13 Search Results for growth mindset

“In the Midst of Midterms, Welcome your Best Friend – A Growth Mindset”

By: Gaurav Talwar, 3rd Year Life Sciences Student


Scenario 1: “Wow, that was an easy midterm. I am too good for university… I’ll just party for the next few weeks and cram closer to exam time.”

Scenario 2: “That midterm was awful. This subject isn’t meant for me… there is no point in trying for the final exam. It will be a waste of time.”

If I asked which scenario you would prefer to be in, you would probably choose scenario 1. However, on a closer examination, you might realize that neither scenario embodies the most productive mindset for approaching university, or even life in general.

At SASS, we differentiate between two types of mindsets; a fixed mindset, embodied in the example scenarios above, and a growth mindset, which is what I will elaborate on later in this post. Someone with a fixed mindset believes that they are born with a certain, unchangeable, level of ability in a task, and that regardless of their efforts, they cannot change their proficiency. In contrast, someone practicing a growth mindset takes a more constructive view and realizes that through commitment, practice, and effort, they can develop their abilities.

Being in the midst of my ninth university midterm/exam period, I can confidently say that practicing a growth mindset is one of the most effective strategies you can embrace. Each midterm experience presents a unique opportunity for personal development. Not only do you learn new content and then study it later to improve mastery and recall, but you also learn more about your preferred ways to prepare for exams. With a growth mindset, you can free yourself to refine your ability to tackle the content, to manage your emotions and nerves during stressful situations, and overall feel more optimistic about your learning.

However, developing a growth mindset is a skill itself, and not a way of thinking which you can simply switch on. Here are a few techniques which I would recommend you try to practice this skill:

  1. Every week, set aside some time to reflect on your progress. What did you learn that week and how did it build on your previous skills? Also, reflect on some goals (more on setting “SMART” goals here) which you did and did not achieve. What was the difference between your approach to each goal, and how will you tweak your approach to achieve the goals you set for the next week?

By consistently reflecting on your progress, you practice your ability to self-regulate. At the same time, you realize that even small changes in your approach to learning can have a large, overall impact on your success.

  1. When reflecting on an experience (such as a midterm), don’t focus only on the effort or only on the outcome. Instead, praise yourself for the effective strategies which helped you get to the outcome, as explained by Carol Dweck, a pioneer in theories of mindset (more information here). A rationale behind this is the following: If you spend many hours preparing for a test which ultimately goes poorly, then consoling yourself by praising how long you spent studying may not be effective. This is because if you repeat the same approach to studying in the future, then you may face another disappointing result. Ultimately, you may feel that you are unable to develop your skills. Likewise, focusing solely on the result can either make you feel overconfident (if the exam went well), or demoralized (if it didn’t go so well).

The better approach, is to break up the exam into sections (either by question type or content). Then, evaluate what strategies you used to help prepare for each section. Praise yourself for the strategies which helped you do well, while aim to try new strategies to replace those which were not so effective (e.g. doing more practice from a textbook instead of re-reading your notes numerous times, a pitfall I have often fallen into).

  1. Acknowledge the power of the word “yet”. We all have areas of weaknesses. But instead of viewing the weakness as a static inability, look at it as an area for improvement. So begin by acknowledging the skill you want to improve. Then, realize that you may not be comfortable in this skill “yet”, and therefore can improve in the future. For example, you may not have mastered a key concept in your math class yet, but by approaching your professor during office hours, doing more practice problems, and searching for additional resources online, you can master the topic.
  2. Once you recognize an area of development, embrace the “Creator” role to develop your skill. Although there can be external circumstances outside of your control, you can still control the way you respond to adversity. Likewise, you can create a more constructive situation, by taking responsibility of your actions and making more effective choices. So if an exam doesn’t go so well, take accountability for the performance, and then work on the alternative strategies you think of (e.g. practicing, approaching your professor and searching online as mentioned in point 3). (For more information on the Creator role and how it applies to a related topic, Stress Management, click )

By practicing the tips mentioned above, hopefully you will begin to view the process of writing midterms as an enriching experience, rather than a hurdle which you can or cannot overcome. So if you find yourself in one of the scenarios mentioned at the start of the blog, reflect on your inner voice. Ask yourself, “Is it my fixed or growth mindset speaking to me?”. If it’s your growth mindset, then perhaps it will sound something like this:

Scenario 1: “Wow, that midterm went well. I guess it indicates that I am on track to understanding the concepts. I should continue using the strategies I am using, and make sure to add in new elements which can make the final exam preparation an even more smooth transition.”

