All humans learn right up to the end of their lives whether they want to or not. This article describes how you can achieve any learning goal so long as you avoid distractions and believe you have the ability to learn practically anything.
It is also important to have the humility to have an open mind to accept that you still have huge amounts to learn in any field even if you are an expert in that field.
Universities and colleges sometimes destroy any chance their students have of academic success in the first or second week of their first term or semester.
There is usually some kind of freshers fair early in the term when new students are invited and even harassed into joining one or more of the clubs or societies on display.
If you join more than one of these, you are probably doomed to lose your focus on your studies. Without focus, you will usually not get a first class degree or achieve your learning goals. These remarks are, of course, my own views and have not been backed up by any scientific studies but I think I am right!
When I went to Cambridge many years ago, I joined my colleges rugby club, the rowing club and the Christian Union. Partly as a result of these early extra activities, I had little time to actually attend any lectures or do much academic work.
I think I showed up to about two lectures a week instead of the fifteen or so I should have attended and I never figured out how to make the best use of the huge university library.
I did make a point of attending the lectures by the great C.S.Lewis author of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. These lectures were only forty minutes long because he insisted on starting 10 minutes late and ending 10 minutes early so that his audience could arrive on time and get to their next lecture on time.
These shortened lectures were still well worth attending. I remember him speaking with infectious enthusiasm about medieval English literature but, as a result of all my other activities, I had little time or energy to read up on the books which might have helped me to share his enthusiasm.
Meanwhile rumour had it that the students who would eventually gain firsts did not join any clubs or do any sports. They just focused on studying hard for their degrees.
They were regarded with some contempt by the rest of the student body who felt that they were narrow minded geeks who did not really understand what life was all about.
However, when the three years of an undergraduates life was ended, they were the ones who had the pick of the jobs available. They could even become lecturers at a university and enjoy an even longer university life.
They would be offered tea and cream cakes and waited on hand and foot! They would have plenty of time to think about the meaning of life whilst many of the rest of us were stuck in jobs which might well vacuum up years of our life before we realized we were now middle-aged and approaching old age fast.
People, like myself who gained inferior degrees but who wanted to teach their subject English Literature in my case might have to content themselves with teaching at a less academic level in a secondary school and there you had to collect your own tea and, if you were lucky, cream cakes!
The fact that you might have rowed for your college or played rugby for the second fifteen did not count for much in life after university.
The rewards went to the despised few who had learned how to focus on their studies and avoid all the other distractions of university life.
It is true, however, that some people discovered their true vocation through their extra curricular activities. My brother developed his main interest in drama and went on to become an opera director.
One reason, so few people concentrated fully on their studies was that they did not believe they were capable of achieving the best degrees. They believed these would go to an elite group of high powered intellectuals.
No one had told them or me that all of us are born with amazing brains which are capable of achieving first class degrees and far more. No one had told us that focus and belief can move mountains including academic mountains.
It was assumed that undergraduates would know how to make the best use of their time at university but few did. Tutors were available but they were often busy people with time consuming tasks to deal with. My tutor was in charge of the wine cellar at my college as well as his other more academic duties!
I never heard any one say anything about study skills during my entire time at university. Perhaps, they assumed wrongly that we knew it all.
Problems with achieving academic excellence start early in many UK schools. Those who work hard are despised or envied or both. I began well at school and was even moved up a year to take my first public exams at the age of 14 instead of 16.
But my class mates did not like this and called me a swot. I stopped working hard for about two years until I came to my senses and decided to ignore their views. It was a little late by then to do outstandingly well but I did manage to win a minor scholarship to my college at university.
However, I lacked focus and belief for the reasons described above and, like the great majority, came out of university life with a second class degree which could have lead on to a life time of mediocrity.
Hopefully, this article will prevent someone else being distracted from their main aims in life whether they are at university or not. It is, of course, never too late to start making use of the magnificent minds we were born with. With focus and belief, anything is possible.
If we start believing in ourselves and using the power of focus by avoiding too many distractions, we can still achieve miraculous things both in the academic world and outside it. I hope you will.
Believe in your own ability to learn what you want to learn and get rid of the distractions and I dont mean your spouse.
Finally, even if you achieve a first degree or become an acknowledged expert in some field of knowledge, keep an open and empty mind. You can learn from anyone and any source of information.
The next time you feel like missing a lecture or seminar as I frequently did, attend anyway and see what you can learn. You may well be very glad you did. The next time you think a book has nothing new to teach you, read it anyway. It could change your life.
John Watson has written several ebooks on motivation and success topics. One of these can be found at
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