akademiskcoaching.se | Coaching theory
16634
page-template,page-template-full_width,page-template-full_width-php,page,page-id-16634,ajax_fade,page_not_loaded,,qode-title-hidden,qode-theme-ver-17.2,qode-theme-bridge,disabled_footer_top,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-5.6,vc_responsive

 

Psychological Theory

Pedagogical Theory

 

  Psychological Theory

 Pedagogical Theory

 

Psychological Theory

Pedagogical Theory

People-centered humanistic psychology

 

We are not therapists and Akademisk Coaching does not provide therapy, but we do use insights and strategies from people-centered humanistic psychology and from cognitive psychology in order to optimise the effectiveness of our work. When students struggle with low self-confidence, exhaustion or demotivation, this has to be addressed swiftly and radically.

 

People-centered therapy or Rogerian humanist psychotherapy seeks to facilitate a person’s self-actualising potential. Carl Rogers defined it as “an inbuilt proclivity toward growth and fulfillment” (see here). People-centered psychotherapy corresponds essentially to a developmental view of intrinsic human capabilities: assist people to find belief and validity in their own thoughts and feelings, helping them mature along the way. We are not prescriptive: we won’t tell you what to do. There’s a big chance that you have been told repeatedly what to do and how. We are not your boss. Instead, we offer a facilitative and emphatic environment in which goals, challenges and strategies are being identified and learning problems are being solved. We work out solutions together.

 

Humanistic psychology is not so much a discipline within psychology as a perspective on the human condition that informs psychological and sociological research and practice. The approach is transformative, not only individually, but also socially. While personal transformation is the primary focus of humanistic psychologists, many investigate into social, economic, political, cultural, and gender issues. Richard House (2018) writes that ”From its very outset, Humanistic Psychology has engaged fulsomely and fearlessly with the social, cultural and political, in a way that much of mainstream scientific, ‘positivistic’ psychology has sought to avoid” (see here).

 

In addition to its use in theories of social change, humanistic psychology is the main theoretical and methodological source of humanistic social work. Humanistic psychology’s emphasis on self-development and ‘wholeness’ created a foundation for new approaches towards human capital in the workplace, stressing creativity and the relevance of emotional interactions. This has proved relevant and fertile. Neither psychoanalysis nor behaviourism could have birthed insights about emotional intelligence.

 

Humanistic psychologists have criticised human capital theory, rational actor theory and utilitarianism which, typically, still informs much of mainstream economics. It also proved highly relevant for a critique of post-democratic and neoliberal political orders, austerity, the proliferation of activation and sanctioning institutions (for example Ivan IllichAvner OfferClaus OffeLoic Wacquant and Harry Kunneman), for ecological economics (Daly and Cobb) and feminism (Donna Haraway), as well as for current notions of post-development (for example Arturo Escobar and James C. Scott, the world’s most read political scientist).

People-centered humanistic psychology

 

We are not therapists and Akademisk Coaching does not provide therapy, but we do use insights and strategies from people-centered humanistic psychology and from cognitive psychology in order to optimise the effectiveness of our work. When students struggle with low self-confidence, exhaustion or demotivation, this has to be addressed swiftly and radically.

 

People-centered therapy or Rogerian humanist psychotherapy seeks to facilitate a person’s self-actualising potential. Carl Rogers defined it as “an inbuilt proclivity toward growth and fulfillment” (see here). People-centered psychotherapy corresponds essentially to a developmental view of intrinsic human capabilities: assist people to find belief and validity in their own thoughts and feelings, helping them mature along the way. We are not prescriptive: we won’t tell you what to do. There’s a big chance that you have been told repeatedly what to do and how. We are not your boss. Instead, we offer a facilitative and emphatic environment in which goals, challenges and strategies are being identified and learning problems are being solved. We work out solutions together.

 

Humanistic psychology is not so much a discipline within psychology as a perspective on the human condition that informs psychological and sociological research and practice. The approach is transformative, not only individually, but also socially. While personal transformation is the primary focus of humanistic psychologists, many investigate into social, economic, political, cultural, and gender issues. Richard House (2018) writes that ”From its very outset, Humanistic Psychology has engaged fulsomely and fearlessly with the social, cultural and political, in a way that much of mainstream scientific, ‘positivistic’ psychology has sought to avoid” (see here).

 

In addition to its use in theories of social change, humanistic psychology is the main theoretical and methodological source of humanistic social work. Humanistic psychology’s emphasis on self-development and ‘wholeness’ created a foundation for new approaches towards human capital in the workplace, stressing creativity and the relevance of emotional interactions. This has proved relevant and fertile. Neither psychoanalysis nor behaviourism could have birthed insights about emotional intelligence.

 

Humanistic psychologists have criticised human capital theory, rational actor theory and utilitarianism which, typically, still informs much of mainstream economics. It also proved highly relevant for a critique of post-democratic and neoliberal political orders, austerity, the proliferation of activation and sanctioning institutions (for example Ivan IllichAvner OfferClaus OffeLoic Wacquant and Harry Kunneman), for ecological economics (Daly and Cobb) and feminism (Donna Haraway), as well as for current notions of post-development (for example Arturo Escobar and James C. Scott, the world’s most read political scientist).

Cognitive psychology

 

Cognitive overload and analysis paralysis  

 

Cognitive overload and analysis paralysis are serious issues. Students often suffer from cognitive overload.The information that we have available ’in the back of our minds’ is stored in our long term memory. It ends up there after it has been processed by our working memory. But our working memory is limited, both in capacity and duration. Heavy cognitive load impedes learning. There is just too much at once. The remedy consists of accepting your working memory’s limitations. Fortunately, effective guidelines exist that assist in the presentation of information in a manner that encourages learner activities and optimises intellectual performance.

