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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Tips from a Master Coach: Self-Esteem and Success

Hi Readers. Want to try an exercise with me? I spoke to a professional coach yesterday. Her name is Fran Fisher, and I found her via the website Caroline Adams Miller referred me to, the International Coach Federation. Fran mostly coaches coaches these days, but she did spend some time with me and offered me some interesting tidbits. One of them is this exercise in what she calls self-acknowledgement. 

Now, my ears pricked up at the term, self-acknowledgement, because, in case you missed it, I’ve been examining what makes me feel successful and passing that information to you, in hope that you will find it helpful, or at least entertaining. 

And one element is feeling recognized. This is fundamental to feeling successful. Sad as it may seem to admit this, I need it. And heck, you need it, too. As good old Dale Carnegie, of How to Win Friends and Influence People says,“The desire for a feeling of importance is one of the chief distinguishing differences between mankind and the animals.” 

Mankind with animal-mankind combo made by mankind


And the Martha Stewart of Happiness, Gretchen Rubin, talks about the need for “gold stars.” As in, “I spent twenty minutes talking to this pest named Hope and now she refers to me as the Martha Stewart of Happiness. I deserve a gold star.” 

So, gold stars. Importance. Recognition. Feeling recognized. Acknowledged is a good word, too. These are part of Permission, one of the planks in my scaffolding of success. 

Now, I have a teensie problem with self-esteem. I don’t know if you’ve noticed it. I hope you haven’t. I’m going to pretend you don’t know and are now reading this, mouth agape in shock. “Hope has a problem with self-esteem? Surely not! She is a pillar of confidence and self-regard. Absolutely!”

Well, there you have it. My self-esteem is sometimes low. It’s really not a pillar. More like a—oh, I don’t know. A speck. And it does get buffeted by the tides of life.

Oh, my word, I have capsized over my clichés. My point is that I mentioned to Fran Fischer the coach that I have some problems with self-esteem. As in locating it, and when I do manage to locate it, hanging onto it. So she recommended this self-acknowledgement exercise. Which made good sense to me. After all, we can’t always be expecting those moments of recognition, those gold stars from others. Others have their own troubles and don’t always have time for the amount of shoring up that, speaking just for myself here, I need. 

What is this exercise? It is very simple. It is to keep a little list going throughout your day, preferably a hand-written one, but if you prefer to use the computer, make it with fun fonts and colors so that you’ll pay attention to what you’re putting on it. And what you’re putting on it is about ten (10) instances when you did something you feel good about. Little things. Such as being a good listener for a friend, or holding the door open for someone, or skipping the second helping of dessert, or following through on an annoying phone call. Whatever it is, capture it and write it down. 

This is different than a gratitude journal, Fran says. Gratitude is very popular. I am all for gratitude. Gratitude can certainly lift my spirits. Noting what is going well, noting what one appreciates boosts the mood. I often think of two things for which I am grateful before I get out of bed in the morning, and it puts me in a good frame of mind. It’s always helpful to remember to appreciate what you have. However, this exercise is different. This is self-recognition, self-appreciation. And the point of writing this stuff down is to etch into your head moments when you actually meet your expectations for yourself. You behave in line with what is important to you. By taking the time to write it down, you use kinesthetics and somatization to make it sink in.  

Here’s what Fran says:

How to write your self-acknowledgements:

ï Make them short
ï Use verbs/ sentences and feeling words whenever possible
ï Remember the little things... so many things happen in a day... that can be recorded
ï Find ten... even if they seem simple or stupid
ï Feel them as you write them - bring them back in your mind's eye
ï Elaborate on the ones you have written after you have your ten, (if you want to express more)
ï Include meetings/ events/ to-dos/ mails/ calls/ out of the blue occurrences -  magical moments
ï Keep them next to your bed so you can review them before you sleep
ï Write them in your own handwriting or make pc entries but make them special (i.e. add color) no cut and paste!!!

