Higher Ed: A Mindset Shift Can Elicit Satisfaction And Even Joy From Intellectual Struggle

Learning is not always easy. Some subjects, concepts and teachers are just plain tough. Mastering that material can be frustrating and even discouraging. In this episode of the KUT podcast “Higher Ed,” KUT’s Jennifer Stayton talks with Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger about how a shift in mindset can help learners at any age harness lessons, power and even joy from those struggles.

Challenges and frustrations that we encounter in and out of the classroom can elicit a variety of emotions including anger and frustration. Not wanting to wallow in negativity, we attempt to move on from that sensation as quickly as we can.

“We look upon those things, and those emotions, as negative,” Ed notes. “People are saying that they want to avoid and we want to get past it.”

But what if those negative feelings were framed differently – perhaps as fuel instead of foil?

“Imagine a mindset where the idea of struggle generates a positive emotion. The feeling of frustration generates something that helps you move you forward, ” says Ed. “Imagine a world inside one’s mind where those feelings … enhance our learning and drive us to go further and inspire us to reach new levels rather than squelch our interest or enthusiasm.”

Ed encourages students struggling with a difficult subject or concept to harness the power of that conflict to assist their learning.

“What if we looked upon those emotions and tried to use them as empowering tools to continue the struggle and to move beyond the frustration” Ed wonders “by using the frustration as a catapult to push us and throw us into a new place?”

Ed believes applying mindfulness to this endeavor can actually propel learners beyond simply converting their frustration into fuel.

“If we intentionally acknowledge and then try to make those moments of frustration or struggle joyful, we can,” Ed asserts.

Joyful? Listen to the full episode for more on extracting joy from the struggles of learning. And prepare for a new puzzler – anagram-style – that might test that idea of power and joy born from struggle!

This episode was recorded on April 2, 2019.