Perceptions we form about ourselves during school days can influence us long after what we’ve learned at school is a dusty memory.
Brandon has the perception that he can’t do math. Where did he get that? Perhaps his parents told him that he inherited his inability from them. Maybe he had an unpleasant math teacher. Maybe his classmates taunted him, suggesting he was “slow.”
Whatever the reason, Brandon has been studious indeed since school—studiously avoiding numbers, that is! His wife handles the family money. At work, others surreptitiously cover for him whenever math is involved. Although he’s still young, Brandon recognizes that he has gone as far as he can go, all because he “can’t” do math.
Brandon has gone over and over his school days in his mind, blaming and resenting the people whom he feels contributed to his shortcomings. If only they hadn’t belittled him; if only he’d been encouraged, or given a little extra help. But now, it’s too late. He’s stuck, and it’s their fault.
In Reality Therapy, the focus is on the present rather than the past. While Brandon might have developed his perception from past events, he can only take action now, in the present. So, let’s look at now.
Is it helpful for Brandon to continue to blame? Does blaming his parents help him? By now, the unpleasant teacher is long gone and the bullying classmates barely remember him. What is Brandon’s blaming doing for him? Nothing helpful.
Brandon has grown quite attached to this perception of his inability to learn. Is continuing to cling to that belief bringing him closer to the life he wants? Or is it keeping him away from life as he would like it to be?
A suggestion for Brandon is that he look anew, as if that unhappy schooling experience had never happened. Start from scratch. Get a math book, find a comfortable level, and start working from there.
“I can’t do that,” Brandon protests. Why not? “It’ll probably be Grade 2. Everybody who thinks I’m a dummy will know it’s true! I don’t want that.”
Hmmm…If you don’t want someone to have a piece of information, then don’t share it.
Brandon’s other objection is that it’s too late to start. “If I were still in my 20s, I could try. But now I’m too old.”
Let’s see. If Brandon does nothing, then in 10 years, he’ll be 10 years older in the same boat. Will he look back and say, “Gee, I wish I would have started in my 30s”?
We can only take action from where we are. Now may not be an ideal place or time. However, when will be better? Will that time ever come?
Experiences from school, whether positive or negative, can influence self-perception for life. If you are carrying negative perceptions of yourself, why not look again? Do your perceptions reflect who you truly are?
If you realize that your perceptions are more negative than you want, are there actions you can take to help you change them? And, is it ever too late to start, really?