A few years ago, Angela Lee Duckworth left a a high-flying job in consulting for a more demanding role — teaching math to seventh graders in a New York public school. He desire to find out more about how to predict success with learning led her to becoming a psychologist.
Through field research she found that:
In all those very different contexts, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. And it wasn’t social intelligence. It wasn’t good looks, physical health, and it wasn’t IQ. It was grit.
Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. 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. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
If grit is the answer, how do we go about building it? Duckworth says:
So far, the best idea I’ve heard about building grit in kids is something called “growth mindset.” This is an idea developed at Stanford University by Carol Dweck, and it is the belief that the ability to learn is not fixed, that it can change with your effort.
Dr. Dweck has shown that when kids read and learn about the brain and how it changes and grows in response to challenge, they’re much more likely to persevere when they fail, because they don’t believe that failure is a permanent condition.
So growth mindset is a great idea for building grit. But we need more.
In an interview with ASCD for their issue on resilience and learning, Duckworth says:
Carol Dweck, more than anyone else, is a role model for me. We’re collaborating with her on a couple of projects. One thing we’ve found is that children who have more of a growth mind-set tend to be grittier. The correlation isn’t perfect, but this suggests to me that one of the things that makes you gritty is having a growth mind-set. The attitude “I can get better if I try harder” should help make you a tenacious, determined, hard-working person.
In theory, the work that Carol has done to show that you can change your mind-set would also be relevant to changing your grit. We’re developing an intervention, inspired by her work, to look at making students aware of the value of deliberate practice, the kind of effortful practice that really improves skills. In Carol’s work, she shows kids scientific evidence of brain plasticity—the fact that peoples’ brains change with experience. Although at first they might respond to frustration and failure by thinking, “I should just give up; I can’t do this,” Carol uses testimonials from other students to show kids that those feelings and beliefs, as strong as they are, can change.
We’re using the same kind of format to try to communicate information to students about deliberate practice, which is very effortful practice on things you can’t yet do.
For a deeper dive on the work of Carol Dweck, I recommend Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.