It is always much easier to question ourselves, doubt our abilities, and give into fears, than begin a day with self-talk about the best of who we are and all we have accomplished. Why does negativity occur so naturally, to the point it is a natural or default setting for so many?
I make these observations based upon my work as an educator, career coach, and mindset development coach. I also know how hard I worked to maintain a positive mindset after a job has been cut, due to declining enrollment, which has been a common theme throughout my career within the field of distance learning. What has sustained me: A belief in myself, knowing I am capable, qualified, and someone who cares deeply about this profession. In other words, I never gave up on myself.
The same applies for my students. One of the most gratifying moments for me occurs when I work with a student to overcome doubts about their ability, capability, and/or capacity, and they become successful. It never takes a great deal of effort on my part to help students in a virtual environment, as long as I am actively engaged in the course. If I pay attention to students, use encouraging words, maintain a responsive attitude, and a helpful disposition, students are likely to connect with me. It is then I can support them as they learn.
What I’ve learned, and teach, applies to students and anyone else for that matter. The manner in which you begin your day, as to the mindset you cultivate, ultimately shapes how the rest of your day continues. You have likely experienced this before, especially if you woke up in a bad mood, and the rest of the day didn’t seem to progress any better. Your mindset also has a direct bearing upon what you think about your capabilities. If you are in a negative frame of mind, you are more likely to allow negative thoughts to continue.
What I want to share with you are four belief strategies that will help you whenever you want to teach students about developing a positive belief system for themselves.
Beliefs and How they Begin
There is a basic set of beliefs we hold that been formed earlier in our life, while we were impressionable children. We learned from our parents, authority figures, and so on. As we matured, and learned about the world ourselves, it is possible we may have rejected some of those earlier beliefs, and created our own. Those are the beliefs held subconsciously.
The beliefs we develop as adults are those based upon experience. For example, if a student has a negative interaction with an instructor, they may believe all instructors will be the same. What is the essence of a belief? It’s a thought you continue to sustain by thinking it repeatedly, and begin to search for evidence it is true. We will hold onto beliefs like that unless they are questioned.
4 Strategies to Help Teach Students to Believe in Themselves
Your students are likely enrolled in a degree program because at some point they did not want to state, or perhaps they were beginning to believe: “This is it. This is the best I’ll ever become. I can never grow any further as a person, or within my career. I have learned everything I can possibly learn.”
I have never met anyone who has reached the limit of their full potential. It doesn’t matter what your background, age, health, social status, history, or any other condition may be, everyone has a potential to be or become more than they are right now. I know from my work as an educator, it all comes down to a matter of what a person believes about themselves, along with their capability, as to how much of their potential they will discover and apply.
The following four strategies are those I have used for myself, and I have shared with students. Perhaps you will resonate with one or all of them, to help your students begin to change or improve what they believe.
Strategy #1: Review Your Basic Beliefs
You or your students are not likely accustomed to thinking about your basic beliefs on a regular basis. This first strategy will help you recognize and evaluate what those beliefs are, to determine what areas can be adjusted or modified as needed. Perhaps you can ask your students these questions, or you can incorporate them as affirmative statements.
Use the following statements to ascertain what your basic beliefs are:
When I think about my capacity to learn, I believe:
[Or change this to an affirmative statement: You have a capacity to learn.]
When I think about my ability to take on a new project, such as a written assignment, I believe:
When I think about my capability to adapt to changes, such as learning academic writing, I believe:
When I think about my future potential, I believe:
When I think about my ability to complete my goals, I believe:
[Or change this to an affirmative statement: You have an ability to complete your goals.]
Strategy #2: Choose Your Words Carefully
What I noticed is the ease with which most people will use derogatory words about themselves, for even the slightest of mistakes. Let’s take a very basic example to illustrate this point. A person missed the mark on a written assignment. Their immediate reaction is to use self-talk and state: “Oh you are so stupid”. Now at first it may seem as if this was done in jest and might be funny. Yet those words, if used repeatedly and over time, can be harmful.
What happens is it establishes a pattern of negativity, reaffirming to this person they are prone to making mistakes. What this person doesn’t realize is the harm they are intentionally, and subconsciously, doing to themselves. It would even be better to state something such as “I can learn”, than to make a seemingly harmless put-down. Words can develop a negative pattern, eventually creating a negative belief, which is why words should be chosen carefully.
Where will this show up when working with your students? I find it in the messages they send direct to me. There are often very direct words used about themselves, and sometimes subtle cues about their mindset. Either way, I want them to know they always have potential.
Strategy #3: Self-Acceptance is Crucial
One of the most challenging aspects of our belief systems is ensuring self-acceptance is included. The most important example I can think of is a student whose grade is not where they’d like it to be. They monitor the gradebook closely and obsesses over every update. All of a sudden, their level of self-acceptance is called into question. I’ve heard students use phrases such as the “imposter syndrome” when they were not earning an “A” grade.
What I try to do is to help them understand there is more to learning than a grade. I want them to begin with what was learned from the feedback provided. How can they improve with future assignments? I teach them to focus on self-development and self-acceptance first, and in time, the grades will follow.
Self-Acceptance: Accept who you are. Accept you can always learn.
Then use this newly formed self-acceptance to become beliefs: Believe you can learn. Believe you are capable. Believe it is possible to achieve your goals.
Strategy #4: Trust Must Follow Beliefs
The final important strategy for you to use, in relation to the establishment of positive beliefs, is about the manner in which you trust yourself. This extends what you are thinking into something more concrete; an ability to take future action. When you decide to accept yourself, and believe in what you are capable of achieving, then you need to trust yourself to be able to learn, do, create, or whatever it is going to take to accomplish what you want to complete in life.
When you take action, based upon trust, it demonstrates to yourself that you do in fact hold a valid belief. From that moment on, your belief is accepted, and perhaps, you’ll develop another belief related to it.
Teach Your Students: Believe you can succeed. Then trust yourself to follow through.
Your Students Have Untapped Potential
Do you have any idea how much potential your students hold, especially untapped potential, which only requires their belief to access it? This doesn’t mean they are all going to excel in your class, but what it does mean is you can help remind them of their potential, whatever form it may be. It may take them an entire lifetime to find out, if it is even possible to fully discover.
Wouldn’t you like to know what more they can accomplish, if only you’d help encourage them, even in some small manner? You can even lead the way with your own positive beliefs, demonstrating to students you are continuing to learn and grow, and more importantly, you’ve discovered the power of your potential. Their day, and even their life can change, once students begin to establish a positive belief system. Regardless of the time available for your class, find ways to encourage, appreciate, uplift, and teach students to believe in themselves.
Dr. Bruce A. Johnson has been working in the field of higher education and distance learning since 2005, with roles including Doctoral Chair and Committee Member, Faculty Development Manager, Core Faculty, and Faculty Development Specialist. Dr. J’s background also includes work as a Human Performance Improvement Consultant, and prior to 2005, he was a Manager of Training and Development.
Dr. Johnson is an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission to teach, mentor, write, and inspire others. He has earned a PhD in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement (TPI), a Master’s in Adult Education, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA).
As a scholar practitioner, Dr. J was published in a scholarly journal and he has been a featured presenter at an international distance learning conference. He has published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching. Dr. J has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development.
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