grit: all you need to know
RESILIENCE is the No.1 predictor of future success for our kids.
So, how do you teach kids resilience?
The answer is actually more straightforward than you’d imagine...
why are some people successful while others fail?
We all want our kids to be successful at whatever they choose to do, but most of us are unsure how to go about ensuring this success. Better schools? Diverse interests? Or do we throw some more money at it? It doesn’t quite work this way. In fact, many adults who find that success eludes them had all these and more while growing up! What then is the deciding factor?
In trying to answer this, we breakdown Angela Duckworth’s book, where she explains how and why resilience is critical for success, and we also offer practical tips on how to teach your kids resilience.
about the book
This is the holy grail for hacking your child’s success. If you’ve ever wondered why after ticking all the right boxes, you keep falling short of success, this book not only offers you the why, it also shares practical tips on how to raise, happy, successful children.
Duckworth's research shows that success and happiness are predicated on something other than advantages that are mostly bestowed by genetic chance. GRIT or RESILIENCE sets the high achievers apart from the rest.
Resilience transcends how well you do in school, which school you went to, where you were born, or what social class you belong to. So, no matter the circumstances RESILIENCE levels the playing field for our kids.
talent is not enough
Everyone thinks that talent is the most important factor for children’s success but it isn’t. Yes, talent is very important however, we all know outrageously talented people who never quite fulfilled their promise, whilst their less talented counterparts enjoy great success.
Resilience sets them apart.
In this book, Duckworth explains the relationship between talent and achievement in two simple equations:
TALENT x EFFORT = SKILL
SKILL x EFFORT = ACHIEVEMENT
Her research confirms what we know through our own experience: TALENT can only take you so far. Sure, it can help, because it makes the process easier but your resilience is what turns your talent to skill and skill to success.
It's EFFORT that counts twice.
cultivating grit in children
Now that we know that talent, though useful is not enough, how do we help our kids cultivate grit, especially as the process is not as simple as teaching them to ride a bike or drive a car.
Thankfully, Duckworth goes on to break this down into a 4-step process that all of the successful people she studied followed:
We discuss each of these below and give you some practical ideas that you can use to help your kids to develop their grit. If we follow these steps carefully, our kids will know how to apply the right type and amount of effort to their dreams to ensure success.
We've all been here before – How do you get your little treasure interested in something?
The simplest way is to try lots of different activities, as Duckworth says ‘don’t be afraid to guess’. We second that, because on a hunch, we took our kids indoor climbing recently and they loved it.
However, if you want to avoid the legwork involved in this scattergun approach, we would recommend that you copy Jane Andraka* (link to her fantastic TedTalk 'Hijacking your child's education'). Success came when she started to look for activities for her kids to do that lay in the intersection of their interests and their talents.
So, if your kid loves computer games (interest) and has a logical mind (talent), try programming, or game design, or robotics. If they like fashion (interest) and are good at drawing (talent) why not look at fashion design, or sewing classes.
some tips on how to make your kid's interest stick...
- their choice
- play before work
If you want your kid to persevere at something, let them choose what that something is. My mum made me do Irish Dancing, which I detested and stopped at the first opportunity I got, I'm sure you have your own example!
Apart from you choosing something they'll hate, it should also be their choice for one other very important reason: parents are too bloody sensible. We think in terms of future economic potential, which often results in us steering our kids to take the ‘safe and sensible' option.
Unfortunately, our understanding of the safe and sensible option is almost certainly completely wrong. Advances in technology and automation mean that most of the jobs that will be available when our kids grow up haven’t even been invented yet. Even white-collar jobs in medicine, finance and law are now being done by machines.
Ultimately we have no idea what skills the world will value in 10 to15 years time, so if your child loves carving, or chess, or crafting, or collecting cockroaches, please don’t force them to learn how to code.
Now is not the time to play safe, now is the time to take risks and by doing so you will help them to develop a skill that will always be required: RESILIENCE.
Once the ball is rolling, you have to invest some time and energy into keeping them interested, Jane Andraka calls this 'hunting for opportunities’. Some examples:
- Can they join a club, or watch someone perform their interest live?
- Can they practice with, or learn from someone who’s better?
- Can they do a project on their favourite player/protagonist?
- Is there a summer camp they can attend, or skills videos they can watch?
