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Let me give some background information:

I'm a high schooler currently enrolled in one of the most prestigious high schools in the country. In this decade it has won multiple awards for being the best high school in the country, although its quality has declined somewhat. It's especially known for its treatment of highly gifted children.

I am a student who has always had it very easy at school, I'm not a genius, I just grasp stuff quicker than others, and when I grasp it, I usually have a better grasp. Throughout my first 8 years (primary school as it's called here) I literally had nothing to do, so I just did my own thing and my teacher would let me. When I went to high school (which is 6 years, I'm now in my fifth), I expected everything to be tougher. It wasn't. In the mandatory IQ test in my freshman year (as it's called in the US I believe) of high school they found out that I (along with some other students) am intelligent enough to be enrolled into their gifted program. I expected everything to be tougher. It wasn't. The program just allows as to take off 3 hours a week to work on a project, but everyone in the program usually just do nothing and take boring classes off.

It's now the fifth year and I've become crazy of this all. Every lesson my teachers tell me I could be so much better if I wanted to, and my classmates being envious and such. Yesterday was the last straw. I was in my math class and I was sleeping basically (I never make homework for my classes, no exception). The girl next to me (which is #1 in our ordinary math class) asked for my help regarding integrals. I coincidentally knew about integrals and helped her. She called me brilliant, and my teacher heard it. He then came in and said 'He is not'. They (the girl and my teacher) had a 10 minute conversation about me and how I'm not doing anything and how I could have stellar grades if I wanted (I didn't even bother to join the convo). He said this because I'm currently like 5th in my ordinary math class (but #1 in physics, chemistry and further math). This really bothered me. I hate this negativity and I just want to show every teacher who is annoyed by me that I can DO something. So my final question:

How can you reach your full potential, eventhough you're extremely demotivated at the moment? I think a lot of people can relate to this

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Are they advanced placement courses? – Gaʀʀʏ Mar 7 '13 at 23:35

13 Answers 13

I think you are suffering from a common fallacy which is that you need to be motivated to do something. Motivation is currently way over-rated. What produces success after succes is persistence. Do it anyway even when you don't feel motivated. Do it anyway even when it is boring (lots of stuff you will need to do as an adult is boring, you still need to do it). Do it anyway even if you would rather skip class or play rather than use your free hours productively. Do it anyway even if it is hard or decidely not fun. When you fail, get up and try again. Persistence, persistence, persistence.

You have to set your goals as to what you want to accomplish and then trudge through all the steps (yes even the boring bits) until you reach your goals. Of course if you have no goals, you will continue to drift through life unsuccessfully. Right now you are wasting your brains and wasting your life. You are setting up habits of mind that will be very hard to change the older you get. So stop wasting time. Stop skipping out on things because you are bored or they are too easy. Start challenging yourself.

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I feel that motivation is more important, since it will more likely get things done well and in good time. Persistence will get things done, but perhaps not as well as they could be - and by definition, slower than when you are motivated. – Juha Untinen Mar 11 '13 at 10:23
@JuhaUntinen, few people are motivated all the time. Persistence gets far more work accomplished over time. ANd persistence doesn;t rule out having motivated days when you get more work done, they are not mutually exclusive. It is short-sighted to think you need to be motivated to work. – HLGEM Mar 11 '13 at 13:31
I think this answer hits the mark. Maybe motivation is the wrong focal point. Set goals and keep on keeping on, especially when it's hard - that's what most successful people suggest. – amorimluc Mar 13 '13 at 19:30

I think your teacher was trying to challenge you (in a rude manner, talking about you in your presence, but nevertheless). It partly worked because here you are wondering how to change things. This is the first step, but it looks like it's not enough to really get you going.

