Think you can

I think I can I think I can I think I can. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

Welcome to our new subscribers. Please share this newsletter with friends. And if someone shared it with you, you can sign up right here:


I think it was Henry Ford who famously said: “Whether you think you can or not, you’re probably right.”

Now, a research project funded by the National Science Foundation points to a wealth of evidence that backs that idea up—suggesting that learning to believe in yourself and your abilities actually makes you more likely to succeed in reality.

The research focused on college students, studying factors that made them more likely to get good grades and graduate. There were three big takeaways that together make up what I'm going to call the “Think You Can Rule.”


The project involved reviewing reports on 61 other experimental studies on college students and success. Across the board, they found three main factors that foretold greater achievement across disciplines.

The factors included:

  1. Developing a sense of belonging.

  2. Enabling a “growth mindset.”

  3. Having articulable personal goals and values.

Granted, these three factors sound like common sense—but how often have we observed that common sense isn’t really all that common? Also, just because they make sense doesn't mean that we're good at developing them.

So let’s add a fourth dimension: Write it all down.

According to one of the co-authors, Fred Oswald, a professor of psychology at Rice University, the studies often included practical exercises, and the most “remarkable finding” was how much "brief writing exercises” helped.

For example, students who were required to “write about the relevance of course topics to their own life” wound up doing better in their courses.

Another remedy involved making students feel more at home on campus by having them write stories and reflections that “fram[ed] social adversity as common and transient.”

So, writing about how everyone feels out of place sometimes (and that most of us manage to get over it), improved the situation—even though the students knew they were being asked to write like this specifically in order to internalize the thesis.

Forget Henry Ford in that case. I’ll quote myself: I write what I've learned, so I can learn what I think."


7 other things worth your time

  • Remember I wrote the other day about how if the overall positive Covid-19 test rate in New York City went above 3 percent, the schools would close? It’s over 3 percent, so the nation’s biggest public school system is going 100 percent virtual. Gulp. (Fox 5 NY)

  • The Boeing 737-MAX is cleared to fly again, after a nearly two-year review that followed two fatal crashes. (CNET)

  • You might laugh, but they laughed at Ronald Reagan and Jesse Ventura (to say nothing of President Trump): Actor Matthew McConaughey says he’s considering running for governor of Texas. (NBC Fort Worth)

  • Nice story here about how Dolly Parton developed a friendship with a doctor after a minor car crash seven years ago, and how that led to her donation of $1 million that helped fund Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine. (Wash Post via Chron)

  • Thousands of veterans who were kicked out of the Army achieved a legal victory Wednesday after the Army agreed to review punitive discharges linked to mental health and sexual assault trauma, potentially unlocking care for those struggling in their post-military lives. I wrote a big story about this for the military newspaper Stars and Stripes almost a decade ago; it’s wild to see this result so many years later. (Wash Post, Stripes)

  • Bill Gates predicted the pandemic pretty accurately. Here’s what he says life will be like afterward: more remote meetings, improved software, people spreading out and companies sharing offices, and more socializing in your community instead of at work. (Inc.)

  • The safest states to spend Thanksgiving 2020? Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire. Least safe? Montana, New Mexico, and South Dakota. (New Jersey, where I’m staying put, is number 9.) This is all according to a company called WalletHub that pulls data and does these kinds of rankings once in a while, so take it as you like. (WalletHub)

Photo: Pixabay. I’ve written before about this study at Inc.com. If you liked this post, and you’re not yet a subscriber, what are you waiting for? Please sign up for the daily Understandably.com email newsletter, with thousands and thousands of 5-star ratings from happy readers. You can also just send an email to signup@understandably.com. 

And of course, please share Understandably! Seriously, if you’ve wondered, What can I do to help Bill? That’s the #1 thing I need—for people who enjoy this newsletter to encourage friends and family to sign up as well. Thank you!

Share Understandably

One-click review and feedback: