What Can You Do?

What Can You Do?

We often think about the things we cannot do or things that are difficult for us.

Almost every day, I hear from students who tell me what they can’t do. While it is good to acknowledge areas of weakness, it is more beneficial to focus on what we can do!

Dwelling on what we don’t know, or things we find difficult, does nothing to resolve the problem. Beginning from a position of strength and then working towards becoming better at weak areas, or the unknown for that matter, is a far better approach.

Sometimes students say, “I can’t do algebra because I don’t have a math brain.” Others say, “I won’t do well in this history class because I have a bad memory.” I could continue to provide these kinds of negative statements for the entire blog, but I think you see my point.

These are not reasons; they are excuses. However well-intentioned they are at the moment, these “reasons” are simply escape hatches. There could be a kernel of truth to some of them, but that doesn’t get you a pass – in either sense of the word.

If you feel that your memory isn’t up to speed, ask yourself what you can do about that. There are many ways to improve memory. Also, there are many ways to circumvent the need for an excellent memory and still succeed.

While some students do seem to have a propensity toward language or math, this is definitely not set in stone. I have seen many students who thought they were only good at courses that relied heavily on language skills who later become far better in mathematics and science.

Alternatively, I have seen students who were only interested in math who later find an interest in English or other humanities and excel in those areas. Of course, skills learned in any discipline are transferrable to others, so why limit yourself?

Please, please, please, let’s eliminate the completely false idea that math students can’t do English and vice versa. Let’s defeat the completely false belief that someone who excels in sports cannot succeed academically and vice versa. All of these are misconceptions, urban myths, and self-perpetuating unnecessary limitations!

Having been awarded a label such as ADD, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, and so on is no reason to put the brakes on your progress either. While identifying specific challenges can be helpful, it can also be detrimental if you decide these are insurmountable barriers.

They are not.

Start where you are.

Make a plan to improve

Create attainable steps.


Nothing of any value pops into existence fully formed and complete. Every goal you want to reach begins with a first step and then another.

Picture2Let’s look at a concrete example. I will go back to algebra. You have told yourself that you can’t do algebra. Instead, ask yourself (and answer) what you can do. Do you know how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide? If the answer is “no” – start there.

If the answer is “yes,” ask yourself if you know how to read a thermometer in the winter or understand negative temperatures and numbers. If all of these bits are in order, you have the basic tools to begin working with positive and negative numbers in expressions and equations. Again, take it slow. Start with basic questions. Use a number line if that helps. Use concrete manipulatives if you are a more kinesthetic learner. If you know that 5 – 3 = 2, it is only a small step to see that 3 – 5 = -2.

I am not covering every step here, but you can see the basic concept.

The idea is to strengthen your resolve by reveling in what you do know and what you are able to do so that introducing new material does not frighten you or act as a barrier.

There will be moments of doubt. There will be times in which you will need to back up, review, try again (possibly many times) before the forward progress is certain, but stick with it.

Today, there is nothing stopping you from jumping in – apart from your own mindset. There are websites, blogs, videos, podcasts, and books that can walk you through almost any topic or course.

Picture3Never be afraid to take a beginner’s course or read a starter book. I do it all the time.

Never be ashamed to watch a video or read a text that is aimed at a much younger viewer or reader.

We know what we know, and we don’t know what we don’t know. Remember that starting is the important bit. There is nothing wrong with starting at the very beginning and building a strong foundation.

Of course, you can find people in the community to assist you as well.

In some cases a private tutor or coach can provide you with guidance and motivation. Don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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