 

It is not just the presentation of information that is important, but its limitation to what is strictly essential for your task. This is the main reason why you need a plan when you researching or writing up a thesis. Without a plan, you risk going off in all directions. You will read too much, think about too much, stress about too much and never find a answer to the question on how to logically knit it all together. Ultimately, and inevitably, exhaustion, frustration, self-doubt and demotivation will set in. Cognitive overload prevents you from satisfactorily dealing with any task. Exactly at the moment that you need to show promise, imagination and creativity, your head will be so full that you can hardly think any longer. You will produce stereotypes and clichés.

 

The more cognitive overload, the more mistakes you will make. Cocks et al (2013) recorded whole-head continuous electroencephalograms (EEG) as participants undertook baseline, mild and heavy cognitive load tasks. Behavioral measures (reaction times and error rates) showed significant performance decrements between mild and heavy cognitive load conditions. The authors identify a sub-set of cortical locations reflecting significant, measurable neural differences between mild and heavy cognitive load states. This is important because it lays the foundation for future research into suitable metrics for more accurate measures of cognitive load in real time (see here).

 

Importantly, most frequently the key in dealing with demotivation does not lie in strategies that supposedly increase motivation. Better goal setting, motivational speeches, accountability checks and the like are often being touted as effective strategies, but most often achieve next to nothing, except that they give you more to think about! Often enough, the key lies in dealing with cognitive overload – give your brain a break. That is not as simple as it may sound.

 

Information overload is similar and related to cognitive overload. Just as with cognitive overload, it occurs when the amount of input to a system exceeds its processing capacity. If this happens, a reduction in quality of output is inevitable. David Shenk’s Data Smog deals with information overload. It’s true, of course, there is information everywhere. Modern life contributes to information overload. Your mobile can ring at any time. You receive emails. Someone wants to chat with you online. It never stops. Again, there is only one thing to do: you need to narrow down the information that you process before you get tired, lose alertness and concentration, become confused and make sub-optimal decisions. What’s more, you need to be radical and quick because the condition can become chronic and severely impede your ability to study or work.

 

Instructional design strategies reduce cognitive load. As the risk of repeating myself, the key is to have a plan. You need to know exactly what you are doing. Ruthlessly filter out all the rest. Anything that is not immediately and absolutely relevant for your project has to go. Maybe you will come back to it later, if you revise your plan. But not now. Keep it small, concise, simple, cool, elegant.

 

There is a lot more good advice. Most of it sounds very simple. The challenge is, of course, to follow up on it. For example, as the neuroscientist and musician Daniel Levitin writes in The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, society celebrates multitasking as proof of superb ingenuity and prodigal organisational skills. For the real professional of today, multitasking is second nature. Levititins’ excellent advise is ’don’t ever multitask’. Do one thing at a time, protect your concentration, don’t let your attention be fractured. Disconnect from the internet. Don’t check your mail, tweet, chat or call when you work.

 

Another strategy Livitin mentions is to spend as much time on decisions, tasks and activities as they are worth, not more. Decide on what you are going to eat this evening in ten seconds, not ten minutes. Levitin also explains that daydreaming is very powerful, as it gives your brain a much-needed break. Listening to music is an excellent strategy. And push down authority. It’s one thing to listen to advice. Having to obey is something else completely. Autonomy highly correlates with igniting and sustaining motivation, creativity and output. Go your own way.

 

 

Analysis paralysis

 

When you suffer from cognitive or information overload, analysis paralysis is often not far off. It is an awful problem. A student can get stuck when she deems a problem too complicated, too much to deal with. That is cognitive overload. She might never solve it due to fear that any action may cause a potentially even larger problem. That is analysis paralysis. The fear of potential error outweighs any realistic expectation of success. The imbalance results in an unconscious effort to preserve existing options indefinitely, making a resolution impossible. Perfectionists almost always suffer from analysis paralysis. They never write a page that is ’good enough’. They never get ready for an exam. Their obsession to complete a project ’perfectly’ – nothing short of this will ever do – never leads to anything.

 

 

 

 

This conflict has been expressed many times. In Aesop’s fable, which was recorded even before Aesop‘s time (ca. 560 BC), the fox boasts of “hundreds of ways of escaping” while the cat has “only one”. When they hear the hounds approaching, the cat scampers up a tree while “the fox in his confusion was caught up by the hounds”. The fable ends with the moral “Better one safe way than a hundred on which you cannot reckon”, although the problem does not lie in the fact that there are a hundred ways, but in the inability of the fox to select one. A related concept is expressed by the Centipede’s dilemma, which illustrates how unconscious activity is disrupted by conscious thought (commented upon by Wittgenstein).

 

Fortunately, analysis paralysis can be overcome. Strategies combating analysis paralysis are similar to the ones dealing with cognitive overload. Agile development and design thinking are two recent methods. They both emphasise small iterations, one rational step at a time. Sensible advice exists. Here, for example, are eight tips from a ‘former perfectionist.’ As Becky Kane explains, start before you feel ready (here is one of her articles). Trust your innate intuition. Work with a mix of rational, intuitive and emotional thinking. Get out of your head and go talk to someone. But don’t give so much weight to anecdotal evidence or opinions that it cancels out expert evidence. When you make a decision, stand with it. Most importantly, don’t suffer from creeping normality (also called ’death by a thousand cuts’), in which major change is being accepted as normal as it happens slowly, in increments that are barely noticeable. Don’t hit your head against the wall. Seek help if you are stuck.

 

A note on plagiarism and overload

 

The most important thing to be said about plagiarism is that you can’t do it. Plagiarism is morally wrong and illegal. It can cost you credits or even your degree and it solves nothing. So, don’t. When students plagiarise, it is most often not because of laziness or innate dishonesty (although it is dishonest), but out of frustration and despair. They have been stuck for a long time and can’t get out of it. The problem practically always boils down to a combination of a defunct thesis plan – too much work, not enough, the wrong things, the wrong approach, insufficient supervision and poor organisation and/or writing skills, cognitive overload, paralysis, exhaustion, demotivation, even depression and, ultimately, dropout. Please realise that there are ways to make you ‘unstuck.’