Scenario 2: “That midterm didn’t go so well. I should reflect on where I went wrong. Did I focus too much on certain details while missing other concepts? Or did I know my material but couldn’t focus well during the exam? I should work on these skills to be more successful on the upcoming exam.”

And remember, your growth mindset is your friend. It takes time and commitment to establish and maintain a friendship, but it’s always worth the effort.

For more strategies and information, please click here


Photo courtesy of Ken Whytock under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

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Exercising a Growth Mindset

 By Sam Werger, 4th year History student

“We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.”


University can be many things to many people. For some it is an opportunity to leave their small hometown for the bright lights of the big city. For others it’s a chance to make new friends and meet all kinds of new people. A person’s university career can be a chance to learn about one’s self and grow emotionally, physically, and mentally. University is perhaps the best opportunity many of us have to develop our skills and generally improve ourselves. Growth at university depends largely upon one’s ability and willingness to exercise a growth mindset.

What is a growth mindset?

Well, a growth mindset is the opposite of a fixed mindset. For example, someone with a fixed mindset would see a failure as the end of the road and might give up when they have failed. In contrast, someone with a growth mindset will see a failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. Failure is an inevitability (unless you’re some sort of super-human in which case you can probably stop reading now) but it doesn’t have to be the end of the road. I’ve certainly failed to achieve certain goals I’ve had and failed to live up to my own expectations of myself. I’ve made mistakes academically and socially. And yet, as I look forward to the last two months of my undergraduate career I can say with certainty that my time at university has been a success.

I was able to succeed because I didn’t allow my failures to define me. I maintained a growth mindset and viewed my failures as stepping stones towards a greater success. Every time I failed I also got a new lesson. Every time I didn’t do well on a test or paper I learned what it takes to succeed in school. Every time I was disappointed in myself I learned a little bit more about what I want to achieve in life. Through my failures I have gained perspective and learned lessons that helped me eventually succeed.

So the next time you fail to meet your goals don’t look at that failure as an end. Don’t even look at it as a failure. Instead, look at it as a lesson and a stepping stone on the path to success. Growing depends upon our view of things, not the things themselves.

For more on Growth Mindsets click here.


Photo courtesy of The Library of Congress under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

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What Can Star Wars Teach Us About Growth Mindsets?

By Ian Farndon, 4th year History/English student

In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker visits the swampy home of Yoda to receive Jedi training. However, Luke swiftly becomes frustrated by his inability to quickly master the Force, leading him to gain a defeatist attitude that further hampers his efforts to improve himself. If you find yourself facing academic or non-academic setbacks, it is important to avoid getting yourself stuck in a rut, which could cause failure to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Therefore, I recommend that you don’t follow Luke’s example, and instead approach challenges, or disappointments, with a “growth mindset.”

A growth mindset involves understanding that challenges and setbacks are stepping stones on your path to success, rather than testaments to an inability to achieve desired results. For instance, while you may have had a less-than-satisfactory outcome in the first semester, dwelling on any let-downs can foster an attitude of negativity and defeatism that will certainly not help you motivate yourself to do any better in second semester. Just look at Luke – when he interprets his training difficulties in a negative manner, he loses both faith in himself, and the motivation to continue training.

Having a growth mindset is not something that you can simply switch on overnight, because re-framing your self-expectations takes time. While it’s fine to hold yourself to a high standard of performance, in regards to academics or otherwise, you should recognize that you will most likely not be able to do everything perfectly the first attempt. Rather, it’s important to accept setbacks for what they are, and think about how you will work to improve for next time. For example, you could plan to ask for help and feedback from professors and TAs to ensure you understand their expectations for course work. Or, if you recognize what you need to improve on, you could actively seek to demonstrate these improvements in the next class assignment.

Having this positive mindset will make it easier, and certainly less stressful, to work towards whatever goals you set for yourself – whether you wish to lift your grades, or an X-Wing.


Photo courtesy of Kory Westerhold under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

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Having a Positive Mindset and Preventing Burn-out

By Ann Choi, 4th-year Con-Ed/English Student

One of the materials that particularly struck me during my two workshops on “Making the Grade: Transitioning from High School to University,” was its emphasis on optimism. While I was telling the students during the workshops that the studies have found out that optimism was a better indicator of the students’ GPA than their IQ, I realized I never seriously thought about the importance of having a positive mindset in academia before.

This emphasis on optimism and an importance of having a growth-mindset was especially relevant in my final year at university as many of my friends approached me for an advice because they were feeling burnt out from their studies.

