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8 Tips to Grow Your Grit

What's more important for success than talent, social skills, motivation, IQ, or practice? It's a scrappy little quality called "grit." This week, the Savvy Psychologist offers 8 tips to cultivate grit in kids--or yourself!

By
Ellen Hendriksen, PhD,
August 22, 2014
Episode #033

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It’s time for back to school—a perfect time to showcase the topic suggested by Savvy Psychologist listener, Ty C., of New York City: grit. 

What is Grit?

Whether we’re talking about mettle, perseverance, doggedness, fortitude, or tenacity, it can all be boiled down to four letters: G-R-I-T. Grit is the ability to stay interested in and expend effort towards long-term goals. In short, it’s the opposite of flakiness. 

It’s also more important for kids’ school achievement—and success in life—than talent, social skills, motivation, IQ, or practice. Indeed, while a key component of success may be the now-famous Ten Thousand Hours of Practice rule, grit is what compels someone to show up for ten thousand hours of practice in the first place.

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Dr. Angela Duckworth, of the University of Pennsylvania, is the originator and best-known researcher of grit, which she defines as, “working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failures, adversity, and plateaus in progress.” 

In short, grit predicts who will stay in for the long haul: who makes it through West Point’s grueling summer training program, who finishes a punishing surgical residency program, who wins the national Spelling Bee, and who gets into the Ivy League, even with lower SAT scores than their peers.

As a concept, grit is a bit of a chameleon, because it is both a trait and a skill. In other words, grit appears to be an inborn part of personality, but that doesn’t mean it’s fixed--it’s not simply that "persevering people persevere." Grit is simultaneously a skill that can be learned and practiced. Grit can be grown, even if the cutting edge of research is still figuring out exactly what works.

And you don’t have to be John Wayne or star in a Coen brothers movie to show some grit. To that end, here are 8 tips to foster grit in a school-aged child (or, for adults who aspire to grittiness, how to grow your own grit):

Tip #1: Encourage Practice

Even better, encourage challenging practice. Practice shouldn’t rehash a skill in which you’re already competent; aim for something one step above your current abilities.

Tip #2: Praise Effort, Not Outcome

When we praise a child with, “Perfect!,” or “Great job,” their exertion dries up—there’s nowhere left to go. Instead, praise effort: “That must have taken a lot of work to be so great.” Or, “You worked really hard on that!”

Tip #3: Teach That Frustration and Confusion are Signs of Progress

The thoughts, “Frustration means it’s time to quit,” or “Since I’m confused, I probably can’t do it,” should be replaced with. “Getting frustrated is a normal part of learning something hard,” or “If I’m confused, that means I’m figuring it out.” Offer these re-frames when you hear those first exasperated sighs and grumbles of frustration.

Along the same lines, offer support, but don’t swoop in to rescue kids at the first sign of struggle. As long as eventual success is within reach, allow your child to labor over those stubborn LEGOs or troublesome multiplication tables, and reinforce the struggle as a part of learning.

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