If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try Try Again.
This is turning out to be quite the Brainy Carnival Week here at the Common Room, as the DHM did half of The Equuschick’s work for her on Wednesday.
And what a loverly thing that was too, as The Equuschick had the misfortune to have begun a new house-cleaning routine in the same week Shasta, the Ladybug and the Bumblebee all got sick. The house-cleaning routine still went bravely forward, powered primarily by a deadly combination of hot chocolate, coffee, and marshmallows. But not much else went forward. (Except for the Dread Pirate Grasshopper slicing his ear on a corner of a bookshelf and bleeding all over a favorite dishtowel.)
Where were we? You’ve done your homework and read the DHM’s post, yes? Good.
We are all now aware that in the words of James J. Heckman (as quoted in the The Truth About Grit by Jonah Lehrer, The Equuschick’s source for the majority of the following information) “…there was a generation of social scientists who focused almost exclusively on trying to raise IQ and academic test scores. The assumption was that intelligence is what mattered and what could be measured, and so everything else, all those non-cognitive traits like grit and self-control, shouldn’t be bothered with.”
The result of this focus, especially when it came to educating and praising our children, was disastrous.
The question The Equuschick shall begin by asking is why. Why did all the research go into intelligence? And historically, what did the research already say?
The answer is not surprising. But it is, at any rate, very funny.
The researchers focused on intelligence instead of effort because researching intelligence required well, less effort.
“Because intelligence was so easy to measure-the IQ test could be given to schoolchildren, and often took less than an hour-it continued to dominate research on individual achievement.”
The research, in the very beginning, had already begun to suggest that intelligence was only one aspect of a very large picture.
In 1869 Francis Galton publishedHereditary Genius: An Inquiry Into Its Laws and Consequences (Classic Reprint) , an investigation he himself had begun to find out what factors underlay achievement. He concluded that success was only possible when, in his own words, “ability combined with zeal and the capacity for hard labor.”
Lewis Terman, who invented the Stanford-Binet IQ test, studied the same issues and came to the same conclusion. He noticed that intelligence alone did not predict nearly the amount of success he thought it would, and that persistence seemed to the mysterious factor bridging the gap.
“Terman concluded that one of the most fundamental tasks of modern psychology was to figure out why intelligence is not a more important part of achievement: ‘Why this is so, and what circumstances affect the fruition of the human talent, are questions of such transcendent importance that they should be investigated by every method that promises the slightest reduction of our present ignorance.”
It is a pity no one really listened to the man at the time.
Of course it does make it difficult that the sort of persistence that makes a difference is something of an intangible, and can be hard to define. Angela Lee Duckworth calls it Grit.
Keeping in mind that we’re still in hypothetical territory and that at best these are some very soft sciences we’re working with, her definition of Grit is interesting, especially when you consider the historical evidence behind it.
The article quotes Woody Allen’s famous line “80% of success in life is showing up.” But, says Duckworth, it still isn’t enough to show up once. You have to show up again, and again, and again…to infinity if necessary.
It is not enough to simply be able to work hard, or even to be self-motivated and disciplined. To truly achieve greatness, sustained and focused interest is required over a long period of time. Grit is defined as the serious, sustained and truly focused pursuit of a very long term goal, and doing whatever it takes to meet that goal. Says Duckworth, “Grit is very much about the big picture…It’s about picking a specific goal off in the distant future and not swerving from it” “…I first got interested in grit after watching how my friends fared after college..Those who were less successful were often just as smart and talented…but they were constantly changing plans and trying something new. They never stuck with anything long enough to get really good at it.”
Oh dear. This is the part where The Equuschick concludes she is really NOT gritty.
The famous instrument analogy is used. Regardless of talent, who, in the end, is going to be more successful? The student who who got bored and played a different one each year, or the one who stayed with a single instrument throughout their entire education?
But then again, this is the part where Angela Duckworth and The Equuschick might part ways over the definition of success. Maybe. The Equuschick is still thinkin’ on it. Is it better to know everything about something, or a little bit about everything? It all depends on what you’re aiming for, and what you mean by success.
If you are gifted in a certain area, you may, with hard work, become excellent. But to truly be known as one of the Greats in that area where you’re gifted, Angela Duckworth is correct. You have to narrow in on it, to focus on it for a very long and sustained period of time.
And whether or not this is good for you, and whether or not you have truly achieved success if you are now considered to have achieved Greatness because of your accomplishments in this one area, regardless of the blows the rest of your life may have taken, is a serious question in and of itself. Just watch Shine. Or consider, would you really want to be an Einstein after all?
But that is a personal question, for all of us to consider in an intensely personal context. But you need to consider it, for you and your children, so you’ll know what long-term goals you’re aiming for.
What gifts God has given us, He gave for a purpose and to squander them for lack of effort and application is indeed a tragic thing to do. And sustained focus and interest, those are very good things to learn.
The final question at hand is now how to teach these things to a younger generation. The DHM’s post remains an excellent place to start, as she covers most of the researching regarding teaching, praising, and encouraging effort and teaching a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset.
But on a final note, right before The Equuschick started on this post she was doing her Bible reading, and coincidentally she found herself studying Grit again, but by another word. The oldest Source of all calls it endurance, and has this to say about it in Rom. 5:3-4. …knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.
How do we learn Endurance? By suffering, be it through a difficult algebra equation or an intense physical work-out or intense spiritual pain. Wherever we need to grow in life, we have learn to endure while we sweat and suffer.
Now this is interesting, because suffering and adversity are the very thing that as parents we are most eager to save our children from and yet we remain most eager for their success. But without the suffering there can be no lasting success.