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Pathways Thinking

Updated: Feb 18, 2022




You've chosen your goals for the year and, hopefully, for the next few months. You've organised a study routine that you're happy with. You've got a teacher and booked your lessons. You've even bought new pens and paper. In other words, you're ready to learn! Then what happens?

  • You get flu and have to cancel the first week of classes. Or….

  • Your teacher gets flu and cancels the classes. Or….

  • Your kid sticks a bit of Lego up her nose and you have to go to hospital. Or….

  • Your boss asks you to work overtime. All month.


In other words, just as you're all organised to learn, life throws an unexpected obstacle in your way and ruins all your well-laid plans. And it's not only life that gets in our way. Sometimes our learning is slower than we'd anticipated:

  • The course book you bought is more challenging than you anticipated and you're not going to complete 5 units by June. Or….

  • You just can't perfect the CAE picture task and think you might have to postpone your exam till the autumn. Or…

  • You haven't been able to read as much as you'd wanted because the bus is noisy and you're tired.

Language learners who are more anxious about learning and less hopeful about reaching their goals can find dealing with obstacles extremely difficult and may easily slip into either despair or avoidance (not taking action to solve the problem). This is when Pathways Thinking can be beneficial. When we set a goal we often imagine a route to it. We are less good at considering what we might do if we encounter an obstacle. It's as though we were planning to climb a mountain to reach the summit; we've looked at a map and chosen our path. We feel excited and clear about where we're going only to discover a large pile of rocks blocking our carefully chosen path.


So, we have a choice here. We can either sit down in front of the rocks and feel sorry, sad and hopeless. Or, we can get out our map and look for an alternative route. In other words, we need to find a different way to reach the goal we set.


Let's have an example: Marie is working towards FCE. She's decided she'll take the exam in September and has mapped out a detailed study plan for the year up till then. She's also got a full-time job and a kid so the study plan has to fit around the rest of her life. She's chosen to wake up early and do an hour of study before everyone else is awake, but it seems that her daughter hears her getting up, no matter how quiet she is. So, instead of an hour of quiet study, Marie is running around getting drinks and breakfast for her daughter, turning on some cartoons and feeling frustrated because she's slipping behind with her plan.


Marie's original path isn't working. Marie could continue with this pathway, feeling frustrated and resentful. She could tell herself she doesn't have time to work for FCE after all and that she'll have to wait until her daughter is older.


Or, she could explore other options.


  • Could she study in the evening? Yes, she's tired but is it an option that might be worth trying?

  • Could she study more at the weekend? Perhaps her husband could take their daughter out on a Saturday morning to give Marie some quiet time?

  • Could Marie continue with her current pathway but accept that her daughter will be around?

  • Could Marie do less studying each week and postpone the exam until December?

There are always multiple pathways towards our goals and life will always give us obstacles to overcome on the way - we are being unrealistic if we expect a simple journey. However, by accepting this and using our creativity to come up with alternative pathways when we find obstacles, we can continue to work towards our goals, even if we are on a different path. And who knows? Maybe the new pathway is actually better than our original idea!


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