 

When you find an excerpt in a textbook that in your opinion perfectly explains what you have been trying to formulate in vain for days on end and you feel the temptation swelling to copy, put the book away and leave. Go make a walk. When you stroll through the park, think about anything you feel like except the excerpt. Get it out of your consciousness. Then ask yourself what you are actually trying to say. Why is it so difficult?

 

No one hears you think, so make it as utterly simple as possible, to the point of ridicule and beyond. It’s far from stupid. It’s a very effective strategy against cognitive overload. Try to compose a little text in your mind. Concentrate on the content. The precise formulation will come later. I knew a student who explained complex matters to her cat. A plant might be better, because it will not run away mid sentence. A plant is also better than a friend, at least in this specific situation. A friend might try to impress you with something you didn’t consider yet. This is exactly what you do not need – not right now. You need to bring some order into your own thoughts. Else, try to explain what you are struggling with to an imaginary child. Try to satisfy her or his infantile curiosity without using any big words or complicated arguments. In fact, Einstein said something similar: if you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.

 

How would you do that? When you get something in the back of your mind that begins to looks like a text – one small paragraph is fine – walk a bit further, enjoy life a bit, then go home and write. Your text will need improvement and editing. Chances are that the textbook excerpt will still be better than the best you can come up with. And so what? You’re a student, not an accomplished researcher or a well-established writer with access to a proof-reader and an editor. What counts is that you managed to make yourself understandable. You can be proud of that. You managed to order and communicate your thoughts.

 

Simple strategies like these ones – talking to animals, plants or imagined creatures – may sound ridiculous, but they do work. If you are stuck, it is often because you try to explain too much at once. You are making it too complicated. Break it up in the smallest of pieces. Don’t sit in front of your computer. Go make a walk. Think about something completely different. Think it over again when you feel calm, away from your computer.

 

Cognitive psychology

 

Cognitive overload and analysis paralysis  

 

Cognitive overload and analysis paralysis are serious issues. Students often suffer from cognitive overload.The information that we have available ’in the back of our minds’ is stored in our long term memory. It ends up there after it has been processed by our working memory. But our working memory is limited, both in capacity and duration. Heavy cognitive load impedes learning. There is just too much at once. The remedy consists of accepting your working memory’s limitations. Fortunately, effective guidelines exist that assist in the presentation of information in a manner that encourages learner activities and optimises intellectual performance.

 

It is not just the presentation of information that is important, but its limitation to what is strictly essential for your task. This is the main reason why you need a plan when you researching or writing up a thesis. Without a plan, you risk going off in all directions. You will read too much, think about too much, stress about too much and never find a answer to the question on how to logically knit it all together. Ultimately, and inevitably, exhaustion, frustration, self-doubt and demotivation will set in. Cognitive overload prevents you from satisfactorily dealing with any task. Exactly at the moment that you need to show promise, imagination and creativity, your head will be so full that you can hardly think any longer. You will produce stereotypes and clichés.

 

The more cognitive overload, the more mistakes you will make. Cocks et al (2013) recorded whole-head continuous electroencephalograms (EEG) as participants undertook baseline, mild and heavy cognitive load tasks. Behavioral measures (reaction times and error rates) showed significant performance decrements between mild and heavy cognitive load conditions. The authors identify a sub-set of cortical locations reflecting significant, measurable neural differences between mild and heavy cognitive load states. This is important because it lays the foundation for future research into suitable metrics for more accurate measures of cognitive load in real time (see here).

 

Importantly, most frequently the key in dealing with demotivation does not lie in strategies that supposedly increase motivation. Better goal setting, motivational speeches, accountability checks and the like are often being touted as effective strategies, but most often achieve next to nothing, except that they give you more to think about! Often enough, the key lies in dealing with cognitive overload – give your brain a break. That is not as simple as it may sound.

 

Information overload is similar and related to cognitive overload. Just as with cognitive overload, it occurs when the amount of input to a system exceeds its processing capacity. If this happens, a reduction in quality of output is inevitable. David Shenk’s Data Smog deals with information overload. It’s true, of course, there is information everywhere. Modern life contributes to information overload. Your mobile can ring at any time. You receive emails. Someone wants to chat with you online. It never stops. Again, there is only one thing to do: you need to narrow down the information that you process before you get tired, lose alertness and concentration, become confused and make sub-optimal decisions. What’s more, you need to be radical and quick because the condition can become chronic and severely impede your ability to study or work.

 

Instructional design strategies reduce cognitive load. As the risk of repeating myself, the key is to have a plan. You need to know exactly what you are doing. Ruthlessly filter out all the rest. Anything that is not immediately and absolutely relevant for your project has to go. Maybe you will come back to it later, if you revise your plan. But not now. Keep it small, concise, simple, cool, elegant.

 

There is a lot more good advice. Most of it sounds very simple. The challenge is, of course, to follow up on it. For example, as the neuroscientist and musician Daniel Levitin writes in The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, society celebrates multitasking as proof of superb ingenuity and prodigal organisational skills. For the real professional of today, multitasking is second nature. Levititins’ excellent advise is ’don’t ever multitask’. Do one thing at a time, protect your concentration, don’t let your attention be fractured. Disconnect from the internet. Don’t check your mail, tweet, chat or call when you work.

 

Another strategy Livitin mentions is to spend as much time on decisions, tasks and activities as they are worth, not more. Decide on what you are going to eat this evening in ten seconds, not ten minutes. Levitin also explains that daydreaming is very powerful, as it gives your brain a much-needed break. Listening to music is an excellent strategy. And push down authority. It’s one thing to listen to advice. Having to obey is something else completely. Autonomy highly correlates with igniting and sustaining motivation, creativity and output. Go your own way.

 

 

Analysis paralysis

 

When you suffer from cognitive or information overload, analysis paralysis is often not far off. It is an awful problem. A student can get stuck when she deems a problem too complicated, too much to deal with. That is cognitive overload. She might never solve it due to fear that any action may cause a potentially even larger problem. That is analysis paralysis. The fear of potential error outweighs any realistic expectation of success. The imbalance results in an unconscious effort to preserve existing options indefinitely, making a resolution impossible. Perfectionists almost always suffer from analysis paralysis. They never write a page that is ’good enough’. They never get ready for an exam. Their obsession to complete a project ’perfectly’ – nothing short of this will ever do – never leads to anything.

