RGC Newsletter: Getting Grit

“Talent x Effort = Skill

Skill x Effort = Achievement

What this theory says is that when you consider individuals in identical circumstances, what each achieves depends on just two things, talent and effort. Talent – how fast we improve in skill – absolutely matters. But effort factors into the calculations twice, not once. Effort builds skill. At the very same time, effort makes skill productive.” 

--Angela Duckworth, Ph.D

This article was written for parents of teenagers.

It is the start of another year, and you may be wondering about what you can focus on to help your teenager do more with their immense potential. Research by Dr Angela Duckworth at the University of Pennsylvania has shown us that one very important factor of success is grit, which she defines as passion and perseverance for long term goals. As much as talent counts, effort counts twice. How then do we help our teens build grittiness, especially in this world where seemingly everything is available easily and  instantaneously (ordering things online that are delivered within two hours and streaming whatever we want to watch immediately)? What do experts in the field have to say about cultivating passion, perseverance, and purpose so that they can have more grit? 

Here are some tips2:

Start with a dream

Ask your teen: What is your best possible future self? Ask them to describe where they see themselves ten years in the future, if everything goes their way, in great detail. You want to help your teen unlock a goal that they are truly passionate about, and is so important to them that they would continue working towards it despite any obstacle or challenge they may face. This should be something that they have thought about, know a lot about, and can talk about at length in a very articulate and excited way. Other questions you can ask are: What are your strengths? When are you at your best? What do you wake up for? Hopefully, if your teen takes this exercise seriously, it is one step towards figuring out their purpose in life, something that propels them forward, and are able to contribute to society. You can also help by sharing your own observations of strengths and talents you have noticed in them that they may not be aware of. I often find that early childhood observations of what they liked when they were young are the most accurate, because their interests have not yet been obscured by other factors (e.g. expectations of self or others, lack of time or energy etc.)

Study gritty people

We can all benefit from learning from people who exemplify grit in their lives. People often think that talent alone propels people into success or stardom, but it is only when you dig deeper that you realise that the path they trod was not an easy one. Ask your teen to identify someone they admire or respect, such as an athlete, a celebrity, a historical figure, or an ordinary person who has had a positive impact on the world. Get them to do a spot of research, or make it a fun family activity to see who can find out tidbits of information on this person (e.g. reading their biography and interviews, or watching YouTube videos, documentaries or movies about them). You will find that people with grit have pursued a worthy cause or reflected admirable values despite the many difficult challenges that they faced. You can also bring up such people in conversation and talk about their life experiences – people like Michael Phelps, J.K. Rowling, Malala Yousafzai, and George Washington. This will inspire your teen and help them not to give up when things get tough. If you personally know someone who has exhibited grit in their lives, perhaps you could arrange for your teen to meet and chat with them face to face. This would be a wonderful opportunity for your teen to learn about grit from a real life example.

Taking Risks

In order to have grit, you need to be able to take risks, break out of your comfort zone and do things that are ground-breaking, all without guarantee of success. According to research, people are afraid to take risks and try to achieve new goals because they fear disappointment. Hence, many eventually have regrets about the things they fail to accomplish in life. People also believe that losing hurts more than it actually does, which is why they are so reluctant to let go of what that they already have, even though it may be the best way of cutting their losses. Taking risks means choosing your direction in life and making a stand about the kind of person you want to be. One way to encourage your teen to take risks is to celebrate failure – ask your teen to share about a failure every day, and to reflect on what they have learnt from it. This helps them to see failure as a learning experience that helps prepares them for whatever happens next. Another thing you can do as a parent is to freely share your own mistakes and failures so that your teens see failure as a natural part of life, and how to continue on after failing. Remember that the only failure in life is the failure to take action and missing out on a life-changing opportunity.

1 Duckworth, A. (2017). Grit: Why passion and resilience are the secrets to success. London, UK: Vermilion.

2 Miller, A. C. (2017). Getting Grit: The evidence-based approach to cultivating passion, perseverance, and purpose. Boulder, Colorado, US: Sounds True.

Cover photograph by Holger Link on Unsplash

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