Losing focus at school

A student is finding online math classes a struggle. I suspect you’re being too hard on yourself, says our elder. Open up to your teacher and start asking for the help you need.


Q. Dear EWC:

I often find myself struggling to stay focused during my online classes, specifically in my math class. I am having a difficult time understanding the concepts of the material, and do not feel comfortable speaking up in class about it. We have a new teacher this semester, and while he is a good teacher, I feel nervous to ask him for help. This problem has mainly started this past week after winter break, where I have started to lose motivation in my math class. How can I do better at staying focused during class, or where can I go to get more help with the material?

A. Elder Grandpa Matt

It seems very common to ‘hit a wall’ in our studies and lose the desire or motivation to complete our tasks. The result is that we find it harder and harder to focus enough to get through the learning barrier to be successful. You clearly state that your fears of speaking up in class and asking the teacher for assistance are your roadblock.

Fear of being judged, ridiculed, or thoughtless of, might be the possible cause of your feeling that you are not good enough, not acceptable enough, and might be getting in your way. Another possibility is the fear of being rejected by others if they find out you are not as capable as you pretend to be in math as you are in other subjects. The bottom line is that you are afraid your ego would take a hit in the eyes of others. This would prevent you from seeking help. 

We make choices and decisions based on justifying our points of view to support that we think will serve us under the circumstances. If you decide that things are hopeless, then it would be logical to believe that you would have little to look forward to. These thoughts can be used to justify your lack of motivation.

Motivation is a minute-by-minute decision, just like walking. You regularly choose to take one foot, move it in front of the other, and the next step and the next, etc. The minute you decide not to take that next step, you are at a standstill. You will stay in that position forever until you choose to move forward. When you were a small child learning how to walk, you fell many times, but those failures didn’t stop you. You were a brave child! You are now a valuable, worthy person, capable of putting aside the fears and moving forward.

If the motivation is another word meaning choice, be clear that you are choosing to stop working the moment you bring things to a halt. It is your responsibility to take charge and keep deciding to move ahead. What causes us to stop moving forward? Maybe it is to prove that you are right in thinking that it is hopeless for you to create a long-term series of successful actions. 

Only you know the answers. We are just looking at the possibilities. If, for example, your favorite person’s life depended on completing a group of tasks, would you do them quickly and to the best of your ability? Or if $5 million tax-free was given to you to complete tasks, would you put the immediate effort to get the money? I’ll bet you would get right on the job. Or if $5 million wasn’t enough, how about $10 million? I believe everybody has a price. It is all down to a question of motivation.

What will motivate you to action? In the sport of greyhound racing, an artificial or mechanical rabbit is used as a lure to encourage the dog to chase it as fast as possible. With these animals, their drive is more instinctual than psychological. Here is where you differ from the animal in the metaphorical race in which you are engaged. I don’t think the animals choose whether to do their best or not. 

Human beings do have a choice. Many people procrastinate because of a deep-set fear of failure. Often it is based on the false evaluation that you are not competent or capable enough to succeed. Rather than fail, a person will put off going through with the task, so they won’t have to admit failure. In a way, accepting defeat in a job gives person evidence that confirms the judgment that they are not good enough.

Often, we are driven to look for perfection in the tasks that we undertake. You’re doing it ‘right’ was what our parents and teachers sought to instill in you by rewarding you with approval. However, seeking perfection is a trap that sabotages you. We are not robots. We all make mistakes. We learn by making errors and attempt to avoid repeating them. The search for perfection is the enemy.

While you haven’t said so, I think that you are hard on yourself by judging your actions very critically. The possibility that you are a perfectionist may interfere with your ability to give yourself a break. Suppose you are a bit of a perfectionist. In that case, I’d like you to consider the example of one of the best female tennis players in modern times, Serena Williams, who won multiple championships. She is a most excellent performer. Does she lose any points or games? For sure, as she is not perfect! Yet we consider her the best. I am suggesting that you give up the idea of expecting perfection and trade it in for the standard of excellence. Being excellent, you can give it your best shot and be satisfied with the idea that you did your best. 

I believe that raising your self-esteem is your next order of business. You are 100% responsible for how and what you think about yourself. You can build self-esteem. You don’t need anybody to agree or vote about your worthiness. There is a website that can assist you in rebuilding your self-esteem. See Loving and appreciating yourself are the primary keys to an attitudinal shift allowing you to move ahead with confidence. 

Your next move requires courage. I’d advise you to approach the teacher and tell the truth about your struggles with math and opening up about the fear of speaking up in class. Don’t be surprised if you will get the assistance that you need. Your other option is to tell your folks that you need some tutoring in math. Either way, you need to take some action!

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