 

 

 

 

This conflict has been expressed many times. In Aesop’s fable, which was recorded even before Aesop‘s time (ca. 560 BC), the fox boasts of “hundreds of ways of escaping” while the cat has “only one”. When they hear the hounds approaching, the cat scampers up a tree while “the fox in his confusion was caught up by the hounds”. The fable ends with the moral “Better one safe way than a hundred on which you cannot reckon”, although the problem does not lie in the fact that there are a hundred ways, but in the inability of the fox to select one. A related concept is expressed by the Centipede’s dilemma, which illustrates how unconscious activity is disrupted by conscious thought (commented upon by Wittgenstein).

 

 

Fortunately, analysis paralysis can be overcome. Strategies combating analysis paralysis are similar to the ones dealing with cognitive overload. Agile development and design thinking are two recent methods. They both emphasise small iterations, one rational step at a time. Sensible advice exists. Here, for example, are eight tips from a ‘former perfectionist.’ As Becky Kane explains, start before you feel ready (here is one of her articles). Trust your innate intuition. Work with a mix of rational, intuitive and emotional thinking. Get out of your head and go talk to someone. But don’t give so much weight to anecdotal evidence or opinions that it cancels out expert evidence. When you make a decision, stand with it. Most importantly, don’t suffer from creeping normality (also called ’death by a thousand cuts’), in which major change is being accepted as normal as it happens slowly, in increments that are barely noticeable. Don’t hit your head against the wall. Seek help if you are stuck.

 

A note on plagiarism and overload

 

The most important thing to be said about plagiarism is that you can’t do it. Plagiarism is morally wrong and illegal. It can cost you credits or even your degree and it solves nothing. So, don’t. When students plagiarise, it is most often not because of laziness or innate dishonesty (although it is dishonest), but out of frustration and despair. They have been stuck for a long time and can’t get out of it. The problem practically always boils down to a combination of a defunct thesis plan – too much work, not enough, the wrong things, the wrong approach, insufficient supervision and poor organisation and/or writing skills, cognitive overload, paralysis, exhaustion, demotivation, even depression and, ultimately, dropout. Please realise that there are ways to make you ‘unstuck.’

 

When you find an excerpt in a textbook that in your opinion perfectly explains what you have been trying to formulate in vain for days on end and you feel the temptation swelling to copy, put the book away and leave. Go make a walk. When you stroll through the park, think about anything you feel like except the excerpt. Get it out of your consciousness. Then ask yourself what you are actually trying to say. Why is it so difficult?

 

No one hears you think, so make it as utterly simple as possible, to the point of ridicule and beyond. It’s far from stupid. It’s a very effective strategy against cognitive overload. Try to compose a little text in your mind. Concentrate on the content. The precise formulation will come later. I knew a student who explained complex matters to her cat. A plant might be better, because it will not run away mid sentence. A plant is also better than a friend, at least in this specific situation. A friend might try to impress you with something you didn’t consider yet. This is exactly what you do not need – not right now. You need to bring some order into your own thoughts. Else, try to explain what you are struggling with to an imaginary child. Try to satisfy her or his infantile curiosity without using any big words or complicated arguments. In fact, Einstein said something similar: if you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.

 

How would you do that? When you get something in the back of your mind that begins to looks like a text – one small paragraph is fine – walk a bit further, enjoy life a bit, then go home and write. Your text will need improvement and editing. Chances are that the textbook excerpt will still be better than the best you can come up with. And so what? You’re a student, not an accomplished researcher or a well-established writer with access to a proof-reader and an editor. What counts is that you managed to make yourself understandable. You can be proud of that. You managed to order and communicate your thoughts.

 

Simple strategies like these ones – talking to animals, plants or imagined creatures – may sound ridiculous, but they do work. If you are stuck, it is often because you try to explain too much at once. You are making it too complicated. Break it up in the smallest of pieces. Don’t sit in front of your computer. Go make a walk. Think about something completely different. Think it over again when you feel calm, away from your computer.

 

How to find a coach

 

Daniel Coyle provides some excellent advise in his The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills (take a look at this too). I liked The Talent Code by the same author more. There is no doubt that Coyle gives some great practical advice. This is true for both books. In The Talent Codehe identifies three distinct key elements that determine how individuals can achieve ’greatness’: deep practice, ignition, and master coaching. Deep practice refers to doing, identifying errors, perfecting and repeating. According to Coyle, deep practice makes the nervous system generate more of a chemical compound (myelin) that streamlines the connection between neural synapses. In fact, this claim is highly controversial.

 

Deep practice implies motivation, persistence and determination. The ignition event refers to an initial modest amount of success, receiving a modest amount of recognition that ignites ’deep learning.’ The third key element is master coaching. Coyle calls them ’the talent whisperers.’ There’s a lot of anecdote here, but talent whisperers are patient, nurturing, carefully guiding spirits, people who believe in you and know to speak the right word at the right time. They encourage, motivate and guide, they are competent and passionate about what they are doing and they have a knack for connecting to people.

 

These books are basically pop science. Coyle tells us to praise work, but constant praise leads to complacency. Coyle recommends to not envy incredibly highly talented people, but to use them as a role model and say ’If she can do it, so can I.’ I find that bad advice. Don’t look at anyone and go your own way. There will always be people who do better than you, who are smarter, more gifted. Forget about all of them and about the ideology of greatness. Carve out a life that corresponds to your concept of happiness. That is what counts.

 

Here is what Coyle has to say about finding a coach. These are generic recommendations, but they are to the point for academic coaches too.

 

1 Avoid someone who reminds you of a courteous waiter

 

Your coach doesn’t need to make you comfortable and happy, making things go smoothly and with minimum effort. This is the right person to have as a waiter in a restaurant, but she or he won’t work as your coach. This is not what you need.

