The biggest problem facing students is not hard tests or mean professors or late study nights. The biggest problem is the question they ask themselves over and over again, year after year: “Am I good at this?” There’s always that self-doubt, and it’s not hard to explain why—when you see your peers exceeding at tasks that you are struggling with, you see your own limitations up and front for the first time.
For most students, school is the first place where they experience this realization, which is why they have no idea how to handle this kind of disappointment. Some choose to struggle through it, getting low grades due to a lack of self-confidence more than actual lack of talent. Others end up buckling completely, dropping out of the class and giving up.
The solution: more than one answer
But one education adviser who gave a famous TED Talk a while back, Sir Ken Robinson, believes that there is a solution towards this kind of academic burnout. The issue is that students are drilled with the idea that each question only has a single answer. If you fail to get the right answer—whether you forgot the answer you were supposed to memorize or had another idea—you are told that you are wrong.
This kind of thinking adds unnecessary pressure to students, to the point that they feel paralyzed and become unable to accomplish anything. They believe that they have to think a certain way or act a certain way, and if they don’t, then they are inherently wrong and lesser than their more successful peers.
Robinson believes that the way to get around this is to adopt divergent thinking. According to Robinson, “Divergent thinking is an essential capacity for creativity.” Divergent thinking allows for multiple solutions to a single question; instead of students worrying over getting the exact right answer, they can instead focus on the question itself and come up with an answer that most makes sense to them.
More than just coddling
Some teachers may balk at the idea of letting students come up with their own answers for questions. While this technique might not apply to every subject and question out there (1 plus 1 will always equal 2, for example), divergent thinking has been proven to help students improve their mood, confidence, and academic insight.
Another scholar, James Flynn, found that divergent thinking has increased the average IQ of students over the last few decades, as it has allowed students to evolve into better thinkers, rather than memorizers of answers.
If you want to teach yourself how to adopt divergent thinking, here are 5 easy strategies:
Don’t think of your ideas as “good” ideas or “bad” ideas. Categorizing ideas that you might not like right away goes against everything that divergent thinking is about. Ask yourself—why do I think these ideas are bad, and are they really? Ask, ask, ask: get the right questions, and figure out if the alternative solutions are better or worse.
2) When you fail, look at it another way
Failure shouldn’t be such a negative concept. While it might suck to get a question wrong or to fail a test, the disappointment should end there. Don’t brood over it as if it is a giant failure. Take it as an opportunity to teach yourself. Ask Robinson states, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original.”
3) Work with others
Learning doesn’t have to be a lonely process. Work with other students and collaborate. Don’t hide your ideas from each other; share them and build off of them. In no time, your group will come up with something new that none of you had thought of in the first place.
4) Think out of the box
Take an object, any kind of object you might find in a classroom, like a pen or a stapler. Now ask yourself—what are all the ways this object can be used outside of its original purpose? The more purposes you can think of, and the stranger they become, the more you can grow when it comes to thinking outside of the box.
5) Think of problems, not solutions
Teachers always ask students to solve problems, but when are they ever challenged to make the problems themselves? By exercising your mind into figuring out problems rather than solutions, you force yourself to conceptualize the essence of a problem. You learn about the requirements of a problem, the reasons why a problem is a problem, and essentially, what makes a problem a problem. By becoming familiar with problems, you can better understand how to solve them.