How Mindset Affects Academic Performance

“I Am Not Good at It. I Will Never Be”

Several studies have focused on how mindset affects academic performance, proving that the growth mindset positively impacts students’ achievements and success. However, despite strong evidence and research results, all of us could recollect the times we said “I can’t” as students.  At one point in our student life, we have all been in denial of trying to achieve or understand something that was out of our league. Whether it be physics, maths, literature, biochemistry or even sports. Does this ring any bells? How Mindset Affects Academic Performance; As students, we would loathe subjects that we were not good enough for or that demanded an extra bit of effort. Then, with the fear of failure and shame overtaking us, we joined a daydream routine with the rest of our uninterested classmates. We chose a far-end corner in the classroom to sit and keep ourselves silently lost until the bell saved us.

How Mindset Affects Academic Performance

Eventually, being puzzled, perplexed and ultimately demotivated by book chapters, teachers’ notes and our parents’ humble guidance, we fully embraced our inherent condition: “I am not good at it. I will never be”. It didn’t take us long to come to this conclusion, though. We wanted to be over and done with it and move on. So, we kept avoiding any encounters with these subjects and activities that made school unpleasant and boring for us. This kind of mindset affected our academic performance in ways that we were not aware of at the time. We chose to take the easy road, focusing only on our strengths and interests which made our academic life pretty smooth and unchallenged.

Is Intelligence a Natural Talent or an Improvable Skill?

Is there a talent or a skill that we cannot develop as cognitive human beings? Does mindset affect skills acquisition and talent development?

On the one hand, natural talent is a god-gifted, built-in ability that few people have. On the other hand, a skill is an ability or expertise in something that is usually developed and improved. Undoubtedly, sometimes you need a little talent to completely master a skill and shine. It’s harder to become a rockstar without the singing and performing talent; and the iconic haircut of course. However, as this journal article suggests, we can convince ourselves that we are capable of learning just about anything with a lot of hard work. So, everyone can learn how to sing and improve their voice. The unstoppable effort, determination and discipline can bring amazing results and progress. Nevertheless, it takes time, proper guidance and training to develop a specific skill. Also, if talent is left hidden and undeveloped, it can never grow to push you into the spotlight.

Similarly, let’s think about intelligence. If we persuade ourselves that we have a pre-determined amount of it, we will never go the extra mile. On the contrary, if we nourish intelligence, it will nourish us back. If we routinely cultivate it with care, we will see it blossom in our gardens of intellect. Research has shown “that intelligence cannot be fixed as it is trainable. The more you train, the more you gain.” Hence, the more our cognitive ability develops and allows us to explore new knowledge, the more skills we will be able to acquire. Therefore, our mindset affects academic performance, since, with a positive outlook and a thirst for knowledge, our ability to enhance learned skills increases.

Fixed Vs Growth-Mindset

Initially, the idea of mindset was coined and developed by Carol Dweck. Dweck’s concept proved the power of mindset through the way it affects academic performance and success. Years later, schools have incorporated her theories to inform different teaching methods and strategies. Basically, what I have described in the very first paragraph is the so-called “fixed mindset student persona”. So, let’s take it one by one and explore how students’ fixed and growth mindsets affect academic performance.

A “fixed mindset” is when you believe and rely on your innate intelligence and skills. You consider intelligence, talents, personalities and skills as fixed traits that cannot grow; you are just born with them. That’s why people with a fixed mindset are unable to improve their abilities. Fixed-mindset students tend to avoid challenges and give up to avoid failure. They see challenges and mistakes as threats instead of opportunities to grow. They also take criticism personally and sometimes adopt a defensive attitude toward teachers’ feedback. These individuals do not enjoy the process, but rather focus on the end goal. Even worse, they tend to look down on their peers leaving no room for collaboration and classroom bonding. They remain secluded in their own fragile glass box of limited potential. A fixed mindset negatively affects academic performance holding students back from trying new things and being ambitious and open to knowledge.

On the contrary, a “growth mindset” is an open space of boundless opportunities where one’s basic qualities are cultivated and improved through hard work and determination. Growth-mindset people believe in the power of change and self-development through learning. They seek challenges to experiment with and use failure as an opportunity for growth. Similarly, students with a growth mindset, are inspired by new things and acquire broad and well-rounded knowledge. They take the teachers’ feedback as constructive and apply it in practice. With a growth mindset, students have the motivation to work and share knowledge. Interestingly, they show decreased levels of anxiety and can handle deadlines more efficiently. These students are communicative and sociable, active team players within the classroom space. Proving it with their grades, they become better versions of themselves day by day. Gradual progress is an expected outcome in the academic performance of students with a growth mindset.

Mindset and Well-being

By growing your mindset, you grow as a person; and the more you grow as a person, the better your well-being gets. “The state of feeling good and being happy with life” is how one’s well-being could be summed up. For students, part of their well-being has to do with their lives within and outside the classroom. In other words, their well-being depends on their mental state and their relationships with their tutors and peers. A student with an open mind and an open heart is willing to explore diverse values, beliefs and experiences. They are willing to listen, learn and try and step out of their comfort zones. Through their constant growth and evolution as human beings, they can refine their way of life. Therefore, well-being could be described as the outcome of a growth mindset that in turn is guaranteed to affect a student’s performance.

Most importantly though, mindset and well-being have a direct connection to anxiety. According to this article, “having a fixed mindset may leave young people more vulnerable to developing mental health difficulties. People who believe that they cannot become smarter, less shy, or more socially skilled may feel unable to control unwanted life events. Thus, they are more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, or aggression.” At this point, teachers’ intervention is needed the most.  Fostering a growth mindset in class using relevant techniques, the teachers should strive to shift emphasis away from the actual result and toward the learning journey instead. Their role is critical in shaping young learners’ minds based on a growth mindset and encouraging this state of mind.

Phrases That Growth-Mindset People Say

“Let’s learn something new”

“I am not an expert, but let me try to do it”

“This may take some time and effort”

“I can be whatever I want. I can learn whatever I want”

“Is it really my best work?”

“Who can I ask for help?”

“I want to know more and if possible, apply it at work”

“It was a mistake. Let’s see how I could figure it out”

“I think I am on the right track”

“You are really good at it”

“I am a team player and I like learning from others”

“If it’s not hard, it doesn’t challenge you”

“I will keep trying to make it work”

Opt For It and Choose How to Live

So, the next time you say to yourself “I am not good at it. I will never be”, change it to “I will keep trying and let’s see what I can do”. Life is too short to remain stuck in a fixed mindset. If you do not allow yourself to align with your surroundings, events and changes, you automatically limit your potential for learning, doing and living. For this reason, mindset not only affects one’s academic performance but also one’s overall lifestyle.

Think about distance learning, which was not always that popular and it took some time for people to accept it and even try it. As times changed, and following the pandemic, many institutions openly welcomed this new mode of learning. They adapted to it, getting rid of obsolete systems to work in the most optimised yet student-friendly manner. It is also no coincidence that distance learning has proved to boost students’ mental health and improve their lifestyle due to the stress-free environment at home. Many students have been relieved of the heavy toll of traditional education; whether it be the stressful school environment, the commute demands or the tuition fees and schedule stiffness. Nowadays, people achieve so many things even without the necessary resources. This is evolution. It feeds the mindset to grow and expand.

So, embrace opportunities, challenges, new endeavours, positive emotions and relationships even without having all the resources to do so. Let it roll and watch your productivity levels rise. A change is a step forward. Regardless of success or failure, mistakes or accomplishments, you will benefit, simply because you tried. While your mindset affects your academic performance, your life moves forward too.

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