Psychological Benefits of Coming Back to College
I do a bit of running and if you are a morning jogger or an evening power walker I wonder if you have ever had this experience.
You are running a few miles and starting to regret that glass of red last night or that half packet of custard creams at tea break. Your legs are screaming stop and you are a little red around the gills. You are completely knackered and dragging your backside along the last couple of miles. Old grannies with shopping trollies pass you by and give you sympathetic looks.
Suddenly you see someone you know in the distance. As you jog towards them your head lifts up, your stride lengthens and you actually feel a lot better, a lot stronger. Controlled breathing, purposeful strides, poetry in motion. Cheerio grannie, London 2012 here I come! The mere fact of your brain telling you to look smart and sharpen up has a physical effect and your performance is boosted.
Changing the Tape
In effect what you have done is changing the tape on the messages you have sent to your brain. It is just one of the possible psychological benefits of going back to college.
At the recent Sales Institute Conference I attended Keith Stanton from Votive Leadership spoke about this. He made the point that the brain is unable to cope with negativity. It cannot tell the difference between a real event and a vividly imagined one. In simple terms if you keep telling yourself that you are bored, going nowhere in your job, stuck in a rut or whatever you will act and react accordingly. If you change the tape to a more positive one your brain will react accordingly and you will start to pick up your stride and react in a more positive way. Change the language and the brain has no choice but to follow. Coming back to college can be one way to shake things up and change the tape. If perhaps you have become a bit lethargic doing something new like a short course can shake you out of your old routine and give you some new messages to follow.
Of course there are very practical benefits to your decision to return to college. It is a competitive jobs market like never before and having that qualification will benefit your CV and give you lots to talk about at an interview. There is much evidence to suggest that further study can boost your chances of promotion and increase your salary. It can also give you new skills and in many industries will be required as part of your ‘license to trade’. However, vital as all these things are there are also many more psychological benefits to coming back to college that might not be as obvious but in our experience can be at least as important.
A feeling that you are in control
“No one is in control of your happiness but you; therefore, you have the power to change anything about yourself or your life that you want to change.”
I like this quote by Barbara de Angelis but do we always believe it. Personally when I think about it I do, but do I always act up to it. Not on your nelly.
My marathon guidebook talked a lot about having an internal locus of control or an external locus of control. In other words do you feel that you are in control and have full responsibility for what happens to you or do you feel that you are merely washed along in a river of good or bad fortune rather than paddling your own canoe? Coming back to college can give you that feeling that you are making the decisions and driving your own life, career and happiness rather than something or someone else.
Questions are good
Remember when you first started that job and you were finding everything afresh. You asked loads of questions and were stimulated as you found new ways of doing things and figured out how everything worked. My four year old is at the questioning stage asking such gems as. If weeds in the ground are bad why do we have them in the first place? Her 57 questions a day can be taxing but they certainly keep her interested. One of the things that many students find is that going back to college, meeting people from different industries and being exposed to different case studies and so on can really make them question what they are doing in the day job. Often they go back to their work or even home life with a renewed curiosity and enthusiasm.
For many people returning to college can give them a great new social network. It can help them meet new people and is great for people who perhaps have been out of circulation for one reason or another. We’ve even had a few marriages amongst our students at NCI. (Not that we are promising anything here!)
There is a lot of evidence from researchers such as the Institute of Education at University of London that education can improve mental health and reduce instances of depression and other conditions. One of the factors here is psychological training. The idea is that education particularly at third level teaches people how to cope with stressors. Exam deadlines, preparing to do a presentation to the class or getting a project in on time is all great training in a safe environment. Students face challenges, meet their fears and develop skills they didn’t know they had. If you like to use some psychology type language it is a sort of immersion therapy where people face their fears and it makes them better prepared to deal with stress they will meet in other situations.
If you have ever had the good fortune to attend a college graduation ceremony the room positively bubbles with positivity and all the graduates seem ten feet tall. Your kids, Auntie Bridget or the woman from the post office telling you that you’re great for going back to college can only help with the self-esteem so don’t be afraid to let them know. This is particularly true if you have faced something like a redundancy which can really injure your self-esteem. Many students who are unemployed who have come back to do courses under initiatives like the recent Springboard initiative speak about the boost to self-esteem as the single biggest thing the course gave them.
So yes when people start a college course they are often thinking about those tangible benefits like a salary increase, finding a job or getting a promotion. Ask them at the end of their time and we often find that it is these more personal benefits that they have gained and that they carry with them. As the summer winds down and courses in most institutions kick off in September it might be time to consider giving yourself the psychological kick start that a return to education can bring. It’s definitely performance enhancing!