Study skills
By Gregory Mitchell - Copyright © 2003
Chapter 14 - The Decision to Fail
Frequently a child encounters an area of study, such as math, and decides that it requires too much mental effort, that others are doing better than themselves so they are falling behind, and that they are not likely to succeed in the subject. They then make a decision that it is better not to try any more in this subject, in order to salvage their self-esteem. They have made a decision to fail.

Such decisions by children act with the power of hypnotic commands, as they are normally made in a state of considerable emotion and stress. The consequences of such decisions can act for a lifetime. Even a person with a high IQ may find that certain simple mental operations are forever beyond his grasp. If the decision to fail is so deeply impressed that it cannot be recalled, practice in these areas can still produce little gain.

A decision to fail may also derive from a block in the subconscious mind. Perhaps a child is forbidden to touch a precious musical instrument and after some trauma eventually concludes that music is out of his reach. This ‘giving up’ on the subject continue to haunt later years for that person as a subconscious assumption that music is out of reach.

It has long been recognized that anyone’s mind cannot function well where there is anxiety. The effect of troubled emotions in class was the subject of a research project run in the USA by the Public Health Service. This project showed the intimate connection between emotions and learning ability. Children with social and emotional problems were also poor readers relative to their tested level of IQ. 

My own experience as a psychotherapist is very similar. Frequently reading problems will manifest earlier than severe emotional problems. This is because related complexes in the mind are pushed down one of top of the other to form a stack, so that the last one to be entered on the stack is the first one to appear - but the real cause is buried further down the stack. Assuming normal intelligence, only a severely disturbed child will experience difficulties learning to read, so one can expect some traumatic experiences down at the bottom of the stack.

If a small child has emotional problems and this is unrecognized by the parents, then nothing will be done about it until the child reaches school. Then the child will be singled out because of poor academic performance, not because of emotional problems. So the situation is compounded, particularly if the child is not helped at that point but has to struggle through the school system under a cloud. The neglect then becomes very costly to the child, the family and to society.

The causes of emotional tension in the home are many. The most potent of all are quarrels between the parents which strike at the very root of the child’s need for security. It should be remembered that the dominant parent is seen by the small child as an infallible, godlike creature. The parent’s pronouncements have the force of hypnotic commands. Statements like “run away and play,” or “don’t bother me with stupid questions,” can turn a child into a work-shy recluse in later years. Most dangerous of all are the parent’s prognostication such as “you’ll never make anything of yourself,” or “you’ll just be a waster.” Even if spoken in jest they may become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Some children can be driven so hard to achieve by their parents that educational results become charged with emotion, and the child may cease to achieve as a form of rebellion, or develop a neurotic guilt complex as a result of failure. At school, the child is vulnerable to the disciplinarian teacher who uses sarcasm and ridicule to bring children to heel. This tends to bring out defiance in the poor performer, resulting in the conscious decision to act dumb. 

In later years, at work and in adult education, similar problems with inadequate teachers in combination with poor study skills may lead to making a conscious ‘decision to fail’ in a particular subject: based on the feeling that the subject is impossible to succeed with and should be avoided in the future.

Decisions to fail may also be a result of achievements that are felt to be unrecognized. This is particularly the case if a large part of the motivation for the activity was to please another person. Lack of acknowledgement when an ability has been achieved may also lead to over-running the study, so that enthusiasm wanes and turns into protest.

Another factor is the application of an unrealistic measure to success in an activity. A perfectionist compulsion will make any achievement seem inadequate. If one thinks one has to become a world-class musician to have succeeded in the study of playing an instrument, this unrealistic expectation will invalidate the actual accomplishments and lead one to consider the study a failure and to give up on the subject in the future.

There may be fears related to actually applying the skills being learned, to do with confronting real-world and potentially stressful situations. This may be rationalized by making justifications for not continuing with the study.

Conscious decisions to fail may be remembered by the student and re-assessed. It may be realized that the situation leading to that original decision is not the same as the current situation, and that what seemed impossible then may be accomplished now by the application of sound study skills and with the proper motivation and mature approach.

Furthermore, it may be recognized that perceived inabilities probably stem from decisions to fail in early childhood, and that although these decisions may be subconscious and buried under layers of later emotions and intentions so that they are not directly perceived now, nevertheless a re-assessment is possible: the feeling of inability can be replaced by an up-to-date, objective view.


1. Introduction
2. Barriers to Learning
3. Setting Objectives
4. Reading Techniques
5. Key Word Noting
6. More on Note-Taking
7. Associative Networks
8. Asking Questions & Listening
9. Thinking Clearly
10. Word Definitions
11. Defeating the Decay of Memories
12. Physical Learning
13. Sight, Sound, Action...
14. The Decision to Fail
15. What's Next?


Copyright © 2004 Gregory Mitchell - Published by Trans4mind

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