How To Deal With Stress At School
Why we get stressed about school
Hello, my name is Noah Elkrief. And in this blog post, I’m going to talk about how to deal with stress at school. When we’re stressed about school, there are two fundamental reasons why:
- You believe that your test results and grades mean something about who you are.
- You believe that you need to get certain grades in order to achieve what you want in life, or become what you want in life.
I’m going to talk about those two things, alright?
If you believe that a good test score means you are great, then you will fear bad test scores
First, just look at your own experience – what does it mean about you if you get a high score on your test, or a good grade on your paper, or good grades overall? What does that mean about you? You might have an idea that it means you’re smart, that you’re successful, that you’re better than others, that you’re responsible, that you’re something along those lines. Just look for yourself, how you have an idea that if you get good grades, good test scores, that means something about who you are.
Of course, if you believe that good test scores mean you are good in some way, you will believe that a bad test score means you are bad in some way. Then, naturally you’re going to fear getting bad test scores, or not ideal test scores. If it means you are smart if you get good test scores, then it means you’re stupid if you don’t. If it means you’re successful if you get good test scores, it means you’re a failure if you don’t. If it means you’re responsible and okay or worthy or just an acceptable person if you get good test scores, then it means you are not worthy, acceptable, okay if you get bad test scores.
Test scores don’t mean anything about who you are because there are many variables that determine a test score
Is it true that a test score means something about who you are? Is that really true? Look, how do you know? If you get a good test score, what does that mean? It means you got a good test score, that is it. Does it mean you’re smarter? No, maybe you had a better teacher, maybe you studied longer than somebody else, maybe you got a good night’s sleep and many others didn’t. Who knows?
Test scores don’t mean anything about who you are because you didn’t create your intellect
Even if the intellect you have is sharper or faster than somebody else’s is, what does that mean about you? Did you create your intellect? Did you make it happen? If somebody gives you a little building made out of wood, that’s very intricate and seemingly amazing, if they give it to you, now you have it, it’s yours. Will you take credit for it and think this means I am great? No, you were given it as a gift. Right?
If you get a high test score because you have a strong intellect, what does that mean about you? Did you create your intellect? No, it was given to you, just like getting a great gift. It doesn’t mean anything about you. Similarly, if your intellect isn’t as fast as other people’s, if you don’t grasp things as quickly, it doesn’t mean anything about you. Does it mean you’re a better person if you can grasp things quicker? No, it doesn’t. You can’t take credit for what you don’t control. And we don’t control our intellect, memory, or comprehension speed.
Test scores don’t mean anything about us because no one skill is better than another
Imagine there are two people, one person is great at basketball, but is horrible at soccer. The other person is great at soccer, but terrible at basketball. Who is the better person? Everyone has different skills, and no skill means one person is better than another.
Some people are better at math, some people are better at listening, some people are better talking with people, some people are better at writing. Some people are better learning from listening, while some people are better at learning from reading. Some people learn better in real life situations. We all learn differently. There is no one best way to learn, or one way to learn that makes you a better person. It doesn’t mean anything about you if you get the good test score, or you don’t.
A test score doesn’t determine whether you will be successful
It doesn’t mean you’re responsible if you get a good test score, you could spend just as much time and fail. It doesn’t mean that you will be successful if you get a good test score. Many people with good test scores don’t end up as successful as people who do poorly in school.
Identify and investigate whatever reason you have for why test scores mean something about you
I haven’t addressed all the different things that you probably think it means about you if you get a good test score, but the important bit is that you discover and inquire and question what you think it means about you if you get a good test score and what you think it means about you if you don’t. And write it down and then question it, ask if the opposite could be true. Try to come up with reasons as to why that assumption isn’t true or might not be true. And that will free you from it because if it doesn’t mean anything about you, then it doesn’t matter so much.
