“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” Leonardo da Vinci

An awesome quote from a pretty wise man.

How does this relate to students?

Adopting The Ownership Mentality

Through all of our work with students, we’ve seen that so many believe their performance in school, and in life, are dependent on external circumstances- things outside of their control.

“The subject is hard.”
“The test was hard.”
“None of the other students did well either.”
“I’m just not good at that.”
“It’s the teacher’s fault.”
“My teacher hasn’t uploaded grades yet.”
“The teacher didn’t tell us that.”
“My group wasn’t very good.”
“My schedule is so busy.”
“I didn’t have enough time.”
“The other kids were talking.”
“I’m not as good at learning as everyone else.”

We can always find something or someone else outside of ourselves to blame when things don’t turn out the way we want. But one of the most critical skills we can develop is the ownership mentality, where we look inward, not outward, to examine every possibility of how our thoughts, decisions, and actions impacted the outcome.

And yes, I call the ownership mentality a skill because our mindset is something we have to practice and consciously mould if we want to overcome some of our natural human tendencies.

I learned a level of ownership I never knew existed from my high school football coach. I can remember so many situations when initially I couldn’t possibly believe I had an impact on the outcome, Coach Dilley challenged me to think otherwise. By the time I finished my last season senior year, I was already practicing an advanced level of ownership because (1) I had learned how to broaden my perspective on what was actually in my control, and (2) I was constantly asking myself on and off the field, “what could I have done to improve the situation or outcome?”

This mentality can be scary, because it makes us feel vulnerable, isolated, and at times even guilty. But it’s also incredibly powerful. Do we really have that much control over what happens to our lives?

The answer is yes.

The Right Questions To Ask

To achieve the ownership mentality, we have to train ourselves so that when we start placing blame (out loud or in our heads) on someone else for a decision, action, or outcome, we stop and ask:

  1. Did I do absolutely everything in my power to positively impact this decision, action, or outcome?

  2. What could I have done to improve the outcome?

For school, this question can take many forms:

Could I have studied a little bit more?
Could I have been less distracted when I was studying?
Could I have spent less time watching TV/Netflix and/or social media?
Could I have started studying earlier?
Could I have studied with a friend?
Could I have asked for help?
Could I have asked for a tutor?
Could I have paid more attention in class?
Could I have taken better notes?
Could I have changed seats to be away from my friends or sit closer to the front?
Could I have seen my teacher outside of class to make sure I understood the material?
Could I have been more organized?
Could I have double checked to make sure I knew when an assignment was due?

One of the keys is understanding that no one is perfect, which means everyone has unique challenges that make some aspect of life more difficult than it is for other people. Growing up in a tough neighborhood, a rough family situation, having a learning disorder, not being as good at a subject, etc. The ownership mentality can help us overcome our obstacles to achieve our goals, inside and outside the classroom.

When talking to your student(s) about their performance in school, don’t be combative trying to help them think this way. Developing the ownership mentality is an ongoing process and an advanced skill, so think more like the movie Inception: we need to plant the right questions in their heads so they start to ask them themselves when attributing poor performance to external circumstances. The following is an example:

Student: “I studied a lot but that test was really hard. No one else in the class did well either.”

Adult: “I understand, it definitely sounds like a hard test. Do you think there is anything else you personally could have done to improve your performance on that test?”

Teaching our students to look inward gives them control over their performance and their lives that they did not know they had. It is extremely important that we lead by example so that instead of our students hearing us complain about our boss, the money we don’t have, or the time we wish we had, they hear us talk about ways we’re trying to improve and things we could have done to improve our outcomes.

This ownership mentality is something the top performers in every field have adopted. The ownership mentality has passed the test of time, bridged from Leonardo da Vinci to Tony Robbins among others, who said, “Life doesn’t happen to us- life happens for us.”

How are our mindset and actions impacting the results we’re getting in our lives?