 

2 Seek someone who scares you a little

 

Find someone who watches you closely. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but we need to get to the heart of the matter and fast. Your coach is interested in figuring you out. She or he will tell you how things stand, honestly, in clear language. Honesty and respect create a bond: you have found yourself an ally. We are going to solve problems together.

 

3 Seek someone who gives clear directions

 

Competent coaches or mentors do not give long-winded speeches or generic advice. They do not preach or lecture. Instead, they give short, unmistakably clear directions, guiding you towards your target.

 

4 Seek someone who loves dealing with fundamentals

 

This is also highly relevant for coaching. A lot of students get lost in a forest of books and articles, thoughts and opinions. Ultimately, it all becomes too much. It’s not the literature that is essential, it is the plan. You will make great progress from the moment that you can explain what you set out to do in some simple sentences. It’s the fundamentals that count. The details come later.

 

5 Other things being equal, pick the older person

 

When I started to teach, I was not very good at it (you can read the piece on instructional coaching here). I did it exactly the same as everybody else and I wasn’t happy with it. Now I do it differently. What happened? I got older. I learned a lot along the way and improved my skills. Teaching and mentoring take time to grow. For coaching, such experiences are absolutely essential.

 

Here’s one more bit of advice which I consider essential:

 

6 Seek someone who believes in you

 

A lot of people will lecture you on perseverance, ‘grit’, hard work, being a ‘pusher’.  ‘Everybody has problems, just deal with it’, they say.

 

Okay. Now consider this. In the 1960s, Rosenthal and Jacobson set up an experiment, which is by now famous. Rosenthal and Jacobson told elementary school teachers that they had certain students in their class who were “academic spurters.” In fact, these students had been selected at random. Absolutely nothing had been done to single out these children. Yet by the end of the school year, 30 percent of the children arbitrarily named as “spurters” had gained an average of 22 IQ points and almost all had gained at least 10 IQ points. This is not the right place to go into the IQ discussion. The measurement of IQ has been a story of self-deception and fraud from the very beginning, as Deirdre McCloskey, among many others, explained already a long time ago. Yet, undeniably, Rosenthal and Jacobson showed that change had occurred. They wrote that, when teachers believe that their students are more adept and smarter than average, the students perform better. Learning about the alleged spurters, teachers became more motivated. They must have subtly communicated respect for and enthusiasm about these students, so that the students themselves felt more capable of understanding and anticipated better performance from themselves. Rosenthal called it the Pygmalion effect. Today, it is called the Rosenthal effect.  Eric Barker adds that, later on, Rosenthal was able to compare his results to an expensive ‘total push’ campaign which had been funded by the Education Act. Even after three years, the gains of this program were smaller than the gains for the control students in the original set up.  The Rosenthal effect has been reproduced in later studies.

 

The clear message is that students (and people in general) do better when significant others believe in them. This is true at every level. This is not the end of the story. As an adult, your self-esteem cannot depend on the esteem you receive or do not receive from your peers, your friends, your family, your teachers or your colleagues. Your belief in yourself and your competences has to be rock solid. For now, find yourself a coach who believes in you and in your capabilities and in your work. She or he is the better coach. The rest will follow.

How to find a coach

 

Daniel Coyle provides some excellent advise in his The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills (take a look at this too). I liked The Talent Code by the same author more. There is no doubt that Coyle gives some great practical advice. This is true for both books. In The Talent Codehe identifies three distinct key elements that determine how individuals can achieve ’greatness’: deep practice, ignition, and master coaching. Deep practice refers to doing, identifying errors, perfecting and repeating. According to Coyle, deep practice makes the nervous system generate more of a chemical compound (myelin) that streamlines the connection between neural synapses. In fact, this claim is highly controversial.

 

Deep practice implies motivation, persistence and determination. The ignition event refers to an initial modest amount of success, receiving a modest amount of recognition that ignites ’deep learning.’ The third key element is master coaching. Coyle calls them ’the talent whisperers.’ There’s a lot of anecdote here, but talent whisperers are patient, nurturing, carefully guiding spirits, people who believe in you and know to speak the right word at the right time. They encourage, motivate and guide, they are competent and passionate about what they are doing and they have a knack for connecting to people.

 

These books are basically pop science. Coyle tells us to praise work, but constant praise leads to complacency. Coyle recommends to not envy incredibly highly talented people, but to use them as a role model and say ’If she can do it, so can I.’ I find that bad advice. Don’t look at anyone and go your own way. There will always be people who do better than you, who are smarter, more gifted. Forget about all of them and about the ideology of greatness. Carve out a life that corresponds to your concept of happiness. That is what counts.

 

Here is what Coyle has to say about finding a coach. These are generic recommendations, but they are to the point for academic coaches too.

 

1 Avoid someone who reminds you of a courteous waiter

 

Your coach doesn’t need to make you comfortable and happy, making things go smoothly and with minimum effort. This is the right person to have as a waiter in a restaurant, but she or he won’t work as your coach. This is not what you need.

 

2 Seek someone who scares you a little

 

Find someone who watches you closely. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but we need to get to the heart of the matter and fast. Your coach is interested in figuring you out. She or he will tell you how things stand, honestly, in clear language. Honesty and respect create a bond: you have found yourself an ally. We are going to solve problems together.

 

3 Seek someone who gives clear directions

 

Competent coaches or mentors do not give long-winded speeches or generic advice. They do not preach or lecture. Instead, they give short, unmistakably clear directions, guiding you towards your target.

 

4 Seek someone who loves dealing with fundamentals

 

This is also highly relevant for coaching. A lot of students get lost in a forest of books and articles, thoughts and opinions. Ultimately, it all becomes too much. It’s not the literature that is essential, it is the plan. You will make great progress from the moment that you can explain what you set out to do in some simple sentences. It’s the fundamentals that count. The details come later.

 

5 Other things being equal, pick the older person

 

When I started to teach, I was not very good at it (you can read the piece on instructional coaching here). I did it exactly the same as everybody else and I wasn’t happy with it. Now I do it differently. What happened? I got older. I learned a lot along the way and improved my skills. Teaching and mentoring take time to grow. For coaching, such experiences are absolutely essential.