Some of them have done consistently well at school, but as they began to lose motivation, they were beginning to worry that they may never do well in school again. As they were used to thinking that they did well because of their innate ability and study habits, negative thinking created a vicious circle: because they did not believe in themselves anymore, they also could not work, and their work indeed did not turn out well. Yet, they definitely had a great potential to do well as they had done before. They had just lost faith in themselves.

This does not apply only to the final years: I have encountered similar cases in the first, second, and third years. Sometimes, students who used to be the first in their high schools lost faith in themselves when they did not do well in their exams in the first years. Some did well in the first years, but after one failed essay or test in their second or third years, they lost their positive outlook on their study and continued to do badly. I realized that the cycle of discouragement, the bad grade, and worsening work ethics was quite common at university.

How do you prevent burn-out? All these students have potential. Many of my friends who have done poorly in first, second, or third year, after some time off from their study, decidedly did a lot better when they came back to study with a fresh heart. Many of them found that with a different mindset, they were indeed successful as they were before. Some of the negative thinking can be attributed to burn-out, as students often feel tired from over-work in their university career. To prevent burn-out as much as possible, and to maintain positive thinking, it is important to…

  1. Give yourself a break when you find yourself thinking negatively. Sometimes, you can work much better when you are feeling more energized. When deadlines seem pressing and when you have a lot of assignments due, you may feel guilty about “wasting” your time, but break is never a waste. I often felt guilty about my breaks and tried to force myself to work but realized it was counter-productive. Plan your schedule way ahead of time by using term calenders and weekly schedules to allot time when your body and brain can relax guilt-free.
  2. Spend some time studying with your friends. When I feel sad or unmotivated, I often don’t want to meet anyone. But when I actually meet some of my friends, it helps me to feel better. Talking to my like-minded friends also becomes a source of fresh energy and motivation. When you feel burnt out from work, try exercising (running had personally been a great way to de-stress for me) or talking to your friends.
  3. Try positive self-talk! I know talking to yourself may sound crazy, but positive mindset is incredibly important for your well-being, and whenever you feel negative about yourself, try to remember the activities you love, people you love, and how you are also loved in return. I tried positive self-talk, meditation, and yoga in my second year and they helped me incredibly with some of my anxiety about school, as I became more accepting of myself.

At university, everyone at one point or another struggles for various reasons. It is important to believe in oneself and think positively to recover and work towards one’s goals again. Remember too, that you are not alone and you can always seek help from your parents, friends, and other learning resources around you when you need one.


Photo courtesy of Shanna Trim under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

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How to make it through the last stretch on top of the podium

By Victoria Wolf, 4th year French/Linguistics student

Transitioning from the sunny beach or your warm bed where you spent your reading week back into Stauffer and lecture halls in the thick of midterms can be tough. On top of that, the Olympics are over and Roll Up the Rim is coming to an end.  But to make lemons out of lemonade, I’ve decided to capitalize on that Olympic spirit in order to motivate myself to avoid burn-out and make it through the final stretch of the school year. Drawing inspiration from Olympians, here are five tips to help you make it through the last stretch of the semester on top of the podium:


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How To: Get Out of Your Studying Slump

By: Kaitlin Pilarski, 2nd Year Life Sciences Student

I don’t know about you, but it felt like I blinked and reading week was over. We are now back to the routine of classes, midterms, and assignments. But what do you do if you feel like you are still behind? Or maybe if you received a grade that was not what you were expecting? If no one has told you this already, you are not alone, I am right there beside you. Here’s the thing: pity parties don’t get anyone very far, I promise you (I’ve tried).

So what can you do to keep moving forward and rediscover your motivation? Let’s find out…



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Presenting with Confidence

Back to Presentation Skills

IntroductionStrategies to reduce presentation anxietyTechniques for common challenges

Managing presentation anxiety

“Think connection, not perfection”

When you begin a lecture, conference proceeding, seminar, or class do you think:

  • Will they like me? Will I have anything useful to say?
  • Will I sound smart, competent and professional?

We often think more about ourselves while doing a presentation then we do about our audience, and this leads to increased anxiety or nervousness.

Presenters who have mastered their anxiety have learned to focus more on the audience than on their own performance. You can learn to shift your perspective from “me” them “them” by asking

What does the audience most need to hear from me today?

Start your presentation with content, not fillers or personal details.

Seek rapport with the audience: respond or adapt to feedback, smile, make (or appear to make) eye contact.

Think about connecting t your audience, rather than continually monitoring yourself for your “perfect” performance.

