I’ve just finished a residential for a positive psychology course I’m taking with Dr Tal Ben Shahar – one of the world leaders on the subject. I’ve had so many people asking me if it was some sort of positive thinking love-in and I hate to disappoint you but we didn’t go around chanting positive mantras and saying affirmations. Positive Psychology is the scientific study of what enables us to thrive – as individuals, families, communities and organisations. Apparently Martin Seligman regrets the connotations of the +ve name he coined too.
What struck me about Tal was his diligence, tenacity, and pursuit of excellence over many years to make him the incredible speaker, writer and educator he is today. It’s great to get up close and personal with someone like this because it’s easy to put them on the proverbial pedestal. So I’m pleased to report that he has foibles like the rest of us and even a few daggy dance moves (what happens on residential stays on residential). At one stage he was the only person in his class at Oxford to fail their exams and his famous “happiness’ course at Harvard only had a handful of students enrolled in the first year (later it became one of the most popular course ever taken).
So what got him from there to here?………GRIT
The idea of GRIT has its origins with Aristotle, who believed that tenacity was one of the most valued virtues. Angela Duckworth is the current world expert and researcher on the topic operating out of Penn University.
She defines GRIT as “perseverance and passion for long term goals” Angela is interested in a deeper understanding of human effort and specifically explores the question; “talent and intelligence/IQ being equal: why do some individuals accomplish more than others?”
Some of her research findings are:
- Many talented and intelligent people don’t follow through on ideas
- Self-control is like the right hand of GRIT. Both these traits predict achievement. If you aren’t able to resist momentary temptations in the pursuit of longer-term goals, then guess what? You may not reach your goals…(try the famous marshmallow test psychologists can’t resist trying on their children). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_marshmallow_experiment
- Her research aligns with Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours principal as being the entry point for high achievement. Living life like it’s a marathon rather than a sprint.
- Grit is associated with an optimistic explanatory style – meaning that people look for causes of their current situation that are changeable, temporary and that they can have some impact over rather than resigning themselves to their “fate” (read “Learned Optimism” by Martin Seligman)
- As Woody Allen has suggested, much of success in life is simply showing up when others fail to do so.
Measure your own GRIT
So how can you become Grittier?
Duckworth and her colleagues don’t have clear answers for this yet – watch this space – but say that promising directions are:
- Carol Dweck’s work on adopting a growth rather than a fixed mindset. This is the idea that your ability to learn is not fixed but can change with your effort. When kids learn about the brain and how it changes and grows in response to challenge, then they persevere when they fail because they don’t believe failure is a permanent condition.
- Correcting beliefs around skill development. Commonly people will quit learning something when they feel frustrated and confused. They will take these feelings as a sign of their incompetence. However, if they understand that the most effective form of practice involves tackling challenges beyond their current skill level, then they will see that feeling frustrated is part of improving.