What works for many people is giving yourself a challenge. Set goals for yourself. Ask yourself what you really want to achieve in 1 month, 1 year, 5 years and 10 years time. Write down every goal you can think of that would interest you. Create separate lists for short-term goals (1 month work or less), medium-term goals (1 month - 1 year) and long-term goals (> 1 year). Choose 1 or 2 goals you like best from each list and start making plans on how to achieve them. What can you do today in order to achieve each goal in the long run? What would be the first step to take? Also think about the problems you might encounter and think about what you will do when those problem occur.

Once you have a list of goals and plans to achieve them, go over those lists every day. If you think of new goals or new steps to achieve existing goals, write them down immediately. If in time you loose interest in a goal that's no problem, just remove it from your list. However, be careful not to dismiss a goal to quickly. Only remove it if you are really convinced that your priorities have changed, not just because today or this week you are bored and don't feel like working on a specific goal.

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What is potential?

Potential and skills are not a gift. It's effort. However, most people your age have never worked at all. Everyone has a limit to learning; about 3-6 hours a day.. those who cram for much more than that will complain that they've been working hard but achieved nothing.

You've simply put a little time into learning over a longer period of time. You might be "that guy who never studies", but in reality, you've put in about a few hours every week and never pushed yourself to burnout point. By comparison with people who have always either done nothing or burnt themselves out, you've put in more hours into calculus or whatever and appear to be a genius to those who have never put any thought into it.

High potential is simply having higher willpower and a higher work rate. Willpower, like muscles, take many years to improve and develop. Not doing your homework and being apathetic about everything is the fastest way to lose that potential and willpower.


Being motivated is, in my opinion, the most difficult thing in life. The concept of motivation is simple - look at something you want. But finding out what you want is incredibly difficult.

Try not to be distracted by the superficial things in life. Things like pride, money, power, sex - all these can be easily obtained and they motivate you for only a short while. Most people spend their lives chasing these. Whether or not they get them, they're unhappy. If you're going to spend your life climbing up the career ladder, make sure it's leaning on the right wall. I'd also warn against doing something to getting back at your teacher - you should be doing things that you enjoy.

The best motivators are things that you're willing to do for free, but someone would gladly pay a lot of money for. It's said that the most successful people are con artists - they get others to pay them to do things they want to do.

Try everything. You're young, you have little to do, you have plenty of room to mess up. When you try everything, you'll eventually find something that clicks.. something you're willing to pay to learn. Hold on to it, find other things that also click - this is incredibly useful when you're in college. Don't go for mastering anything yet; there's plenty of time to do that when you know what you like. Learning the basics of how the world works is a good start - mathematics, philosophy, economics, law, chemistry, physics, communication, etc.

Be proactive. The 'gifted' and good looking among us often end up completely average people because we're used to opportunities coming at us. But things like finding your true motivation requires a lot of active research effort to find. Learning to be proactive is another stage in life, but many people don't get there.

Find a role model

It's said that you become the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. If everyone else is below you, it's no surprise that you feel that you're more gifted than others and might even hold back yourself to be more humble.

Look for a group of people who fit your interests. Maybe a robotics club, chess club, or reading club? Or a business group? What most successful people do is find a kind of mentor in the field they wish to go into. It could be a business tycoon or artist uncle, or even someone you contact via email.

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I've faced the same challenge for years. When something comes easy to me I find it very difficult to put in the hard work to really do the best I can in a given subject. I tend to spend more time on the ones that don't come easy to me just so I can get by.

The thing that I discovered a few years back is setting up a daily schedule that I check off (I use a software tool for this) what I do each day. I start with "Spend 5 minutes on Physics" (as an example), or "Read pages 200-210 in Physics book" - simple, easy to achieve goals each day.

Once I get used to doing a litte every day it starts to feel natural to do more. I'm not sure why this is, but I think it's because the thought of just getting started is the hardest thing to overcome...and once you do the rest is sometimes easy. But there are days where I still just do the minimum and move on - but it's better than doing nothing!

