Cognitive distortions

I am progressing in my Coursera MOOC “Mindshift”. I did wonder how it would differ from the highly successful “Learning How To Learn”.

The answer is that this course is very much about human potential as against specific techniques to make you a better learner.

Barbara Oakley travelled around the world doing interviews with people who had made great transformations in their life. This was not only for the course but was also for the book that she has written with the same name as the course which came out today (April 18th).

mindshift book


One area that I covered today in the week 2 materials was “Cognitive Distortions”. These are the ways that we manage to defeat ourselves, to listen to others who give us no hope of ever changing.

Here was my contribution to the MOOC forum on the subject:

I found the section on cognitive distortions so revealing about my own past. I remember that when I made a hash of my (British) Advanced Level exams, I said, on receiving the letter informing me of my bad grades, “I’ve failed”. I started to blame myself for lack of understanding and started to believe that I maybe wasn’t as bright as I thought I was.

I was awash with negative emotions. I wish then (this happened over forty years ago now) that I had the advantages of seeing Barb’s video. I can now see everything in perspective but it is so difficult when you are in the middle of a darkness of your own creation.

As an ex-teacher I feel that we need to be telling our students many of the things that Barb covered in her video. There are even the extreme examples of students who commit suicide due to bad grades. This is surely something that should bring schools and colleges round to the idea that we need to talk about how to learn well and how to cope with setbacks in a constructive way.

The point I make about the tyranny of grades is one that comes from my own experience and one that I saw so often throughout my teaching career. In the course we learn to welcome failure as a learning experience, to understand that we become the stories that we tell ourselves, that others will take opportunities to put you down and tell you what you can’t do but you have a plastic brain that has great and as yet largely uncharted potential.

I have said so often that we humans are  our own worst enemy. We divide, we belittle and we compartmentalise when we should be aiming to develop  every person to the best that they can become.

It is so good to see that people like Barbara Oakley and Terry Sejnowski have similar beliefs and it is to be hoped that their new course will have as much influence on its students as their wonderful first course had.

I recommend you watch the short lecture that Barbara gives in the course at the link below:



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