ï If you get stuck, send them to a friend for support - have fun with them

Why Self-Acknowledgements Work:

  • Seeing it in front of me – on paper – that something meaningful has happened
  • Experiencing the positive events that happened today; in my head, in my heart and again as I write them down
  • Seeing/hearing them internally; the experience is being stored so I can revisit it at any time
  • Recording my emotional well-being through the weeks; the entries are a vivid timeline
  • Choosing a moment where I was winning and build on that same moment. Pin-pointing the times where I feel lost/go off track and am able to work towards getting back on center 
  • Helping remind myself of the times when all was going well; Bringing these positive experiences back simply by reading them
  • Creating a list of 10 positive experiences/events every day; because every day there are things that work for me
  • Shining the light on the positive and not dramatizing the negative
  • Choosing to give up inner critic thinking 
  • Proving to myself that life works
  • Validating evidence of my self-worth

The point of writing them is that you re-experience them. You think about it. You have the kinesthetic experience of writing about it. You feel it again in your body. I’m going to infer from what Fran said, that this will help build self-esteem. Self-esteem is a sense of self-worth. It’s how you feel about yourself as a person with value. Noting instances where you acted, or didn’t act, in ways that you feel good about has got to help that feeling. 

I’m going to give it a try. You can, too. 

*                 *                 *                  *                    *

Okay, so I wrote that yesterday. Today, I have this to report:

I acknowledge that I buckled down and called the gas company about a leak the energy audit guy discovered last week, instead of putting it off again. 

That was easier than I thought. Only 9 more to go. Unfortunately, it’s already well into the afternoon. I don’t know how much more I’ll find. 

If you enjoyed this post, please leave me a comment. Please feel free to share it with your friends on social media.  

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Self-Efficacy and Success

Hello, Readers. Last week, I had a wonderful conversation with Caroline Adams Miller (CAM) of Getting Grit, which I look forward to sharing with you in detail soon. Today, I’ll share a snippet that I particularly enjoyed. I particularly enjoyed it, I must admit, because it supported one of my planks of success, the importance of like-minded others to success.

In her book, CAM writes, “How can anyone say they are self-made.” We spoke about the importance of Mastermind groups to help people define, act on, and be accountable for their goals. So I told her that I considered this one of the essential planks in my scaffolding of success, the plank of loving mirrors or like minded others to help us succeed. I told her I had felt this was important, but I had come across the term loving mirrors in a very poppy pop-psychology book, so I wasn’t sure it was an officially sanctioned Term of Usage.

Well, as soon as I described this term to her, CAM said, “Oh, that’s Self-Efficacy Theory” by Albert Bandura. She suggested I listen to an interview he gave recently on a podcast , and so I did.

Who is Albert Bandura and where has he been all my life, you ask? Well, he’s my father’s age, ninety-two, and so, he’s actually been here. Since 1925. While he lives in the US, and taught most recently at Stanford, he hails from Canada. Of course. He came to the US decades ago, however, and he has been ever since doing psychology. and racking up star points in the firmament of psychology. People claim he’s up there in importance with Freud, Jung, and Adler.

Who knew? CAM knew, for one. And now we all do.

What first made Bandura famous was his social learning theory that human behavior is transactional. In other words, motivations don’t all come from within, which was what the prevailing Freudian (libido) and Adlerian (power) view of psychology was when he began to study. We are influenced by our environment, by other people, and by what is in our heads, and we influence those things. The experience is transactional. It is what he called triadic.

This reminds me of an incident with the plumber the other week. The husband tried to snake the tub drain, but to no avail. So I called the plumber. You know plumbers. They charge you $100 to step over the threshold, and it goes up from there.

Well, the plumber arrived. We chatted for a few moments. He was particularly talkative. School, kids, dogs all came up. Then he mentioned that he liked my bumper sticker. 

He said, “Now I’m not going to get political, but I just want to say I hate those nasty bumper stickers.”

I agreed. I said, “I don’t mind a positive bumper sticker, but a negative, hostile one - no thanks.”

He said, “Yeah. I mean, maybe you don’t like the guy, but he’s the President, so you know.”