How does your nervousness about presenting in front of a group express itself? Consider your feelings, thoughts, body reactions and behavioural responses or actions. Do you tend to get all wound up and “over the top” or are you more likely to freeze and feel paralyzed?

Anxiety affects people in a few predictable ways including altered breathing (e.g. holding the breath or rapid shallow breathing) and increased muscle tension which affects vocal production, negative or critical thinking, feeling incompetent or unworthy or scared, and a tendency to avoid anxiety-provoking situations.

The good news is that you can learn strategies to reduce your anxiety and become a better presenter through self-awareness, specific techniques and practice.

Strategies to Reduce Presentation Anxiety

Preparation and practice are the fundamental ways of reducing your anxiety. Refer to the handout on Presentation Skills. In addition, there are techniques related to working with your mind and body as well as your delivery.

Mind-Body Strategies

The primary targets in a cognitive-behavioural approach to anxiety reduction include

  1. learning to control your breathing, and
  2. replacing negative, punishing, and under-mining thoughts with encouraging, more realistic, positive thoughts.

Both these methods are considered skills and therefore require practice.

Calming Breath Exercise: 5 In – 5 Hold – 5 Out

This calming breath exercise will help you achieve a deep state of relaxation quickly. A note of caution: avoid taking several excessively deep breaths and stop the exercise if you feel faint.

  1. Sit erect but relaxed in a chair, lie down or stand comfortably with your knees slightly bent. Relax (drop or lower) your shoulders if you can, and relax your mouth and throat by slightly dropping your jaw.
  2. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth at a normal pace and depth for a few breaths.
  3. Now focus on the air moving in and out. Breathe in for 5 counts.
  4. Pause and hold your breath for 5 counts.
  5. Exhale slowly, through the mouth, to a count of 5.
  6. Feel the “balloon” in your belly deflating Exhale fully. Repeat 5-10 times or more.

Observe your level of muscle tension and calmness/agitation before and after the exercise. Try to remember the feeling of calmness; check in with yourself periodically and use this technique to bring yourself relief.

When giving a presentation you will not have many opportunities for a series of calming breaths, but sometimes a single calming “5 in, 5 hold, 5 out” breath will break a cycle of

growing anxiety. In addition, you can take a calming breath at the end of every sentence or two, which doubly serves to reduce your anxiety and slows your pace to enable the audience to  think about your presentation.

Re-Writing Your Negative Thinking

Observe your own thinking — is it helpful? Disabling?

We all have messages in our mind that are like well-worn tape recordings. Some of those messages serve to encourage us to grow (e.g., ask deeper questions, do better, go faster, get it right), some are comforting and complimentary (e.g., good job, well done, nice effort).

Some messages in our heads make it hard to persist or try new things (e.g., you’ll never get it, no one will hire you, you’re just not good enough).

Your Coach, Your Critic

With practice, you can re-write the script in your mind to make it more helpful, and you can then use these empowering thoughts anywhere, anytime.


  1. Write positive self-statements that leave no room for self-doubt. Make your statements
    1. realistic
    2. believable
    3. use “I,” in the present
    4. positive, simple, direct
  2. For example, “I can do this” (NOT “This is going to be terrible” or “They’ll think I’m stupid.”) More  positive self-statements:
    1. “I have practiced, I’ll be fine.”
    2. “This was ok last time, I’ll just do my best again.”
    3. “I know what I am talking about.”
  3. Practice these statements often, first in situations where you already feel comfortable, and then at times when you typically feel nervous.
  4. BELIEVE that you can overcome years of negative thinking as you practice saying these positive self-statements.

For more detailed suggestions see also “Fixed and Growth Mindsets” and “Mindset Online.”

Improving delivery skills: Techniques for common challenges

Problem #1: Nervousness before a presentation


  • Prepare and practice before you actually perform.
  • Memorize the first few sentences in advance.
  • Review the opening statements just before you perform.
  • Do physical warm ups:
    • Vocal exercise (e.g., opera singers do scales)
    • Body (e.g., athletes stretch)
  • Breathe (count 5 in, 5 hold, 5 out, about 8 times).
  • Use positive self-talk: be your own coach.
  • BELIEVE in yourself.

Problem #2: Going off track: forgetting, losing concentration


  • BREATHE, visualize yourself in control.
  • Refer to notes or powerpoint slides.
  • Buy time: “Let’s summarize…” or “Any questions so far?”
  • Summarize: restate most important points.
  • Forgive yourself – it happens! Find your place and keep going.