 

Here’s one more bit of advice which I consider essential:

 

6 Seek someone who believes in you

 

A lot of people will lecture you on perseverance, ‘grit’, hard work, being a ‘pusher’.  ‘Everybody has problems, just deal with it’, they say.

 

Okay. Now consider this. In the 1960s, Rosenthal and Jacobson set up an experiment, which is by now famous. Rosenthal and Jacobson told elementary school teachers that they had certain students in their class who were “academic spurters.” In fact, these students had been selected at random. Absolutely nothing had been done to single out these children. Yet by the end of the school year, 30 percent of the children arbitrarily named as “spurters” had gained an average of 22 IQ points and almost all had gained at least 10 IQ points. This is not the right place to go into the IQ discussion. The measurement of IQ has been a story of self-deception and fraud from the very beginning, as Deirdre McCloskey, among many others, explained already a long time ago. Yet, undeniably, Rosenthal and Jacobson showed that change had occurred. They wrote that, when teachers believe that their students are more adept and smarter than average, the students perform better. Learning about the alleged spurters, teachers became more motivated. They must have subtly communicated respect for and enthusiasm about these students, so that the students themselves felt more capable of understanding and anticipated better performance from themselves. Rosenthal called it the Pygmalion effect. Today, it is called the Rosenthal effect.  Eric Barker adds that, later on, Rosenthal was able to compare his results to an expensive ‘total push’ campaign which had been funded by the Education Act. Even after three years, the gains of this program were smaller than the gains for the control students in the original set up.  The Rosenthal effect has been reproduced in later studies.

 

The clear message is that students (and people in general) do better when significant others believe in them. This is true at every level. This is not the end of the story. As an adult, your self-esteem cannot depend on the esteem you receive or do not receive from your peers, your friends, your family, your teachers or your colleagues. Your belief in yourself and your competences has to be rock solid. For now, find yourself a coach who believes in you and in your capabilities and in your work. She or he is the better coach. The rest will follow.

Coaching is a modifier

 

Good coaches do many things at once. They guide learners’ achievements in academic performance and competency development and they actively stimulate self-monitoring. Evidence-based coaching is not new. A lot of literature exists on conducting learner assessments, developing and implementing action plans, assessing results and revising plans, the abilities of students to recognise and mitigate gaps in knowledge and stimulate their motivation for advancement (see here and here for more information). Coaching produces better results than traditional teacher-student processes of knowledge and skills transfer, such as mentoring or remedial teaching.

 

Akademisk Coaching provides fast solutions to acute problems, such as being stuck in the writing process of your thesis or research proposal or experiencing difficulties with learning and organisation. You can talk to us in complete confidence. We will develop a strategy, solve issues together and you will gain skills that very likely will benefit you throughout your career.

 

How does it work?  

 

When we meet, we first establish the principles of our relation – goals, parameters and ethical considerations, especially confidentiality. We then proceed with a short assessment. We are more interested in what you tell us than in ‘objective’ data, such as your grades. Tell us what you are struggling with and how the situation impacts you. You will notice that we are not prescriptive or only barely so. We offer a facilitative environment in which goals, challenges and strategies are being identified and learning problems are being solved. We work out solutions together. Cooperation works. Some students struggle for many weeks and even months without making significant progress. Difficulties in writing are practically always of a conceptual nature, the lack of a clear and concise plan. Often enough, the main point – what you want to prove or disprove – is not entirely clear or you are not entirely certain about it, not even after many months of work. Don’t worry. It can and will be solved.

 

Several effective remedial strategies exist. We discuss the general outline of your text. We cut the work into chapters, the chapter into sub-chapters. We decide what you should do first of all. It is fundamental that you see the red thread of your work. What are you really trying to say? What is essential for this task? What is secondary? Once we figure this out, we can devise a work plan. We take these decisions together. This increases motivation and self-confidence. Joint goal setting leads to much better goal attainment than an authoritative figure telling you what to do. The final decision always lies with you. After all, it is your thesis. If the plan needs revision at a later stage, we will revise it together. Seek help if you face a problem you cannot solve on your own. There is no use in hitting your head against a wall. It only leads to exhaustion, frustration, low self-esteem and demotivation.

 

Problems come in clusters

 

Coaching is a matter of trust as much as it is about competence and engagement. It’s about appreciative listening, problem identification, stimulation of insight, self-assessment, goal-setting and problem resolution. Problems always come in clusters: the inability to solve a problem leads to frustration, confusion and loss of time. This doesn’t need to happen. Students are practically always closer to their goal than they realise. The key lies in stimulating a positive mental outlook (I’ll come back to this). Remarkably, this is not that difficult to achieve. Your work need to be cool, rational, analytical. This is absolutely not a matter of a lack of talent or will. Often enough, it is a question of organisation. Once you see the trees for the forest, your self-confidence will rapidly return. Once you feel on top of your subject you are on your way.

 

Students – and this happens at every level – often try to tackle way too much when they are writing up their thesis. They set themselves up for failure. Your Masters is not your crowning achievement. Your PhD is not your opus magnum. Don’t make your job into a mountain that is so high that you will never climb it. Your thesis is an exercise. All you need to prove is that are able to investigate a subject in a proper scientific way. You need to summarise the main literature that deals with your subject, show reflection and critical thought and communicate your insights and results logically and concisely.

 

Students, stress, studies and society  

 

Worrying does destroy lives. Worry and by the end of the day your head will toll. You will realise that you have achieved nothing: more reason to worry! It’s essential that you stop worrying immediately. This is great advice, no doubt, only leaving out the little detail of how. Some feel-good doctors will never stop giving you advice. They really should be called feel-bad doctors. We all know – and it’s evidently true – that a positive mindset has many benefits, that looking towards the future with confidence and optimism strengthens us mentally, emotionally and physically, that optimists excel the most. This is great news when you feel down, depleted, demotivated and when you have the feeling that no one understands you. How can you be resilient, when you have no resilience left? If an all-consuming fear to fail paralyses you, getting the message to ’just do it’ is useless, at best. The same goes for other wonderful advise such as ’go for your dreams’, ’persevere’, ’take risks’, ’be motivated (it also increases creativity)’.

