Why Self-Affirmation is Important to Support Struggling Adults and Students

Why Self-Affirmation is Important to Support Struggling Adults and Students
By Ahmad Amirali

Yesterday, I had a small conversation with one of my colleagues, discussing her future career goals she is looking out nowadays. As discussion precedes, I observe that she is too insecure and unmotivated for her future goals. She kept criticising her skills, education, things that turned around in her life and the way she is living her life right now. I confess that I’ve been observing her since months that something bothering her, even she looks normal to people, but her daily routine keeps on saying that she might be depressed or something. The similar kind of behaviours can also be found in students as well. Throughout the term, students come and discuss their anxiety and the way they feel when they encounter some sort of failures in their daily lives (Previous article: Why Should We Celebrate Our Failures?). The question is why such thoughts sometimes overcome our all the abilities and our achievements of our lives? Why do we start forgetting all our struggles whenever we encounter any drawback in our lives? Why suddenly we start feeling to end this life due to any failure?

Usually, kids and adults start feeling victimising when they stop appreciating and valuing themselves. Value affirmation is getting quite rare in today’s individuals. For students, its due to the highly academic competitive environment where performance is evaluative, comparative, and high-stakes, poor grades can be extremely threatening to a student’s self-worth. As for adults, the reasons are similar; however, the academic replaces with the professional competitive environment. As a result of which, both students and adults, either withdraw from that environment, physically or psychologically, to preserve their ego. However, they provided with the opportunity to reaffirm their essential values can not only prevent withdrawal but also help students and adults react to future threats in more adaptive ways.

According to Judith Harackiewicz, a STEM researcher and the University of Wisconsin Professor of Psychology, the value affirmation improves STEM performance for first-generation students. Students who major in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) are the ones who often experience a threat to their self-motivation. In her research, 798 undergraduates completed a value affirmation exercise or a control task during weeks three and eight of their gateway biology course. First-generation students, on average, moved from earning C’s in biology to B’s, thereby reducing the gap in performance with continuing-generation students by 50 per cent. But the effects of value affirmation were more far-reaching than just this one class. Twenty per cent more first-generation students who completed the intervention signed up for the second semester of biology, and these students earned higher overall GPAs (not just in biology or STEM) over the next three years, reducing performance gaps by over 50 per cent. This brief intervention appeared to create a ripple that impacted first-generation students’ entire college experience (Source: Psychology Today).

Researchers are still struggling with how the value affirmation works and impact on any individual motivation level. To date, however, two elements of value affirmation interventions seem particularly important: the nature of these affirmations and the triggering of long-term changes in how students and adults respond to their academic and professional threats. Let’s say, if students want to improve their academic performance, they need to self-affirm in the non-academic areas such as the sense of belonging or the sense of appreciation whenever or wherever to anyone. The researcher believes that this type of value affirmation plays into the idea that most individuals threatened by academics or career-related issues would invest in their relationships instead of their school or office work.

Apart from research and data, one should not forget that academics and career are imperative but the most important thing in this world is – you. I found many students, and adults as well, who usually complains that ‘they expected too much from themselves’ and that they regret it. Why people regret believing themselves instead of someone else? What if you expect to someone else and he/she breaks your expectations, you accept and consider it as ‘lesson well learn’ but when the same failure done by yourself, you start judging your own abilities and strengths and start questioning your own faith. Failures are the part of life, no matter how badly you failed or stuck in a worse situation; it is YOU who always there for you. Have faith in yourselves – Good Luck! 😊

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