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The Power of Positive Thinking

Key Point
You are what you think. You feel what you want.
Why Think Positively?

All of our feelings, beliefs and knowledge are based on our internal thoughts, both conscious and subconscious. We are in control, whether we know it or not.

We can be positive or negative, enthusiastic or dull, active or passive.

The biggest difference between people is their attitudes. For some, learning is enjoyable and exciting. For others, learning is a drudgery. For many, learning is just okay, something required on the road to a job.

 "Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be."  -- Abraham Lincoln

 Our present attitudes are habits, built from the feedback of parents, friends, society and self, that form our self-image and our world-image.

These attitudes are maintained by the inner conversations we constantly have with ourselves, both consciously and subconsciously.

The first step in changing our attitudes is to change our inner conversations.

What Should We Be Saying?

One approach is called the three C's: Commitment, Control and Challenge.

Make a positive commitment to yourself, to learning, work, family, friends, nature, and other worthwhile causes. Praise yourself and others. Dream of success. Be enthusiastic.

Keep your mind focused on important things. Set goals and priorities for what you think and do. Visualize to practice your actions. Develop a strategy for dealing with problems. Learn to relax. Enjoy successes. Be honest with yourself.

Be courageous. Change and improve each day. Do your best and don't look back. See learning and change as opportunities. Try new things. Consider several options. Meet new people. Ask lots of questions. Keep track of your mental and physical health. Be optimistic.

Studies show that people with these characteristics are winners in good times and survivors in hard times.

Research shows that,
"... people who begin consciously to modify their inner conversations and assumptions report an almost immediate improvement in their performance. Their energy increases and things seem to go better ..."

Commitment, control and challenge help build self-esteem and promote positive thinking. Here are some other suggestions.

7 Suggestions for Building Positive Attitudes

  • In every class, look for positive people to associate with.
  • In every lecture, look for one more interesting idea.
  • In every chapter, find one more concept important to you.
  • With every friend, explain a new idea you've just learned.
  • With every teacher, ask a question.
  • With yourself, keep a list of your goals, positive thoughts and actions.
  • Remember, you are what you think, you feel what you want.

Learning How to Learn
Key Point
Habits can be the best of friends or the worst of enemies.

Build Good Habits.

 The key to success in any activity is to develop effective skills.
Athletes develop athletic skills; musicians develop musical skills; managers develop managing skills; learners need to develop learning skills. Developing skills means building good habits.

Develop the Habit of Mental Self-management.

Mental self-management or metacognition is the art of planning, monitoring and evaluating the learning process. To be good at metacognition means you have to know the options. Here are the major choices.

Identify your best learning styles - visual, verbal, kinesthetic, deductive or inductive.

Monitor and improve your learning skills - reading, writing, listening, time-management, note-taking, problem-solving.

Use different learning environments - lecture, lab, discussion, study groups, study partner.

Try to complete the learning cycle - For most courses, the learning cycle goes like this:
  • Memorize new information, rules and concepts - often tedious and boring.
  • Assimilate and organize this information - often hard, but interesting.
  • Use this information to analyze, synthesize and problem-solve - often difficult, but satisfying.
  • Incorporate this information into evaluations, judgments and predictions - often powerful and exhilarating.
Many students never get past the first step. They never experience the joy of learning.

Develop the Habit of Positive Thinking.

Use it for increasing confidence and self-esteem. Use it for setting goals and enjoying learning. Use it for taking charge of your own education. See Section 2 for more ideas.

Develop the Habit of Hierarchical Thinking.

Use it for setting priorities and for time management. Use it for summarizing ideas and for organizing information. See Section 10 on organizing information.

Develop the Habit of Creative and Critical Thinking.

Use it for making decisions and solving problems. Use it for synthesizing and creating new associations. See Sections 20 and 21.

Develop the Habit of Asking Questions.

Use it for identifying main ideas and supporting evidence. Use it for generating interest and motivation. Use it for focusing concentration and improving memory. See Section 6 on asking questions.