Problem #3: Poor vocal production, e.g. shaky, thin, quiet, no sound


  • Warm up, before your presentation.
  • Sip warm water.
  • Check posture and head position: shoulders lowered, knees slightly bent, chin tucked toward chest, straight spine, jaw dropped when not speaking.
  • Pause at end of each sentence, and breathe.
  • Project (throw) your voice:
    • lower your voice register
    • bounce voice off wall, column to increase the volume

Problem #4: Accent among ESL speakers


  • Practice difficult words or critical words beforehand, and get feedback on pronunciation.
  • Speak slowly to improve your articulation and allow audience time to process content.
  • Watch your audience for feedback, to anticipate questions, request for clarification.
  • Repeat or rephrase key information as you go.
  • Put key information on your powerpoint slides.

Problem #5: Handling the Question & Answer Period


  • Prepare answers to likely questions, in advance.
  • Instruct audience as to when to ask questions (during? at the end?).
  • Open Q&A using an open question format (Who has the first question? or What topic should we begin by discussing?) rather than a “yes/no” question (Are there any questions?) or refer to the issue you posed as a discussion point during your opening comments.
  • Listen carefully to the entire question.
  • Repeat question aloud to clarify the question and enable audience to hear it.
  • Stop and think about your response.
  • Answer briefly and coherently.
  • It is OK to say “I don’t know.” Consider offering to find out and respond later.
  • Invite the audience to discuss difficult, controversial or interesting questions.
  • Sum up the significant aspects of your talk and ideas generated through Q&A, to re- establish control of the session. Offer thanks to your audience for their participation.

Problem #6: Stimulating Discussion


  • Propose a theoretical, applied or deep question at the beginning of the talk, and open the discussion period with that question.
  • Invite the audience to think privately:
    • pair with a partner and briefly discuss their ideas
    • share with the larger group.

This often overcomes shyness in expressing a view by getting some feedback first.

  • Open the discussion by asking “What is the first question?” as it feels less intimidating than “Who has the first question?”
  • If you know the group is quiet, you could consider “planting” someone to ask you a question.
  • If you have on-going contact with the group, you can request they read specific material in advance, and start the discussion by referring to key ideas or questions you may have asked them to consider.

Problem #7: Feeling faint while speaking


  • Move while speaking.
  • Stand with your knees slightly bent.
  • Take a sip of water (i.e., swallow and breathe).
  • It’s better to leave or sit down than faint, in all likelihood!

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TOOLS: Strategies and resources related to perfectionism in writing

Return to Perfectionism in Writing

Strategies about managing your timeStrategies to cope with the anxiety of writingGrowth mindsetsLetting go or stopping strategies

Strategies about managing your time

Work habits

  • Plan to write on a regular basis. Work 90 minutes followed by a significant rest or other unrelated task, or work a 3 hour block divided into 3 periods of ~ 50 minutes “on task” (thinking or writing), 10 minute break, or any pattern that works for you.
  • Break a large project into smaller more manageable pieces. Will your finished document be a collection of shorter chapters or critical essays? (Haven’t you written smallerpieces previously, and this project just has more chunks?)
  • There is no perfect order in writing on the topics. Think of a section you’re comfortable with writing. e.g. the section you’re most ready to write, or the part that will be easiest/most interesting/most fun.
  • If you are stuck with something, put it in point form, highlight it, make a note to come back later – but move on!
  • Work backwards from large target dates, and create due dates for the smaller pieces. See for example project scheduling software such as the Assignment Calculator for research papers, or the Thesis Manager, or the Gantt chart.
  • Start a writing journal, to track your thought development and to add some fun.
    • Finish each writing session by posing a question to yourself based on this day’s work- something you didn’t quite understand, or something you want to think more about, or something you can’t see how to connect with another important idea.
    • Start each writing session by recording any thoughts you may have had about yesterday’s
    • If you lose track of the development of your line of reasoning or direction, review your journal for clues.

Decide how to use your perfectionistic habit

Consider what skill or attribute is required for the different tasks (creative thinking, picky data analysis, precise checking of citations…). Indulge the perfectionist in you for tasks requiring an uncompromising standard of excellence. Apply the “good enough” standard to other tasks.

Strategies to cope with the anxiety of writing

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a sh*tty first draft…Perfectionism means you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter is wonderfully fertile ground – you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things, fix things, get a grip. Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it’s going to get. Tidiness makes me think of holding breath, of suspended animation, while writing needs to breathe and move.” (Lamott, A., Bird by Bird, 1995)

Well- chosen strategies regarding your attitude, approach to the writing process and work habits may be necessary but not sufficient for some people to overcome their perfectionistic habits, actually engage in writing in a satisfying way, and produce the required product.