- Can they meet a professional (or ex-professional), or correspond with one?
If you are just taking your child to guitar lessons once a week and then expecting them to become the next Jimi Hendrix then this is probably a tad unrealistic. Kids aren't naturally inclined to 'hunt for opportunities' you are going to have to help them!
Learning a new interest should be fun.
In her book, Duckworth says that you must let your kids goof around as they will probably need to trigger and re-trigger interest.
Not being the most patient of souls, I have to admit that I find this a bit tricky, but this is perhaps the most important part of the whole process. Get too serious too soon, and you run the risk of extinguishing the spark you’ve worked so hard to ignite.
By all means, a gentle nudge here and there can help, however, our job is to see the bigger picture and as tempting as it might be to push... have patience, developing an interest takes time.
Positive reinforcement and support are vital, especially at an early stage, and nothing says encouragement like taking a genuine interest in what your kid is doing.
Help them to become fascinated with what they are interested in. If your kid likes art, visit galleries and museums, watch films on famous artists and YouTube videos demonstrating new techniques- practice together, encourage them to immerse themselves in their subject.
It’s important to remember, however, to praise the effort that your child is making and NOT their results.
Success at first, is simply turning up, there’s plenty of time later to worry about results. Plus, adopting this type of reward system (effort not results) will help your child to develop a growth mindset (more on this later).
All practice is good practice, right?
Unfortunately, it’s not enough just to put the hours in, it’s how you practice that counts and it turns out that people who are really good at stuff, practice in an entirely different way than the rest of us mere mortals.
Duckworth’s research showed that the best performers in any given field had learned the art of ‘deliberate practice’ as opposed to just plain old practice.
So, do more than just practice – practice right
features of deliberate practice
- goal setting
- small steps
- hard thing rule
Practice should not be aimless, instead, it needs to be done in relation to a specific short-term goal (which in turn needs to be part of a long-term goal). So before you even begin to practice you need to ask ‘What are you trying to improve and why?’
If your child is at the start of their journey then this might be learning or improving a skill or technique, and in our experience, this works best when you explain upfront what the purpose of the practice is.
So if it’s kicking with the left foot, or learning a new stitch, let your kid know that is what you will be doing. That way purposeful, deliberate practice becomes the normal way of practice.For slightly older kids then you should sit down and discuss what they need to improve and then help them to systematically practice these skills.
Practising at the edge of current capabilities is one of the features of deliberate practice and this needs to be front of mind when setting practice goals.
Deliberate practice often doesn’t last very long because this type of effort is difficult to sustain, also it often means focusing on getting better at the things that you find difficult.
World class performers tend to practice with intensity, in short bursts and frequently.
The early stages of learning any new skill are all about putting the building blocks in place for more difficult and complex tasks later. By moving too quickly you run the risk of damaging a critical feature of resilience; your child’s self-belief.
This happened to me when I moved school at age 13. Prior to the move, I used to be good at maths, I really loved it. When I got to my new school, my new classmates were half-way through a subject (algebra) that I’d not even heard of. Not having learned the basics of algebra, I struggled and started to fail, my confidence went and, I decided there and then that I was not a ‘maths person‘, my self-perception had changed and once you’ve become a ‘not a X person’, it’s a difficult path to reverse.
The key instead is to move forward in small incremental steps, to explain until they understand, and to practice continually until each step is mastered.
So rather than allowing kids to work stuff out for themselves, you show them how to build their blocks of competence and knowledge. In this way they begin to feel like their abilities improve with effort and ultimately, they make quicker progress. A recent study has shown that with failing maths students you can make dramatic improvements by taking this approach.
However, as my personal example illustrates, this is pretty tricky to recognise as a kid, so they will need some help and guidance.
For maximum results, Duckworth says that there needs to be a feedback mechanism in place that is both immediate and informative.
Goal- Practice- Reflect- Refine Goal- Practice.
This is tricky to do as a kid and if you are an inexperienced parent, so a Coach or a Mentor is vital.
If you are taking the role of coach/ mentor then there is a great article here which highlights what a deliberate practice looks like so you can base your practice on that.
Failing that, is there anybody you know or online who can help guide and mentor your child?
Or you could get your kid to practice something where the results are already known? By measuring performance against an already known quantity, you can compare performance and make the necessary adjustments.
