Improving your academic performance, and really any type of performance (i.e., athletic, musical, professional, personal – you name it), is a function of following three important principles:
- Fuel your mind and body habitually
- Employ strategies methodically
- Practice the right skills deliberately
My belief in these rules is based on my personal academic and professional experiences, my observations and discussions with MyGuru’s students and GMAT tutors, and from methodical research and review of books, articles, presentations, and podcasts on topics related to each of the rules.
First, let’s introduce the rules in general (this post), and then discuss how to apply them specifically to improving your GMAT score (our next post). We’ll try to keep things short and simple in these blog posts, while fully covering the main ideas.
Rule # 1: Fuel your mind and body habitually
Adopt a “growth” mindset
There is tons of research that shows your mindset can have a huge impact on how you perform in school, in sports, in music and the arts, and in anything else. People tend towards, in various aspects of their lives, two mindsets: fixed or growth. With a fixed mindset, you believe intellect, abilities, talents, and skills are very much “given” at birth. You have it, or you don’t. Mistakes are seen as evidence that you “don’t have it.” You can read more about how mindset influences success at mindsetonline.com. As a result, you avoid activities that you aren’t good at, and in which you are likely to make mistakes or perform poorly. For example, you may think you aren’t very good at standardized tests, and as a result you might be dreading the GMAT.
With a growth mindset, you believe that ability, talent, skill, and intellect are things you can improve over time with practice, feedback, and guidance. Mistakes are viewed as opportunities to improve and learn, and you embrace the struggle. As a result, you tend to learn more, improve faster, and build skills in new areas.
Believe in the link between nutrition, exercise, sleep, and performance
All else equal, the person who eats better, exercises more, and gets more and better rest, will:
- Have higher cognitive function
- Perform better in athletics
- Get along better with others
There are lots of studies and research on these topics, but they often seem so obvious that they are assuming to be minor or important. But, they really aren’t minor. For more information on how cognitive function can be positively impacted by exercise, proper nutrition, and sleep, visit mindfull.spc.org.
Adopting the growth mindset and improving your nutrition, exercise, and sleep are changes best made by building new habits slowly over time, to ensure they stick.
Rule # 2: Employ a strategy methodically
In one of the most popular blog articles of all time on Harvard Business Review’s web-site, Heidi Grant Halvorson, a PhD from the Columbia Business School, wrote about the nine things that successful people do differently. In that article, she writes that “decades of research on achievement suggests that successful people reach their goals not simply because of who they are, but more often because of what they do.” But, in an accompanying podcast episode where she talks about this blog post, she describes this a little differently. Instead, she says, quite simply, successful people use strategies to reach their goals.
Indeed, in my former life as a business strategy consultant we often defined strategy as a clear explanation or description of what you will and will not do to achieve a goal of increasing the market value of a company. When developing business strategy, that meant making decisions about products and services to offer (or not), capabilities to build (or not), assets to buy (or not), etc. The outcome was a prioritized list of decisions and actions covering where and how the company was going to complete in the marketplace.
The process of developing a strategy tends to involve:
- Setting a goal
- Gathering all of the information required to understand how to meet that goal
- Prioritizing a list of issues that will have the greatest impact on your ability to meet your goal
- Developing alternative courses of action (i.e., different paths you could take)
- Evaluating those alternatives using whatever criteria are relevant
- Choose the best alternative (or designing one that integrates the best of several)
- Developing a detailed plan of action to execute that alternative
Rule # 3: Build the right skills deliberately
As was mentioned in rule #1 and #2, contrary to popular belief, success comes from doing specific things differently, not from being intrinsically smarter or more talented. It turns out that even in highly intellectual fields, like mathematics, people viewed as geniuses have, in fact, spent hundreds or thousands more hours than anyone else in their field practicing their craft with an intense, focused, and mistake-embracing way. They have built their skills methodically and deliberately over time. In fact, Einstein once said, “it’s not that I’m so smart, I just stay with the problems longer.”
To be clear, simply working hard or working for a long time is actually not enough. The research shows that skills are built by practicing in what is called a “deliberate” fashion, where you break skills down into component parts, practice with intense focus, get feedback, and learn immediately from mistakes to build good habits. This is the way to build skill in all areas of life: mathematics, reading comprehension, music, basketball, etc. More on deliberate practice and how it builds skills can be found on the Talent Code Blog.
In in our next post, we’ll apply these three rules to improving your GMAT score specifically. Also, please visit our GMAT tutoring page to learn more about how MyGuru can help you achieve your best score possible.