 

In fact, all of this is utterly pernicious. The feel-good industry is pointing its finger at you: if you don’t succeed, it’s because you are not good enough, not strong enough, not smart enough. These people need no economics, no sociology, no pedagogy, no history, no cultural factors. Masculinity also plays a role in this ideological offensive (Dordi Westerlund analyses these links in her PhD dissertation).

 

 

 

Don’t let the feel-good doctors make you feel bad about yourself. The truth is that most of the maxims about success and achievement that are constantly being rehearsed have never been verified by any serious research. Indeed, with the exception of the most simple, self-evident truisms, they have all been refuted. It’s just social Darwinism (’the best win,’ the world is for the winners’), just world theory (’you get what you deserve’) and the ’American Question’, ’If you are so smart, why aren’t you rich?’

 

Eric Barker gives some really excellent examples of this in his book Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong. (Barker, by the way, is not a constituent part of this industry. He consistently produces very good, evidence-based, texts – see here for his site.) It is, for example, widely believed that self-esteem is positively correlated to academic achievement. This sounds axiomatic, indeed. Or do you not believe that self-confident students do better? But Barker tells another story. The insight, or rather belief, made the state of California launch a state-wide initiative to raise the self-esteem of secondary school students. Policy-makers expected that it would improve grades, reduce drug use and anti-social behaviour. It turned out that the program achieved none of these goals. The reason, Barker writes, is that confidence is more an effect than a cause. The value of this insight is hard to overestimate. Achievement nurtures both self-confidence and self-esteem. Increase your skills in what you set out to do and your self-esteem and confidence will grow. It really is a virtuous circle. It also means that we found ourselves a strategy. Instead of telling you ”to just do it” when it’s clear you can’t for reasons few or no one seems interested in knowing, we use simple and effective problem-solving strategies to get you back to work.

 

Find your way

 

Chances are that, one day, you will look back at this episode and ask yourself why you worried so much about it. Remember the days when you were struggling? How was it possible that you tried and tried and made little or no progress? The insurmountable mountain you once looked at will have disappeared. Not only will you have organised or re-organised your thesis, you also got better at organising, studying and writing in general. You will feel more sure about yourself. That is success. The very first goal is that the roller coaster of negative self-attributions, frustration, demotivation, despair and inefficiency has to stop.

 

 

The fact that you experience difficulties says nothing about your innate capabilities. The history of science, philosophy and art is full of people who experienced great trouble in their studies or their careers. Many of the greatest names in science we talk about today never became a professor. Some of the greatest composers in history were considered second rate in their time. Maurice Ravel even got himself expelled from the Conservatory in Paris because of lack of talent and idiosyncracy. Sergei Rachmaninoff suffered from major depression after the negative reaction to his first symphony. He wrote nothing for four years, creating an enormous output afterwards. Who still remembers the critics who seemingly knew it all?

 

Coaching is a modifier. When we are done, not only you will have learned something concrete, you will also become more resilient, mature and self-confident. It leads you to the thing with feathers: hope (you can read Emily Dickinson’s poem here). It’s a thing we all need. Even more important, your achievement not only made you stronger, it also has the potential to enlighten you. You will produce your own personal definition of ’success’, apart from the ’American Question’.

 

Eric Barker concludes by making another essential point. You need to know what you want from life. If you don’t, you risk ending up on a treadmill – more of this and more of that. It won’t fulfill you. Instead, set a goal for yourself, something you want to achieve – not your parents, your partner, your professors or anyone else. It’s your life. One day, you won’t be a student any longer. You need to find the right place for you, a place where you can thrive and grow, with people you can get along with. You don’t want to end up in yet another ”bullshit job” as the anthropologist David Graeber calls it. Of course, by then you will have forgotten about us. But together, we planted a small seed of something transformative. That is coaching. This is why good coaching is a modifier.

Coaching is a modifier

 

Good coaches do many things at once. They guide learners’ achievements in academic performance and competency development and they actively stimulate self-monitoring. Evidence-based coaching is not new. A lot of literature exists on conducting learner assessments, developing and implementing action plans, assessing results and revising plans, the abilities of students to recognise and mitigate gaps in knowledge and stimulate their motivation for advancement (see here and here for more information). Coaching produces better results than traditional teacher-student processes of knowledge and skills transfer, such as mentoring or remedial teaching.

 

Akademisk Coaching provides fast solutions to acute problems, such as being stuck in the writing process of your thesis or research proposal or experiencing difficulties with learning and organisation. You can talk to us in complete confidence. We will develop a strategy, solve issues together and you will gain skills that very likely will benefit you throughout your career.

 

How does it work?  

 

When we meet, we first establish the principles of our relation – goals, parameters and ethical considerations, especially confidentiality. We then proceed with a short assessment. We are more interested in what you tell us than in ‘objective’ data, such as your grades. Tell us what you are struggling with and how the situation impacts you. You will notice that we are not prescriptive or only barely so. We offer a facilitative environment in which goals, challenges and strategies are being identified and learning problems are being solved. We work out solutions together. Cooperation works. Some students struggle for many weeks and even months without making significant progress. Difficulties in writing are practically always of a conceptual nature, the lack of a clear and concise plan. Often enough, the main point – what you want to prove or disprove – is not entirely clear or you are not entirely certain about it, not even after many months of work. Don’t worry. It can and will be solved.

 

Several effective remedial strategies exist. We discuss the general outline of your text. We cut the work into chapters, the chapter into sub-chapters. We decide what you should do first of all. It is fundamental that you see the red thread of your work. What are you really trying to say? What is essential for this task? What is secondary? Once we figure this out, we can devise a work plan. We take these decisions together. This increases motivation and self-confidence. Joint goal setting leads to much better goal attainment than an authoritative figure telling you what to do. The final decision always lies with you. After all, it is your thesis. If the plan needs revision at a later stage, we will revise it together. Seek help if you face a problem you cannot solve on your own. There is no use in hitting your head against a wall. It only leads to exhaustion, frustration, low self-esteem and demotivation.

