• A study has found that people with a strategic mindset tend to get better grades in school, achieve their goals and tackle new tasks more effectively.
  • Those who don't have an innate strategic mindset can learn one.

A “strategic mindset” may be key to success, research finds.

The study shows that people with a strategic mindset are the ones who, in the face of challenges or setbacks, ask themselves: “How else can I do this? Is there a better way of doing this?”.

As a result, these people tend to apply more effective strategies when working towards their goals in life—including those in education, work, health, and fitness. They tend to get better grades in school, make greater progress towards their professional, health, and fitness goals, and even perform a novel challenging task more efficiently.

As you approach whatever challenging goal you are pursuing, you can ask yourself, 'What are things I can do to help myself (and others)?'

—Patricia Chen

“These findings are exciting because psychological science has long known that having a wide repertoire of strategies matters. But until now, we hadn’t understood why some people use their strategies more than others at the right time. We developed our research on the strategic mindset to explain why this might be,” says lead author of the study Patricia Chen, assistant professor at NUS Psychology.

Chen and her collaborators at Stanford University conducted a series of three studies involving over 860 college students and working adults from the United States.

One of their studies on 365 college students found that students’ strategic mindset predicted how much they reported using effective learning strategies in their classes. And the more they used these effective strategies, the better they performed in their classes that semester, and also in new, different classes the subsequent semester.

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The relationship among people’s strategic mindset and reported goal progress.
Image: National University of Singapore

A second study surveying 365 adults across the United States about their strategic mindset, and relating mindset to how effective these adults pursued professional, educational, health, and fitness goals of importance to them, produced similar findings.

Can people learn a strategic mindset? Yes, find the researchers. In an experiment, they randomly assigned some people to learn about a strategic mindset through a brief training session. Later, they gave these people a new, challenging task to accomplish as quickly as possible. Compared to other people in the study who were not exposed to these strategic mindset ideas, those who had learned about a strategic mindset later applied more effective strategies to accomplish the task. Their strategic behaviors, in turn, translated into faster task performance.

Additionally, these people who had learnt about a strategic mindset also voluntarily practiced the task more before they had to perform it under time pressure—suggesting that a strategic mindset also has important implications for practice.

How does the strategic mindset work? “There are key points in any challenging pursuit that require people to step back and come up with new strategies. A strategic mindset helps them do just that,” explains coauthor Carol Dweck, professor in the psychology department at Stanford University.

“As you approach whatever challenging goal you are pursuing, you can ask yourself, ‘What are things I can do to help myself (and others)? Is there a way to do this even better?'” says Chen.

“If something you have been working on isn’t going so well, can you step back and ask yourself, ‘How might I go about this differently? Is there another approach I can try to help this go better?'”