I said (to myself), Oh, he voted for He Who Shall Not Be Named. Out loud I said, “The negativity is just not helpful.”

Then the plumber spent a good twenty minutes snaking the tub. I spent a good twenty minutes scrolling through my social media feeds and otherwise being feckless.  When I heard him come downstairs, I returned to the front hall with my checkbook. He was halfway out the door.

“All done,” he said. He waved his hand at the checkbook. “Don’t worry about it. It was such a small job.”

Now, I’m not saying this was social learning theory in action, but I suspect that something in the environment (my bumper sticker) changed the equation with the plumber. So maybe that’s exactly what I am saying.

The idea behind self-efficacy theory is that self-efficacy is what allows us to succeed. This is a tautology as I have written it. Efficacy is the ability to make an effect, to make things happen. Self-efficacy is the ability to do that for yourself. It’s the ability to move with agency through life toward one’s goals.  According to Albert Bandura, there are four pillars of self-efficacy. Two of them rely on input from other people. They are as follows:

  • Mastery Experiences
  • Social Modeling
  • Social Persuasion
  • Physiological States

Mastery experiences are things we learn, obstacles we overcome, goals we achieve, skills we acquire. They are directly responsible for self-efficacy, because they are accomplishments. They are indirectly responsible for it by building confidence.

Physiological states are what goes on in our brains. Thoughts, feelings, brain workings. 

Social modeling is about observing role models succeed and thereby being motivated. It’s also about learning by watching. There’s one kind of need for help from others. 

Social persuasion is likely the source of Noah St. John’s term loving mirrors. It’s the idea that one’s environment affects one, and environment includes other people. Other people who believe in you, have confidence in you, can help you overcome doubt and fear when facing challenges.

So there you have it, official word from on high in the world of psychology. Success comes with help from other people. It turns out this is not just my wishful thinking, kumbaya crap, or some kind of purple, womanist pseudo-psychology.

CAM also brought up something called the Michelangelo Phenomenon*.  This is another Term of Usage that relates to the importance of input from others. The idea is that our close relationships with others sculpt us. You know, because Michelangelo was a sculptor.

Now, this phenomenon is not the commonly noted one that partners over time come to look like one another. Nor is it about how dog owners and their dogs often bear some similarities in appearance. 

Our eyes are different colors, but something about the hair, don't you think?

This is about internal shaping. It’s about how, when we have partners that help us towards our ideals, we have increased ability to achieve them. Likewise, if people close to us tear us down, rather than support us, we are more likely to fall short of those ideals. There are a lot of reasons behind this, including the fact that moods are contagious. But another key is that when others think confidently about us, we can take that confidence they have in us and apply it to ourselves.

So, check around you. Who are your loving mirrors? Who is sculpting you? And how are you sculpting those close to you?


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Exercises for Grit: When Are You at Your Best?

Last week I did not write a blog post. You may ask why not, and I would tell you if I remembered. Something came up. Or went down. Something got in the way, directionally speaking. Or, perhaps I was just too tired. As I recall, the first part of the week was taken up with back to school shopping. There was rain involved. The rain led to me leaving the car’s lights on while in the mall, and returning to discover the battery had died. Again. I must have the last car without automatic lights in the entire United States. 

Fortunately, because I have been meditating regularly, or perhaps just because I’m more chill in my 50s, I did not get into a snit. I simply called AAA, and the 10th grader and I repaired to the Happy Cappuccino to wait. I will admit to feeling some dismay, and to having some level of willpower sapped by the previous hour spent pawing through racks of teenagers’ clothing, as evidenced by the gigantic chocolate chocolate chip muffin I devoured with the daughter. 

Because of the meditation, let us note, I was aware of what I was doing. Id est: comforting myself with food. Which worked. Success!

Today started out as one of those days, too. You know the days. You have your plan, and then the dog’s eye is oozing. Now you know your plan to write your blog post is going to go out the proverbial window because you have to take the dog to the vet. This story has a happy ending, though, so buckle up. Now, since this was the dog’s oozing eye and not my child’s, I went ahead to the gym. 

