The strategic mindset improves strategies and performance

Patricia Chen and colleagues introduce a new concept: the strategic mindset. This mindset appears to be useful when we are dealing with new tasks or setbacks.

Metacognitive strategies

Nowadays, in work, it is more important than in the past to find out for yourself how to approach and achieve things. Routine jobs are less and less the norm. We all regularly encounter new problems, circumstances, goals, and tasks for which we must come up with suitable approaches as we work.

These kinds of challenges require so-called metacognitive strategies. Examples of such strategies are planning, progress monitoring and adjusting our approach or strategy. The more people use these types of metacognitive strategies, the better their commitment, progression, and performance. And this applies to all kinds of areas in life.

The strategic mindset

Chen, et al. (2020) sought to find out why some people use these types of strategies more than others and whether their use can be learned. They introduced the concept of "strategic mindset". This means that in the event of a setback you ask yourself questions such as "How can I approach this differently?" and "Is there a better way to do this?"

They examined in three studies:
  1. whether having a strategic mindset predicts the extent to which people use metacognitive strategies, 
  2. whether this mindset predicts better performance and 
  3. whether such a mindset can be learned.

Strategic mindset predicts strategies and performance

Study 1 (N = 365) measured the extent to which students had a strategic mindset, the extent to which they applied metacognitive strategies were measured, and their grade point average (GPA). The figure below shows that the strategic mindset predicted their grades through the use of metacognitive strategies.

Study 2 replicated study 1 in a different domain. Adults (N = 365) filled in the strategic mindset scale. They were also asked to name a professional goal and a health or fitness goal and how much progress they had already made towards those goals. Then they filled in the scale that measured the use of metacognitive skills. The figure below shows that in this study a robust effect of a strategic mindset was found through the use of metacognitive strategies.

Next, the researchers looked at the effect of the strategic mindset when controlling for some other constructs related to self-regulation, namely self-efficacy, self-control, grit and growth mindset. The strategic mindset correlated low to moderately with these constructs and still predicted progress when controlled for these other constructs.

Inducing strategic mindsets improves strategies and performance

Study 3 was a two-step experiment in which participants (N = 134) in the first part got to read an article on the strategic mindset or a control article (on an unrelated topic). In the second part, another researcher in a seemingly unrelated study completed a task. During the task, the researchers got participants to self-report on the use of metacognitive strategies and also had this observed by independent observers.

They looked at whether participants from the experimental group (who had read the strategic mindset article) performed better and also whether they would practice more beforehand (participants were given some free time before the task started).

Participants in the experimental condition reported more use of metacognitive strategies than participants in the control group, as expected. They also practiced more than participants from the control group. This shows that inducing a strategic mindset increased the use of metacognitive strategies.

Furthermore, it was found that the more participants used metacognitive strategies, the better they performed on the task. The figure below shows how strategic mindset predicted performance through the increased use of metacognitive strategies.

It was striking that only 4 of the participants afterwards said that they thought that parts 1 and 2 of the study had anything to do with each other.


This research suggests that asking certain questions can help you deal more effectively with challenging new tasks and setbacks. This can be done by using questions such as:
  1. How can I do this better?
  2. What can I do to get better at this?
  3. What can I do to help myself?