Your personality dictates how you respond to study struggles

We’ve been looking at how your personality affects your studying. Here, I’m talking about how your study struggles are affected by your personality, and what to consider to change this.

Two students struggle with a topic:

One of them has a personality style that prefers to work on problems they already understand and have solved before. They feel uncomfortable when faced with challenges that they have no answer for.

One of them has a personality style that loves to pick at new problems, sees challenges as adventures and enjoys the process of figuring stuff out. They get bored of doing the same stuff again and again.

Assuming both have exactly the same intelligence…

can you see that their stress levels would be different? That their approaches to the stuff they struggle with won’t be the same?

One of them will probably try avoid dealing with the issue, and the other will jump right in…

It's easy to study well when it's all going well...

So… which one are you? Do you move TOWARDS stuff you struggle with? Or run AWAY from them!?

Full Disclosure:

I was DEFINITELY a student who moved AWAY from the struggles! I felt HORRIBLE when I couldn’t get stuff right fast and easily.

I immediately interpreted anything I struggled with as “I’m clearly not smart enough”, and “Maybe this will never come right”… and I really struggled to ask for help!

Why does this matter?

Most of my students blame their intelligence, their memory, their notes, textbooks, lack of hours spent studying, lecturers… for the stuff they struggle with. 

All these things may be contributing to the struggle… BUT, the underlying difference between the person who passes while all this is happening and the person who doesn’t pass… is how they RESPOND when the struggle hits.

You probably won’t feel like it… but this is a GOOD thing! This is awesome, because you’ve probably been feeling like it’s all just too difficult. But, even if it IS difficult, it’s our RESPONSE. It’s what we do next… THAT’S what counts! And that’s TOTALLY in your control!

Do you know how YOU respond to struggles?

Students define themselves by how they study when things are going well. This is not quite accurate. We need to look at how we behave when things are working and when they’re not working. 

How do you respond?

  • When you didn’t understand the lecture?
  • When you studied, but couldn’t do the practice questions? 
  • When you passed the tutorial question but failed the mock test? 
  • When you keep failing practice questions?
  • When you keep putting hours in but can’t seem to get questions right? 

These things WILL happen to us all at some point in our studies.
It doesn’t mean something’s gone WRONG!

Some responses from my students...

Here are some comments I get from students:

  • “I’m struggling with these questions, I keep wondering if this is worth it”
  • “I can’t seem to pass the questions, no matter how many hours I put in. I feel like maybe I should give up. Perhaps this isn’t for me”
  • “I just can’t remember the stuff I’ve been studying. Why is this happening to me? I’ve always been a good student!”

Can you see that these students feel like they want to move AWAY from the challenge? They certainly don’t see it as an ‘adventure’! There’s more of a sense of hopelessness, and you can feel that they’re not SEEING a solution, they’re just so worried that it will ‘never come right’.

Do you think someone with these types of feelings are going to be in a headspace where they look for other solutions? Try new things? Keep at it? 

Probably not. They feel like they’re a few steps away from giving up completely.

In these situations, what are your thoughts?

"So Yvonne? How will this help me?"

When you're on heavy medication, you don't REALISE that you're kinda drugged, drowsy and have far slower response times. In your head, you feel just fine! It's best to avoid doing dangerous things, because you won't respond the same way... AND YOU DON'T REALISE IT!

What does this have to do with your studying? When we’re IN the moment, we respond based on our instinct, what comes naturally. We’re not objective. We’re emotional and subjective.

If we’re aware of what our responses are, IN ADVANCE, then we can recognise this IN THE MOMENT. 

It allows us to CHOOSE how to respond. This is the type of response I want for you:

  • “Well, this isn’t going well, who can I ask for help with this”
  • “This is not working, how else can I think about this?”
  • “I’m not feeling good about this, am I avoiding something I shouldn’t be? (like questions, or a skill / exam technique advice I’ve been given)?”
  • “I feel horrible. This feels like it will never come right. Have I been in situations before where it DID come right? I need to remember that this isn’t permanent”

What gets in the way of your 'overcoming'?

I’ve been lecturing for over 15 years. I’ve heard it ALL! Here are some examples of comments that frustrate me, because it’s clear that they CAN do something, that there IS something in their control… but their response to the struggle is preventing them from improving:

  • “No, I haven’t asked my lecturer for help with this topic I’ve been struggling with for a month”
  • “Uh, no, I haven’t been using the tools and advice that you gave me. I’ve just been doing the same as I always have, and it’s still not working”
  • “No, I’m not following your advice, because it doesn’t feel comfortable”
  • “I tried a question, couldn’t do it, and went back to theory, and it’s still not coming right. It’ll never come right”
  • “Questions just aren’t helping… oh yeah, I’ve only done two of them…”
  • “I’ve listened to the lecture twice, and I don’t get it. I give up!”
  • “No, I haven’t been working on that topic because it’s just not coming right”

When your studying is going smoothly, you’ll be able to laugh at most of these comments and see that they’re not going to get you there. When your studying is a mess, when you’ve hit that horrible topic… you’re more likely to be the person saying these types of things! 

In NONE of these cases is the problem that the person isn’t smart and capable. Either they’re avoiding getting help, they’re NOT actively looking for a solution, they’re avoiding TRYING to solve it because it feels bad, or they’re kinda giving up because it hasn’t come right ‘as fast’ as they wanted it to.

Focus on what we CAN control

Just because we don’t ‘feel’ like struggles are ‘adventures’, doesn’t mean we’re stuck like this forever. So, don’t feel bad!

We can change our BEHAVIOUR to these struggles, and succeed. Our biggest challenge is that we lose our objectivity, hope, positivity IN the moment of that struggle and revert back to instinct. We CAN train that out of ourselves.

The most difficult topic CAN be overcome. The most challenging subject CAN be passed… if YOU take control of HOW you respond IN the moment of the struggle.

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How do you instinctively respond to struggles?

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Yvonne Starkey CA(SA)

Yvonne Starkey CA(SA)

I coach accounting students who are struggling with their study habits and mindset, and want their studies to be as effective as they used to be. See more on my about page

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