Michael E. Bernard, PhD, professor at the University of Melbourne, is a psychologist, and founder of You Can Do It! Education — a program for promoting student social-emotional well-being and achievement that is being used in thousands of schools in Australia and overseas.


Over the past two decades, I have made a study of what the international research has found as the different psychological strengths secondary-level students need to be successful – what I call ‘the successful mind.’

Elements of a successful mind

During the final years of secondary schooling, students are faced with many important decisions. They can be assisted greatly by learning about and applying character strengths, attitudes and social-emotional skills that define a successful mind. Below are descriptions of the 10 most important elements of the mind of successful and happy students.

1. Growth mindset

A growth mindset is one that is open to lifelong learning and development. Your brain is constantly changing and challenging yourself will improve its strength, adaptability, and intelligence. A growth mindset understands that talent is the result of hard work and practise, not simply something innate talent and unlearnable.

2. Character strength

Your individual character strengths influence your decision-making and life choices. The US-based VIA Institute has identified 24 character strengths that everyone possesses, but in differing quantities. These include creativity, curiosity, kindness, leadership, perseverance, humility and social intelligence.

3. Goal setting

One of the major factors of success is having direction. Setting goals and marking milestones help you see the results of your efforts, give you motivation and inspiration, and turn dreams into something tangible and attainable. Achieving your goals depends on your level of commitment and your solutions to obstacles you encounter along the way.

4. Resilience

Staying calm under pressure and bouncing back from setbacks and disappointment is a key attribute for success in school, work and life in general. Resilience is the strength that enables you to confront obstacles and overcome failures, deal with different types of people, and cope with uncomfortable or unfair situations.

5. Mindfulness

Rejecting distractions and staying focused on the present are key skills that will serve you well throughout your life. Mindfulness is the act of staying in the moment and on task. Practicing and honing your mindfulness will increase your ability to concentrate, which will reduce stress and anxiety, and help you remain calm and in control.

6. Self-acceptance

One of the toughest elements to develop, self-acceptance is the ability to acknowledge your flaws while celebrating your strengths. Even the most successful people in the world have things they don’t like about themselves and accepting yourself as you are is an important step in maintaining forward momentum and maintaining self-belief.

7. Optimism

With optimism, you anticipate being successful, you view setbacks failure as being temporary, able to be overcome and something to work to improve. Rather than thinking to yourself when you have been successful, I was lucky or that wasn’t too hard, you firmly believe that your success is due to your ability, talent and effort. With optimism, you take responsibility for your own actions and attempt to correct or modify your behaviour to prevent setbacks.


GRIT is a determination and passion to persevere toward a long-term goal despite being confronted by significant obstacles and distractions. You use your GRIT to silence your procrastination and excuses and accomplish the things you need to get done, and not just focus on the things you want to do. Often the necessary tasks are the least glamourous and immediately rewarding but can be the most important steps in reaching your goals.

9. Time management

Building good time management skills isn’t simply about getting things done on time. While that is important, setting priorities, being able to break down long-term projects into smaller steps, and having a good system for organising your resources are the keys to getting things done on time.

10. Getting along

Success is more than having the right technical skills or having gotten good grades in school. Your ability to build strong relationships and networks of contacts and supports as well as being able to work for and with all sorts of people is king. Being empathic in being able to understand a person’s point of view will strengthen your relationships with friends, teachers, colleagues and clients. Knowing how to get along with everyone no matter their background or differences as well as being able to solve conflicts peacefully is key to your future success.
Michael Bernard’s best-selling book, “You Can Do It! What Every Student (and Parent) Should Know About Success in School and Life” has helped many students over the years to perform to their potential in exams and make career decisions that maximise their potential.

Find out more about the 10 elements of a successful mind with The Successful Mind at School and Work program preview.


  1. Ben Singer-Reply
    February 22, 2018 at 12:36 am

    Brilliant stuff here Michael. It’s great to read these steps and apply them to my youngest.

    I wonder if there should be attention placed on accountability/ keeping their word? I find in today’s society that too many people make empty promises. I want my son to deliver when he puts his name to it.

    Thanks for the tips,

    A parent trying his best

    • Aaron @ ACS-Reply
      February 22, 2018 at 1:17 am

      Thanks for your comment Ben.

      Accountability is certainly an important trait for people to develop. Taking responsibility for both failure and success is a big part of developing resilience and GRIT. It allows children to understand that it is vital to acknowledge and learn from mistakes, but to also take some satisfaction and pride from what goes well.

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