fault. They say, "The exam didn't cover what the teacher said it would"
or "everybody did bad" or "my parents had all kinds of things planned
for me the night before the exam." The trouble is they believe they
want to succeed and they believe their own excuses. The authors call
this self-deception "the crap gap." The underachievers also believe
that the situation is beyond their control, that they are innocent
victims of circumstances. They aren't uncomfortable enough to fight
their way out of the gloomy situation they are in.
Since the underachiever is afraid of achieving, the usual efforts of
parents and teachers--e.g. offering rewards, threatening punishment,
and being assigned a terrific teacher--are ineffective because these
methods don't deal with the self-deception and the fears. These
underachievers don't want to look honestly and carefully at
themselves, their motives, their values, or their future. Why not?
Because being successful and realizing that one has the ability to make
"A's," take out the garbage on time, change the oil, pay one's own
expenses, choose a career, work full-time, etc., means the person is
ready and able to "be on his/her own," to be responsible, to be
independent, and to keep on taking care of him/herself for the rest of
his/her life. On the other hand, being unable to manage your life
(without it being your fault) keeps others from expecting you to be
mature and capable. Growing up is scary and some, like Peter Pan,
don't want to do it (on a conscious and/or unconscious level).
Since this kind of underachiever is not aware of this self-deception,
it may be hard for him/her to help him/herself. So, let's see how,
according to Mandel and Marcus (1988), a therapist would close the
"crap gap," the difference between what the student thinks he/she
wants ("good grades") and his/her actual behavior (mostly avoidance
of all responsible behavior through the use of excuses). The critical
first step is to simply ask the student how well he/she would like to do
in school. Get them to state a specific goal, e.g. a "B" average.
Second, the therapist, assuming the role of helper, would find out
everything about course requirements and exactly how the student
prepares to meet the requirements. Third, ask the student what is the
problem in one of his/her courses (actually this usually solicits an
excuse). Then get all the facts, e.g. if he/she says, "I study about an
hour a day but it doesn't do me much good," the therapist will find out
exactly how much and how effectively the student studied yesterday
(maybe 10 minutes because TV was on).
Fourth, make sure the student realizes the connection between
studying and his/her grade two months later: "What will happen if you
continue to only study 10 minutes a day on math?" "I'll probably get
another D." Fifth, the therapist asks the student for some solution for
this particular problem or excuse. A detailed plan, including how to
handle barriers, is worked out by the student, e.g. "I'll put in a full
hour every night." Sixth, make sure the student knows exactly what
he/she proposes to do before the next therapy session. This is done
knowing that the student will probably not follow his/her plan--he/she
hasn't done what they intended to do before, so why now? The