I know, I'm a mean dog mommy. The dog was acting just fine, people. If he had not been, this would have been a different story. 

When I got back, I checked the eye. Still oozing. But there was a little, half-inch long small, thin, twig-like thing on the dog’s face, under his eye. Near the ooze. So I removed the twigish thing and washed the area with a little water and applied a smidge of antibiotic ointment. Then I let a few hours pass and worked on my writing. Hours later, no ooze! And so I have a blog post for you this week.
Milo wants to get grit, too.

Now, over the weekend, I had the house to myself — PARTY! The husband was visiting his mother for her birthday, and the 10th grader was away for an orchestra retreat and needed to be picked up at a particular time on Sunday. Anyway, Friday night, I had my friend and neighbor E over. And we got to talking. She was feeling a bit down and directionless, as I mentioned. I, being a pill, started talking about Getting Grit, by Caroline Adams Miller (CAM).

So the subtitle of Getting Grit is “The Evidence-Based Approach to Cultivating Passion, Perseverance, and Purpose.” I went down one of those rabbit holes called philosophic introspection about the term “evidence-based approach,” but let’s not go there. It’s the three P’s I’m getting at. Perseverance, Passion, and Purpose. CAM’s definition of grit contains all three.

Perseverance we can all understand. Grit and its synonyms imply perseverance. Hanging on. But CAM doesn’t want us to hang on just for the sake of hanging on. Sometimes, in fact, we might need to quit. There are negative types of grit, she says. Among them are Stubborn Grit, the kind of grit that gets you up Mount Everest even if you’re not that well-prepared and costs the lives of Sherpas, and Faux Grit, claiming to have grit when actually you cheat, for having which she calls out Lance Armstrong (drugs and lies) and Donald Trump (lies and lies).

But we’re interested in authentic grit, and Authentic Grit has those three P’s. So, in the pursuit of grit, it’s important, says CAM, to identify and develop them. She has some writing exercises to help identify passions and purpose. I being a writer, and also a self-improvement junkie, read them over. The first is to write about when you are at your best. As in, describe “a time when all of your top five strengths were used in a transformational moment or a time in your life when you were ‘at your best.’” 


Readers, I read this instruction and went blank. Totally. Even though I had taken not one, not two, but three VIA quizzes to determine my top strengths. I just had no idea. Have I EVER used my top strengths all together in a transformational moment? 

Fortunately--or actually, as you will see, unfortunately-- I did have an opportunity to use some strengths recently. I wasn’t going to write about this, but then the other night, as I said, I was hanging out with my friend and neighbor, E, having some prosecco. And she was sounding a little down and blah about life and so I was telling her about these exercises to develop purpose and passion and I described the one I just described for you. And you know what? E had the exact same reaction to that prompt that I did. Or at least in essence. I think her exact reaction was to flop backwards on the couch and say, “My god. I have NO idea.” 

Her reaction made me feel better about my reaction, but also I wanted to make us feel better so I described the second exercise, which is definitely more appealing. I was going to say easier, but really, it’s not easy. It is more appealing though. And it is to write about your best possible self. You spend 20 minutes a day for three days writing about “life ten years from now as if everything has gone as well as possible.” There are lots of questions you can consider to write this answer. And of course, the point of it is not empty daydreaming. The point is not to be Walter Mitty. The point is to stimulate your imagination and rev up your sense of passion. AND THEN you have to use mental contrasting to set goals now to achieve the things you want ten years from now. You know, develop your purpose. So, all in all, not easy. Grit required. 

But anyway, we did not engage in that exercise. We had another glass of prosecco, and then E told me she was a little disappointed not to read in my blog about what happened to her a couple of weeks ago. 

As I said, I was not going to mention it, but since she brought it up, I am now. I hate for E to be disappointed, after all. 

This post is getting so long. If I were Charles Dickens, I would sign off now, with a cliffhanger that you would have to tune into next week the resolution of which to discover. (That was an awkward sentence, wasn’t it? It is grammatical, though.)
No ooze!

