• Dr. Mario

A Thought—Based Approach to Student Success

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

Thought work is the practice of bringing awareness to old thought patterns, mainly non-productive ones, and replacing them with new thought patterns that help you reach a desired outcome (Castillo, 2014). The goal of thought work is to detach from thoughts that prevent you from achieving your goals. So, how does the concept apply to students and their academic success?

I often saw my students using faulty thought patterns that negatively impacted their academic self-esteem. One I had a few terms ago stands out. (Note: I never use students’ real names or any other identifying information to protect their privacy.)

The Case of Quitting Before Starting

Natalie contacted me for help with an assignment that she was getting stuck on. During our phone call, she admitted to me that she never thought she was a good writer (a common sentiment among both students and writers of all levels). Natalie was anxious about writing the assignment and knew she wouldn't do well. In fact, she was just going to accept whatever grade she earned. For some reason, Natalie’s response stopped me cold in my tracks. I couldn’t understand how she had arrived at lowering her expectations of success before writing a single word. To me, it seemed like she was giving up because her thoughts were telling her not to even put forth the effort. I sensed she was mentally quitting before she even started the assignment.

I wanted to know what was driving her beliefs about her writing skills, so I asked her a series of questions. First, I asked her what evidence she had that she wasn’t a good writer. Then, I asked her who had told her that she wasn’t a good writer. Next, I asked her how he had come to believe this story about her writing and how she had made it this far on her own abilities. My student struggled to come up with answers to these questions. She couldn’t remember when she had started feeling this way about her writing skills. She just thought that it had always been that way.

I asked her to think about the aspects of writing that she does well. She rattled off a few. Then, I asked her how she had made it through so many online classes if she didn’t write well. (Cue the crickets.) She began to see the evidence that she could be wrong about how she thought about herself as a writer, and this is where we turned the corner. She finally began to see that she wrote well enough to pass her courses, which was what mattered the most. Additionally, she began to see the difference between the need to improve and an outright lack of ability. She wrote well, but she believed that the room for improvement in her writing meant something bad about who she was a person and a student—a major thought error.

This is just one example from my teaching experience that illustrates how faulty thinking can cause stress and anxiety. Choosing specific thoughts can make a massive difference in a student’s ability to achieve a desired outcome. Before the student and I ended the call, we replaced her idea of “I’m not a good writer” with “I want to improve my writing because I’m not where I want to be yet.” This subtle change to her self-talk was empowering and eliminated the finality of what she believed he could not accomplish. Clearly, thought work can help students create productive thinking patterns that get them to graduation faster by helping them let go of self-doubt.

Sound Familiar?

Does Natalies’s story sound familiar to you? Can you identify with her thought patterns and how they led her to lower her expectations about what she could achieve? How do faulty thought patterns hinder you in your studies or in other areas of your life?

These questions are so important to answer so that you can begin to recognize where you must focus your thought work. As a coach, I will teach you how to identify those counterproductive thoughts that led to overwhelm and impede your ability to complete your degree successfully.

In the next post, I’ll teach you more about how to practice thought awareness, so you understand the relationship between how your thoughts affect your feelings and actions. Don’t miss out! Sign up for my monthly blog post and get more tips that help you graduate on time and with less stress.

Image credit: John McCann/M&G

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