Recently I was asked to speak at Mindful Mornings Asheville on the topic of grit. As I prepared for the talk and reflected on my own personal journey with grit and the grit I was intentionally building in my girls, I realized that my most precious gifts in life were directly due to GRIT!
The two biggest being: my girls and that fact that I was alive. Not to go into too many details but I was symptomatic at 19, diagnosed at 27 with a severe medical condition and told I would never be able to have kids and that I would be dead by the time I was 50. Challenge accepted!
This diagnoses and prediction came at the peak of my Outward Bound instructing years which was a crucible for grit. Grit was the value we lived as instructors and what we facilitated in our students. After all, Outward Bound’s motto and guiding light is, “To serve, to strive, and not to yield”.
Grit is what told me to call bull on the doctor’s prediction of not having kids and to go after the dream of motherhood with everything I had, however that would look. And to explore alternative approaches to address my medical condition so that turning 50 would be a reality, which I did in September.
Grit is what got me through those two days in ICU when the birth of my twin girls went terribly wrong and I ended up with an emergency hysterectomy and a 50/50 chance I would live.
Grit is what fuels my research, my hope with each new protocol I embark on, as I dance with chronic illness.
And Grit is what my sweet, bright girls access each day through their dyslexia, dyscalcula and processing speed deficits.
Grit is a gift! A gift of passion and perseverance. A gift of achieving the impossible. A gift of motherhood of living and of learning!! A gift that I want to make sure my girls are indebted with.
Angela Duckworth, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, has been studying grit since 2005 and has found that grit, not intelligence or academic achievement, is the most reliable predictor of success.
She defines grit as the passion and perseverance for long term goals. She says one way to think about grit is to consider what grit isn’t. Grit isn’t talent. Grit isn’t luck. Grit isn’t how intensely, for the moment, you want something.
Instead, grit is about having a goal you care about so much that it organizes and gives meaning to almost everything you do.
And grit is holding steadfast to that goal. It’s about moving in a direction with consistency and endurance, like having a clear inner compass that guides all your decision and actions.
We can’t just give grit to our children. But we can develop it in them. As Duckworth says, “Kids are not able to just spontaneously grow up to be gritty people without being supported in that.”
So how do we do that as parents? If we know that grit is the one single greatest predictor of success for our kids, how do we give them this gift? Based on the work of Angela Duckworth, I lay out 7 actionable items we can do as parents to support the development of grit in our kids.
1. Let Them Find a Passion
One of the characteristics of “gritty” people is that they are, “Especially motivated to seek happiness through focused engagement and a sense of meaning or purpose.”
Letting our kiddos find their own passion is necessary for their development of grit. In a story for NPR Duckworth stated, “I don’t think people can become truly gritty and be great at things they don’t love, so when we try to develop grit in kids, we also need to find and help them cultivate their passions.”
The challenge here as parents is to allow our kids the space and exploration to find their passion, not what we hope is their passion. And when our kids find their passion, support it in anyway possible.
It is through this pursuing of their passion that they will learn that hard work and effort pay off. And because they love what they are doing, they will be more willing to engage in the hard work and effort.
I recently saw this in my daughter. Due to her learning differences she does not always enjoy school work. Especially anything to do with reading. Understandably so as a 9 year with severe dyslexia.
When we work on her sight words, chapter books, etc it would be easy to assume she lacks effort. But when you see her with her art, well the hard work and effort is absolutely breathtaking. She has found her passion and that is art.
One raining Sunday this spring she embarked on her entry for Doodle for Google. And worked 6 hours straight, humming along as she created her masterpiece. I had to force her to take breaks to eat and drink. She was wrapped up in her passion and the hard work flowed effortlessly.
2. Model a Growth Mindset
In her 2013 TED talk, Duckworth said that the best way to increase grit in children is to teach what Carol Dweck, Stanford professor and author of “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”, calls a “growth mindset”.
Dweck has found that people with a “growth mindset” are more resilient and tend to push through struggle because they believe that hard work is part of the process and they do not believe failure is a permanent condition.”
