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Fixed Mindset: How to Overcome Procrastination

Do you find yourself browsing around on YouTube when you have a test the next day? Why do we waste our time even when we are busy? The answer: procrastination.

Behind these actions are emotions of anxiety and fear. We find ourselves fixating on our supposedly ‘fixed’ levels of skills, convinced that we will never succeed. This is the concept of a fixed mindset, which doesn’t really benefit us.

A fixed mindset is a mentality where individuals see the traits they have as definite. People who believe in fixed mindsets believe that the level of skills and intelligence they have are innate and in turn, cannot be improved. Take a closer look at your everyday actions. Some behaviours that are indicative of a fixed mindset include procrastinating your essay and giving up easily in the face of new challenges, like learning a new sport. 

Wait, why do I keep repeating the word, procrastination? Well, the most common manifestation of a fixed mindset is procrastination!

Procrastination is the act of delaying an action due to a lack of intrinsic motivation, a get out of jail card when you think you are unable to cope with stressful situations. 

Pertinently, it reinforces the idea that your value as a person is based on the extent of your ability. In other words, your value is based on external things, like your academics, how popular you are and so on. Instead of trying to improve, you will be inclined to try the activity for the sake of proving your worth over and over again (even if the strategy has a poor success rate) because if you acknowledge you have failed, that would mean your worth has been diminished. 

Bleak? This line of thinking is a fixed mindset. 

So, why do we engage in these behaviours even when it’s so harmful to us? There might be a variety of reasons. Think back to when you started working on a particularly long essay. What went through your mind? You might have started to think that the essay was too tough to complete. You might have started to doubt if you could have finished the essay on time. You might even have thought, “If I fail, that means I’m not good enough so better not try now. I’ll just feel bad for wasting all that effort! I cannot control it anyway.” Sounds unbearably negative? Well, that is what’s happening when you start to procrastinate! The fixed mindset invades your mind again and those tiny setbacks become ‘proof’ that your abilities are unable to help you succeed in the challenge.

When you start to have these thoughts and become too scared to fail, in the long term, you might end up with emotional and psychological issues that can affect the way you approach all experiences in your life. Take the example of the essay. While the short term delight in procrastinating the essay might feel good, it would come to bite you back with higher stress levels when the submission date steadily approaches. In fact, this mentality of having a fixed mindset has overarching consequences in all areas of your life. Socially, mentally… you name it, it’s probably there. This leads to an inability to grow. Even worse, this mindset gives rise to a vicious cycle of negativity.

Let me introduce you to the growth mindset. The growth mindset is an attitude where you view your abilities and qualities as something that is ever-changing. That means despite initially failing in something, you have the belief that by trying again or by finding new methods, you can achieve it. This will then cause you to act differently and have different outcomes. 

How different? Having a growth mindset would make you more likely to invalidate negative beliefs, be more willing to try when faced with challenges and grow in ways you never knew.

So, how do we change our fixed mindset to a growth mindset? It might seem very challenging. However, there are definitely tips that you can try to help reduce the fears that are driving our fixed mindsets. The behaviours related to fixed mindset are really common behaviours that plague everybody but you can change it! How? Fight the fear! In the run-up to finals, if you find yourself procrastinating, fret not!

At its root, a fixed mindset is all about feeling helpless and insecure against ‘unconquerable’ situations. So, if you start to feel that, you just need to know how to make the assignments more manageable. You can try to do that by:

  1. Breaking down the reading or assignment into manageable parts. Smaller increments make the task easier to complete. For example, you can break down your reading into key questions and key points.
  2. Categorise your tasks in a to-do list by categorising them from the most important to the least urgent: tests and presentations due next week at the top of the list.

  3. Motivation is key to evolving into a growth mindset too! Leading up to finals, if you study with friends, you’ll be less likely to procrastinate. It might help you to increase your confidence about the subject, especially when you improve. So, ask your friends out to have a study session! Zoom calls are also great as recap sessions.

During the last leg to the finals, you might feel unmotivated or pessimistic about your odds of success, and a fixed mindset causes us to think that we have a fixed level of skills. Just remember that you have the ability to succeed even if it might seem really tough to hold on as finals loom nearer. Hopefully, you will start believing that you are able to face off whatever comes your way.

Leong Jia Qi

Nanyang Tech '23

I am a student contributor at NTU.
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