therapist's goal, at this point, is "excuse-busting," i.e. to merely to
reduce the "crap gap" by getting the student's views of the situation
("I will study one hour without TV") closer to his/her actual behavior
(10 minutes again), to recognize his/her use of excuses, and,
eventually, to see his/her role in causing the underachievement.
Seventh, find out if the plan was actually followed. Usually, as
expected by the therapist, the student avoids the plan or does poorly
for some other reason. Almost always he/she gives the therapist
another excuse, e.g. "I forgot my books," "I studied the wrong stuff,"
or "I tried to study for an hour but friends kept calling," because to
stick with the old excuse (TV was on) is admitting that he/she really
wants to do poorly (the student is strongly motivated to not recognize
this fact). Eighth, excuse after excuse is eliminated by going through
steps 3 to 7 with each excuse for not reaching each goal. Gradually,
the student begins to see his/her self-conning use of excuses, that
he/she is responsible for his/her behavior (and the resulting grades),
that he/she has some power to control his/her life. Lastly, as the
excuses are striped away and insight gained into procrastination and
avoidance of responsibility, the student will want to openly discuss
his/her fears, what does he/she really want in life, and how does
he/she get there from here. Therapy now becomes a very different
process, more nondirective, because the student is responsible,
introspective, self-directed, far more emotional and alive but ready to
face life as an independent individual, even if scared.
Hopefully, some people will be able without therapy to see that
they are lying to themselves by the use of excuses. Then by
consciously taking control of their lives (stopping the self-conning),
they can help themselves. Others will not be able to see why they are
underachievers but they will realize they are not performing up to
capacity; they should seek professional help.
Besides the "academic problem" type (about 50% of all
underachievers), Mandel and Marcus, especially in their 1995 book
written for parents, describe several other kinds of underachievers,
usually related to moderately serious psychopathology requiring
professional treatment, such as Anxiety Disorder, Sociopathic Disorder
(lack of conscience, manipulative), Identity Disorder (confusion about
life goals), and Defiant Disorder. Other writers have described the
academic indifference of some people as being due to cultural
differences, e.g. if you assume that only white middle-and-upper-class
students care about getting good grades, and if you aren't in that
social-economic group or hate that type of person, then it becomes
difficult to take school seriously. Kohl (1995) writes about students
who become offended or resentful and say, "I won't learn from you."
There may be many ways to be unmotivated. In any case, a wasted
mind is a terrible loss to society, but it is even more serious for your
own life when it is your mind that is wasted. Do something!