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Most of the clever people I admire do/did not really care about grades (or school in general) and things like that. For them it is perfectly fine to suck at interpreting poems (although they really could excel at this) and doing just enough work at school to pass, while reading/doing university grade stuff at home. In my opinion, people who have a passion for something should embrace this passion and make the most of it.

If you feel that engineering is your passion, go home and do some university online courses and/or build something. Ignore school and people judging you, just take care to not mess up your life (read: don't get kicked out of school). Instead, focus on your interests and develop them.

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Breach your limit.

Your story suggests that you are not motivated. Funny that it happens because everything around you but not yourself. Being in a great school, gift program and high rank in your class. Would you feel differently if you are at the last rank in your class or being in a school with lowest reputation? Would that motivate to try harder?

Don't get me wrong. I have no intention to challenge you. I sincerely believe that if you picture your self in different context would help you find your answer. Breaching limit requires a lot of endurance. You need to understand why you are unmotivated and find what can motivate you to breach your limit.

Your story convinced me that you are a talent person. What do you want to do with your talent? Do you want to find its limit? Do you want to use it to become something very few people can be? I believe everything happens for a reason and so does your talent and also this post.

Good luck! Hope you find a goods use of your gift soon!

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You have to use implementation intentions. This means you say "If it is 12:10 PM then I will study Taylor Series." Get rid of facebook. Get rid of friends. All this external validation is useless. All you need is your own validation. Meditate. Focus on your breath. Realize that your school being prestigious doesn't mean anything in the big scheme of things. You still eat food and go to the toilet as does everyone else. When my grandfather died people didn't remember him because he was smart. They remembered him for his kindness. Nobody really cares if you know the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus.

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Hmm... I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess at what could be your problem: You're afraid to fail. Well, at least that was my problem when I was in your situation 10 years ago. :)

Being gifted carries a hidden dagger in it which prevents a lot of gifted people from reaching anything near their full potential. It's called fear from failure. I had it. The idea is dead simple - since you always do so well, people praise you a lot. Which is nice, but soon it becomes the norm. So whenever you fail at something (and that's normal), you suddenly don't get that praise anymore. Or even worse - people get upset at you for not meeting their high expectation of you. Or maybe they try to "encourage" you by negativity (as it seems that your teacher just did).

Unfortunately that doesn't work. It only makes you annoyed or even angry - at them and at yourself. So you begin to fear failures of any kind. You only take on challenges which you are sure to excel. Have you ever thought - "If I can't win, then I don't want to play at all"?

This, of course, is a recipe for disaster. You can't achieve anything great without failing a couple dozen times on your way there. Just take a look at TED videos. Any successful story will involve a couple of failed attempts that didn't work, but taught a lot so that the next attempts could succeed. So - don't be afraid to fail, and don't get discouraged by people who are negative about what you do.

Failures can be wonderful things because they TEACH you a lot. I really like a quote from one of the TED videos:

We were peer-learning, we were engineering, we were making things, prototyping, but most importantly we were trying our prototypes in the water as often as possible, to fail as quickly as possible, to learn from.

So, the first thing to do would be to mentally shut off all of the negativity you get from outside. You are YOU - perfect as always, no matter what anyone says! And you CAN do your own thing, and you DON'T need to worry about failing at it. Just stick to it, you'll succeed eventually! (Well, of course, do still listen to objective criticism and learn from it - just don't let it touch you emotionally)

The same goes for school and academic achievements. You already get grades which are satisfactory to YOU by spending as much effort as YOU like. You don't owe it to anybody to be an academic superstar. (Do you?) Unless you wish to become a professor, your grades won't even matter after you enter a university. Maybe not even then. In fact, school grades have so little relation to how successful people are later on, that all this obsession with them is, frankly, ludicrous in my opinion.

