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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Develop a Positive Attitude

Myth #7

I don't have to like a course to do well."
"This course sucks."
"This professor stinks."
"I'm entitled to my opinion."
"I'd rather have a dental filling than go to this class."
"I'm not learning a damned thing in that class."
"This is THE worst class I have ever taken."
"Why me?"
"I'll write letters to friends to occupy my time in class."

Reality #7

Attitude, not ability, will determine your success in college.

Some people will mightily disagree with me on the notion that you must like something to do well. OK. That's your opinion, and you're entitled to it! But my experience in a classroom is that students who have an "attitude" (a negative disposition) toward either the subject or the teacher do not perform as well as they should.

I have watched this "attitude" phenomenon for years. In fact, it's so prominent in required courses that you cannot miss it. The school tells students that they must take English 101 or COMM 101, and students resent it. It's human nature to rebel when someone says you must do it. In contrast, I find that in elective courses students have more of an interest and the results are dramatically different. They participate more in class, read the assignments, turn in higher quality materials, talk to the teacher more, and generally are more fun.

Don't think that intelligence (ability) will substitute for a good attitude, because it will not. Underline NOT. Being bright is a gift that many people squander because of a bad attitude. The world is chock full of half-baked geniuses, potential Olympic athletes, and superstar talents that never made it. Why? Because attitude, not ability, will determine your success.

Think about your own experiences. How many great potential athletes, students, workers have you seen come down the pike brimming with the ability-the aptitude-but whose attitude was impoverished? The results are always the same: Excuses. "I would have, could have, should have." "That damned coach hates me." "That instructor doesn't like the way I dress." The list goes on. You've heard it over and over by those who fail to reach their altitude…usually because of their attitude.

Survival Tips:

Think like an advertiser. In advertising, the first thing the ad must do is tell the customers how the product or service will benefit them. Otherwise, it's nearly impossible to sell anything. Therefore, find the benefit to you by looking at the syllabus and discovering two or three issues that you find interesting. Focus on those for starters. Other benefits will follow.

Look for long-term, not short-term, benefits. As you begin to look for benefits, beware of shortsightedness. Students tend to look for instant gratification-what's in it for me…right this very second in my life. This will disappoint you because it's difficult to see how Columbus' rationale for exploration in 1492 has any direct, right-now impact on your life. Rather than this myopic stance, take the long view to learning. Ask yourself, "What can history teach me?" "Will understanding the why's help me understand the what's?" The answer is absolutely…YES. What you learn in college helps prepare you to think through important issues and apply them to your daily life.

Act like a baby-sitter. Pretend that you're counseling a younger brother or sister about a particular class and you sense a negative attitude. You want to tell them how important such a course is and why it should be taken seriously. What advice would you give ? I discovered this approach when I was about 12 years old and was baby-sitting for our neighbor's kids. One day I started lecturing the kids about picking up their clothes and putting toys away. As I did, I began to sound like my own parents. Horrors. When I got home, I immediately cleaned my own room. My mother nearly fainted. By giving someone else good, solid advice, you teach yourself.

Remember the Tortoise and the Hare. This is a corny story that you no doubt have heard since you were a child. But it is right on the money. The two, as you recall, were in a race. The hare should have won hands down, no sweat. But he took his talent (aptitude) for granted and underestimated a competitor with great attitude. Attitude beats aptitude every time.

Avoid making negative comments about the course or the professor. A philosopher once heard a man speaking poorly about another man in public. The philosopher stopped the speaker and admonished him not to say such damaging things about another. The speaker asked the philosopher if he was trying to protect the man who was subject of the negative comments. "No," said the philosopher calmly, "I was trying to protect you from yourself." Negative comments about people can become self-destructive. Take this to the bank. Making and repeating comments begins to program your thinking for good or bad. When you start down this negative path it's pretty hard to get back. I've seen students develop an "attitude" and then try to defend it long after everyone else has seen that it no longer makes sense. Keep your comments positive-they foster a positive attitude.

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