Help! I’m Stuck!

Take frequent breaks to recharge your batteries (Photo by Duncan Brown (Cradlehall))

You got yourself started on your distance learning project. You picked a university, enrolled in class, logged on to the first meeting, even completed your first few assignments. But here it is, the middle of the semester/term/degree track, and you’ve gotten bogged down. All of a sudden, the reading assignments don’t make sense, the lectures don’t make sense, nothing is coming together, and you can’t see the end of the road anywhere. Whoa! It’s time to take a breather.

Step away from the computer, go for a walk, go for a run, take your mind off your studies for awhile. Let your frustration level reset. Sometimes the human brain works best when it is engaged in some activity that is completely different from the one that is causing the problem. After you’ve gotten some fresh air, you’ll be able to approach that mountain of work from a new perspective. The answer to what has been plaguing you might even suddenly appear. What’s happened is that, while you were off doing something else, your brain was still churning away, making connections, and facilitating your understanding. But suppose you come back from your run, all hot and sweaty, and you still don’t have the answer.

Before you plough back into your work, take a few minutes to try to figure out what exactly is causing you grief. If it is a particular math problem that you just don’t understand, try checking online to see if you can get some help on your homework. If it’s a paper that you must write that’s got you all wrangled in knots, break the project down into steps: choose topic, outline, research, draft, edit. Remember, you only need to work on one part of the project at a time. The main point here is: specify the problem you are having, so that you can get some specific help. It’s like narrowing a Google search by keywords. You enter universal, you get gazillions of responses. You type in Universal Studios, you narrow down the results dramatically.

Once you know what type of help you need, you can go looking for assistance. Despite what you may have learned in school, students are not limited by their innate abilities. As Thomas Edison said, “Genius is one percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration.” The student who works harder will often do better than the student who coasts by on his intellect. But working harder is not enough. You must work productively as well. That is why it is important to understand exactly the nature of what is hampering your understanding, and deal with that issue. Working harder and harder in the wrong direction only wears you out. It does not help you get your assignment done, and it does not help you understand the material any better.

Remember: the ultimate goal is not just to get a degree; it is to give you the tools to do the job that you want to do. You should do more than slide by in your classes, wangling a passing grade by whatever means you can. If you want to succeed in your new career, you must try to understand as much of the material as you can. You never know what will come in handy in the future.

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