Mindset and Academic Success: What’s the Connection?


positive mindset

Remember the children’s story, The Little Engine That Could? With the mindset of “I think I can, I think I can,” the Little Engine could! It pulled a long train up a large hill when other engines wouldn’t even try. Studies have shown that this same positive mindset has a direct connection to academic success and is linked to a greater sense of wellbeing.

According to Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, there are two types of student mindsets. “Growth mindset” is when you believe that your intelligence can be developed with effort and perseverance. You convince yourself that you are capable of learning just about anything with a lot of hard work, and view challenges as opportunities to grow.

A “fixed mindset,” on the other hand, is when you believe that you were born with a predetermined amount of intelligence and skills. No matter how hard you work, you tell yourself that it is talent alone that creates success, not the effort you put into something.

Studies Show Positive Results of a Growth Mindset

A 2018 study of 600,000 15-year-old students from 78 countries, including the US, found that students with a growth mindset performed dramatically better than those with fixed mindsets. Researchers also found a growth mindset was linked to greater student wellbeing.

In a 2017 study, McKinsey & Company revealed that mindset even matters more than socioeconomic background when it comes to academic achievement and success in education. Mindset made the most difference for students from low performing schools, or those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. These findings were universal across all regions of the world.

Educators Help Set the Right Mindset

When educators working with students of any age make comments such as “You’re a natural at this” or “You’re so smart,” they support a fixed mindset. That way of thinking implies a person is born with certain attributes and any effort on their part will have little impact. When teachers say, “You used several great strategies to solve that problem” or “Don’t worry about making mistakes; that’s what helps us learn,” they help to develop a growth mindset in their students.

A Positive Mindset Contributes to Wellbeing

Today many psychologists prefer to use the term “wellbeing” instead of “happiness” to describe a mindset driven by positive emotions. According to Dr. Martin Seligman in his book “Flourish,” there are elements that can help you flourish as a human being:

  • Positive emotions
  • Engagement
  • High-quality relationships
  • Presence of meaning in our lives
  • Appreciation of our own accomplishments and achievements

Well-being is associated with numerous health, job, family, and economically-related benefits,” according to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. “For example, higher levels of well-being are associated with decreased risk of disease, illness, and injury; better immune functioning; speedier recovery; and increased longevity. Individuals with a high level of well-being are more productive at work and are more likely to contribute to their communities.”

So, the next time you say to yourself, “I’ll never be good at this” or “There is no way I will ever understand this material,” change your mindset to say, “I haven’t mastered this YET.”

At National American University, we offer online Associate and Bachelor’s degrees, plus certificates, for a variety of careers that will help you get ahead. Our professors believe in your ability to succeed and are here to help you every step of the way. Call 800-209-0182 to speak to a counselor or request more information now.


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