Mind-setting for Success & Well-Being in the Digital Age

Written By: Dr. Scott Fitzgibbon and Dr. Blake Faulkner, The Pacific Institute

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Student success, persistence, and well-being are a central focus for all of us in higher education, with new challenges that are requiring us to think differently about how we best equip students to thrive in the digital age, where the continued acceleration of change is a given.

Students arrive on our campuses with varying beliefs about their ability to succeed, or whether they belong in college at all. These beliefs are based largely upon their past experiences and are accompanied by habits and attitudes that may, or may not, be aligned with the expectations and goals that they now have for college, or other important areas of their lives. Furthermore, several recent studies in neuroscience research related to student persistence reaffirm the dynamics of the multiple “psychological and emotional frictions” that occur throughout the student lifecycle. When left unattended, these misalignments and frictions can lead to poor academic performance, disengagement, and drop-outs.

At the same time, the world around us continues to accelerate. Information overload and the rapid pace of change is making it increasingly difficult for us to effectively cope. For our students, these challenges are very real and manifest in their daily lives in several ways:

Students increasingly report feeling overwhelmed by a world of endless possibilities

Some students feel paralyzed by constant comparison and perfection

Those being treated for symptoms of anxiety and depression continue to rise

Although they are more “connected” than ever before through social media and all the other information at their fingertips 24/7/365, students increasingly report feeling lonely and detached from deep meaningful relationships

Fortunately, as we grapple with how to best address these challenges facing our students and prepare them for the future, an expanding body of research indicates that intentionally incorporating the development of mindset and well-being into our programming can help increase student engagement and academic success, as well as contribute to better overall well-being.

We now know that the way we think – our mindset – has a significant impact on our ability to utilize our full potential and make the most of our talent, knowledge, and abilities. Also, thanks to the growing body of neuroscience research, we now better understand neuroplasticity – that the brain is not carved in stone and that it can continue to grow and develop new neural connections throughout our lives. Simply put, we can learn, unlearn, and relearn continually throughout our lifetime.

THE DEVELOPMENT OF MINDSET

Intentionally designing curricular and co-curricular learning experiences that engage and support students in the development of a growth mindset – the belief that they can continually learn, change and grow, and their effort does make a difference – is foundational to elevating students’ achievement of their academic and life goals. Fortunately, by providing an understanding of how the mind works and mind-setting techniques to students that they can apply and practice, we can help them develop a growth mindset and learn to modify habits, attitudes, beliefs, and expectations that will unleash their potential. More specifically, in order to help students create the future they want, we need to help them better understand how to move from goal-setting to goal-assimilating. Visualizing their future, controlling their self-talk, pushing the boundaries of their comfort zones, and ultimately mustering the willpower to modify their habits, attitudes, beliefs, and expectations to release their potential is a natural process that most students rarely use. In order to help them continually move closer to their full potential, this needs to become their new norm. It’s not magic, it’s persistence!

As the world speeds up, it is also becoming increasingly important that we take time to slow down and think about what we think about. With students, helping them develop a regular routine and carving out time for self-reflection is paramount. They should take time to reflect and be intentional about creating the picture of the future they want, as well as affirming the short-term and long-term goals that will help them get there. As human beings, we naturally move toward that which we think about. Providing clarity for ourselves on what we want and value, our goals, opens up our reticular activating system – our filter for incoming stimulus – to find and see those things that will help move us toward and accomplish our goals. Adopting the practices of writing and reviewing affirmations, and journaling, can help students routinize the practice of self-reflection and strengthen the picture in their minds of the future they want.

THE CONNECTION BETWEEN MINDSET AND WELL-BEING

Recent well-being research has found that those with a growth mindset, who believe that with effort their well-being is adaptable, had higher levels of well-being than those with a fixed mindset, who believed that their well-being was not malleable.

Dr. Martin Seligman, and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, have developed a new well-being theory which is encapsulated in the PERMA Model. In this model, five elements are identified as being keys to flourishing. Individuals who report feeling content and satisfied with their lives tend to have high levels of these five elements in their lives. Providing programming that helps students develop and strengthen these five elements can help equip them to flourish both in college and elsewhere.

Positive Emotions: We manage our emotions to maximize the positive emotional experiences in our lives. We have both positive and negative emotions. We can’t and don’t want to completely eliminate the negative, but we do want to appreciate how important positive emotions are, such as love, gratitude, awe, and joy. Experiences that provide positive emotions give us the creativity and energy to meet the challenges before us. We want to be intentional about creating and maintaining a high ratio of positive emotions in our lives.

Engagement: Keeps us setting, working toward, and attaining our goals – goals that challenge us, absorb our attention, and cause us to exert mastery over what we are doing. The understanding and application of a growth mindset is foundational to keeping our mind engaged in setting and attaining goals in activities we enjoy, that interest us, and put us in a state of flow – totally absorbed in the moment.

Relationships: Defined by the cultivation and maintenance of positive interactions with others in our circle of influence. We all have an innate need to belong. Positive, caring, and supportive relationships are essential to our well-being throughout all stages of life. As students work toward their educational and professional goals, positive supportive relationships with faculty, advisors, mentors, and their peers help guide them through obstacles and help reinforce what they are doing well and provide hope. It is equally important that students don’t give sanction to those with limiting beliefs about them that might hold them back from becoming all that they want to become.

Meaning: The need that we all have to contribute to something beyond ourselves. Meaning and purpose provide the foundation and sense of direction for our lives. Our well-being, and much of our lasting success and happiness in life, is tied not just to achieving for our own instant gratification, or being better than someone else, but to a higher purpose. Helping students explore and clarify those things that give meaning to their lives can help them remain balanced in a world of constant comparison and perfectionism.

Accomplishment: This is exactly what it seems to be – achievement in the areas of our lives that are important to us as individuals. It includes success in progressing toward our goals and attaining mastery at the highest level. We “own” and “savor” our successes and use the positive emotions to give us strength and resiliency in pursuing our future endeavors.

HOW TO INCORPORATE THE DEVELOPMENT OF MINDSET AND WELL-BEING INTO YOUR PROGRAMMING

There are several ways that institutions are intentionally incorporating the development of mindset and well-being into their co-curricular programming. Below are a few examples of some best practices:

  • Incorporate mindsetting and well-being curriculum and application/practice into freshman success courses and reinforce in other areas of the curriculum
  • Provide mindset and well-being training for faculty and student service personnel so that they can incorporate and reinforce them in their interactions with students
  • Reinforce mindset and well-being development in student advising
  • Provide co-curricular programming and events that support the development of mindset and well-being
  • Build an introduction to key mindset development concepts into new student orientations

The development of mindset could be the next significant wave of advancement in helping to raise higher education attainment. With the knowledge we now have about how the mind works, mind-setting applications, and practices to help students unleash their potential and thrive, it is exciting to think about the impact we may have on enhancing student success, persistence and well-being!

For more information contact: Warren Lubow | 954-668-1097 | wlubow@thepacificinstitute.com

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