Again and again, teachers, professors and anyone else in the teaching professions will tell you that IQ is not the only difference between their best and worst students. Increasingly, psychologists are finding that the one characteristic that is emerging as a significant predictor of success is not social intelligence, or good looks, or physical health, or IQ. It’s grit. It’s been said that grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint. But what is grit? And how can it be nurtured? “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals,” says American psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth, who currently spearheads some important studies into the role grit plays in success. “Grit is having stamina,” she continues. “Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality.”
Developing Grit in Students
Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, spawned the creation of several growth mindset interventions. One of the most well-established programs is from MindsetWorks. Their focus is on working with teachers, students, and parents to develop growth mindsets in students. Their signature program is Brainology for students in grades 4-9.
The Brainology curriculum teaches students how their brain works and how effort and learning affect their success. Dweck’s research identified that when students understand this information, they are more motivated and perform better academically (2006).
Another important aspect of developing grit in students is understanding that, according to Duckworth’s research, grit increases as we age. That 12-year-old who needs to get “grittier” likely will because of changing circumstances throughout life. She encourages people to engage in deliberate practice and to create a culture of grit. To do this emphasize:
• that mistakes happen, but they are temporary opportunities from which we can learn and grow• that mistakes happen, but they are temporary opportunities from which we can learn and grow
• problem-solving by breaking the problem down into smaller, more manageable parts, and understanding where they may have control over the problem
• the importance and usefulness of timely, detailed feedback
• questions that encourage self-reflection• creating goals that are just outside of their reach
• repeatedly practicing the skill the student wants to improve
If you ask an adult what makes them gritty, they will probably say, “life.” What they mean by this is that the experiences we encounter break us down and build us up. It is through failure that we learn our greatest lessons, and those lessons often are about what it takes for us to achieve our goals.
The Big Life Journal company creates resources that help children ages four and up to develop a growth mindset. Their work, and these resilience-building activities, are based on research done by Carol Dweck and Angela Duckworth. One interesting thing to note is that these also are activities adults can do.
1. Find a purpose. When people identify their goals, this contributes to their sense of purpose, and it motivates them to act.1. Find a purpose. When people identify their goals, this contributes to their sense of purpose, and it motivates them to act.
2. Interview people who have experienced tough times and lived to tell the tale. This could be a grandparent, another family member, or a neighbor.
3. There are lots of examples of famous people who have overcome obstacles. Watch a movie, or read a book or article about them.
4. Find examples of grit in nature. For example, the corn stalk that grows between a road grate, or the tree that grows amidst the rubble.
5. Read books together about perseverance.
6. Help your child figure out the hard part of the problem they are experiencing. Breaking it down makes it easier to tackle. It also helps them determine which parts are within their control.
7. Try “the hard thing” rule used by Duckworth. Everyone chooses a difficult task. They must finish whatever they start. No one can select the task for someone else.
8. Try the “Grit Pie” exercise. The pie is the problem. Each slice is a possible cause. Have the child determine if the cause is permanent, temporary and whether they blame themselves or someone else. Often, the child will identify the problems as temporary. You can help them see how they can gain control by making some changes.
9. Role-model a growth mindset. When your children see you setting goals, overcoming setbacks, and then achieving goals, you are reinforcing a growth mindset. You also are showing them what grit and resilience look like.
Duckworth created the Grit Scale so you can discover how gritty you are. It is a ten-question, Likert-type survey. You rate your level of agreement with each statement. Your grit score ranges from 0.0 to 5.0. The higher the score, the grittier you are as compared to the results of other American adults who participated in the most recent study (though this is not specifically identified.) Results are immediately provided.