5 Crucial Mindsets that Will Help Your Students Shift from Surviving to Thriving

Remember when we thought 2020 was going to be “the best year ever”?

Then 2020 looked at us and said, “Hold my beer… and murder hornets and…” 

The past several months have been incredibly frustrating, frightening, anxiety-inducing, taxing, and a whole bunch of other brutal adjectives. We’ve all felt the challenge of being much physically closer to our partners, kids, and other family members more than we probably would like to admit. But it has been nice to see our fur babies and PlayStations more, while Amazon, Netflix, and Disney+ accounts are getting the attention they deserve. 

Yet, while we all have struggled with the ever-changing elements of the “new normal,” there’s a group of people who are heading into some particularly uncharted waters: College students. 

Think about the different support systems you relied upon as a new student — such as your roommates, the friends who sat beside you in Psychology 101, and the first professor who made it feel okay to ask questions. Thanks to them, you got through it.

Well, this year, everything has been turned on its head, leaving students and their institutions with more unknowns than anyone can count. 

If you had to relive your own first year in college, knowing what you know now, you’d probably do things a bit differently. For example, you’d probably: 

  • Reach out to your professors early through e-mail and schedule a Zoom call to talk through your top fears and concerns. 
  • Visit the campus bookstore to get a head start on book lists. 
  • Check in with your residence life office to find out what to expect regarding social distancing parameters, things you should be packing, and how to best get in contact with other students living in your building. 
  • Connect with your academic support and success offices to talk about your academic timetable and their available support services.

If you found yourself nodding at any of these suggestions, then congratulations! You’re shifting from surviving to thriving. 

Surviving vs. Thriving

How many times has someone asked you, “How’s it going?” with a sympathetic head-tilt and you answered with the “I’m fine” head-bob?

Well, what does surviving mean to you? One way to look at it is as a means of adapting in the face of challenging circumstances, even though it costs you time, money, relationships, and other freedoms.

On the other hand, thriving involves using skills, strategies, and routines to live a happier, more fulfilling life. 

Someone who is struggling is likely:: 

  • Stuck analyzing the past and worrying about the future 
  • Unaware of the good things happening in their life
  • Prone to explaining why things happen to them through a pessimistic lens
  • Judgemental and self-critical 
  • Used to giving up whenever they feel overwhelmed 

Focusing on these next five tips will hopefully help anyone you know like that to make the shift from surviving to thriving. 


Mindfulness is a nice buzzword, but what does it mean for student affairs? As the American Psychological Association puts it, “mindfulness is a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experiences without judgment.” 

That means staying present and taking in what is going on in your world — even if that’s nothing. Perhaps the sun is out, you have air conditioning in your home, and you have “the cutest dog ever.”

Sounds simple enough, right? But we all know how easy it is to be pulled away from mindfulness. Checking your phone while studying or working, going down a YouTube wormhole, and mindlessly scrolling social media are all huge time vampires that aren’t designed for staying zen. 

So how do you practice mindfulness? Here are a few ideas: 

  • Do simple exercises like focusing on breathing for two minutes in the morning or before and after a virtual meeting or class. 
  • Yawn and stretch every hour. Even if it’s a fake yawn, it may force a real one. 
  • Do Yoga. But don’t just try any yoga; do mindful yoga. Try to focus on the positions you are in and the feelings once you experience as you move on to the next. 

People practicing mindfulness through these simple exercises have reported: 

  • Fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety 
  • Reduced emotional reactivity at work and in their personal relationships
  • Increases in working memory, attention span, self-insight, intuition, and fear modulation
  • Renewed ability to focus and block out distractions

Survey respondents also reported that they were able to better communicate with their partners about their emotions surrounding conflict. 

Now, you might be thinking, “How am I supposed to add time to my schedule to meditate and do yoga? My schedule is jam-packed already!” Well, it’s actually pretty easy to add some of these components to your everyday routine. Here are some simple adjustments to consider: 

  • The next time you are going from one Zoom class or meeting to the next, stretch and yawn while refilling your water bottle. 
  • Add five minutes of yoga or stretching to the end or the start of your weekly workouts. 
  • Take two minutes after you wake up to focus on your breathing. 


