What makes one person persevere through tough circumstances while others fall to pieces?
Which individuals will enter and complete their Navy Seal Training and which ones will quit?
In the national spelling bee which students will advance in the competition?
Which teachers in tough areas will still be teaching at the end of the year and improving learning outcomes for their students?
These are some of the questions asked by researchers who are studying resilience.
This is an important topic on several fronts. First, we live in a world where there is constant downsizing, rightsizing, and capsizing. Resilience is and will be the differentiator in handling what comes our way.
Second, the only thing that is measured in school as an indicator of future success is IQ. Yet we know from observation and experience that success depends on more than your ability to learn quickly and easily. Resilience is the differentiator.
Paul LeBuffe of the Devereux Center, lectures on the importance of developing resilience in children. Their success in life depends on it. It’s a great asset to have a certain amount of IQ, social intelligence, good looks, and physical health. Yet the characteristic that keeps rising to the top is resilience, the passion and perseverance for long-term success.
So the question is not primarily “how high is your IQ?” According to Angela Duckworth at the University of Pennsylvania, the question should be, “who is successful here, and why?”
What we don’t know is how to teach grit and keep folks motivated for the long run. What we do know is that talent is not what makes one gritty.
People with grit display some common characteristics. Here are 5 we should teach.
- They keep the end in mind. Small goals are good, but the big picture keeps you energized and galvanized. Having “the big win” in mind fuels your resilience when the daily grind starts to wear you down. Begin with the end in mind, and keep the big picture envisioned. This increases your ability to persevere.
- They dump the distractions. Sometimes our ability to persevere is not directly a resilience issue as much as it is a distraction issue. The extra stuff can do a number on our grit meter. Too many outings, hobbies, meetings, and projects dull our determination. Eliminating the extraneous conversely strengthens our resilience. It’s good to quit the lesser so we won’t quit the greater.
- They see themselves as resilient. This is about our thinking style. All of us have developed thinking habits that impact the way we see ourselves, our world, and our future. These thinking styles can be beneficial. The shadow side is that they can lead us astray by misinforming us about what’s going on. It gets amplified during high levels of stress, uncertainty, and ambiguity. Some of these beliefs are limiting. Understanding the positive and negative implications of your thinking will help you see yourself differently when you are tempted to quit. Your accuracy and flexibility increases, and helps you generate more solutions.
- They have a growth mindset. The ability to learn is not fixed. It can change with effort. Young children should be taught about the plasticity of the brain. It grows when challenged. The synapsis connect to neurons with each cell (trillions of them), having up to 15,000 of these neurotransmitter connections. When not used they recycle to be used elsewhere. In other words, the brain can literally change its mind. When young people are taught that the brain is a fixed entity (which some assessments imply), they develop a defeatist attitude of “why bother” and “what’s the use?” With a growth mindset they are more likely to persevere when they encounter a failure. They need to understand that failure is not a permanent condition.
- They put things in perspective. Catastrophizing creates a vicious trap. It increases anxiety, which in turn decreases our ability to work through challenges we face. It dumbs us down. What if we could spend less time worrying by reducing anxiety? Worst case scenarios and fears are not easy things to ignore. Resilient people write them down. Now they can deal with them realistically and prudently.
“I’ve had many catastrophes in my life, some of which have actually happened.” Mark Twain
The world is getting more turbulent and our grit will be tested. What do you do to adapt, survive, and thrive?