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Feeling apathetic? There may be hope

A pilot study shows that just one online course can help students craft an 'I can' attitude in one sitting

March 18, 2024
Norwegian University of Science and Technology
A new method that aims to help people develop grit looks promising.

Do you sometimes feel like you just can't be bothered? Would you like to have exercised more, learned a new language or taken more education, but you feel that everything is too much effort?

If so, you probably need more grit and belief in your ability to achieve things. A recent pilot study has sparked hope, and more research will show whether this new method can help more people.

The key is to tap into our hidden innate potential.

"We have developed a method that can help people develop greater persistence and belief in their ability to achieve their goals," says Professor Hermundur Sigmundsson at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU's) Department of Psychology.

The key is to tap into our hidden innate potential.

Success depends on many factors

Professor Sigmundsson has been working for several years to find out what exactly enables people to perform at a high level and how they increase their performance. Many different factors come into play.

It is quite astounding that we can change our attitude in 35-40 minutes.

It is important to be really passionate about something, and your attitude really does make a difference. You have to believe that you will achieve your goals, i.e. believe in growth. Your chances of success also increase if most other aspects of your life are generally on track.

However, persistence or "grit" may affect whether you actually get started on something or see it through.

"I can do this"

An initial sample of 38 Norwegian students participated in a pilot trial, an exploratory study conducted by Sigmundsson in collaboration with Research Assistant Håvard Hauge.

  • The researchers first gave the students a questionnaire to see how well they scored on several different factors that play a role in success, and mapped how good the students felt about themselves in general.
  • The students then completed an online course lasting 35 to 40 minutes, which is aptly called 'I CAN'.
  • Later, the students filled out the same questionnaire again to see if anything had changed.

"After the students had completed the online course, we saw a significant change in grit. It is quite astounding that we can change our attitude in 35-40 minutes," says Professor Sigmundsson.

Creating an 'I can' attitude

For other factors, there was less change, if any. But willingness to make an effort improved.

"We try to create an 'I can' attitude, a belief that they really will succeed. We also want to equip students with strategies that can help them evoke this feeling when they later find themselves in situations where they need it," says Professor Sigmundsson.

Evoking this feeling over and over again can in itself strengthen the networks in the brain needed to develop greater grit over time.

Stronger belief increases the chance of finding a passion

"When you believe that you really can achieve something and are willing to make the necessary effort, this can increase the likelihood of taking on new challenges. It can increase your courage and provide more opportunities to find what you are passionate about, and then help you develop this passion," says Professor Sigmundsson.

Participants learn that success depends on personal effort and practice. Other research has found that purposeful practice is a key factor in managing to achieve something, i.e. that you practise doing exactly what you want to be good at.

Helping to smooth out differences

Other studies show that when young people are helped to believe that they can succeed, that they can actually do something, they often do better at school. This is especially true for pupils who come from environments with so-called 'lower socioeconomic status', i.e. families with low income or low-prestige jobs.

For example, a study from an upper secondary school in Uganda shows that girls in particular benefit from having female role models. These role models show them that it is actually possible to achieve something difficult. This can both help reduce academic gender differences and help the pupils who struggle the most with academic work.

Like flipping a switch

"When people develop stronger belief in themselves or 'self-efficacy', it is almost as if a switch is flipped," says Professor Sigmundsson.

The course and results support previous studies that have shown the effects of short-term interventions, including a study by David S. Yeager et al. published in Nature in 2019.

The findings of this pilot project are very promising, but researchers still need to find out more.

They are therefore in the process of carrying out 'I CAN' on a much larger scale, this time with almost 1000 Year 10 pupils. The results from this latest study are not yet available.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Original written by Steinar Brandslet. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Hermundur Sigmundsson, Håvard Hauge. I CAN Intervention to Increase Grit and Self-Efficacy: A Pilot Study. Brain Sciences, 2023; 14 (1): 33 DOI: 10.3390/brainsci14010033

Cite This Page:

Norwegian University of Science and Technology. "Feeling apathetic? There may be hope." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 March 2024. <>.
Norwegian University of Science and Technology. (2024, March 18). Feeling apathetic? There may be hope. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 24, 2024 from
Norwegian University of Science and Technology. "Feeling apathetic? There may be hope." ScienceDaily. (accessed April 24, 2024).

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