How generalisations become beliefs, and hamper

We often hear people decry their own inability at Mathematics with statements such as “I’m not good with numbers.” It is almost fashionable to have a handicap at something – like how teenagers from time to time may claim they have a physical injury that affects their ability. The problem with using generalisations such as “not good with numbers”, or “I’m more artistic than scientific” is that we use them as knee-jerk explanations whenever we encounter the first sign of difficulty at learning a new skill. The result is that if this kind of thinking is left unchecked, you could develop a huge tangential swerve around an area of knowledge to avoid it, which sometimes even requires more time than the actual need to address the information head on and develop the skills to manage it.

Imagine this stereotypical scenario. A child’s room is not in the condition we expect it to be. But when asked to tidy up the mess, a child may resort to statements such as “I’ve had a long day” to explain off the lack of willingness to attempt a clean-up. If we indulge this slightly, by giving the child a short rest before repeating the request, we might end up with a succession of reasons of why the effort to tidy up the room can not be mustered. The cumulative effort of thought and creativity to come up with reasons to avoid the work can eventually outweigh the energy needed to do it in the first place.

We procrastinate, and the reasons we give to justify these are generalisations we hear every day, as if these lend credence.
Over the past decades there have been various studies into belief systems and event career paths of adolescents and young adults. A common theme was how, at critical junctures of their lives, students made career choices based on generalisations they had come to accept over time as true. For example, students avoided engineering professions because they had believed themselves not to be good at Mathematics, and had built up a whole belief system around this.

Extra-curricular activities and participation in other clubs might help. The non-result oriented clubs, particularly ones where the cultivation and development of a skill such as art or music teach patience and the value of hard work. But we must be aware that the participation in such activities does not in itself become an area where false generalisations become beliefs. When playing the piano, the teacher has to address false assumptions influencing abilty such as “I’m right-handed” (and therefore am bad with my left), “I play by ear” (and hence cannot read music) or “I have bad coordination” (and therefore cannot play with both hands, but am able to simultaneous talk to you while checking my email as we walk down the street together.)

And if you are considering piano lessons, and live in Muswell Hill N10, why not get in touch with a Muswell Hill piano teacher? You learn from the music you like and learn how to learn – life skills which are transferable to other sectors of life.