• Dr. Mario

Neutral Circumstances – The Secret to Taming Your Brain for Online Learning

Updated: May 8, 2020

In the TFAM - A Framework for Student Success post, I left you guys with a bit of a cliff hanger. My apologies. I was supposed to follow up in the next post, but I got sidetracked by everything that was going on in our world, and I wanted to get a post about resources for online students. So, let’s pick up where we left off – all the learning circumstance you encounter in your online experience are neutral. Yes, neutral. Not positive, not negative, neutral. I’m sure this is causing some you who are reading this to scratch your head, so let’s process this idea.

I need you to start with a blank slate to consider an example. Let’s say that two friends, Ray and Gina, attend a party together. On their drive home, they share their experiences and reflect on how they felt about the party. Ray thought the party was fantastic and had a wonderful time. Gina, on the other hand, not so much. She thought the food was terrible, the hosts were rude, and the people attending the party were annoying.

How can two people attending the same party have such drastically different thoughts about their experience? The answer is simple: The party was a neutral event, and their thoughts about the party influenced how they felt and behaved. For example, Ray, who enjoyed the party, probably felt that he connected with the other guests, which might have caused him to mingle and talk more to other partygoers. His Think-Feel-Act Model (TFAM) produced a positive outcome that led to him having a positive experience.

On the contrary, Gina, who thought there was nothing good about the party, might have decided to stick to herself and not engage with the other guests. As a result, she may have felt alienated, which in turn reinforced her negative thoughts about the party. The beauty of the TFAM is that it illustrates what’s happening in our mind that produces results we like or don’t like. So, chill out, Gina! It’s just a party, and the truth is that everyone had their own TFAM going on, which probably had nothing to do with you.

I’m sure you’ve seen this scenario play out many times in different contexts. We can go with others to eat at a restaurant, see a movie or play, or even take the same course with the same instructor and have different experiences. Why? Because we project our thoughts onto these circumstances and judge them as good or bad. What we think creates our reality and determines whether we enjoy a situation that's happening to us. That’s the power of the thinking factor represented in the TFAM. It’s also the reason why we think a circumstance is positive or negative. Ray and Gina, they just attended a party. It wasn’t good or bad, it was just a party. The party was a neutral circumstance.

Now, full disclaimer. I’m not suggesting that we should never categorize a circumstance as negative or bad. Losing a close friend or loved one is not a pleasant experience, especially when it’s sudden and unexpected. As human beings, we are supposed to experience the full range of emotions, including happiness, sadness, and indifference. With practice, we can control how we think about situations that arise in life, and that gives us more control over how we achieve the results we desire.

The first step to creating a thought work practice is awareness. In the previous post, A Thought-Based Approach to Student Success, I introduced you to Natalie and the problem she was having managing the way she thought about her writing skills. In that example, I helped Natalie observe where she was getting bogged down in thoughts that weren’t serving her well. If you didn’t have a chance to read the post, make sure you check it out so you can learn how I coached Natalie off the ledge, so she was able to finish her writing assignment and her online course.

So, What Now?

The more you practice managing your thoughts, the more you will be able to pinpoint where you are getting stuck. Awareness is the first step to initiating the TFAM, and that awareness helps you choose the thoughts that help you obtain the results you want. Now that we have a model to work with, start applying it to the academic challenges that are sure to arise as you work towards earning your degree and graduating on time. If you need help with learning how to practice TFAM, make sure you come back to the blog to read my next post.

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I can’t wait to teach you more techniques that help you tame your brain, so you can graduate on time!

Image by Dr. Mario

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