If we could help someone develop any skill, what would it be? One possible answer emerging from the research is grit. But what exactly is it and how easy is it to teach?
What Is Grit?
'Grit' was conceptualised by American psychologist, Angela Duckworth, as “perseverance and passion for long term goals”. Her research has shown how those with a “grittier” outlook perform better in a diverse range of settings, including in school, university, during military training and even in national spelling bees.
Paul Tough, in his New York Times bestseller, 'How Children Succeed', weaves scientific research with a great narrative on how some schools in America are helping their students become grittier. There has been debate in some circles as to whether you can teach someone to be gritty. Angela Duckworth is quick to point out that you probably can, but that the research isn’t there yet to tell us how.
So Where Does This Leave Us?
While we wait for the research to emerge on how to develop grit, perhaps our focus for now should be on how to facilitate an environment in which it can flourish. Back in England, research fellow, Mustafa Sarkar, has spent a lot of time studying mental resilience in Olympic champions. Conceptually, there are some differences between grit and mental resilience, but there are enough similarities to say that they are in the same ball-park.
Based on this research, he suggests several ways how to set up the right environment for mental resilience. We pick out three of them here.
Mental Resilience Tips
- Some stress, not no stress - A number of Olympic champions described that “if they had not experienced certain types of stressors at specific times … they would not have won their gold medals”. Therefore, it is important that we don’t wrap our children up in cotton wool, as some stress provides opportunity for growth.
- What is their 'why?' - Helping people identify what their motivation is can be very powerful. Having a clear understanding of why they are doing a task (be it aiming for good A-levels or future gold medals) can help them push through tough times and overcome setbacks.
- Building a team - Olympic champions reported having high quality social support from a range of people. Helping teenagers identify who their team is (i.e. who makes them laugh, who do they work well with, which older adults can they turn to for advice) can help, especially as in the adolescent years, there can be a tendency to push important others away and choose unhelpful role models.