Do you experience uncompromisingly critical self-evaluation? a crippling desire to be thought of as extraordinarily exceptional? IGNORE BOTH!

Cognitive strategies to reduce anxiety

Engaging with writing

We all have an inner dialogue that has developed over our life-times, which reflect the experiences we have had. Those voices can inspire us and help us make good choices, but can also feed our insecurities and feelings of inadequacy. Are your inner voices helpful to you or holding you back?

Think of your inner dialogue or self-talk as coming from a “coach’ or “critic.” Your coach helps you grow and face new challenges.

Your critic keeps you fixed, scared and dissatisfied with your efforts and results.

  • Picture your coach and your critic sitting on each of your shoulders
  • Create a visual image that make sense for you, to capture the words or feelings they Feed the one you want- you have a choice.
  • Practice calling on your supportive coach when you sit down to write, or face another challenging
  • Refute your Ask yourself:
    • What’s the worst that can happen?
    • How likely is this to happen?
    • Is there any evidence that contradicts this negative view?
    • Am I looking at the whole picture?
    • I am being realistically objective?
  • As you become more aware of your monstrous critic attacking you, imagine putting the demon in a sealed box, or putting a clothes pin on its nasty mouth!!

Get back to work! You do not need to be held hostage by your own negative thoughts.

Develop a growth mindset

Recent research by Dr. Carol Dweck describes how we can become more aware of the dialogue in our minds and change it to become more helpful.

She describes two broad mindset types: fixed and growth. People with a fixed mindset believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are fixed traits and thus cannot be improved or changed. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong! People who hold a growth mindset understand that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.

How You Can Change From a “Fixed Mindset” to a “Growth Mindset”

Even if your ideas and opinions about intelligence, talent, and academic achievement are currently those of a fixed mindset, that does not mean you cannot change it into a growth mindset!

© 2006-2010 Carol Dweck. All Rights Reserved.

Step 1. Learn to hear your fixed mindset “voice.”

As you approach a challenge, that voice might say to you:

  • Are you sure you can do it? Maybe you don’t have the talent.
  • What if you fail? You’ll be a failure!
  • People will laugh at you for thinking you had talent.
  • If you don’t try, you can protect yourself and keep your dignity.
  • As you hit a setback, the voice might say, “This would have been a snap if you really had talent.”
  • You see, I told you it was a bad idea.
  • Now you’ve gone and shown the world how limited you are.
  • It’s not too late to back out… quick, make excuses!

As you face criticism:

  • You might hear yourself say, “It’s not my fault. It was something or someone else’s fault.”
  • You might feel yourself getting angry at the person who is giving you feedback. “Who do they think they are? I’ll put them in their place.”
  • The other person might be giving you specific, constructive feedback, but you might be hearing them say “I’m really disappointed in you. I thought you were capable but now I see you’re not.”

Step 2. Recognize that you have a choice.

How you interpret challenges, setbacks, and criticism is your choice. You can interpret them in a fixed mindset as signs that your fixed talents or abilities are lacking. Or you can interpret them  in a growth mindset as signs that you need to ramp up your strategies and effort, stretch yourself, and expand your abilities. It’s up to you.

So as you face challenges, setbacks, and criticism, listen to the fixed mindset voice and…

Step 3. Talk back to it with a growth mindset voice.

Try these growth mindset responses to the fixed mindset voice in your head:

As you approach a challenge:

Fixed Mindset Growth Mindset
“Are you sure you can do it? Maybe you don’t have the talent.” “I’m not sure I can do it now, but I think I can learn to with time and effort.”
“What if you fail? You’ll be a failure.” “Most successful people had failures along the way.”
“If you don’t try, you can protect yourself and keep your dignity.” “If I don’t try, I automatically fail. Where’s the dignity in that?”

As you hit a setback:

Fixed Mindset Growth Mindset
“This would have been a snap if you really had talent.” “That is so wrong. Basketball wasn’t easy for Michael Jordan and science wasn’t easy for Thomas Edison. They had a passion and put in tons of effort.”

As you face criticism:

Fixed Mindset Growth Mindset
“It’s not my fault. It was something or someone else’s fault.” “If I don’t take responsibility, I can’t fix it. Let me listen—however painful it is– and learn whatever I can.”



Step 4. Take the growth mindset action.

Over time, which voice you heed becomes pretty much your choice. Whether you

  • take on the challenge wholeheartedly,
  • learn from your setbacks and try again, or
  • hear the criticism and act on it is now in your hands.

Practice hearing both voices, and practice acting on the growth mindset. See how you can make it work for you.