The importance that we place on a test score is just because we think it means something about us, which means it will make me happy or not. Because if I think I’m great, then it means I’m happy. And if I think I’m bad and a failure, it means I’m sad and depressed. And of course, we don’t want to be sad and depressed, so we want to think of ourselves as great and test scores are one of the means by which we can give evidence to ourselves, I am great. But there’s no such thing, you’re just here doing your best. And if you get a good test score, you get a good one, and if you don’t, you don’t.
We believe that in order to achieve our goals, we have to do well at every step along the way
The second cause of stress at school is just as big, often bigger than the first part. And that is this idea that getting a test score will get you to achieve what you want in life. Let me break it down for you, because this is really important to see if you’re in school. Many people, especially if you have anxiety, you have this idea of some fantasy in the future where you will be happy. That fantasy might be becoming a doctor, becoming a lawyer, becoming an accountant, becoming something successful, wealthy, whatever, or a CEO or some position, whatever that may be.
Let’s imagine your fantasy is becoming a doctor – well if you believe that you want to become a doctor, and that is what’s best for you, then you will also believe in that you need to achieve many outcomes along the way, right? So to be a doctor, you have to get good board scores, and you have to go to a good med school, and to go to a good med school you have to get good MCATs, and to get good MCATs, you have to go to a good college and take a lot of pre-requisites and you have to get good grades on all of them. To get into a good college, you have to get good grades in high school, and you have to all this and that.
If we believe that achieving our goal will make us happy, we fear failure at every step
Basically, if you think becoming a doctor is how you’ll be happiest in life, then failure to become a doctor means you will be unhappy in life. Since you think there are many things that need to be accomplished in order to become a doctor, then you will place the same amount of importance on every single exam (or other step) as you do on the full goal of becoming a doctor or not. Every single step along the way, right?
If you’re in Biology 101 in college, you will believe that if you get an A, you’re on your way to becoming a doctor. And if you get a C, you will never become a doctor. And so of course it seems so huge, right? It seems like such an important thing when you think one outcome is best, then every other outcome is bad. If it is best for you to become a doctor, it is bad for you not to. Alright? And if you think it’s best to become a doctor, you have to get a good grade on this test, you have to get a good grade on this homework, you have to get a good grade on this project, you have to get the teacher to like you, because if you don’t, then you will not be able to achieve your goal and be happy.
Are you sure that you can’t achieve your goal if you fail sometimes
There are at least two incredibly false assumptions in there, okay? The first is, let’s assume that becoming a doctor is what’s best for you, or whatever idea you have, whatever fantasy. That’s what’s best for you. How do you know what you need to get there? How could you possibly know? You think you need an A in this class? Well, has any doctor ever failed that class, gotten a C, had to retake it, had to transfer colleges? Has that never happened to anyone that is currently a doctor? Maybe you end up failing a class and get a bad grade, and that motivates you to change how you live, so you spend more time studying. Maybe failing a class gets you to spend less time studying, which gets you to put more emphasis on your internships and your extracurriculars, which helps you get into a better medical school. There are so many different steps along the way and if you think all those steps are required to go a certain way in order for you to get your goal, you will suffer in every step along the way. But how do you know what steps are required to get there?
You may think to become a CEO, you have to get good grades and go to med school or MBA or something, but so many people fail out of school or drop out of school and they do well. You have no idea. Just look at that, really, really see that. Do you know 100% for sure that you need a certain grade in this class in order to achieve your goal? Is there any way to not achieve the particular outcome you want and eventually get to the goal you want? Look, be really honest. Of course, be creative. Imagine, are there different possibilities that could occur in order for me to get to the goal and not get the best grade? Of course.
How to deal with stress at school? Disocver that you don’t know what’s best for you
But now, for the most important discovery. This is the most important part. I don’t know why I saved this for last instead of saying it in the beginning, but here you go – and that is, you don’t know what is best for you. You don’t. You have an idea that you want to become a doctor, that’s what you want. You want to become a lawyer, that’s what’s best for you. Then you place so much importance at every step along the way to hopefully get there. But how do you know that’s what you want? Have you been a doctor? How could you know you’d like it? How could you know you’d like being a lawyer, an accountant, or a trader, or anything, or a business person, or a social worker, whatever it is, how do you know? You never did it. And maybe where you are now, you think, “Oh, that’s definitely for me.” But maybe you change, maybe different experiences occur and you change your interests, change your personality, change something. How do you know that’s what you want to do?
