Opinion Blog

Ask a Psychologist

Helping Students Thrive Now

Angela Duckworth and other behavioral-science experts offer advice to teachers based on scientific research. Read more from this blog.

Student Well-Being Opinion

How to Help Students Try New Things

A shift in mindset is key to the answer
By Angela Duckworth — September 13, 2023 1 min read
How do I help students who are afraid to try things?
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

What can I say to students who are afraid to try things?

Tell them the story of David Fajgenbaum, who I wrote about for Character Lab as a Tip of the Week:

David Fajgenbaum didn’t die. He thought he would. He almost did.

But he didn’t.

What almost killed him was Castleman disease, an immune disorder so rare that David, a medical student when the symptoms first appeared, had never heard of it.

Pondering his mortality at close range, David realized his greatest regrets in life were not what he’d done wrong, but rather, what he hadn’t done at all:

“When you’re dying—or at least when I was dying—these memories become quite insignificant. It’s the absence of memories that you wish you had made—and the realization that you’ll never get the chance to make them—that coalesce into a horribly vivid pit of regret in your stomach.”

Research shows that when you’re making up your mind about what to do, you’re in an entirely different frame of mind than when you’ve committed yourself to take action. Before you commit to a goal, you’re deliberative, giving equal attention to pros and cons, shying away from choices that are long shots. But after you commit to a goal, you enter an implemental mindset. Now, the pros get more of your attention, while the cons become obstacles to be overcome and problems to solve.

As a professor, I meet a lot of young people who are experts at deliberating but amateurs at implementing. They fear the unknown. They fear failure. They fear the suboptimal.

David tells me he used to be one of those people.

Not anymore.

His mantra now? Think it, do it.

“Every thought should be broken down and evaluated to determine if it’s worth doing,” David explains. This is why the comma is so important. You need to take decisionmaking seriously.

But what if you decide, say, that you want to cure Castleman disease? “Then it’s go mode—whether or not you have all the ideal skills to do it.”

Don’t live life as if it will last forever. Don’t live your whole life on the left side of the comma.

Do help your kids practice proactivity. And model it yourself. What do you want to change in your life? Think it, do it.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being In Their Own Words These Students Found Mental Health Support in After-School Programs. See How
3 students discuss how after-school programs benefit their well-being.
6 min read
Vector illustration of a woman sitting indian style with her arms spread wide and a rainbow above her head.
iStock/Getty
Student Well-Being Cellphone Headaches in Middle Schools: Why Policies Aren't Enough
Middle schoolers' developmental stage makes them uniquely vulnerable to the negative aspects of cellphones. Policies alone won't help.
6 min read
A student holds a cell phone during class at Bel Air High School in Bel Air, Md., on Jan. 25, 2024.
A student holds a cellphone during class at Bel Air High School in Bel Air, Md., on Jan. 25, 2024.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week
Student Well-Being Teachers Want Parents to Step Up to Curb Cellphone Misuse. Are They Ready?
A program from the National PTA aims to partner with schools to give parents resources on teaching their children healthy tech habits.
5 min read
Elementary students standing in line against a brick wall using cellphones and not interacting.
iStock/Getty
Student Well-Being Schools Feel Less Equipped to Meet Students' Mental Health Needs Than a Few Years Ago
Less than half of public schools report that they can effectively meet students’ mental health needs.
4 min read
Image of a student with their head down on their arms, at a desk.
Olga Beliaeva/iStock/Getty