Introducing positive mindsets

How many of you are aware of the exploits of Jaden Ashman? Jaden has just gone back to school having won £1m coming second in the Fortnite World Cup. I’m sure you expect me to have nothing positive to say about this!

On the one hand, yes: fortnight means two weeks and is spelled FORTNIGHT! I’d also much prefer he got more fresh air, but that’s a personal bias!

On the other hand, the lad’s dedication to practice is to be admired. He wasn’t born to be a Fortnite champion.

There is a group of people who believe that success at school and in life is predestined. They believe that we are born with a certain level of intelligence and that, basically, is that. They believe that your IQ will determine your success. They believe that your genetic profile is set and can be used to predict who will be successful.

Back in the 1920s, Dr Lewis Terman, based at Stanford University in California, set out to prove this theory correct. He believed that the so-called gifted and talented children in his study would go on to be the best at everything – business, politics, the law, medicine, you name it – simply because they had a high IQ.

Those children (known affectionately as Termites) were then monitored through school and throughout their later careers. As predicted, many did very well at school. 25 years later, Terman then looked at how successful these people were in life – and many were very successful indeed. What surprised Terman, however, was the large range of other careers that his children had gone on to – no disrespect meant at all to those careers that included administrator positions and police officers – not the level of responsibility that he had predicted. Perhaps IQ was not the predictor that he had thought.

A further 10 years down the line, Terman then continued his study of the Termites. Those with the top jobs, he called As and those less successful he called Cs. There were two interesting findings: firstly, there was virtually no difference in IQ between the As and the Cs, hard to argue, then, that baseline intelligence is the be all and end all; and, secondly, the less successful had always scored less highly as children in other personality tests relating to dedication and determination – mindset appears, then, to be a key indicator of success.

Culture is all-important to me. Our beliefs and values, the language we use about learning, our way of doing things. Mr Walker has already spoken to you this term about a culture of commitment. I use the phrase “Work hard, be kind” to sum up my demands of you. Georgia Pexton and James Tarkowski both talked last week about the commitment, sacrifice and sheer hard work required to reach the top in their respective fields.

I can’t stand here and tell you that you can be anything you want to be. I was never going to be a basketball player, an opera singer or a doctor. But, if I had been fitter I could have been a better sportsman, if I had taken music seriously I might not be the worst singer in this room and had I stopped procrastinating and done something about my irrational dislike of blood I might have been better at Biology!

Last year, I spoke briefly about the neuroscience behind our knowledge that we can get better at what we do. Your brain can grow. The more we practise a skill, the more myelin coating is built up around our brain connections, the more likely that the skill becomes permanent. Practice, remember, does not make perfect. Practice makes myelin and myelin makes permanent.

Over the coming weeks, we are going to start to think about how we can adopt a positive mindset.

Think, for example, about the language you use about your school life. “Self-talk” as the psychologists call it, is very important. “I can’t do this!” No, you can’t do it yet, yet, possibly the most important three letter word in life.

Or what about, “I’ll never be as good as him or her!” Think instead about what that person has done to become successful and then try it. It might just be that they have worked harder than you for that test, even if they don’t like to admit it.

Or how many times have you said, “This is just too hard!” Instead, tell yourself that the task is just going to take some time.

One of the greatest ever sportsman, Muhammad Ali, once said: ‘I hated every minute of training. But I said, “Don’t quit. Suffer now and lead the rest of your life like a champion.”’

Whilst I cannot say that you can be anything, I can say that you can become great at something.

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