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What is Grit, Why is it Important, & How Can We Develop It?

Grit is essentially one’s ability to endure and persist over time on a journey towards accomplishing big and hard things.

Tim Shirk | @timashirk
April 8,  2020
Perspectives

The term Grit is in vogue in parenting, education and business circles, and for good reason: it is a hallmark of success. People with grit combine a strong motivation to achieve long-term goals with the resilience and “stick withitness” to see a goal through to fruition. Based on the groundbreaking research of Angela Duckworth, author of the best selling book and wildly popular Ted Talk Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, grit is a character trait that we want to cultivate in our children, our students and ourselves.

So What Exactly is Grit?

Duckworth defines grit as passion and perseverance for long-term and meaningful goals. Essentially, it is one’s ability to endure and persist over time on a journey towards accomplishing big and hard things. Grit is a combination of desire and fortitude, in which an individual is willing to do the many small, mundane tasks that give us no pleasure in and of themselves, so that we may realize our dreams. Grit is one’s ability to overcome adversity, to bounce back from defeat, to learn from failure, and to “keep on keeping on.” It is falling down nine times and getting up ten; it is when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Grit is one’s ability to overcome adversity, to bounce back from defeat, to learn from failure, and to “keep on keeping on.”
Grit is one’s ability to overcome adversity, to bounce back from defeat, to learn from failure, and to “keep on keeping on.”

So Why is Grit So Important?

Because talent is overrated. The world is filled with what could have been, and talent is in no short supply. Grit is what turns talent into skill, and turns potential into reality. We all know somebody who had tons of smarts, or great athletic ability, but for whatever reason did very little with it. We also know that person who surprised us all; nothing seemingly out of the ordinary about them, but their hard work and persistence over time focused towards their goals produced incredible results. When talent meets grit, the potential can be realized. So if you, as a parent or educator, want your children or students to realize their potential and achieve their most meaningful goals, then we need to understand what is grit and how to cultivate it.

So How Do We Develop Grit?

The field of performance psychology is producing a growing body of science in the area of grit, motivation, and mindset. Although what we know (or think we know) is far from conclusive, research psychologists such as Angela Duckworth and Carol Dweck have provided us with insights that educators, parents, and the business community can use to cultivate traits such as grit. These traits have been linked to higher performance and increased success. Below are a few ideas/concepts/strategies that parents and educators can use to support the development of grit in themselves and others.

1. Find A Passion. Kids do not need to know what they will do for the rest of their life, but they do need to identify and pursue passions. In the process of pursuing their passions, which will most likely change over time, they develop grit. Those ballet classes, guitar lessons, capoeira, jiu-jitsu, and basketball practices create environments in which kids while pursuing their passions, learn how to overcome challenges and persist. If they have a coach getting on them, challenging them, and holding them accountable, even better.

Kids do not need to know what they will do for the rest of their life, but they do need to identify and pursue passions.
Kids do not need to know what they will do for the rest of their life, but they do need to identify and pursue passions.

2. I Can Do Hard Things. It’s the ultimate chicken and the egg: does success breed confidence, or does confidence breed success? The short answer is both. Kids need to do hard things so that they learn that they can do hard things. The more hard things they do, the more they know and believe that they can do hard things. We need to get kids out of their comfort zones and encourage them to take appropriate risks.

3. Learning Not to Quit, When to Quit, and How to Quit. There is a saying that quitting makes a quitter. I believe there is some truth to that in that when we are quick to quit on things when things get tough when we don’t have immediate success, or when we don’t get what we want; it can become a repeating pattern in our lives. This pattern can rob us of success because persistence and resilience are essential to achieving long-term, meaningful goals. Sometimes, however, we need to give up things that are not in alignment with our long-term goals, health, and happiness. Sometimes quitting is exactly what we need to do. Angela Duckworth provides an insightful lesson and two rules she uses with her own kids when it comes to quitting.

4. Let Your Kids Own Their Struggles and Deal With Frustration. Although it might be difficult to watch your child struggle, it is essential for them. According to Duckworth, taking risks and struggling is an important way that children learn. She advises that “when your child is dealing with a skill, activity, or sport that is difficult for them to master, resist the urge to jump in and “save” them and do not allow them to quit at the first sign of discomfort. Don’t be afraid of your child’s feelings of sadness or frustration; this is how they develop resilience.” So if you find your child in a challenging situation, outside of their comfort zone, dealing with frustration or facing their fears, let them struggle and encourage them not to give up. That struggle is essential. Don’t take it from them, as it will help them develop skills they will need to face life’s challenges.

5. Celebrate Failure, Celebrate Mistakes. Fear of failure and fear of making mistakes can keep us from trying. When we don’t try, we’ve already failed. When we celebrate failure and mistakes as a natural byproduct of stepping out of our comfort zone and an essential part of the learning process, they can become valuable opportunities for learning and growth. When children make mistakes, help them take a step back and take an objective look at what happened. What strategies did we use? Which strategies were effective and which weren’t? What kind of attitudes, beliefs, and expectations did we bring to the task? What kind of effort did we give? Based on what we learned, what would we do differently next time?

Redirect conversations that shift toward the externalization of blame, identifying causes outside of the self as factors responsible for lack of success. Externalizing blame is primarily an ego defense mechanism and a telltale sign of a fixed mindset in development. Placing blame on a parent, teacher, coach, testing conditions, peers, siblings, the weather, or on whom or whatever is counterproductive. When this happens, redirect the conversation back towards factors that the child has control over, such as strategy, effort, preparation, perseverance, and attitude.

Redirect the conversation back towards factors that the child has control over, such as strategy, effort, preparation, perseverance, and attitude.
Redirect the conversation back towards factors that the child has control over, such as strategy, effort, preparation, perseverance, and attitude.

6. Praise The Process. One of the key strategies Carol Dweck promotes to support the development of a growth mindset in students is to praise the process. Dweck found that when praise focuses on traits or qualities that children perceive as “fixed” such as innate talent or intelligence, it can unintentionally reinforce a fixed mindset, because children begin to associate success or failure with innate qualities or traits over which they have no control. However, when we praise the process, be it effort or strategy, we reinforce a growth mindset. A growth mindset correlates success not with fixed traits that are outside the child’s control but rather to factors over which they do have control, such as effort, strategy, attitude, and skill development. For students with a growth mindset, success isn’t a matter of if, it is a matter of when.

So How Can I Learn More?

See the resources below if you’re interested in learning more about grit and growth mindset.

I am currently the Principal at The American School of Rio de Janeiro Barra Campus. I am very interested in professional learning communities, professional learning, formative assessment, using data to increase student learning and empower teachers, performance psychology and fostering positive school parent partnerships.

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