Attitude, not Ability

How important is one’s attitude? How often have you heard people comment about people’s attitudes: “They are so positive” or “They ‘suck’ in the attitude department.”

Attitude is that unseen but so ever-so-present energy we bring to the tasks at hand. I don’t believe you can fake attitude, not really, not for long. Fake enthusiasm is like a balloon with a slow leak. It may look fine, but it won’t last for the party

It turns out, unsurprising, that attitude matters a lot, particularly in one’s orientation to learning.

Ken Bain, a respected academic, has written two excellent and accessible books: What the Best College Teachers Do (2004) and What the Best College Students Do (2012). In both, Bain weaves together research and stories from his years in the classroom.

Bain observes that the “best students. . .[know] nothing is easy. Growth requires hard work”.

I have seen this repeatedly. The best students work really hard, and often the best students are not those whose marks came easy in high school. The B students are often better equipped than the A students to negotiate the challenges at university, in part, because they have had to really work for their grades, and they are used to disappointment. Often B students are not crushed by that first grade, whereas some A students are put off track right away.

Years ago, a young woman came to my office after receiving her first grade, a D (a mark in the 50’s).

She said she had had a good cry the night before, but now she was ready to work, and sought my help. Because of her attitude, her grades improved steadily over the term. Utilizing my feedback, she learned to be a much better writer. She may have started the class with a D, but she finished with a B, a mark of 75%. Her goal was to become a social worker, and her writing would greatly matter in her professional life.

Contrast this example with another student who received a C grade (a mark in the 60’s) on her first assignment.

She came to me saying she had received 90’s in her high school English classes. That fact hung in the air between us, and the subtle, if not too subtle, implication was that she deserved a better mark. I didn’t change her grade, but I offered to help her improve her writing. Unfortunately, she didn’t take me up on the offer and dropped the class.

A tale of two students. . .

These anecdotes illustrate the importance of attitude.

The first student acknowledged her disappointment, but then worked hard to improve. The second student attempted to have her mark changed, did not accept my offer of help, and quit the class.

Bains observes that success in academic studies “is largely a matter of attitude rather than ability”. I couldn’t agree more. One’s attitude is critical in one’s success.

Everyone experiences disappointments, at times, in terms of their performance – whether in classes, on the sports field, on the job. That is life.

What determines our success is what we do with that disappointment. Do we admit we need to work and change our attitude, or do we give up?

The choice is always ours to make. 

Given that classes have shifted online this autumn, students’ attitudes are going to matter more than ever.

To quote Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.”  

Think about the importance of attitude. Give yours a tune-up if necessary. Begin the academic year appreciating the challenges but realizing the potential.

If you need help and support with your academic studies, reach out. Academic coaching can give you that extra boost to help you realize your goals.

I would love to help and support you learn, grow, and succeed.

If I can help in any way, please get in touch.

Reach out and seek the help you or a loved one needs to learn and grow this term.