Why “I can’t do it” won’t do


Thomas Edison, inventor of the phonograph, motion picture camera, and the light bulb – he knew a thing or two about persistence (image source)

What are the biggest barriers to learning? Of course, there are many difficulties and problems which face us all when we are learning something new. We may not have the resources available; we might not have the right environment in which to learn; we might not have the skills or prior knowledge we need to grasp the concept. However, I think the biggest barrier to learning is our own attitude – the tendency to give up when it gets difficult, to throw up our hands and say “I can’t do it!”

I remember interviewing a student (let’s call her Emma*)  for a place in the sixth form a few years ago. Her mum was with her and she was really struggling in Maths. “I can’t do Maths,” she said. Her mum turned to her and said, “don’t worry, I can’t do Maths either.” Needless to say, Emma didn’t get the grade she needed in Maths to get into the sixth form. I’m sure her mum was trying to help, to offer some comfort to her daughter who was struggling with some difficult concepts. But the notion that not being able to do Maths is somehow okay gave Emma permission to believe that she genuinely couldn’t do Maths – and this wasn’t the case. Anyone can do Maths. Everyone can do Maths. But you need to work at it, and you need to believe you can do it.

Imagine for a moment if Emma had been struggling with reading. Would her mum have turned to her with the same comfort? “Don’t worry, I can’t read either.” This just wouldn’t happen, and we need to have the same attitude to all our learning.

Luckily, there is a solution – and it’s one simple word. That word is YET. Adding the word “yet” to  the end of a “giving up” phrase is a simple way of reminding us that learning is a process.

  • I can’t do it…YET
  • I don’t understand it…YET
  • I’m no good at painting…YET
  • I tried question 4 and I couldn’t do it…YET
  • I’m not a Maths person…YET

The only way we can guarantee failure is if we give up. Until then, everything we’re doing is learning. What “YET” does is it says that this is a skill which is acquired over time. It’s not something you’re necessarily going to get instantly. There’s a learning curve, and to be successful we need to stay on that curve.

Even Sesame Street have tuned into the power of YET with a catchy tune from Janelle Monae. Enjoy…

You didn’t do it right now, but keep trying, you’ll learn how

You just didn’t get it yet, but you’ll get it soon I bet

That’s the power of yet. 

*Names have been changed.

One thought on “Why “I can’t do it” won’t do

  1. Pingback: WBU 33 – Podcasts, Tetrahedral number and Ice ‘Cubes’ | reflectivemaths's Blog

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