10 Steps for Building New Habits
  • Select a new habit or technique you want to develop, like one found in this book.
  • Convince yourself it's important.
  • Make it fairly easy to do.
  • Write out a schedule for working on it.
  • Practice using the technique, keep track of progress.
  • Reward yourself after each practice period.
  • Use your habits as often as possible, both in simple and in new situations.
  • Use a coach, teacher, tutor, group or friend.
  • Identify internal blocks, e.g., lack of time, poor self-esteem, procrastination, poor techniques, lack of success, lack of confidence, stress, poor organization, poor reading and math skills. Seek help if necessary
  • Start small, take one step at a time and enjoy each success.

How to Manage Time and Set Priorities

Key Point
Good time management means defining priorities and scheduling activities.

What Are the 3 Rules for Effective Time Management?
  1. Don't create impossible situations.
  2. Define priorities.
  3. Avoid distractions and lack of focus.
Don't Create Impossible Situations.

Don't get trapped into doing too much. Don't try to work full time and take a full load. Don't take too many lab classes. Use time to create success, not failure. Be realistic about school. For most classes, plan to study 2 hours for every 1 hour of class.

Make time your friend
not your enemy.

Identify your first priority classes and do whatever it takes to succeed. Drop second priority classes or reduce work hours if necessary.

Define Your Priorities Using the 3-List Method.

All time management begins with planning. Use lists to set priorities, plan activities and measure progress. One approach is the 3-list method.

List #1 - The weekly calendar.
Create a weekly calendar. Make it your basic time budgeting guide. List your courses, work, study time, recreation, meals, TV, relaxation, etc.

Plan to study first priority classes when you work best. Be flexible, adapt your schedule to changing needs. Keep your schedule handy and refer to it often. If it doesn't work, change it.

List #2 - The daily "Things to Do".
Write down all the things that you want to do today. Note homework due or tests or subjects you want to emphasize. Include shopping and personal calls, etc.

This list is a reminder. Use it to set daily priorities and to reduce decision-making and worry. If time is tight, move items to your long-term list.

Rewrite this list each morning. Use visualization to help you focus on what to do. This list is also a measure of your day-to-day success. Check off items as you finish them and praise yourself for each accomplishment.

List #3 - Goals and other things.
This can be one or two lists, a monthly list and or a long-term list. Put down your goals and things you have to do. What do you want to accomplish over the next month or year? What do you need to buy?

Use this list to keep track of all your commitments. If you're worried about something, put it on this list. The purpose of this list is to develop long-term goals and to free your mind to concentrate on today.

Avoid Distractions and Lack of Focus.

Time is precious. Yet many people waste time by getting stuck in one or more of the following habits.

Procrastination - putting off important jobs.

Crises management - being overwhelmed by the current crisis. No time for routine matters.

Switching and floundering - lack of concentration and focus on one job.

Television, telephones and friends - these are all ways of avoiding work.

Emotional blocks - boredom, daydreaming, stress, guilt, anger and frustration reduce concentration.

Sickness - getting sick and blowing your schedule.

In all of these cases, the first step is to recognize the problem and resolve to improve. Use priority lists to focus attention. Try positive self-talk. To avoid distractions, find a quiet place to study, the library or a study hall. Get an answering machine.

How to Improve Reading Comprehension

Key Point
Good reading means building frameworks for connecting words to thoughts.

The Purpose of Reading.

The purpose of reading is to connect the ideas on the page to what you already know. If you don't know anything about a subject, then pouring words of text into your mind is like pouring water into your hand. You don't retain much. For example, try reading these numbers:
    7516324 This is hard to read and remember.
    751-6324 This is easier because of chunking.
    123-4567 This is easy to read because of prior knowledge and structure.
Similarly, if you like sports, then reading the sports page is easy. You have a framework in your mind for reading, understanding and storing information.

Improving Comprehension.

Reading comprehension requires motivation, mental frameworks for holding ideas, concentration and good study techniques. Here are some suggestions.

Develop a broad background.
Broaden your background knowledge by reading newspapers, magazines and books. Become interested in world events.

