was then surely too little time again.
    As so often, an emergency program was called for.
    “I’ll start studying right away today!” promised Konrad.
    As he sat in his room staring at the notebook with the bad grade, he knew he needed help. Because he simply lacked the motivation to deal with the unloved subject. He had already invested so much time and yet had quite little success with it. If he was honest, the success was zero.

    Getting motivated to study a subject in school that you have little interest in is one of the most difficult challenges students face. As a rule, there is one or the other subject in all types of school that does not appeal to you and where learning is difficult because, for example, you cannot see what you will need it for later in life. Such low motivation is particularly stressful if it is a main subject – some teachers still tend to always consider their own subject as the most important one. If, on top of that, promotion to the next grade depends on the grade in such an unloved subject, then good advice is expensive.
    One problem in Konrad’s situation was that not only did he struggle in this one subject at school, but he was not really successful in several others either, and tended to underperform in those as well. Somehow he had a dull feeling that something was going wrong, only this feeling was so fuzzy that he couldn’t even express it in words. One day it was the math that was in his stomach, another time it was the upcoming exam in history, and another time it was the strictness of the teachers. In Konrad’s situation, outside help such as a visit to a school psychologist might be advisable, but Konrad can also do some things himself to get out of this dull feeling of stress. One important measure is to make his own situation “visible” to him by taking a piece of paper and trying to answer the following questions in writing:
    I am in this school because ….
    If I had to give up this school, I would miss the following …
    The school subject or the subject matter is easy for me or interests me very much …
    The school subject or the subject matter gives me trouble or does not interest me …
    It is important that Konrad does not simply carry these questions around with him invisibly, but that he sees them in black and white on a sheet of paper. Admittedly, he risks that after such a compilation he might realize that the school or the type of school is not right for him and that he should consider a change to another school. Many people, like Konrad, resist change and don’t really want to change anything, but just muddle along, getting worse and worse, like Konrad, and never really knowing why that is. They have the desire to do so, but avoid taking the necessary steps. If Konrad decides to continue, then he should make a kind of contract with himself and set himself concrete goals. He should formulate these goals very specifically and also put them in writing.
    What exactly do I want to achieve in school?
    Write it down as if the goal had already been achieved.
    Write why you want to achieve it: I want it because …
    Write down the goal positively, avoiding the words “no” and “not”.
    You should then find a word or short motto for these goals, write it large on a piece of paper and post it visibly near your workstation. How about “Go ahead!” or “I can do it!”?