Attitude Shift Part III: Confidence says “Not Yet”

I love the eloquent quote by William James, “It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more than anything else, will affect its successful outcome.” To be successful in college…and in life, you have to begin with a mindset—the growth mindset—that you can learn anything, and that the only thing standing in the way of achieving that successful outcome is not your smartness, genetics, high school preparation, or whether or not your parents went to college. These are all excuses that should be dismissed. It’s your attitude that matters. Now, some of those other factors may influence the height and slope of your learning curve, as it did for me in chemistry because I hadn’t taken it in high school, but my adopted mindset, and new learning strategy, led to my mastering chemistry and my major in materials science and engineering, a discipline that is largely built on organic and inorganic chemistry. I graduated with a 4.6 GPA (on a 5.0 scale). To think how far I had come! From a 38 in the first exam of freshman year, to an A/A- GPA over the course of four years. I was the same person I’d been when I arrived. The only difference was a shift in attitude and how I approached my work.

At the end of the day, you have to have confidence in your ability. This brings me back to the earlier discussion about self-efficacy (perceived confidence that you will be successful at a task or in a domain such as chemistry or sports or dating). As James’ quote suggests, too many students stop short at the beginning of a hard task and declare that they’re not good at this or that. Rather than getting flustered or giving up, or being tempted to proclaim that you’re not good at something, add a word to the end of that declaration—YET. “I’m not good at writing, YET.” “I’m not a good public speaker, YET.” Embrace Your Hills. “Despite my poor showing on the first paper, I’m going to figure out how I can do better on the next paper.” Such an attitude shift builds confidence, particularly when you start to realize success. Success breeds confidence which breeds more success. And numerous studies show that confident students are more persistent (“I’m sticking with this until I figure it out”), they’re more resilient (“That was a setback, but I’ll get better next time”), put in more effort, and make more challenging choices (“I’m going to run for  president”). In addition, in my own research, I discovered that the most confident students have better relationships with their faculty and better grades.

Starting next week, I’ll introduce readers to the next Smart Shift that’s necessary to be successful in college, the Connectional Shift. Assuming you’ve adopted the right attitude—confidence derived from a growth mindset focused on mastery—you have to make affirming and empowering connections with faculty, administrators and your peers to be successful in college.

Takeaways: The Attitude Shift

  • Don’t be surprised when college challenges your sense of smartness. What matters is how you respond to the challenge.
  • Attitude Matters: Before you learn how to work smarter, you have to decide that you want to work smarter.
  • Intelligence is expandable; it can be developed.
  • Your Attitude precedes your aptitude. You can get smarter by applying yourself.
  • Adopt the growth mindset: “I must get better and I will.”
  • If you feel inferior, don’t shrink back, buckle down!
  • Never be overconfident; college will humble you. What matters is making a realistic self-appraisal.
  • Embrace effort: It’ll make you smarter and build confidence.
  • Consider mistakes and setbacks as information to learn from, rather than an indictment on your ability.
  • You’ll never learn to ride unless you’re willing to fall
  • Never say, I’m not good at it. Rather, say I’m not good at it….YET.