Letting go or stopping strategies

Trouble stopping the literature search phase?

When you start seeing the same material over and over… it’s time to stop researching. Keep perspective: one article is very seldom so earth-shattering that it changes your argument, and it’s more likely just to end up as a single reference or a footnote.

When you are spending all your time researching a minor detail or remotely related topic… it’s time to stop.

If you don’t have an overall picture of how the current topic you are investigating relates to the purpose or thesis statement, stop and think. Try making a mind map of the topics you wish to discuss. Where does your current area of reading fit in? Is it a major area directly related to the thesis statement or core theme, or is it a sub-sub-sub-sub-topic?? Decide the value of continuing to pursue the search vs setting boundaries on what you are able to discuss.

Trouble stopping the writing phase?

Consider “contracting” with yourself for your desired grade or end product before you begin writing. STOP when you achieve your goal.

Weigh your desired grade or quality of finished product against other factors such as the amount of available time, resources, other demands you must meet, or obligations, and the importance of this phase of the project. Trust your judgment. Monitor the project in relation to your practical goal, and stick to the plan.

Satisfactory product vs.  Resources and other obligations

Use a good time management plan, with tasks to be completed by certain dates. Stick to it.

Build down- time into your schedule, so you get some distance from your writing. When you re- read your work, you may have a better perspective and be more objective.

Be aware of when you are “obsessing” over the quality of your work. Do a Cost /Benefit Analysis, or try a 4-Square Review. This is when you compare what you desire and fear about working on the piece, and also what you desire and fear about stopping the work.

Cost/Benefit Analysis

What do I desire about continuing to work on the piece?

What do I fear about continuing to work on the piece?

What do I fear about stopping?

What do I desire about stopping?


4 Square Review:

  • Record your thoughts, as above
  • Look them over
  • Accept the contradictions within yourself…we are full of contradictions!
  • If you are trying to make a decision, the content may be useful in weighing alternatives

Arrange with your supervisor or a friend to have regular check-ins, to help you stay on track with your time management plan.

Seek a qualified opinion regarding your final draft document, or use a copy editor.

Quiet your inner critic, that pushes you to seek uncompromising excellence and is never satisfied with what you offer.

Trouble letting it go and handing it in?

Aim for the latest word, not the last word! You are joining a long line of individuals who have thought about this problem, or whose thoughts have led up to this problem.

Quiet your inner critic.

Keep your perspective. In truth, others will have different things to say at some point. Your writing captures your knowledge or perspective at this moment in time. That is enough.

Make a list of your strengths, past achievements, skills. Use this as a buffer for your ego if you are frightened to receive feedback.

Reframe the value of the feedback you may receive. It is not a reflection of your personhood, although your supervisor may make suggestions to improve your writing process or end product.

Forgive yourself for being human – living with flaws and faults.

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5 things YOU CAN DO, and 5 songs to JAM TO

By: Julia Tighe, 3rd year Con-Ed/Health Studies student

cat lying on notebook

I’m not going to deny it, this is a difficult time for university students. Week 4 readings are coming back to bite you, final exams are looming, and assignments are real. Very real. Regardless which program you’re in, there is light at the end of the tunnel! Flowers are blooming, birds are chirping and the sun is staying out longer every day.

NOW…I’m going to make TWO bets with you:

  • I bet that you will be able to do all 5 things I list in this blog.


  • I bet that you will sing along to at least one of the songs its aligned with.

Don’t believe me? Read on to prove me wrong 😉

NUMBER 1: Break Free by Ariana Grande


Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been at Stauffer all day long, and some days all night long. Take wisdom from me: THIS DOESN’T HELP. At hour 3 of studying, my brain goes to mush and a break is needed. Number one thing YOU CAN do this exam season is take breaks while studying. Not only will it allow your brain a break, it will actually help you consolidate all the information you have been learning!


NUMBER 2: Slow and Steady by Of Monsters and Men


 Exams are a marathon not a sprint. By planning out your exam season it allows you to p a c e   y o u r s e l f.  We definitely do not want any exam to sneak up on you like those multiple 4-pieces from Lazy. What some people forget is that scheduling time to go to the gym or to FaceTime your dog is an important aspect to your exam success as well. The BEST template to create a plan for yourself can be found here.



NUMBER 3: All Star by Smash Mouth


 One of my favorite exam study tricks is to eat a frog for breakfast. Eat a WHAT you ask? No, I’m not recommending you eat a real live frog – however, I am recommending you do your scariest most dreadful course first thing in your study day. By getting the worst thing out of the way first, the rest of the day will be super smooth. A super smooth day means a less stressful one too. Just remember when you’re facing your dreaded course head on, hey now, you’re an ALL STAR.



