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Stand on your own?

For my eleven months old grandson it’s his first steps. For students it’s moving out and make your own choices. For me personally it was to set up my own coaching company at the age of 64. To stand on your own two feet has a different meaning for anyone and in any stage of life.

Students sometimes think that you have to do everything by yourself and solve any problem you face. If they don’t succeed immediately it feels like failure or being immature. That’s too bad. For their stage of life eminently is a learning period. And you may learn that any human in society is always vulnerable. That you can learn from failure, and that you can ask for help.

That’s not failure, that’s standing on your own!

Increasing expectations

Only fifty years ago in our home we had no shower, no central heating, no telephone, no television, no car, no computer. We did have a large family, a big (vegetable) garden, and a quiet street. We wrote with a dip pen, we read books, played with lego or dolls, listened to the radio and played outdoors with other children. The world was no bigger than our village, the bicycle was our means of transport.  Only a few kids would go from primary to secondary school. Studying was for the happy few. Yes, I know, I sound like the song of the old. When I write this down I almost feel old!
Students and young people hardly know different times than their own. Sometimes they are bothered by sky-high expectations, they are being rushed and they rush themselves. If we look back in time we may become aware of the speed and the impact of societal change. That is hard to keep up with for many young people and there’s no harm in reflecting on that now and then.

Cultural sociologist Gabriël van den Brink argued in 2004 that developments in our western society lead to a change in moral standards. Consider democracy, increasing wealth, emancipation of women, and participation in higher education. In previous ages examples like clean drinking water, sewerage, the Industrial revolution, the combustian engine, the right to vote in general and for women in particular did mark a next level of development for men and society. Recently computers, internet, smartphones, social media and artificial intelligence were added. And every time the new invention becomes normal very fast: the new standard. Our increasing wealth parallels our expectations about possibilities, wishes or even necessities. We have increasing claims in relationships with others, in job benefits, in school performance, in views on good and bad, in politicians, in leisure time. A standard is a requirement that makes you want more. You aspire to something that goes beyond the actual reality. A standard embodies ambitions and expectations and incites to higher performance. But that also causes new forms of dissatisfaction. People have to spend a lot of energy to keep up with the higher demands and ambitions. Whenever they fail it may cause discomfort and stress. In the field of education the number of drop outs rises due to higher social and cognitive expectations on students. Increasing the standards will inevitably increase the numbers that do not meet the behavioral or cognitive criteria. Modern times do not only solve problems, they also create new ones.

In widespread areas of our society we see a raise of standards. This shift moves very gradually and we are hardly aware of it, but after a while it becomes clearly visible. I do not know whether that is good or bad, or maybe both. I do reflect on a healthy way of dealing with it for young people and ask them about their deeper desires and choices.


“We must achieve more in less time and multitasking has become next to normal”, says psychiatrist Dirk de Wachter in an interview on Februari 15th. We understand what he says, and yet his remark hides a big paradox. Because we do many things simultaneously it will cost us more time and we don’t get many things done. How exactly does this work?

There is ample proof that both men and women can only do one thing at a time. One thing that needs our attention and concentration. Like driving a car, really listen to someone or study for an exam. If we do such a thing with attention we will be effective and efficient. But we tend to do more and more things at the same time. While we are studying someone throws a question, the telephone rings a couple of times and we get a few pushmails or notifications from our smartphone. Then we put our book aside, answer the question, answer the phone, and with some bad luck we get involved in a number of online conversations. After a full hour of “studying” we have learned nothing. And then we’ll have some shopping to do, we want to go to the gym and by the way we want to see something on tv. We’ll study tomorrow.

The truth is that we want so many things at the same time that we do not achieve any of our goals for today. And we call that “I had no time” or “I am so busy”. This is the reality of multitasking. Switching between different tasks takes an amount of time for any switch, and that is how we become inefficient and ineffective on balance. The real important stuff gets out of sight and we postpone it for a while or indefinitely.

Yes, we can study while listening to music, or we can walk and talk at the same time, but then it Always concerns activities that we do automatic or that do not need our full attention. That is not multitasking, but backgroundtasking. Some people think that while driving a car whatsapp conversations are a backgroundtask, but experiments show that our driving behaviour perceptably deteriorates and that we are a menace on the road.

Can we change this behavioral pattern? Yes, that is possible, but to be fair it is an obstinate and addictive pattern. Try putting your smartphone aside, try to go offline for only half a day, schedule “do not disturb” on your phone and observe how east or difficult that may be. In that mode try studying for half a day, take five-minute breaks for a cup of tea and move around a bit. It will make you effective and you may even remember what you studied. Is it more fun? That depends on your ambitions and on your withdrawal symptoms.