In the book, Duckworth mentions something that she calls the ‘Hard Thing Rule’ which she does with her family and we like a lot. It has 4 features:
- everyone has to do something (mum and dad too)
- it must be something that requires daily deliberate practice
- you can quit, but only when season is over- (or some other natural break in proceedings) in other words, you must finish what you began
- you get to pick your hard thing
We love this idea and are currently doing it with our kids. We love the fact that we all share in the experience and we are showing what grit is to our kids by example.
The idea behind this is it’s a way of teaching your kids as Duckworth says, “not to quit on a down day”, resilience is about experiencing the highs and lows whilst knowing that you are in it for the long run.
We all have those moments when we want to give up (usually after a difficult experience), but the rules of the game, discussed and agreed with upfront, won’t allow you to. Once you take this possibility away, it’s amazing how resilient kids can be- often grit is simply a matter of choice.
3. find a purpose
Practicing right though important can get boring after a while and considering that kids generally have a short attention span, how do we get them to keep going when the excitement wanes?
We help them find a purpose.
A key attribute amongst the most successful is that at some point in their journey, what they do becomes more than just about them – they find a purpose. In her book, Duckworth explains the pathway that gritty people follow:
- self-orientated interest
- self-disciplined practice
- integration with other-centered purpose
In other words, in order to make the leap from interest and practice to having the motivation to become really good at something, you have to find a goal that is bigger than just your own personal gratification.
Each person will have their own motivation, so as well as doing it for themselves, they might be doing it for their family, or their parents, friends, or country.
This is called ‘intrinsic motivation’ and there is lots of research to confirm that people who are motivated in this way, perform better in every situation, period.
So how do we activate intrinsic motivation with our kids, how do we help them to find their purpose?
tips to help your child find their purpose
- find their why
Have a conversationw ith your child and keep asking them 'why something is important to them'. Here's an example:
Q: What is it about doing X that you like?
A: I like it because Y
Q: And what is it about Y that is important to you?
A: I like Y because it allows me to do Z
Q: Sounds cool, and why is doing Z important to you?
You get the picture: just as why (insert their previous answer) is important to them.
What you are looking for is that connection between what they are doing and something bigger than them, so:
- their classmates or teammates
- their school/ town/ country
- or it could be them as a person- doing this is who they are, they identify with it
You might be lucky and hit the jackpot fairly quickly, however, in our experience you need to probe further, possibly up to 10 or so questions.
This is a great exercise and it’s really worthwhile writing down the answers as they are a window into the thought processes that are running through your kid’s mind and can help you to uncover and remind them of their motivation.
Duckworth talks about finding someone to model, someone who can inspire your child to be a better version of themselves, we’ve come up with 4 ways you can do this.
1: Find someone who has been there and you can learn from, that you know:
This might be their coach or existing teacher, or maybe they can put you in touch with someone that they know- someone successful and who has a purpose.
2: Find someone has been there and you can learn from, that you don’t know:
A great example of this is a young Neil deGrasse Tyson writing to and then getting to meet (as a result) his hero Carl Sagan. It’s amazing what can happen if you simply ask. People can only say "no".
3: Find someone in an unrelated field but who has succeeded:
In the book Duckwoth mentions the work of Bill Damon who talks about finding a purposeful role model. It doesn’t matter who, or if it’s an unrelated matter, it just needs to be someone who proves that it’s possible to accomplish something on behalf of others. So…who is there that can help inspire your kid to be a better version of themselves?
4: Get your child to become a model for someone else.
An interesting switch on the find a model theme- this does two things:
- When someone looks up to you and is relying on you to deliver your actions become accountable. This has a knock-on effect on responsibility/ maturity/ performance- don’t want to let anyone down, your purpose becomes about someone else.
- Passing on your own knowledge actually helps you to truly understand what it is that you do- you have to have clarity in order to teach it to someone else.
The final part of the resilience jigsaw is hope, which Duckworth defines as 'how you can keep going tomorrow, even though today wasn’t your best.'
For us this is perhaps the most important bit.
Putting effort into something you’re both interested in and talented at is not that hard, but to keep going when things look like they’re not working for you requires a bit more than most people can offer.
This is where we come in.
Because we know that resilience is something that is best learnt through experience, we have created the RESILIENCE PACK so you can help your child learn this vital skill.