Mindset and Grit – The keys to unlocking student success?

This is part 1 of 2. Part 2 will focus on providing practical strategies to advisors and academic coaches who are applying growth and grit to their advising practice. Part 2 will come later in the Winter 2018 Term.

Neil Cole

Neil Cole, Academic Advising Support Coordinator, University of New Brunswick (Fredericton)

“Mindset” and “grit” are now among higher ed’s buzziest buzz words, but they are not “fad concepts” like MOOCs, which have come and gone. Rather they are proven to be successful approaches in student development, and for good reason.

So what is mindset? What is grit? Is grit different than perseverance? Why are they important to student success?

Briefly, mindset is an area of study in psychology pioneered by Carol Dweck and several research colleagues. In their work they discovered that there are two basic mindsets that people have: either growth or fixed. In short, a growth mindset is the idea that one’s ability, talent, and intelligence can grow and be strengthened, much like exercising muscles. On the other hand, a fixed mindset is the idea that one’s ability or intelligence is (you guessed it) fixed and unchangeable. A growth mindset is one centered around self-development, while a fixed mindset ties one’s success or ability to identity. In a growth mindset, a “failure” or “set back” is a learning opportunity, but in a fixed mindset, a failure is an attack on one’s self-identity, whatever it may be.

Growth mindset is supported by new research in the field of neuroplasticity that has recently discovered the brain is always growing new neural pathways when actively learning and actively applying previously learned skills and information.

What about grit? Grit and perseverance are generally the same, and have gained more traction the past several years through research by Angela Duckworth. Duckworth may not have discovered grit the same way Dweck discovered mindsets, but her work is nonetheless important to understanding our students and how to support them the best.

The remarkable link between mindset and grit is how a growth or fixed mindset may influence a student’s grit or perseverance. A student with a fixed mindset has been shown to have low grit. In other words, if you believe you can’t do a task, and you believe no amount of effort will make you better, then you’re likely not going to work any harder at achieving or completing your task. Flip the coin, though: if you have a growth mindset and you know that with the right amount of effort combined with appropriate strategies that you can learn or complete that which is difficult, you are more likely to persevere when the difficulty emerges.

In the example above, a gritty, growth mindset will stick to the difficult task until it is done, or until the appropriate learning is accomplished. A gritty, growth minded student understands that learning is hard and requires lots of effort to be highly successful, whereas a low-grit, fixed minded student will often buckle under or give up as the earliest signs of struggle or challenge.

So why are these concepts important to student success?

As educators, counselors, advocates, advisors and coaches, financial aid officers, administrators, accessibility officers, career practitioners, health officers, residence staff, or whatever you do, we all have a role to play in helping our students unlock their gritty, growth minded potential.


You can learn more from these resources:

Mindset, by Carol Dweck


Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset, animated video by Sprouts

The Power of Yet, TedxNorrköping, Carol Dweck

The Power of Belief, TedxManhattan Beach, Eduardo Briceno


Grit, by Angela Duckworth

Grit: the power of passion and perseverance, Ted Talks, Angela Duckworth

Grit, animated video by Sprouts


Take the Mindset Quiz and Grit Scale Self-Assessments

Mindset Quiz (online self-assessment)

Grit Scale (online self-assessment)



The Brain that Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge

The Brain that Changes Itself, The Nature of Things Documentary



3 thoughts on “Mindset and Grit – The keys to unlocking student success?

  1. Love both of these books. They are listed in my top ten favorite books. I also tell people that if I could meet two people in my life it would be Carol Dweck and Angela Duckworth. Their work is groundbreaking! Thanks for sharing and spreading their work to others!


    • We evidently have the same goals in life. From time to time, at social gatherings with friends, family or colleagues, there’s a conversation about which “celebrity you’ve love to meet”…. my celebrities are all academics and most of my friends have no idea who I’m talking about.

      One of my main goals in life — as an advisor, as an advising support coordinator, as an instructor, and as a human being — is to share widely what I’ve learned about and from mindset and grit.

      Have a great week!

      Liked by 1 person

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