It Takes Grit (and Self-Control)

Want your kids to be successful? Well, it takes grit and self-control says an emerging body of psychological research that looks at “non-cognitive” skills and traits (in other words, not IQ). Research also shows that grit and self-control are more important than talent in measuring successful outcomes.

Self-control is the ability to control one’s emotional and behavioral impulses, along with the ability to focus on one’s attention on short-term goals. Grit is the ability to sustain interest and effort toward long-term goals. Self-control is more understood and to learn more about it see Parent Think’s article published on January 2013 entitled, “Self-Control is the Goal”.

Grit is currently not as well understood. Researchers are not sure what factors contribute to making one person grittier than the next. Grit can also wax and wane over a lifetime and people can be grittier about certain things than others. It is agreed upon however, that grittiness, like self-control, can be learned and improved upon because neither are fixed character traits.

On average, people who have more grit also have more self-control, but the correlation is not exact. A person could be better with short-term goals, but not as strong when goals require significant amounts of effort over the long-term.

To encourage grittiness in others and ourselves, it is helpful to recognize that any new task or learning process involves unpleasant feelings such as frustration, confusion, inadequacy, and more. Experiencing these emotions is not a reason to quit. It is also helpful to recognize that mistakes are a healthy and normal part of tackling challenges beyond one’s current skill level. To help children become grittier, do not use force. Rather, help them sort through their unpleasant feelings. For example, if they feel frustrated acknowledge that emotion. You can let them know that it is a normal part of the learning process. You could also share with them times you may have felt similar and/or give examples of moving beyond those feelings. You could also provide examples of things your children once struggled with but now do with ease such as learning to walk, read, drive a car, and more.

The Duckworth Laboratory, at the University of Pennsylvania, studies grittiness. They have developed a test called the “Grit Scale” where people can answer 12 simple questions to rate their level of grittiness. To take the test visit the Grit Scale website.

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