Harnessing the Power of Mindset

As a new year begins, many people make new year’s resolutions. Whether you resolve to eat better, move more, or learn a new skill, having a “can do” mindset can be a key to success. With that in mind, we hope you enjoy this classic blog post, originally published in 2016, “Harnessing the Power of Mindset.”

By Amy Sexton, Writing Center Tutor

Flash back to April 4, 2016:  It is the championship game of the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) Men’s Basketball tournament, and North Carolina and Villanova are tied at 74.  It’s Villanova’s ball, and with only 4.7 seconds left in the game, it is almost certain the two teams will go into overtime play. Then Villanova player Kris Jenkins throws up a three-point shot from just past the center line of the court, a shot that was so far away that it seemed very likely that it would not even reach the goal.  Miraculously, the shot lands in the basket with barely a nanosecond to spare, and Villanova joyously becomes the 2016 NCAA National Champions.

After the game, a reporter interviews Jenkins and asks him if he could believe that he had made the shot (Murray, 2016).  Jenkins responds, “I believe every shot’s going in, so” (Murray, 2016).  The reporter interrupts with a credulous follow-up, “Every one?” “Every one,” continues Jenkins, “so I thought that one was going in too” (Murray, 2016,)   I watched the game-winning shot and the post-interview live, and I was impressed by Jenkins’ mindset.  In fact, his declarations reflect a mindset that all college students, not just college athletes, ought to have.

Mindset is defined as  the “ability of the brain to form points of view in order to adopt behavior, formulate lifestyles, rethink priorities, make choices, and pursue goals” (Poplan, 2016).  As a tutor, I often hear students approach their studies with a mindset that inhibits learning and undermines their efforts.  They say things like “I’m a bad writer.”, “I’ve always been horrible at math.”, or ask “How horrible is this paper?”.    While they may have experiences that make these feelings seem valid, and some subjects may come more easily to them than others, approaching any learning task with a mindset of “I can do this.” will generally lead to improved learning and success.

As a personal example, math and science are subjects that I generally find difficult to understand.  I especially struggle with comprehending topics like algebra, chemistry, and physics, and I worked very hard in high school and college to earn reasonably good grades in the math and science courses that I was required to take.  One summer when I was in college, I worked as an in-home tutor, and one of my students was in high school and needed a jump-start for her upcoming algebra class.  “How can I possibly tutor algebra when I barely understood it myself?,” I wondered.  Regardless, my job was to tutor my assigned students in all subjects, so I borrowed a high school algebra text from a friend and began working through the problems with the mindset that I could learn the material and help my student learn it, too.  Before each of our sessions, I worked out problems in the text, and then I taught her what I had learned.  Together, we learned a lot of algebra that summer.

This experience taught me that I could do things that I did not think I was capable of doing. It was my first time realizing the power of mindset, and it served me well a few years later when I  had to complete tough graduate courses like research methods and statistics in order to earn my master’s degree.

The next time you find yourself thinking, “I can’t do that.”; think instead, “Okay, I can do this. This shot will go in!”  Whether it is a difficult course, a tough assignment, or a challenging exam, a positive mindset can help you power through and realize success.  Granted, you may not win a championship basketball game or be drafted into the NBA, but a positive, can-do attitude and mindset can definitely help improve your GPA!



Murray, S. (2016, April 4).  Kris Jenkins- Villanova national championship post game interview [Video file].  Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8DcKfEtQjk

Poplan, E.  (2016).  Mindset.   Salem Press Encyclopedia.  Retrieved from http://www.salempress.com/



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4 Responses

  1. kuwcnews says:

    Thanks, Melody! I love your personal example too. Positive self-talk is so important. Plus, those v-ups are tough!
    ~ Amy

  2. Wonderful, wonderful article here. Thanks so much, Amy for your great work. Your personal example is so strong. So often we may have only one or two aspects of our lives that we experience some kind of “block” where our I can’ts reign supreme.

    I had a gymnastics coach as a young gymnast that made us to 50 v-ups (sit ups with arms and legs meeting in the shape of a V when you rise up) if we said “I can’t” when it came to trying something new or move on which we were stuck. This was a true motivator to learn positive self talk that helped us try it anyway. It made us believe we could do it.

  3. Great article on mindset and I am going to share it with my students I always show them a little video on Dr. Dwecks’ work on Growth and Fixed Mindset the first day of class and then remind them frequently when they get discouraged that they have a “Growth Mindset” not a “Fixed Mindset” and so they can do anything they put their minds to!

    • kuwcnews says:

      Thanks so much, Kathy! I am so glad that you are going to share this post with your students. I hope the message resonates with them. I also enjoy Dr. Dweck’s work on mindset.
      ~ Amy

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