The Thistle - An E-Newsletter of Scotch College, Perth, Western Australia

Resilience and Grit III

Last year, I shared some of the work that has been done in relation to resilience and grit. I wanted to share some more thoughts on these key elements of wellbeing. Resilience forms one of the three pillars of our Wellbeing programme. I see resilience and grit as two halves of the same thing – resilience is the capacity to overcome obstacles and deal with setbacks, while grit is the ability to anticipate and plan a way around or over obstacles. Resilience is getting back on track; grit is finding another track to get to wherever it is you want to go. Resilience is the ability to bounce back, while grit is the ability to keep on bouncing. Resilience is the capacity to ride life's waves, while grit is the determination to use those waves to move us toward a distant objective. In a sense, resilience is about short-term recovery ("get back up"), whereas grit is a longer-term dedication ("never give in").

No doubt, many of you remember your son's first steps. What you are less likely to remember is how many times he fell over prior to mastering this skill. He failed over and over again but without realising it, he was determined to master the skill. And whilst you guided him and caught him, you could not stop him from falling over many times. We learn by making mistakes; by getting up, changing what we do slightly, and having another go.

Angela Duckworth, in her book, "Grit", talks about "the mundanity of excellence": the most dazzling human achievements are the aggregate of countless individual elements, each of which is, in a sense, ordinary. Because we do not often see how much someone has practised to reach a level that is so far beyond the norm, we default to labelling that person a "natural" or a "freak". It makes it easier for us to tell ourselves we do not need to – or cannot possibly – compete with them.

The book talks about the importance of deliberate practice, that is practice aimed at reaching a 'stretch' goal (something that will stretch you just a bit more towards where you want to end up). These goals require full concentration and effort, immediate and informative feedback, and repetition with reflection and refinement.

For Families

In the last Thistle, John Stewart mentioned the importance of helping by not helping, a most difficult thing to do, no doubt. It is frustrating when we know there is a better way, yet our boys persist in doing a task a less efficient way. It is frustrating when we can see the solution, but they cannot. Swooping in to fix problems may be easier in the short-term, but it creates limitations in the longer-term. Learned helplessness (sitting back and waiting for someone to show us how to do something, or having others do it for us, or letting them fix a problem we have created), is perhaps the worst habit young people can pick up at school, as it removes agency from their lives – they come to believe that they have no control over what happens and, therefore, they take no responsibility for their future.

Carol Dweck, a leading researcher into Growth Mindsets, said, "….the best thing [parents] can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning." I could not have put it any better myself!

Just as young people can learn helplessness when we do too much for them, so they can learn industriousness. They learn this by being set increasingly challenging tasks. And they learn this by watching others in their family do hard things.

The "Hard Thing" Rule

Duckworth lays out a rule for families – The "Hard Thing" Rule:

  • Everyone in the family has to do one hard thing (something that requires daily deliberate practice)
  • You cannot quit until the season is over, the tuition payment is up or some other "natural" stopping point has arrived
  • You must finish whatever you begin, at least for the period for which you have committed
  • You get to pick your hard thing, not someone else

How many of us start something new, full of excitement and good intentions, and then give up – permanently – when we encounter the first real obstacle, or the first long plateau in progress? Many of us, it seems, quit what we start far too early and far too often. New Year's Resolutions are a prime example of this in action. Perhaps this year can be different. Perhaps you and your family can try one hard thing. Flip the switch: go from "Why bother?" to "Why not?". We should strive to be the change we wish to see in our children.

A Culture of Grit

We can all become grittier. In some places, a culture of grit exists. Finland is a prime example. There are just over five million Finns; it is a small country that is very cold for much of the year. Its bigger neighbours – Sweden and Russia, have invaded it many times in particular. But the Finns have a word – Sisu. It is hard to translate but it means something like perseverance; a source of inner strength – a sort of psychological capital – that Finns believe they are born with by dint of their Finnish heritage; it is about guts. It is also a rather popular brand of liquorice. Most importantly, 83% of Finns believe that sisu can be developed. I hope that we can build a culture here at Scotch wherein everyone believes that grit – their own and our collective – can be developed.