NUMBER 4: Human by One Republic

— REMEMBER, you’re only human —

 The final step to your exam season success is to be calm. You have done an amazing job preparing and will rock your exams! Remember your growth mindset as well while working – you may not be rocking every step of the exam process from the get go but you will get there! You’re only human. Watch a TED talk on the growth mind set here.


NUMBER 5: And Then Some by the Arkells

~-~ Take Care of YOU ~-~

             For me, FaceTime-ing my sister during exam season is just what I need in times that I’m feeling down. It is just as important to stay on track academically as it is to keep a normal routine. Listening to your favourite song, keeping physically active, eating healthy foods, and laughing as often as possible will all keep your brain fresh for absorbing information to apply on your exams.


I know you are going to rock your exams this season, because you took the time to get prepared! You are one step ahead of the exam game. Remember you are not your grades, you are way more than that. A successful exam season doesn’t mean straight A’s, your wellbeing is important as well. You can do this!

If you are looking for even more resources or tips and tricks from other Peer Learning Assistants check out sass.queensu.ca! There are so many incredible peers who want to help you succeed.

Now, did I win the bet?

Photo courtesy of Kroszk@ under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

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So, you realized it’s Week 11… We need a plan…

By: Julia Tighe, 3rd year Con-Ed/Health Studies student

Exams are about as scary as your dad doing a dab this holiday season. I understand, it has already been a long, long, LONG 11 weeks (plus 1 more for week 12) and now we have to stay for 2 weeks after that, which are the most dreaded weeks of the semester.

You may not be as caught up as you want to, maybe that quick cat nap turned into a semester long hibernation, OR you may be completely on top of it (yay! 🙂 ). Regardless which scenario you fit with it’s a difficult time for university students. Kraft Dinner sales rise, laundry piles grow exponentially, and Stauffer Library seems like a home away from home.

BUT, HOLD THE PHONE, none of that needs to happen! Those two weeks don’t have to be as scary as you think, IF you consider the 5 steps to a successful exam season:

STEP 1: KNOW WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW (and own it!)

I’ve done it before – lying to myself by saying that I totally know week 3 off by heart. When I glance over it for the exam I realize I totally knew it off by heart for the midterm. Step 1 to your best exam season yet is to acknowledge you need to review material, and do the review.



             The Spice Girls recommend it: scheduling your life is an important part of a successful exam season. We definitely do not want any exam to sneak up on you like those multiple 4-pieces from Lazy. What some people forget is that scheduling time to go to the gym or to FaceTime your dog is an important aspect to your exam success as well. The BEST template to create a plan for yourself can be found here.

STEP 3: EAT. SLEEP. EXAM. (go to the gym, call your mom, breathe). REPEAT.

            One of my favorite exam study tricks is to wake up at the same time every day. Having exams at different times makes it difficult to establish a routine. Waking up at the same time allows you to have time to eat a healthy meal and then get to work around the same time each day! Your brain and body love routine. You’ll feel less lethargic and ready to study each day.

 STEP 4: A repeat after me (song).

             “I (insert your name here) am the best student at Queen’s University.” Now your turn, did you actually say it? Ok, do it for real. Good for you! This mindset is incredibly powerful to have. Allowing your ego to take over a little and telling yourself that you have done all that you can when going into an exam will make your mind clearer and produce the answer to that multiple choice question you can’t figure out. Just breathe, and remember: “I am the best student at QU”.

STEP 5: ~-~ oooooooommmmmmmm ~-~

             The final step to your exam season success is to be calm. You have done an amazing job preparing and will rock your exams! Remember your growth mindset as well while working – you may not be rocking every step of the exam process from the get go but you will get there! Watch a TED talk on the growth mindset here.

If you are looking for even more resources or tips and tricks from other Peer Learning Assistants check out sass.queensu.ca! There are so many incredible peers who want to help you succeed.

I know you are going to rock your exams this season, because you took the time to get prepared in week 11! You are one step ahead of the exam game. Remember you are not your grades, you are way more than that. A successful exam season doesn’t mean straight As, your well-being is important as well. You can do this!


P.S. I hope you liked all the pictures of baby animals… It may or may not have been a secret ~.~ step 6 ~.~ to your fool proof plan: look at pictures of baby animals to destress 🙂


Photos courtesy of Niels Kliim, Taylor Bennett, Tambako The Jaguar, Anna Hull, and Nathan Rupert under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0

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