Monday, October 12, 2009
Stress and Competence
When challenge exceeds competence we get stressed. As stress increases, our ability to overcome challenges decreases--creating a vicious cycle. How can we deal with this reality? Two approaches are obvious: we can either reduce the challenge or increase our competence.
The college students I deal with confront this dilemma regularly. Their response follows predictable patterns. They can lessen the challenge in several ways: reduce the demands on their time from social activities or other commitments. They can plan better what courses to take, when to take them, and how many credit hours they take in any one semester. They often fail to account, however, for the reality that many employers and graduate/professional school admission decision makers put major emphasis on a student's ability to handle large course loads of difficult courses.
So, it would seem prudent to emphasize development of competence. Students, for example, should study harder and study smarter. They should aim to remember important ideas and skills long after the test, so they can grow their competence base for use in later courses and in a career. Stress will then go down and success will go up. Now the cycle changes from vicious to positive.