Teetering at the Edge

When given an opportunity to explore an area of interest, talented students can produce extraordinary work. Sometimes the work produced by students is at the level of experts and professionals.  Innovative ideas, valuable research studies, practical solutions for problems in society and breathtakingly creative works have been developed by talented students. To perform at an expert level requires considerable cognitive abilities, deep knowledge, specific skills and a willingness to take realistic risks. Students preparing Extended Essays have an opportunity to demonstrate expert performance in an area of personal interest and relevance.

Maureen Neihart has identified seven mental competencies (similar across different domains) and the factors that facilitate expert performance.  The competencies Neihart identified are: a tolerance for stress or anxiety; a willingness to take risks; SMART goal setting; mental rehearsal; an ability to resolve the need to belong with the need to achieve; a positive explanatory style and management of mood. In this context, risk refers to feelings of doubt that the goal can be achieved; to understand that new skills must be developed to accomplish the task and as Neihart describes, “a willingness to work at the edge of competence.” This is frequently accompanied by uncertainty and the feeling of teetering at the edge the safe, known world; unsure about what lies ahead; realising courage and persistence are required to move forwards to success.

To accomplish challenging tasks, is important to have a vision of what might be accomplished. There is a need to: establish the goals – both large and small; identify the skills required; develop the skills; allocate sufficient time; work hard in productive ways; manage feelings of uncertainty or fears and make steady, determined progress. Understanding at the outset that challenges and difficulties lie ahead is part of mentally preparing for the task. Building in regular stress reduction techniques, including study breaks, exercise, relaxing (but not distracting) activities and time with friends can help to ensure that anxiety and mood are managed. Identifying who can provide practical help and emotional support along the way is an important way of acknowledging and anticipating that there will be hurdles to overcome.  Knowing that others are travelling along a similar route can be helpful. Planning ways to collaborate, share strategies and work alongside friends and be ways of managing the need to belong to a group, together with the need to achieve.

Achieving at expert level in any area entails risk-taking, being willing to increase challenge and push the boundaries of one’s knowledge.  It involves wanting to learn new information in the field, develop new skills and explore possibilities.  Being on the edge can be exciting, challenging and at times uncomfortable.  It is important to build the psychological skills necessary for attaining excellence.

© Michele Juratowitch