Achieving your goal can’t make you happy, no matter what it is
Second of all, the anxiety that you have about achieving your goal is because you believe that it will make you happy. It won’t. It can’t. How do I know? Just look – if a specific job, doctor, lawyer, created happiness, then everybody in that job would be happy. But is that the truth? No, of course not. If you’re in that job, you have anxiety about your clients or your patients, you have worries about what others think of you, if you’re doing a good job. You have insecurities about whether you’re doing a good job. You have anxiety about getting a particular outcome you want. Just like you have anxiety about a particular outcome now. You’ll still have judgments about others, you’ll still have every bit of suffering you have now, because it’s all thoughts. And achieving any goal can’t get rid of the thoughts in your head.
How to deal with stress at school – Discover grades don’t mean anything about you
Taking a step back, summarizing what we spoke about. If you get a good test score, that doesn’t mean you are great or the wonderful anything, it just means you got a good test score. Why were you able to remember it? That wasn’t up to you, you just were. Why were you able to spend time studying? You just were. Why did the thing you studied end up showing up on the exam instead of the thing you didn’t really understand? Doesn’t mean anything about you. And if you fail or don’t do well, that doesn’t mean anything about you either. And it doesn’t mean anything about the future, we think, “If I fail this, then I will never do this, or never do that.” You don’t know that. You have no idea, alright?
How to deal with stress at school – Recognize you don’t know what’s best for you
If you have some idea about what is best for you in the future, you don’t know whether that’s best for you, you don’t know whether you’ll like it, you don’t know whether that’s the most fulfilling path for you. And you don’t know whether that’ll make you happiest, because it certainly can’t make you happy. The only time to be happy is now.
Recognize, if you have anxiety about a test or a project or something, it’s because you are believing it would be best for me to get a particular outcome, and bad for any other outcome. You need to question, do you know it would be best for your life to get a good grade? Do you know that it would be worse for your life to get a bad grade? How? Why? Do you know what all the effects are of that particular outcome? How could you know?
Just ask yourself, really, write it down, write it down, like this is homework, but this is homework to make you happy. Which is what you really want. Can I think of any possible scenarios, any examples, any future possible effects of how this could end up being good for my life? Maybe if I fail a class in my major, that will lead me to discover, this isn’t really right for me. I’m not that good at it. I don’t enjoy it. Or maybe, I’m just not cut out for it. Okay, my intellect doesn’t work in that way. Okay, let’s try something else. I thought that was best for me, I thought that was my calling, but the truth is, I don’t know for sure. It seems that way, but I don’t know, let’s try something else. Let’s see.
Stress is created by believing “I know” when you really don’t
What happens is, stress is created by a certainty – I know what is best and I know what is bad. I know what is good for my life, I know what is bad for my life. But when you simply recognize or discover, “I don’t know what’s best for me,” then you’re free. Then there’s no more stress.
Anxiety and stress doesn’t help you to study and do well
I can already hear you saying, as I’ve heard in individual sessions sometimes, “anxiety and stress is helpful to get me to study”. No, it’s not. Anxiety and stress doesn’t get you to study, because you enjoy it less, right? When you’re stressed, you enjoy studying less, which means you’re less likely to do it. If you feel happy and free while studying, you’re going to do it more.
Second of all, when you’re stressed while studying, that means part of your attention is on thoughts about the future, which means you’re not giving 100% of your focus, attention and mental energy to the work you’re doing, which hurts the quality of your comprehension, your understanding, your memory, and all of that sort of thing. And if you’re stressed while taking a test, you’re going to be less effective for all those same reasons as well.
Thanks for reading this blog post about how to deal with stress at school
I hope that this blog post about how to deal with stress at school helps you. If you want more help, you can try my free web app “The 5 Steps”, download my free ebook, buy my full book, or setup an individual session here.