 

Problems come in clusters

 

Coaching is a matter of trust as much as it is about competence and engagement. It’s about appreciative listening, problem identification, stimulation of insight, self-assessment, goal-setting and problem resolution. Problems always come in clusters: the inability to solve a problem leads to frustration, confusion and loss of time. This doesn’t need to happen. Students are practically always closer to their goal than they realise. The key lies in stimulating a positive mental outlook (I’ll come back to this). Remarkably, this is not that difficult to achieve. Your work need to be cool, rational, analytical. This is absolutely not a matter of a lack of talent or will. Often enough, it is a question of organisation. Once you see the trees for the forest, your self-confidence will rapidly return. Once you feel on top of your subject you are on your way.

 

Students – and this happens at every level – often try to tackle way too much when they are writing up their thesis. They set themselves up for failure. Your Masters is not your crowning achievement. Your PhD is not your opus magnum. Don’t make your job into a mountain that is so high that you will never climb it. Your thesis is an exercise. All you need to prove is that are able to investigate a subject in a proper scientific way. You need to summarise the main literature that deals with your subject, show reflection and critical thought and communicate your insights and results logically and concisely.

 

Students, stress, studies and society  

 

Worrying does destroy lives. Worry and by the end of the day your head will toll. You will realise that you have achieved nothing: more reason to worry! It’s essential that you stop worrying immediately. This is great advice, no doubt, only leaving out the little detail of how. Some feel-good doctors will never stop giving you advice. They really should be called feel-bad doctors. We all know – and it’s evidently true – that a positive mindset has many benefits, that looking towards the future with confidence and optimism strengthens us mentally, emotionally and physically, that optimists excel the most. This is great news when you feel down, depleted, demotivated and when you have the feeling that no one understands you. How can you be resilient, when you have no resilience left? If an all-consuming fear to fail paralyses you, getting the message to ’just do it’ is useless, at best. The same goes for other wonderful advise such as ’go for your dreams’, ’persevere’, ’take risks’, ’be motivated (it also increases creativity)’.

 

In fact, all of this is utterly pernicious. The feel-good industry is pointing its finger at you: if you don’t succeed, it’s because you are not good enough, not strong enough, not smart enough. These people need no economics, no sociology, no pedagogy, no history, no cultural factors. Masculinity also plays a role in this ideological offensive (Dordi Westerlund analyses these links in her PhD dissertation).

 

 

 

Don’t let the feel-good doctors make you feel bad about yourself. The truth is that most of the maxims about success and achievement that are constantly being rehearsed have never been verified by any serious research. Indeed, with the exception of the most simple, self-evident truisms, they have all been refuted. It’s just social Darwinism (’the best win,’ the world is for the winners’), just world theory (’you get what you deserve’) and the ’American Question’, ’If you are so smart, why aren’t you rich?’

 

Eric Barker gives some really excellent examples of this in his book Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong. (Barker, by the way, is not a constituent part of this industry. He consistently produces very good, evidence-based, texts – see here for his site.) It is, for example, widely believed that self-esteem is positively correlated to academic achievement. This sounds axiomatic, indeed. Or do you not believe that self-confident students do better? But Barker tells another story. The insight, or rather belief, made the state of California launch a state-wide initiative to raise the self-esteem of secondary school students. Policy-makers expected that it would improve grades, reduce drug use and anti-social behaviour. It turned out that the program achieved none of these goals. The reason, Barker writes, is that confidence is more an effect than a cause. The value of this insight is hard to overestimate. Achievement nurtures both self-confidence and self-esteem. Increase your skills in what you set out to do and your self-esteem and confidence will grow. It really is a virtuous circle. It also means that we found ourselves a strategy. Instead of telling you ”to just do it” when it’s clear you can’t for reasons few or no one seems interested in knowing, we use simple and effective problem-solving strategies to get you back to work.

 

Find your way

 

Chances are that, one day, you will look back at this episode and ask yourself why you worried so much about it. Remember the days when you were struggling? How was it possible that you tried and tried and made little or no progress? The insurmountable mountain you once looked at will have disappeared. Not only will you have organised or re-organised your thesis, you also got better at organising, studying and writing in general. You will feel more sure about yourself. That is success. The very first goal is that the roller coaster of negative self-attributions, frustration, demotivation, despair and inefficiency has to stop.

 

 

 

 

The fact that you experience difficulties says nothing about your innate capabilities. The history of science, philosophy and art is full of people who experienced great trouble in their studies or their careers. Many of the greatest names in science we talk about today never became a professor. Some of the greatest composers in history were considered second rate in their time. Maurice Ravel even got himself expelled from the Conservatory in Paris because of lack of talent and idiosyncracy. Sergei Rachmaninoff suffered from major depression after the negative reaction to his first symphony. He wrote nothing for four years, creating an enormous output afterwards. Who still remembers the critics who seemingly knew it all?

 

Coaching is a modifier. When we are done, not only you will have learned something concrete, you will also become more resilient, mature and self-confident. It leads you to the thing with feathers: hope (you can read Emily Dickinson’s poem here). It’s a thing we all need. Even more important, your achievement not only made you stronger, it also has the potential to enlighten you. You will produce your own personal definition of ’success’, apart from the ’American Question’.

 

Eric Barker concludes by making another essential point. You need to know what you want from life. If you don’t, you risk ending up on a treadmill – more of this and more of that. It won’t fulfill you. Instead, set a goal for yourself, something you want to achieve – not your parents, your partner, your professors or anyone else. It’s your life. One day, you won’t be a student any longer. You need to find the right place for you, a place where you can thrive and grow, with people you can get along with. You don’t want to end up in yet another ”bullshit job” as the anthropologist David Graeber calls it. Of course, by then you will have forgotten about us. But together, we planted a small seed of something transformative. That is coaching. This is why good coaching is a modifier.