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Right mindset for better learning & Success

Have you ever got told that your mindset shapes the way you deal with your everyday life and that your approach to life could be totally different if you thought differently?

How do you see your glass: half full or half empty?

It is your vision of life and your way of thinking that mould your reactions towards, more or less, absolutely everything.

As you probably already know, studying and learning (even more so if you are an adult and left school a few years ago… ok, ages ago) can be really tough and extremely challenging. Yet, some people succeed. And really well actually.

What is their secret?

Why does it seem so easy for some people to be successful when, for others, it is an absolute chaotic nightmare?

It does seem so unfair… but is it really? I’m not sure.

An iceberg or how to picture success?

Try and picture an iceberg. Can you see it?

Well, this iceberg is a visual representation of success.

What everyone sees above the surface is so glamorous and amazing. It can actually be mesmerizing. That is the effect success can have on most of us.

However, the biggest part of an iceberg is not above the surface but underneath it. And there, it is not as glamorous. It is not as mesmerizing.

There, what you can see is what created that shiny top part of the successful iceberg. There, you will find dedication, hard work, good habits, disappointment, sacrifice, failure, and persistence.

An iceberg contains two parts and to succeed you must be ready to go through all the difficult challenges thrown by its hidden part to reach its top part which represents your learning goals.

Are you ready for this adventure? If so, carry on reading this blog to learn a bit more about how to understand yourself better as a learner and about how to get the right mindset for a better learning experience.

Mindset towards better learning

Terry Doyle and Todd Zakrajsek wrote a very interesting book on the various types of mindsets and their impact on learning. It is called The New Science of Learning: How to Learn in Harmony With Your Brain, and was published by Stylus Publishing, LLC in 2014. I would strongly advise you to read it, and to pay a particular interest to chapter 7 which is entitled “mindset towards learning”.

As Doyle and Zakrajsek highlight it in their book, you, as a learner, need to understand how your brain functions and how you learn best. You need to define your mindset. When you learn, what challenges do you give yourself? How far are you ready to push yourself to succeed? To which extent will you accept criticism and failure?

I lived in England for a while and passed my language teacher degree there. Then, I decided to move back to France. Unfortunately, my English degree was not recognized in France so I had to start all over again and take another teaching degree as well as a Master’s degree.

All this in the same year and, just to make things a little bit more complicated, I also had a baby to look after. To say that I was a very busy bee is an understatement.

Only 10% of the students could pass their exam (teaching exams are competitive ones in France). I had to be in that top 10%. For me, for my baby boy, for our future. My mindset was set: failing was not a possibility.

From day one, I studied days and nights. I struggled, I cried, I felt like giving up many times but I kept focused and I passed. I knew what I was capable of doing and what I wasn’t, and that is what you need to know when you set yourself specific learning goals. It obviously seems easy when I say it like that, but, trust me, it is not.

Mindset is a very complex brain process which was first described by Dr. Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University.

According to Dweck, the way you see yourself as a learner was shaped in high school and sometimes even earlier. I totally agree with this as I witness it every day with my students. The way they see themselves and the way they relate to such and such subject or to school in general totally match their learning goals.

If they think they are rubbish at French, their mindset will be mould that way and, consequently, they won’t learn as well as they could. Was this the case for you when you were in school? Is it still the case now? If so, change it.

Different types of mindsets

How do you consider intelligence?

Is it something fixed or can it evolve?

Despite many studies on the question, many people still seem to think that you are stuck with the intelligence you were given (or not) at birth.

This is a complete misconception of the notion. Intelligence changes and evolves. Everyone can learn about everything.

So, yes, you might find some topics more difficult than others but with the right mindset, your learning possibilities are endless. It seems crazy, doesn’t it? Crazy maybe, but still, true.

Dweck underlines two different types of mindsets: “fixed mindset” and “growth mindsets”. What are they? And, more importantly, which one is yours?

People with fixed mindsets tend to believe they cannot be good at everything and that they were actually either born being good at languages (for example) or they weren’t. According to them, they cannot really progress because they are not intelligent enough, or at least, not good enough at languages to improve. They seem to think people who are good at learning languages (to carry on with that example) are simply good at it because it is easy for them to understand it and not because they actually work hard to get good marks.

On the contrary, people with growth mindsets are fully aware of the huge amount of hard work they have to put in if they want to succeed and they actually do put the effort in. They consider rejection and failure as part of their learning journey and embrace all the challenges they have to go through to succeed. They know they might bend but they won’t break.

Are you worried about starting studying French because you think you’re not good at it and you’ll never be able to become fluent? If so, think again. Try and adopt a growth mindset and always remember that good practice makes perfect. Quand on veut, on peut (French saying which means: when we want, we can). Believe in yourself, give yourself the right tools to succeed and have the right mindset, a growth mindset.

Our mind is like the sky: it has no limit.

Okay, I know what you’re going to say: on paper, that seems ideal but in concrete terms how do you do to have a growth mindset? Don’t look any further, I will give you some tips!

Tips to change your mindset

First of all, you must consider your brain just like any other muscle in your body. When you want to improve your physical condition, you go to the gym, don’t you?

Well, when you want to improve your intelligence, you need to strengthen your brain, and to do so you have to read, study, and work hard.

You have to be dedicated and to keep focused. Jesper Mogensen, a Danish neuroscientist who works as a professor at the University of Copenhague, Department of Psychology, and who is the founder and head of The Unit for Cognitive Neuroscience (UCN) and director of Research Centre for Brain Injury Rehabilitation (ReCBIR), actually led research on this topic.

He found that when the brain is stimulated through learning new connections are established by neurons. In other words, learning develops the brain and makes you more intelligent! If there is just one thing you should remember from this blog, this is it! Keeping in mind that learning and making efforts develop the brain will help you to get rid of your fixed mindset (if you have one) and go towards a growth one!

An important advice I can give you from my personal experience, as well as my professional practice, is that you have to learn how to learn. Having a methodology is essential. Indeed, many students fail exams not because they weren’t good enough to succeed nor because they didn’t study hard enough but because they didn’t use the right learning strategies.

Basically, they didn’t give their brain the right tools to memorize and understand all the learned knowledge. Find out how you learn best (is it with visuals, when listening, reading, writing?) and develop that method.

Sometimes, you will also have to put some extra efforts in or to change your learning methods depending on the difficulty of the subject/topic you are studying. Adapt to the situation, be flexible.

Like I told you before, people with growth mindsets accept failure and actually consider it as part of their learning journey. It is not an easy thing to do but it can be so beneficial. I remember when I was a trainee, my university mentor wanted me to analyze every single lesson I taught. I had to write pages on what went right and for which reasons (so that was always enjoyable to point out what I did well… and that’s not even being big headed by the way!) but I also had to write about what went wrong and why (that wasn’t as pleasant).

I remember hating doing this cause it used to take me ages and quite frankly it wasn’t always nice admitting I didn’t do well but I did it anyway (cause I had to really). Quite quickly, I accepted that task as part of my training and only then it started being positive for my professional development and for my learning.

It helped me to understand what I didn’t do quite right and, more importantly, why and I could, therefore, focus on changing this particular aspect of my lesson. I could take advantage of my failure and change it to make it become a success. Admitting you were wrong, accepting you failed and being willing to start again in a different way is a key to creating a growth mindset.