by Aletta Wubben
My ten year-old son Milan comes home from school in a right old mood. He has just scored 85 in a numeracy speed test, just below the class average. Again. ‘I can do the sums, mum,’ he says. ‘I just can’t do them that fast.’ A little test of my own shows that he is perfectly capable of doing the sums. What makes him stumble is the pressure of having to do them in a very short period of time. It slows down his mental processes. And if the pressure becomes even greater he can’t think at all.
Together we come up with an image, which relaxes Milan and makes him enjoy doing his sums. It’s a tiger who likes to catch salmon in a river. All he has to do is stick out his paw. Of course the salmon are standing in for sums and the river is the passing time. Milan thinks the image is good fun. He relaxes and imagines the tiger fishing. The test we do afterwards earns him a score of 112. Milan jumps for joy. The following Tuesday he does another test in school. Before he starts, he thinks about the fishing tiger. Result. He achieves a score of 128, 49 percent up from his usual score. It impresses us both.
It’s a thought provoking experience. If my son can achieve so much more while his mind is relaxed, the same thing should be true for me, or for the scientists who are using their brain all day and every day. It makes sense that relaxation improves concentration and creativity.
I decide to make a cup of tea while I contemplate the possibility of offering students visualisation exercises just before an exam. Professors might meditate to help write an inspiring inaugural speech. PhDs could be trained to relax their minds so they spend less time worrying…
But maybe we should all start closer to home and begin by staring out of the window for a few minutes every day. Who knows what creative ideas might pop up in our heads.