What Can’t You Change About Yourself?

By Simone Figueroa, Co-Founder and President, U-Thrive Educational Services  

What can’t you change about yourself? When U-Thrive Educational Services asked college students this question the answers ranged from: “the core of who we are, to our height and hair color, to familial predispositions that are ingrained in us from a young age.” While it is true that some of these things would be hard to change, it’s not impossible. In fact, the only thing that we really can’t change is our past. According to U-Thrive Educational Services Co-Director of Curriculum and key contributor, Dan Lerner, MAPP “students often enter college thinking that their natural inclinations, thoughts, and behaviors are set and inflexible. But despite that enduring and common belief, our minds are primed for change.” We even have the science to prove it. Without getting into the granular neuroscience, according to Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener, Managing Director at Positive Acorn and U-Thrive Educational Services Instructional Design Advisor and key contributor, “research has shown that the brain is not a static organ. It changes over the lifespan and—more importantly—we can change it by changing our thinking habits and behaviors”. This is known as neuroplasticity, which, simply put, is the brain’s capacity to change. 

 The belief that we can change many aspects of ourselves that might seem permanent such as our intelligence, mental health, levels of optimism, and values is known as having a Growth Mindset. A Growth Mindset does not expect these capacities to change, or grow easily, but recognizes that it can be done through hard work and determination. On the other hand, a Fixed Mindset is the belief that intelligence and other innate abilities are fixed at birth. According to Dr. Janet Ahn, Assistant Professor of Psychology at William Paterson University and U-Thrive Educational Services key contributor, “Those with a Fixed Mindset tend to play it safe and not take risks, because if they fail, they think it will reflect negatively on their intelligence. Whereas, those who adopt a Growth Mindset look at challenges as an opportunity to grow and to develop. This mindset enables them to pursue goals to improve themselves rather than prove themselves.” 

 It is important to note that simply shifting from a fixed to a Growth Mindset does not mean that we will necessarily become the next Steve Jobs or Simone Biles. It is true that we all have certain skills we are naturally better at than others. The point is that with a Growth Mindset, we recognize that we can still incrementally improve at any skill or capability we desire if we allocate time to do so. 

 One of the most important benefits of cultivating a Growth Mindset for college students is the ability to better bounce back from failure. For example, a student with a Fixed Mindset who fails an exam might attribute this failure to their lack of intelligence. They might think of themselves as stupid and incapable of doing well. On the other hand, a student with a Growth Mindset might attribute the failure to external circumstances such as not studying enough, the exam being more difficult than anticipated, not asking for help, etc. The student with the Growth Mindset is not shirking blame, or responsibility, but rather is viewing the failure as an opportunity to do things differently the next time versus viewing it as a static event that is most likely to repeat itself. 

The good news is that if we notice we tend to lean more towards having a Fixed Mindset, there are things that we can actively do to help shift our mindset to a growth one. According to Dr. Janet Ahn, there are three ways to increase our Growth Mindset: 

  1. Experiment regularly. Try out new ways of doing things and engage with new topics. Understand, and be ok with, the fact that not all new endeavors will be a success. Use this as a learning opportunity.   
  2. Emphasize progress over outcomes. Oftentimes we get so focused on the end result that we don’t take time to appreciate the small milestones along the way. Allow yourself to celebrate and be proud of the milestones. 
  3. Choose to learn from others. We all have our unique set of strengths. Start to recognize the strengths of others and how you might be able to learn from them. 

With a Growth Mindset, we have the power to change more than we think. Empowering students with the knowledge that our abilities are not static, and that we can change just about anything about ourselves, will help them to become more resilient and thrive throughout their undergraduate experiences and beyond.

This article was adapted from key concepts taught by Dr. Janet Ahn, and Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener, and Dan Lerner, MAPP from U-Thrive Educational Services Life Skills for Thriving Program Module on Plasticity & Mindset.

About the author

Simone Figueroa is the Co-Founder and President of U-Thrive Educational Services, an organization that brings mental and emotional wellness programs to college students to help them manage stress, become more resilient, and thrive throughout their undergraduate experience and beyond. Simone graduated top of her class from Columbia University with a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology in Education with an emphasis on Mind-Body Medicine and completed her undergraduate education at the University of Florida with a Bachelors degree in Finance, Cum Laude. During her studies at Columbia University, Simone took a year long practicum in Positive Psychology and became fascinated with and quickly saw a need for Positive Education, which led to the start of U-Thrive Educational Services. Simone lives in Tucson, Arizona with her husband, Isaac, and her dog, Diesel, and has a passion for traveling, being active, hiking, and spending quality time with family and friends.

Contact: [email protected] 

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