We’re Still Looking for That A+

But who’s doing the grading now?

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

When I was a kid I sucked at math.

I mean really sucked. Like, never–made–eye–contact, left–the–class–in–tears, had–to–cheat–my–way–to–a–D–in–geometry kind of sucked.

By the 6th grade, I had convinced myself that I wasn’t smart enough to understand math and I never would be.

Not only had I accepted that as a fact (instead of just a thought), I also made it mean that I wasn’t as smart as everyone else who did understand math, in spite of the consistent A’s I had been getting in English and biology. 

Walking into algebra class every day with the belief that I wasn’t as smart as everyone else did not set me up for success. I felt defeated, resentful, and angry, and as a result, I resisted the instruction and blocked myself from even trying to understand it. It was a cycle that I perpetuated throughout high school.

When we were kids we had someone outside of ourselves constantly judging or grading us…teachers, parents, or family figures. I understand their jobs were to teach us, but as kids, it was difficult to separate the grades we were given on paper (or verbally) from our worth as a person. A’s = (We were) Good. B’s = (We were) Okay. C’s = (We were) Average (but more like less-than). D’s = (We were) Bad. F = (We were a) Failure.

It was cut and dry. It said right there on the paper – you were good enough, or you weren’t.

What are you still grading yourself on?

It took me a long time to challenge the belief that I was dumb when it came to math. 

Some math makes sense to me now, especially as it applies to things I’m actually interested in. I began to understand basic fractions when I started baking, and I discovered that I was fascinated with physics when I started studying exercise science (Power = Work/Time, Work = Force x Distance). 

As kids we were raised believing that the Power of Approval needs to come from outside of ourselves – teachers, parents, and authority figures, because we had no power of our own back then.

But many of us are still living our lives in pursuit of that external A+. 

Only now we’re giving the Power of Approval to our bosses, our spouses, and even our own kids. 

And that’s because we never learned that we could transition into creating our own approval.

What’s your current “math class”? Where are you giving yourself a ‘D’ or an ‘F’? 

Losing weight?

Stopping overdrinking?

Going for that new job?

How does the grade you’re giving yourself make you feel? 


Less than? 


What actions do you take when you’re feeling that way? Do you avoid? Overeat? Overdrink?

What are the unwanted results of those actions?

If choose to believe that we’re not good enough at something our brains will be happy to produce plenty of evidence that the thought is true. That’s our brain’s job. It’s trying to keep us safe by protecting us from disappointment.

But what if we challenge that negative belief? What if we chose to believe something different, to believe “Maybe this IS possible for me?” What if we just need to figure out another way that makes sense to us?

Maybe if someone had taught me basic math in a cooking class I would have understood it and had the confidence to go on and learn even more. Instead, there was one person teaching it one way and my not understanding it led me to believe that I wasn’t good enough.

You Control the Gradebook Now

It’s time to stop grading yourself on a pass/fail basis, and start grading on a (GENEROUS) curve.

Life is not an exam, it’s a learning experience. There are no fill-in-the-blank, black-and-white answers.

And you’re not doing it wrong.

Get curious. Instead of focusing on what hasn’t worked in the past, ask your brain questions that will move you to future-forward action:

  • What if you could figure out how to stop overeating, overdrinking, or overconsuming? What way might look right for you? 
  • What thoughts do YOU need to think, and what questions could you ask your brain, that would help you move forward towards that goal, instead of focusing on past evidence of what hasn’t worked?

Take some time, right now, to acknowledge what has worked for you in the past and everywhere you have succeeded. Give yourself ALL the credit for getting where you are and achieving what you have.

All of us have the knowledge and the power to teach ourselves anything we want to now, it’s no longer dependent on anyone outside of us. We control the grade book.

We just need to get curious and start asking good questions: What do I want to do next? What would success at that look like? And what might be the next right step to getting there?

You have everything you need right now. You’re good enough to start, right now. You can – and you will – figure out the rest as you go.

Discover what’s possible.

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