Gratitude is about more than just saying “thank you” when someone does you a favor. It’s about noticing the good things that are happening around you and taking them in. 

Try paying attention to the good times, being grateful for them, and see what starts to happen. You may begin to notice a boost in your self-confidence, along with a boost in your daily happiness. I did! 

Some people find it helpful to track their gratitude through journaling, volunteering, playing music, or engaging in other art forms. 

You can also take two minutes at the beginning or end of each day to reflect on three things you are grateful for. 

Another great way to explore gratitude is to simply express it! Tell the people whom you are grateful for that you are and see what starts to happen. 

You’ll begin to train your brain to see gratitude more often. Think of Tetris. The game involves looking for patterns, which we train our brains to get better at every time we play. The same is true for gratitude; the more you look for it, the more you’ll find it. 


Optimism is all about how we choose to see the world and our role in it. Let me reiterate the most important word in that previous sentence: Choose. When you view the good times as a result of something you have done, you’ll end up having more energy and hope — helping you to also deal with the bad times you’ll encounter. 

It’s your view of life events that can change your experience. Both optimists and pessimists will be correct in their definitions of what happened but they will feel differently about their experiences. It’s about what it means to you that counts! 

How can you add more optimism to your life? Here are some suggestions.

  • Guide your thinking. Remember that negative thoughts attract negative energy and vise versa. 
  • Visualize the different components of your success and what you want to accomplish.
  • Read books and magazines, watch movies, and write creatively. Writing can be particularly effective because it challenges you to put positive affirmations on paper or a digital screen. Writing about your negative feelings can be therapeutic as well.  
  • Be kind to yourself. Don’t get too down on yourself if something doesn’t go as planned. 


I’m talking about being your own best friend. Self-compassion allows you to bounce back and refocus your efforts on resilience and self-care. 

Patience and understanding can be good friends in times like these. You may be patient and understanding with friends and family when they make mistakes, but what do you do when you make a mistake? 

Try each of these things the next time you make a mistake. They’re great ways to display self-compassion;

  • Recognize the mistake and make a plan to remedy it and learn from it.
  • Remember that you are human, and humans make mistakes.
  • Remember that changing is never simple, but it’s much easier once you stop being so hard on yourself. 
  • Remember that every day is a new opportunity. Don’t let self-doubt or judgment hold you back from making the most of tomorrow. 


Grits are not just a breakfast side dish! 

Grit is about passion and perseverance over a long period of time. It’s about the courage to help manage fears and failure. People with grit are achievement-oriented and recognize the difference between excellence and perfection. 

The best part about grit is that you can learn it anytime. Grit allows you to stay focused and motivated, no matter what gets in your way, including a pandemic.

  • You want to get healthier? Buy some dumbbells, a yoga mat, and build a schedule that fits into your life. 
  • Looking for a change in career? Fire up the internet, put on your best clothes, and start applying. 

The point I am making here is that being gritty is based on a choice you make to stick to your goals despite the obstacles in your way. 

gif of Stephen Colbert saying 'live your best life' and pointing at the camera

Remember:  Skill does not equal achievement. Without effort, your talents will only equate to unmet potentials. Think of someone who handles stress well. Try to emulate their strategies. Don’t know what those are? Ask them! 

So there you have it. The year 2020 still seems to be a mess but you don’t have to settle for merely surviving it. You can get into and stay in the thriving category for the rest of it and into 2021! 

How can you help your campus community take the steps to switch from surviving to thriving? We’d love to hear your ideas. Connect with us on Twitter @themoderncampus or @anthmassi. 

Tony Massi

About the author: Anthony Massi (he/his) is a Happiness Expert for Modern Campus Presence. He previously worked and taught in student affairs in Canada for over 10 years. His passions include history, all things Disney, and his dogs, Pepper Potts and Harley Quinn. Learn how we can help get your students involved.