Those of you who know me, know that I generally prefer fiction to non-fiction when it comes to my reading. Although there is plenty of great non-fiction out there, and I have certainly been enjoying the books on Positive Psychology I have been picking up lately.
But when it comes to Grit by Angela Duckworth, I have no hesitation in saying that this is a book everyone should read.
Duckworth’s work was of interest to me as the longer I teach, the more aware I become that talent isn’t enough. Time and time again, especially in my Year 12 classes, the most ‘talented’ student – the one with the greatest natural affinity for language – is trumped by one who works hard and works SMART. The question I had was – how can I help each of my students to become that smart worker? The one who succeeds in a way that surpasses their expectations?
Duckworth’s key mission here is to break down for us how some people achieve high levels of success – much higher than the average person. She is particularly interested in understanding how they were able to do this, and how we can actually teach this to young people. So it’s a great book for teachers and parents.
The bottom line is – Grit. Those with Grit go further and do better than those that don’t.
But Grit does not just mean perseverance. To truly have Grit – Grit that will lead us to success – she concretely discusses four things we need. The first is interest – high levels of interest. We can only be truly gritty about things that deeply matter to us. But she tells us we can stimulate and develop interest, giving terrific advice for how to do this with children and even as adults.
After interest, we need to practice. But we need to practice purposefully and strategically. It’s not enough to work hard – we have to really consider what strategies will actually lead to improvement. As a teacher we often see students working hard, but completing tasks that do not develop the needed skills. Instead, Duckworth talks honestly about how painful practice can be and how to do it well – how to embrace negative feedback and seek coaching and set powerful goals.
After practice, she suggests that purpose helps separate high achievers as well. If you have both passion and a sense of purpose about your work – if you love your chosen field and thin that you are making a difference – you are almost unstoppable. Your motivation levels cannot be higher. Sometimes even a few tweaks in thinking can assist us to re-evaluate and find the purpose in our work.
The final quality is hope. This links in pretty strongly to Carol Dweck’s work about the Growth Mindset. We have to have hope – the belief that we can improve through the strategies that we have put in place.
Each of us will find some of these things difficult. For example, having hope at times is hard. Overcoming failure with a positive attitude sometimes relies on self-talk rather than a natural response. I like how Duckworth acknowledges this – it’s all part of the process. You don’t just HAVE Grit, you can learn to be grittier. And that’s the message for us all. We can all be better at those things we care about. And what is more empowering than that?