New Year’s Resolutions

Maria Popova has compiled one of the cleverest lists of New Year’s resolutions I’ve seen, using ideas from some of history’s great thinkers.

You may not agree with all fifteen resolutions, but you’ll definitely find some of them intriguing. Four of my favourites are:

1] Make your life wide rather than long

2] Cultivate a growth mindset

3] Think rather than know

4] Master critical thinking

Pay special attention to “Cultivating a growth mindset.” It’s an example of what I wrote about in my previous post–how thinking the right things can be just as important as doing the right things.

The Power of Ideas

Many of my blog posts will focus on tips and strategies for achieving success at university, things you can do. Another group of posts will explore ideas or perspectives, things you should think in order to succeed.

Some students find it hard to see the value in learning specific things to think. They only want to know actions they can take, like how to read a text effectively or how to maximize study impact (see future posts). Actions are important. But ideas are extremely powerful, too.

Everything you think is an idea. You become comfortable with your ideas over time. They seem to become part of you, and new ideas can feel strange or even trivial. But on the quest for success you must be open to new ways of thinking. Our ideas, our perspectives on life, shape our entire existence.

Imagine that your TV falls off the shelf and smashes and you can’t afford a new one.

If you focus on all the sit-coms and awards shows you’ll miss and all those cozy nights on the sofa binge-watching mysteries, you’re bound to be upset and frustrated. But imagine, on the other hand, convincing yourself to see your destroyed TV as an opportunity. Maybe the extra free time will give you a chance to develop new skills or hobbies, or finally get outside and do that forest hike you’ve been planning. Or, perhaps the TV accident motivates you to find a better job so you can afford the things you want.

With the first mindset, when you’re focused on the demise of your beloved TV, you’re sad and angry. With the second, more positive frame of mind, you’re excited about making a change. The reality is the same; the TV is still broken. The difference is how you think about your situation.

Ideas matter!

Changing the way you think is one of the surest paths to increased success in your studies. Stay tuned for much more on this.

Embracing Challenge (East and West)

Developing the proper mindset toward challenge is one of the most important paths to success as a student.

If you expect your study life to be easy, you’ll never live up to your potential. But you need to remember that excessive struggle and stress can also derail success. As with so many things in life, the key is finding the balance that works for you.

The most effective level of challenge is different for every individual, but understanding how challenge is viewed in your culture can help you explore this critical element of university life.

Alix Spiegel has written about cultural perspectives on challenge in the Mind/Shift blog at kqed.org. She says, “The way you conceptualize the act of struggling with something profoundly affects your actual behavior.” And, as Spiegel explains:

Obviously if struggle indicates weakness — a lack of intelligence — it makes you feel bad, and so you’re less likely to put up with it. But if struggle indicates strength — an ability to face down the challenges that inevitably occur when you are trying to learn something — you’re more willing to accept it.

Spiegel points out a general difference between Eastern and Western cultures. In the West, we tend to envision educational struggle as revealing a lack of ability. Students often want to avoid challenge because it may reveal their limits. Eastern cultures, on the other hand, widely perceive struggle as a good thing, a sign of emotional strength and dedication. .

There are counterexamples to these general perspectives, but they often hold true, and so they impact students who are entering a new educational culture.

My advice is to learn to embrace challenge and struggle. A lot of research indicates that this is the best way to succeed in university life. I’ll introduce you to some of these ideas in a future post.

Meet Your University Mentor—Part One

Hello! Welcome to University Mentor!

My name is Mitchell Gray and I’m your new academic mentor.

I’m going to do everything I can to help you succeed in your studies. For example:

1] I’ll share tips and strategies for studying and goal-setting. (Things like avoiding time-killing procrastination!)

2] I’ll show you research results that will help you understand how to learn and how to conquer your classes. (Did you know that reading your text again and again is one of the worst ways to study?)

3] I’ll tell you about my successes (and failures) and what you can learn from them. (I’ve dropped out of one university and won the award at another for top graduating student in the social sciences. I learned a lot from both experiences.)

4] I’ll help you enhance your writing and communication skills so you can make the most of your great ideas. (Mastering well-organized, concise and clear communication opens the doors to academic programs and great jobs!)

I’ve worked with university students for seven years now at the University of British Columbia, including hundreds of international students. The ideas you’ll find at University Mentor are the innovative and evidence-supported techniques I’ve been using to help students build the skills they need to excel in their current studies and increase their chances of acceptance into future programs.

I’m excited to be part of your path to success. Welcome to University Mentor!