How to get good at something and persevere
None of us is born knowing how to do anything, let alone being good at anything. Yes, some people pick some things up faster than others – one person might learn to read rapidly when another learns to skillfully wield a tennis racket much faster. But, we're all initially blank slates. Ultimately, we all have to try to get good at anything.
The trouble is, I see a lot of GCSE students, in particular, giving up with their studies because they're hard. They think they ought to be able to do it but are embarrassed by the fact that it's not coming easily to them, so they just give up.
In this article, I'm going to talk about how you can get good at something, and keep persevering with it, even when you find it hard.
How to get good at something and persevere
From reading Angela Duckworth's book, Grit, and my own experience I believe there are five steps to getting good at something:
- Showing up in the first place
- Taking an interest
- Seeing the purpose in it
- Keeping believing in your potential
Let me talk through these five steps using an example from my own studies: my science GCSEs.
Showing up and taking an interest in science
Having not done a lot of science at primary school, I went to secondary school not really knowing what was involved. But, I remember gently getting really interested in it during my year 7 lessons. The flashy chemistry experiments that my teacher demonstrated at the front, the predictable formula for writing up experiments and the fact that it helped to explain the world around me all appealed.
This interest continued to develop throughout years 7, 8 and 9.
When I got to year 11 and I started to revise science (revision is ultimately a form of practice), becoming more and more immersed in the subject. It was as if every piece of knowledge and understanding I gained was part of a great big jigsaw puzzle, and it made me hungry for more pieces of the jigsaw. I wanted to see how it all fitted together – I was hungry for knowledge and understanding.
This wouldn't have happened if I hadn't applied myself to my revision because it was only then that I could see all the pieces coming together.
As I learned more, and the number of pieces in the jigsaw grew, I really began to see the wider purpose of science – both for myself and society. Firstly, I could see it was something that I could excel in; I could see the potential for me to get really good grades if I just kept up the practice – and this would help me get where I wanted to go in life. Secondly, I could see how science directly contributed to human development – science wasn't just fascinating, it was important.
Believing in my potential
Seeing the results of my practice, the constant improvement and positive feedback, as well as the purpose, fuelled my belief in myself. I could see that I could keep on getting better and better at science if I kept applying myself to it, and it would fulfil a deeper purpose for me.
What can you learn from this?
If you're a student and you're finding something difficult in your studies, or even your life in general, I'd encourage you to follow the five steps I've outlined above. If you're a parent and you're despairing because your teenager won't try with their studies, think about these things.
I've elaborated on these steps below.
1. Keep showing up
Students – when you stop showing up, that's giving up and all progress will cease.
Parents – it's possible that your child isn't showing up mentally or physically for certain subjects, or for their studies as a whole. If they're not mentally showing up, they may physically be in lessons, but they're not actually engaged. This might be a mindset problem, or there might be something that's blocking them from engaging in their studies e.g. problems with friends, lack of confidence in their ability or something else. The first thing to do is try to understand what's stopping them from showing up, and remove those blocks so they can show up. This is something I work with parents on all the time in The Extraordinaries Club.
2. Take an interest
Students – I hear a lot of students giving up on subjects or complaining about them because they don't get along with their teachers. This is really an abdication of your personal responsibility for your own success. My advice, if you're in this situation, is to start asking questions about the subject. For example:
- Why is this subject important?
- Why is it interesting?
- Why has the government/exam board / whoever decided that this is important for me to know?
If you're really taking an interest, and trying, in a subject your relationship with your teacher will improve, as will the way you see the subject.
Parents – if your child is struggling with a subject, ask those questions in a nurturing way to help pique their interest.
Students – it is through practice, revision and immersion that you will discover a love, or at least, a liking for your subject. So, keep at it – practising intelligently every day. You might like to check out my post on growth mindset to understand more about how to practice intelligently.
Parents – make sure your child has the study skills they need to successfully practice their subject. There are many resources to help with this on my blog, in my book and in The Extraordinaries Club.Through practice, revision and immersion you will discover a love, or at least, a liking for your subject. #studytips
4. Find the purpose in it
Students – this is similar to taking an interest but ask yourself:
- What's the purpose of this for me?
- How does this knowledge help make the world a better place?
Parents – ask your teenager the same questions:
- What's the purpose in this for you? E.g. get the grades to get into the sixth form, so you can become a psychologist etc.
- How does this knowledge help make the world a better place? E.g. studying biology will help you understand the biological mechanisms behind people's thoughts and feelings.
5. Keep believing in your potential
Students – if you're practising intelligently, you will see continuous improvement in your knowledge, understanding and skill in anything. This will feed your belief in yourself. Keep practising intelligently and this belief will grow.
Parents – help your child to practise better, and keep giving them praise as another form of positive feedback that will help them to see that they're making progress.
Mindset is the key
I hope the guidance above gives you somewhere to start with getting good at certain subjects and persevering with them. However, if you're still struggling, The Extraordinaries Club can help. It's my online hub for families in the exam years. There is a module on mindset, as well as motivation and how to fall in love with learning. Along with the revision modules, you will be empowering your child with everything they need to succeed in their GCSE and A-Level exams, and also have the help you need to support them effectively.
Click here to find out more about The Extraordinaries Club.