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September 09, 2015

The qualities and skills that all successful students share

For this week’s blog, we're taking aim at the age-old question: What are the qualities and skills that all successful people share? And, more importantly, what are the characteristics that successful students have in common? As we conducted our research, some skills and qualities were self-evident and easy to guess, including determination and passion. But other skills were less obvious, even to well-educated and successful people who employ those skills every day. So for some clarity, we’ve compiled a series of studies, from reputable universities, teachers, columnists, and authors, who have seen or studied successful students first-hand.

3 keys to success

  1. Grit: In a recent blog, we covered the “growth mindset” theory and some related strategies for raising “gritty kids” who always strive for their best.  Angela Lee Duckworth, a motivational psychologist interested in predictors of success, surveyed people succeeding in all types of challenging situations. The single most important predictor of success, across all the participants, was “Grit,” or the ability and determination to persist through failure. In terms of executive functions, grittiness encapsulates a few different skills that executive function coaches train all the time. Grit requires focus, task initiation and follow-through, flexibility, and strong planning skills that allow students to stay energized, hone their work ethic, and avoid burnout.
  2. Self-discipline and self-advocacy: A successful student is also one who understands and accepts their own powerful role in achieving success. Successful students see themselves as primarily responsible for their outcomes and experiences, meaning that they are often self-motivated, self-advocating, and self-disciplined. Sue Dunkle, a long-time teacher at both private and public institutions, notes that her most successful students are those who live by a poster hanging in her classroom: “You are responsible for you!” These students, realizing their responsibility, use self-discipline to overcome procrastination, initiate and follow-through with tasks, sets goals and achieve them, actively participate in class, develop strong relationships with teachers, and even manage their emotional response to successes and failures, allowing them to improve and grow “next time.”
  3. Developed emotional regulation and self-monitoring skills: Self-discipline requires a certain level of self-awareness, and, as mentioned above, the ability to manage emotional responses. Oklahoma City Community College argues that emotional regulation, and specific outlooks, are keys to success in all fields. Particularly, staying confident, enjoying what you do, having passion for learning, and keeping relaxed in stressful circumstances help students outperform the rest. Executive function coaches help students address emotional regulation challenges in relation to their schoolwork by practicing flexible planning, self-monitoring skills, patience throughout each process, and the type of “forward thinking” that helps students believe in themselves and their work. Executive function tutors also help children find purpose in what they do by discovering personally meaningful goals that can help overcome motivational obstacles.
  4. Effective time management skills: To be a true “Master of Self-Management,” every successful student must add effective time management skills to their toolbox. Having the grit, self-discipline, and emotional regulations skills to begin and follow through with tasks will only lead to success when coupled with an appropriate plan. Successful students learn to properly calculate the time it takes them to complete regular assignments and are able to calendar, schedule, budget, and more to accommodate their needs. And, these same students think, believe, and behave in ways that keep them on course. Executive function coaches can teach their students how to use time management tools to their best advantage and practice time management every day. Then, students are able to plan and take action in pursuit of their goals and dreams.
  5. Specific focus on attainable goals: At the heart of any good plan is a specific focused goal. Forbes and Business Insider both describe successful people as those who are focused, who specialize in a specific area, and who set real goals that they can actually accomplish. In his book, “The 8 Traits Successful People Have in Common,” Richard St. John notes that “Success means narrowing down and focusing on one thing, not being scattered all over the map.” When successful people wake up, they’ve already planned their day, filling it with big yet attainable goals that are aligned with their strengths. Engaging Minds coaches teach students how to develop goals that are “SMART,” by making them Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound, which all aid in achieving success!
  6. Willingness and courage to push beyond comfort zones: Richard St. John also argues that success means pushing beyond the limits of a comfort zone. Author Sarah Li Cain, an expert in educational and technological marketing, raises the related question, “If all the most successful people in the world ran away every time they got scared, where do you think they would be today?”  Cain and St. John both agree: Those successful people wouldn’t be successful at all! St. John identifies seven key ways that all achievers can push themselves, including setting goals that push capabilities, seeking out challenge or deadlines that do the same, or establishing relationships that push, through guidance, competition, or authority. Developing a strong mentorship with an executive function tutor guarantees your student a consistent guiding force to push him in gradual and productive ways.
  7. Varied organizational skills and strategies: Sue Dunkle, in addition to recommending self-discipline, suggests that discipline and self-improvement extend beyond subject-specific classwork to include backpack, desk, locker, personal, and mental organization. Successful people have to be organized, so that they can manage a wide array of goals, materials, projects, and schedules with ease, thoroughness, and follow-through. An organized student can find his science project within his science folder, right where he left it, which enables him to turn it in on time and get the highest grade possible. A disorganized student may lose the project in the transition between home and school, might store it in the wrong binder or folder, or might accidentally stash the project in the bottom of his locker, never to be seen again. Lapses in organization, unfortunately, lead to penalties in grades and self-confidence, leading to fewer successes. Executive function coaches can help your child find the best organizational system to make all his work easier to do and find.
  8. Value the journey over the payout: Finally, the most important quality of a successful student is that he values the journey of education over the “destination” or “payout.” Successful students understand that every assignment has a purpose and is designed to teach specific lessons; the grade often doesn’t matter nearly as much as the effort, thought, and practice that goes into producing each assignment. At Engaging Minds, we teach our students that their journeys are important, that they may include bumps or road blocks, but that their efforts to overcome will make them more successful long-term. Skills for learning are skills for life, and those same skills prepare every student to continue their journey beyond high school or college and on into the real world.

Executive function skills, unsurprisingly, are at the core of each one of these “skills for success” that all successful students and people share. Success, in school and beyond, does not necessarily involve mastery of content alone, like some might believe. Instead, success means mastering methods, strategies, plans, and even lifestyles that support achievement on a daily basis. Success is a life-long journey that requires grit, discipline, awareness, effort, responsibility, focus, and organization.