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The Power of the Mind

Why positive thinking isn’t just wishful thinking

“Human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.”

Henry James

Yeah, right...

The idea that mere positive thinking can in any way affect one’s exam performance may be difficult for many to believe. At heart, I’m a sceptic too, and like you I’m tired of hearing about the next best thing, the thing that will change our lives, make us better people, blah de blah de blah. Most of it is just so much psychobabble hogwash, and we grow tired of hearing about magic bullet cures that don’t actually do what they say they do on the tin.

Nevertheless, I am deadly serious about the idea that what you think really does affect the way you perform. I really do believe that the better your mindset, the more positive your approach, the higher your chances of examination success are.

To all intents and purposes, the power of the brain and mind is unlimited. For everyone. The potential is there, just waiting to be used. All that we need to do is learn how to tap this potential.  

Put another way, the only thing that is holding us back is ourselves.

Prove it, I can hear you say, quite rightly. Where is the evidence to support such a claim? Where is it proven that mere thought can change performance in any measurable concrete sense? Show me the experimental proof.

OK, I can do that. Because I want to convince you that the power over pass or fail really is within you.

The Proof

Believe it or not, there is in fact a large body of scientific research out there which illustrates the power of the mind, in all sorts of different ways. For the sake of brevity, we’ll leave aside the scientific language and detail, and for this article we’ll focus instead on a piece of research that illustrates the amazing power we all have to improve our lot.

Budding Michael Jordans

The piece of research I want to tell you about concerns the investigation of the effect of mental practice on sinking basketball free throws (that’s getting the ball through the hoop from the free throw line on the basketball court to you and me).

Three groups of individuals were involved. Group 1 was told to practice free throws on court for a total of 20 minutes every day for 20 days. Group 2 was told to spend a total of 20 minutes every day for 20 days simply imagining throwing the ball through the hoop. Group 3, the control group, did not practice during the 20 days, either physically or mentally.

Each group was scored on the first and last days of the test so that any improvement in performance over the 20-day period could be measured. The results were astounding.

Group 1, as one might expect, improved performance on average by 24 percent. Group 3 showed no statistically measurable change at all. But Group 2, those individuals who were mentally rehearsing successful hoop throwing, improved their performance on average by 23 percent – that’s nearly as big an improvement as those who actually practised with a real ball!

Still so sure that positive thinking doesn’t work?

Take a moment to consider the significance of that. By no other means than using their imaginations, those in Group 2 managed to improve as near as damn it to the same degree as those who did the actual practice. Concrete, real-world improvements from mere thought. Isn’t that truly amazing? Are you still feeling as sceptical about the power of the mind?


“Change your thoughts and you change your world.”
Norman Vincent Peale