The Fundamentals

Today’s post will be an introduction to the primary subject-matter of the blog. This will give you a better sense of what’s to come, as well as a better sense of how we think about these topics at NWES. In the future, I’ll go into greater detail on all of these topics and many others not mentioned here.

The first and most important concept is that intelligence can be improved. Most people operate out of a fixed mindset for intelligence: They believe how smart they are is innate and unchangeable. This isn’t true, and it’s a belief about intelligence that can actually prevent growth. Others have a growth mindset for intelligence: They believe, correctly, that how smart they are can be improved through learning, effort, and strategy. People with a growth mindset are more persistent, consistently show more improvement, and end up being more successful than people with a fixed mindset.1

Our brains are dynamic, ever-changing organs that rewire themselves with each new experience. Neuroplasticity is the scientific term for the brain’s malleability, and it’s a term we’ll use quite a bit. By understanding neuroplasticity we can take charge of our brains, push our abilities in desirable directions, and become masters of learning and memory.2

Another common misconception is that creativity is an innate ability that some people have and some people lack. The reality is that creativity is a process and a skillset. Creativity can be learned, practiced, and improved. Anyone can be creative and anyone can become more creative.3

It is also widely believed that happiness results from success. A century of psychology research shows us that the opposite is true. Happiness causes success.  Increasing our happiness has a positive effect on our intelligence, our creativity, our ability to focus, and our ability to handle setbacks. And just like intelligence and creativity, happiness can be increased.4

Stress is a big issue in many people’s lives, and there’s research indicating that we should change how we think about stress. It’s widely believed that stress is harmful, even deadly, but the truth turns out to be more complicated. What is harmful is the belief that stress is bad for us. If we conceive of difficult situations as threatening, they wind up hurting us. If, instead, we see stressful situations as challenges, rather than as threats, we handle them more effectively with no harm to our health.5

Diet and exercise matter for brain health. If we don’t eat well and don’t exercise, our cognitive abilities suffer greatly. When we exercise regularly, we become smarter. When we eat properly, our brains have the fuel they need to run well. Consistently getting enough sleep is also vital for academic success.6

Knowing what to do will get us nowhere. Action is required, and action requires willpower. We must recognize that willpower is limited, and we’ll be more successful if we focus on forming good habits, rather than constantly relying on willpower to take action.7 I’ll share with you the science of willpower management and habit formation, and recent findings on how to overcome procrastination.

The last big topic is risk-taking. For a variety of reasons, humans are afraid of taking risks, afraid of making mistakes, and afraid of failing. Many students are even afraid to guess on homework problems. Academic success demands risk-taking, so I will provide a number of tools that can be used to help overcome risk-aversion.

My purpose is to provide you with helpful ideas that you can share with your children (should you so choose), but you might also find that these tools are helpful for you in your daily life or career. These are all things that I personally use and have found to be very effective. Feel free to give them a try, keep what works for you and your kids, and forget the rest. Everyone is different. Please experiment with caution.

Works Cited

1 Dweck, Carol. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Ballantine Books, 2007.
2 Doidge, Norman. The Brain That Changes Itself. Penguin Books, 2006.
3 Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Creativity. Harper Perennial, 1997.
4 Achor, Shawn. The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work. Crown Business, 2010.
5 McGonigal, Kelly. “How to Make Stress Your Friend.” TEDGlobal 2013    http://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend
6 MacDonald, Matthew. Your Brain: The Missing Manual. O’Reilly Media, 2008.
7 Ben-Shahar, Tal. Psychology 1504: Positive Psychology. Video Recording of Harvard Lectures, 2009.

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