One way for us, as parents, to encourage a growth mindset in our kids is to praise effort over ability. By doing this we create a belief that hard work and effort get them to their goals rather that solely relying on their innate attributes.
So take the example of my daughter and her Doodle for Google project. During those 6 hours I was intentional in praising her effort. For example, I would say, “Wow, look how hard you are working, I love seeing the effort and focus you are putting into this project”.
3. Offer Challenges/Create Prior Experiences
Find experiences and challenges that place your kids in the stretch zone. When your kids engage in these experiences it requires them to be uncomfortable, to learn new skills, to be courageous, to be vulnerable.
These prior experiences build a reference point for your kids to tap into when we need to dig deep and find the perseverance and stamina to make it through something hard. They build muscle memory, both physical and emotional, of just how capable they are.
Seek out these experiences for your kids. Learning to overcome adversity is best achieved with practice and along the way they will learn that there is more in them that they thought.
One way our family provides these experiences for our girls is through the wilderness. We have found the wilderness to be an amazing place to grow gritty kids. For this very reason of providing stretch zone moments.
Last summer my husband and girls were on a 5 day canoe expedition on the South Fork of the New River. And it poured with rain. The kind of rain where a raincoat doesn’t even make a difference. Where you can barely see the person in front of you because it is raining so hard. And they did it. They paddled, camped, cooked, etc all in this unforgiving rain (see picture).
A few weeks after the trip we were walking as a family. It was getting dark and we suggested to the girls, who were choosing a more adventurous path, that they should stay with us as it was easier to see in the waning light. To which our one daughter looked at us in disbelief and said, “We survived camping in 5 days of pouring rain, I think we can handle this path.”
And she was right! They could handle that path and they did. The stretch zone living of that camping trip had expanded her capacity for challenge and for grit.
4. Teach them to Fail
In our overly photo-shopped world of projected perfections, failure is not easily embraced. Yet, failing is where the magic is. It is where we learn our greatest life lessons. Where we learn that we have what it takes to figure it out. To pick ourselves up and try again. Failure is the canvas of grit.
Teach your kids to fail, to celebrate failure and to see it for the great teacher it is. Talk about your own failures. Talk about setbacks as they arise and help them develop alternative plans.
Share with them the stories of others who have failed before eventually reaching their goal. And talk about what they think kept those people going. Like Edison’s 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. What would have happened if he had given up after only 10 attempts? Normalize failure for your kids.
5. A Culture of Grit
Find a community for your kids where there is a culture of grit and have them join. When your kids become part of this gritty culture, they will conform to the group and adopt their gritty habits.
When it’s socially expected to wake up at 5 a.m. to practice, it becomes what they do. Eventually, the values of the culture we belong to become part of our identity. When values like grit become part of our identity, decisions on those values become habit and automatic.
Gritty people practice gratitude. They see the good in life which allows them to see possibilities. When we meet our brain’s negativity bias with the gratitude in our heart we become hopeful, abundant and positive.
Studies have found a link between grit and optimism. It is hard to set goals and persevere without a positive sense of the future. Gratitude feeds optimism.
7. Be a Model of Grittiness
The best way for our kids to learn grit is to see grit. Model resilience for your children and show them that failing is nothing to be afraid of. Show your kids that you take on risks that are sometimes scary.
We like to think our kids learn best from what we tell them, but we all know they learn best from what we show them. And if we show them our grittiness they will learn to be gritty themselves.
They see it, even when we think they don’t. Go out there and be gritty. You got this and your kids will to.
This spring break we went camping and rock climbing as a family. Due to my chronic illness I haven’t felt like rock climbing, a sport I love. Through sheer grit I am getting better and clawing my way out of chronic illness.
So on this particular trip I felt like I had a few climbs in me. And I did it. I got on the rock. It wasn’t pretty but I did it. And it felt amazing!! But the most amazing part was at the end of the trip as I was debriefing with the girls. We always do a family debrief of roses, thorns and buds (what did you love, what did you not like, what are you looking forward to). My one daughter without hesitation and with great excitement enthusiastically said, “My rose of the trip was seeing Mom climb”.
They see us. So for them, if not for you, be gritty!!