Know the structure of paragraphs.
Good writers construct paragraphs that have a beginning, middle and end. Often, the first sentence will give an overview that helps provide a framework for adding details. Also, look for transitional words, phrases or paragraphs that change the topic.

Identify the type of reasoning.
Does the author use cause and effect reasoning, hypothesis, model building, induction or deduction, systems thinking? See section 20 for more examples on critical thinking skills.

Anticipate and predict.
Really smart readers try to anticipate the author and predict future ideas and questions. If you're right, this reinforces your understanding. If you're wrong, you make adjustments quicker.

Look for the method of organization.
Is the material organized chronologically, serially, logically, functionally, spatially or hierarchical? See section 10 for more examples on organization.

Create motivation and interest.
Preview material, ask questions, discuss ideas with classmates. The stronger your interest, the greater your comprehension.

Pay attention to supporting cues.
Study pictures, graphs and headings. Read the first and last paragraph in a chapter, or the first sentence in each section.

Highlight, summarize and review.
Just reading a book once is not enough. To develop a deeper understanding, you have to highlight, summarize and review important ideas.

Build a good vocabulary.
For most educated people, this is a lifetime project. The best way to improve your vocabulary is to use a dictionary regularly. You might carry around a pocket dictionary and use it to look up new words. Or, you can keep a list of words to look up at the end of the day. Concentrate on roots, prefixes and endings.

Use a systematic reading technique like SQR3.
Develop a systematic reading style, like the SQR3 method and make adjustments to it, depending on priorities and purpose. The SQR3 steps include Survey, Question, Read, Recite and Review. See Section 14 for more details.

Monitor effectiveness.
Good readers monitor their attention, concentration and effectiveness. They quickly recognize if they've missed an idea and backup to reread it.

Should You Vocalize Words?

Yes, although it is faster to form words in your mind rather than on your lips or throat. Eye motion is also important. Frequent backtracking slows you down considerably.

How to Identify your Best Learning Styles

Key Point
To be more effective, determine your best learning styles.

Know Thyself.

I hear and I forget.
I see and I remember.
I do and I understand.

Old Chinese Proverb

People learn differently. Some prefer using pictures. Others like working in groups. How do you learn best? Here are the three major factors making up your learning style.
  1. The three senses - auditory, visual and kinesthetics
  2. The two reasoning types - deductive and inductive
  3. The two environments - intrapersonal and interpersonal
Check these factors as they apply to different subjects to discover your learning preferences.

The Three Senses

Auditory - listening
    ( ) - I prefer to follow verbal instructions rather than written ones.

    ( ) - I find it comfortable to add spoken numbers mentally.
Visual - seeing, reading and visualizing
    ( ) - I score high on tests that depend on reading comprehension.

    ( ) - I can read formulas and understand them.

    ( ) - I prefer maps to verbal directions when I am trying to find a place.
Kinesthetics - moving, touching, writing and doing.
    ( ) - When I write things down, it clarifies my thoughts.

    ( ) - I have to manipulate formulas in order to understand them.

    ( ) - I like to draw pictures.

    ( ) - I am good at using my hands. I enjoy lab classes.
The Two Reasoning Types

Deductive reasoning
    ( ) - I like to look at the big picture first, then get the details.

    ( ) - When learning a new game, I like to know all the rules before playing.

    ( ) - In an argument, I state my premises first, then draw conclusions.
Inductive reasoning
    ( ) - I like to see some examples when first learning a new subject, before developing an overview.

    ( ) - I prefer to learn the rules of a new game "as we go along".
The Two Learning Environments

Intrapersonal - working alone.
    ( ) - When solving word problems, I have to figure it out for myself.

    ( ) - Doing school work with a group often wastes a lot of time.
Interpersonal - working with others.
    ( ) - Before making a decision, I usually discuss it with my family or friends.

    ( ) - I like to do my homework with others.
What Are You Best At?

Ideally, we are good with each learning style. However, what we do best can depend on our mood, the subject matter, our friends and the teacher. Our goal is to monitor our learning effectiveness and to adjust our learning styles for maximum advantage.



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