But here's another thing to keep in mind - don't get attached to laziness. It might be a neat trick to sleep through all the lessons and still get good grades (I did it!), but the pattern of "doing the least amount of work necessary to get an acceptable result" is also a killer if you ever want something great accomplished. Unfortunately I'm still trying to figure out myself on how to get rid of that. :(

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Grit as opposed to intelligence is more highly correlated with success. Doing things that are boring is often harder than doing things that are interesting and challenging. Tackle the problem of developing grit by doing activities that you have no skill at (examples: playing an instrument, developing an online game, doing 45 pushups etc.) to start with, and stick with them until you are considered a force to be reckoned with in the field.

Developing grit will help you achieve the potential that others see in you.

Below is a link that cites scientific studies highlighting the importance of grit, and should give you a starting point to delve into the world of psychological self-development. Which Traits Predict Success? (The Importance of Grit)

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This advice is 2 years too late, however at 50 years old ( but still feeling young) and after going through multiple tests for highly gifted people and living exactly the same set of challenges you describe, here are the learnings:

  • I crapped out on many academic subjects because my teachers didn't create any passion in their courses. Simply stated, the teachers didn't feel excited, so neither did I. The ones who were passionate about their subjects created a lifelong interest for me.

  • That is not an excuse, nor a regret. I have succeeded professionally and in my personal life despite the educational system, although it took a lot of mistakes and personal heartache to get there. The fundamental drivers for successful highly gifted people are curiosity, creativity, vision and persistence. If you don't have an environment where these four elements are possible, change it.

  • The realization that your ideas are not immediately accepted should not be a barrier. Keep developing them and keep pushing them. Every inventor, philosopher and innovative entrepreneur in history faced the same challenges, the successful ones never gave up.

  • If you are truly a highly gifted person, you will feel very emotional about many topics. It's just part of the way you are cabled. Embrace it, it will make you a force for good if you can find a way to channel your creativity into finding ways to make the world a better place.

  • ignore all the people who try to force classic paradigms on you, for example: motivation, study techniques and the way that they are personally "doing good". the reality is that you probably have a brain that is in the top 2-4% and you don't need advice. What you really need is to understand your own capabilities and then build the self confidence to believe in yourself. It can take years. Be patient. Once you reach the stage where you believe in yourself and trust your instincts, you will live a life of fulfillment that many people do not attain.

  • Highly gifted people are a small community that contribute great things to society and suffer great personal difficulty to do so. If you are indeed part of the group, I would encourage you to seek out others of a similar mind. You will realize that you are not alone and that there are many things that you can apply your talents to.

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School is a waste of time for you. It's likely compulsory, and that's unfortunate.

I would do what you need to do to ace your classes. You obviously have enough spare ability to do at least that.

Once you've done that, and demonstrated that you're mastering the courses, use the rest of the time to think great thoughts, plan a business, stage a future whatever. Your teachers will either challenge you more, or may even let you work independently as long as you don't disrupt the other students.

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If you want to achieve your full potential, it is easy, set a really high goal for yourself, like "Solve the Unification theory in physics", or "Cure Cancer", or "become the next google/yahoo/facebook", whatever your interests is and set the goal to be the best of the best, and then just work toward the goal, you might not reach it, but you sure will reach your full potential if you kept trying. You are a smart person, figure out how. If you haven't watched good will hunting, you should.

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Listen, this might sound crazy but if you're feeling depressed and lacking motivation, the best cure is to read The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

Seriously, give it a try. This is more than just a story. It doesn't matter if you don't like science fiction. It doesn't matter if you hate reading.

This book will change the way you see the world. It will take your brain and twist it in a way that will influence the rest of your life.

There is a depressed character named Marvin, and you will love him. But that's not the point. There is no secret way to get over procrastination or depression. There are plenty of tips and tricks that will only depress you more just reading them.

What you need is the Hitchhiker Guide to the Galaxy. There's nothing wrong with you. There is no need to follow any tips and tricks to try and fix yourself. What you need is a different view of the world because you've had the motivation all along, you just couldn't see a useful place to use it until reading this book.

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