I could not help but comment on an article I read in the Deseret News National Edition dated Sunday, February 7, 2016. In the article titled “The Big Picture”, it described a teacher named Dominique Morisano. She believed she had discovered a method by which her students would improve their grades.
As part of her Ph.D., Morisano studied 85 struggling first year students at McGill University where she taught. In her study she divided the students into two groups. She gave each group the following assignments:
- First half of the students were asked to write about their past experiences or ideas.
- Second half of the students were asked to write about the future by detailing their life goals. This group was to include what challenges they could foresee. Then they were to identify any potential solutions to those perceived problems.
Amazing Results for Improved College GPA
After only four short months the results were astounding.
- Twenty percent of the first group that wrote about the past dropped out of school.
- None of the second group writing about their futures dropped out of school. In fact, the second group had improved their GPAs significantly.
According to the article, struggling first year college students are made up in a large part by “ethnic and racial minorities from low-income families, usually first-generation college students.” US News reported in 2013 that just over 50% of these types of students graduated on time.
This seemingly simple writing exercise asking beginning students to think carefully about their lifetime pursuits and goals could have a significant impact on them. Writing usually causes deep thought.
The upside benefits obviously included improved grades, and the ability to complete college. An added benefit as an outcrop, was improved health.
The Writing Exercise
Morisano asked her students to not just set goals but to elaborate and reflect on them. They were given the task of completing eight steps that included:
- Free writing about their ideal future self.
- Free writing about their ideal life.
- Extracting their goals from this narrative.
- Labeling their goals from this narrative.
- Ranking the goals.
- Considering implications for themselves.
- Considering implications for others.
- Laying out strategies to overcome likely obstacles.
The results were remarkable for the future looking students. Their grades shot up 30%! All of the students in the study were at risk of dropping out of McGill.
Another professor (Emeritus business) at the University of Maryland, said that additional research done in the Netherlands suggested “that telling a detailed story about the kind of life and the hurdles you expect to cross can have concrete payoffs along the way.” He also mentioned additional benefits of improved social confidence and self-esteem.
Other colleges and universities are implementing Morisano’s study. These colleges and universities are achieving remarkable results compared to prior students in years past.
Is There Power in Looking To the Future Versus the Past?
The article quotes several other professionals who have used the technique with tremendous results. They have used the technique with those who have experienced significant trauma. Several researchers are exploring “whether there is significant power in the coherence and specificity of the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves”. Timothy Wilson also quoted in the article said, “Much of our behavior is crafted by the stories we tell ourselves, and if we really want to help people, we have to get in and edit those stories.”
Greg Walton a psychology professor at Stanford University, wanted students to perceive that they belonged there in face of adversity. Allowing them to see themselves in the future helped the students. It helped them “see themselves into the future”.…”where in day to day adversity came to be seen as part of life rather than a symptom of un-belonging.”
Why Not Try It?
Parents could use this writing experience with their children. It would help them prepare to go to college or out into their future life. Two hours of writing what your life will look like, and how to maneuver around and through obstacles one would face, would be well worth the effort.