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Overcoming Problems at School with Emotional Intelligence

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While people tend to react to troubling life situations very differently, connecting with your emotions is the key to helping you better understand your own needs and motivations. If you’re not doing well or you’re unhappy at school, then employing some simple emotional intelligence techniques can help you discover the root cause of your problems and offer solutions on how to overcome your personal challenges.

Getting back on track

If you’re having difficulty adjusting to college, first determine whether you’re on the right career path. Sometimes, if you’re disappointed by the course content, you might have second thoughts about the direction you’re heading. First-year courses are often broad survey courses and may not get at the specific interest in a field that you were looking for. You need to have patience and perseverance to move forward so that you can get to the more interesting courses in your area of study.

Talk to your friends, both new and old. Compare their experiences at college with yours. Do you seem to be in tune with others? Find out what they like and dislike about their college experience. See how any of the concerns that you have compare with theirs. If you find that you’re much more negative than others you talk to, consider making an appointment with the counseling professionals at your college.

Perhaps you’re feeling overwhelmed balancing your assignments and managing your personal life. Most college counseling centers offer courses in study habits or time management. You might want to start one of these courses sooner rather than later. They can provide you with some great ideas about better managing your priorities. Some colleges now offer First Year Experience courses that directly relate to increasing emotional intelligence in students. Find out whether your college offers these experiences.

You may be having difficulty adjusting to the college lifestyle. You might miss your friends, parents, or even a special relationship you left behind. Are you making the best use of e-mail and phone calls? Do you plan visits that you can look forward to? You might want to formalize your next visit back home and mark it on your calendar.

Identifying possible problems

[Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Don Bailey 2010]
Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Don Bailey 2010

You first need to identify what might be going wrong in your college experience. If you’re not satisfied with college, identify which of these areas you’re unhappy about:

  • Being away from home

  • The college workload

  • Struggling to get along with others

  • Making new friends

  • The professors

  • Managing your time

  • Just feeling lousy

  • Dealing with meals, laundry, cleaning, and chores

  • Having trouble understanding your courses

  • General atmosphere at college

  • Your courses (the content or how they’re presented)

  • Issues around your parents (missing them, interference from them, disagreements with them)

After you select the issues that relate most to you, rank them (based on amount of concern) in your notebook. Then, rate the seriousness of each issue on a scale from 1 (not at all serious) to 10 (extremely serious) and write that number next to the issue in your notebook.

For each of the top three issues, write down a few examples of why you’re concerned about this issue. For example, if you wrote down “Making new friends,” you could add this example: “I tried to make friends with a few people in my dorm, but they ignored me.”

Then, write down more positive outcomes related to that issue, such as

  • I easily made friends with others in my dorm or classes.

  • I’m taking interesting courses.

  • I could manage my time better.

  • I understood my course material more quickly or more thoroughly than the classmates I talked to after class.

Taking stock of your resources

If you have a good sense of the issues that you find challenging and have some potential goals, you can now really focus on your first challenging issue.

To develop the emotional skills you need to be more satisfied with your college experience, follow these steps:

  1. At the top of a blank page in your notebook, write down your first goal from the list you create in the preceding section.

    For example, your goal might be to make new friends at college.

  2. Identify which emotional skills you need to work on to reach this goal.

    Making a list of skills can help you identify areas you can improve on, for example:

    • Being more emotionally self-aware

    • Increasing assertiveness

    • Managing impulse control

    • Improving stress tolerance

    • Building interpersonal skills

    • Improving empathy

    • Being more socially responsible (thinking more of others)

    • Being more optimistic

    • Increasing happiness

    • Setting and achieving goals

    • Improving problem-solving skills

    • Improving other skills

  3. After you’ve identified the skills that you need to meet your goal, write them down.

    For example, you might want to work on

    • Increasing assertiveness

    • Building interpersonal skills

    • Improving empathy

  4. Create a plan to develop each skill.

    If assertiveness is the first skill on your list, for instance, you can plan for this by following these steps:

    1. Write down at least two situations from last week in which you could have met a new person.

    2. Make a list of things that you could say to introduce yourself to others.

    3. Make it a point to talk to at least five students you don’t know this week.

    4. Track your success in your notebook.

  5. Follow Steps 1 through 4 for each of your goals.

    Take stock of the skills that you need to develop. Pay attention to both your successes and your challenges.

Getting into action mode

Figure out what you can do to develop the skills you need to help you better cope with the challenges that you’re experiencing. Now you’re ready to implement your plan. Start with a commitment to move forward.

Depending on the severity of your challenge, determine whether you need help reaching your goal. If you rated your problem as a five or higher in the section “Identifying possible problems,” then you should seek help in reaching your goal.

Here are some people who may be able to provide that help:

  • College counselor

  • Career counselor

  • Outside professional counselor or psychologist

If you rate your problem as less than five, you might want to use more informal methods of change. Some options include

  • Talking to friends about how you can solve some of these problems

  • Reading self-help books (such as this one)

Of course, you should always feel comfortable talking to a college counselor or advisor. Most colleges have a counseling or career department set up specifically to deal with these kinds of issues. They often offer both group and individual sessions.


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