Monday Motivator: Interpreting Flukes

This weekend I was listening to Heidi Grant Halvorson, a psychologist who has studied motivation and success. She told of playing pool with a boyfriend and doing quite well. The next time they were at that particular bar, they were about to play again when she was overcome by doubt: “I’m not a pool player. That other time was just a fluke.” Her own nervousness got in her way, and she played down to her expectations.

I can relate. Many years ago, I awoke to snowy and icy roads. Like most people, I am not adept at driving on ice. Unlike most people, I realize that fact. Still, I got in my car and, going a steady five miles per hour, made it down Charlotte. I then decided I would prefer to avoid traffic and made a turn down a side road. Now this was a side road that had not been cleared and had many small hills. It was not a good idea. But I made it up the icy hills and down them and got to NSCC with car and body intact, although it was a good three hours later before I stopped shaking.

So what happened the next time I awoke to icy roads? Did I look out my window and say, “Hey, I’ve conquered this before. I can do it again.”?  No, I decided the successful time had been nothing more than a fluke, and if I went out on the roads that morning, I would surely die. My definition of myself as  a bad driver on snow-covered roads was so entrenched that one experience was not going to change my mind.

As faculty, we are mystified by students who seem to be doing well and then simply give up: They stop trying. They drop out. And it makes no sense to us. But maybe they are experiencing something similar to me and my icy roads. They don’t see themselves as successful students and interpret their accomplishments as flukes. They drop out before ‘reality’ hits and everyone realizes what ‘failures’ they really are.

Part of our jobs as educators is to help students see that their definitions of themselves just might be wrong, really wrong. And one of the best ways to do that is make sure that we examine ourselves for this same error in thought.

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