Anyway, what happened is that the afternoon of the eclipse, I got a phone call from my friend and neighbor E. She started out sounding fine. “I need to ask a favor of you,” she said. She said she had been stung by a wasp a few minutes ago. “And I’m kind of itchy,” she said. “And I’m starting to feel…….” At which point her voice went funny. And I said, “OHMYGODI’LLBERIGHTTHERE!” Apparently, I yelled to the soon-to-be 10th grader that E sounded weird, and I stopped by my bag, grabbed my epipen (generic brand*) and ran across the street. Her front door was open and I ran right in and found her on the kitchen floor, her daughter beside her. E was woozy and bleeding under her lip. She looked grey, except for the hives on her body. Of course my instinct was to remain as calm as humanly possible because her daughter was right there, but I was freaking out. E was conscious, and she struggled to sit up when I came in. I wasn’t sure if I should use the epipen or not, but I decided it was better to use it (was told by paramedics that was the right thing to do, FYI). In fact, I have never used it, even though I carry it because I am allergic to bee stings.

Now, for a middle-aged person to try to read the directions on a small object she is holding in her hands when her hands are shaking like egg beaters is quite the challenge, but I managed to get all of the caps and safeties and whatnot off the dang thing and then put it against her thigh, as trained by my allergist, and pressed on the proper end and heard the click as the needle extended. And then I had her daughter call 911 and give the phone to me. And then we made sure E lay back down and got an icepack for her cut and a pillow for her head and I answered the dispatcher’s questions and flagged down the ambulance and took notes for the EMTs and reassured her daughter she would be fine and helped collect her things to take to the hospital and so forth. Everything turned out fine, and now E has her own epinephrine injector. 

That was then, and now here was E on my couch, drinking prosecco with me. I could easily have not been home when she called that afternoon. I could easily not have thought to bring my epipen. However, I was and I did. Furthermore, I managed to respond with clarity appropriately in an emergency. I may have saved a life. So I have to say, it did occur to me that perhaps that disaster was a transformational moment when I was at my best, even though perhaps I would like my best not to include as much adrenaline, terror, and peril as it did. 

* When I called my doctor a couple of days later to get a new prescription for an epinephrine injector, I told the nurse that the generic had been really hard to use, and I requested the name brand Epipen. I’m pretty sure that’s what led to the insurer to cover it. I spoke up about the difficulty I had using the generic. I have the new Epipen now, and I’ve made sure the husband and the tenth grader know how to use it.

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Authentic Grit and How to Get It

It feels important to let you know that the other day I spent quite a bit of time picking burrs out of the dog’s butt. That was my reward for taking him on a walk in nature as opposed to along the sidewalks and streets of our neighborhood. 

After I picked out the burrs, I deposited them in the trashcan in the study. Later, I discovered the dog, Milo, investigating that selfsame trashcan. “Get out,” I told him. He obeyed my command with an attitude similar to one I have seen from my children when told to do something they are not that excited to do. Like empty the dishwasher or remove their socks from the kitchen counter. 
Socks and ukulele on the counter, what else?

A few hours later, I noticed his muzzle fur had a funny whorl. He gets those sometimes when he sleeps in his cushy dog bed. A few hours after that, I said, “Milo, what’s with the whorl?” And I went over to him and felt it. What did I discover there?

I know you’re all quick, Readers, so you know the answer already. Those burrs. The ones I had painstakingly removed from his butt. Yes, they were now in his muzzle. 

Life feels like that sometimes. I have to admit it. It’s not always a forward progression. Sometimes it’s circular. 

This simple anecdote should suffice to convey the tenor of my week. It was one of those weeks when thing after thing happens that makes me feel like I’m barely above water. One of those weeks that throws me off track in my personal pursuits. 

That is why grit comes in handy. 

I finished Caroline Adams Miller’s book, Getting Grit. Now I know how to build grit. "Building grit" is an oxymoron, isn’t it? After all, grit is what remains after rock has worn down. Grit is what’s left. Grit is sand. (See last week’s post.) I think we can all agree that grit is good. It helps us keep on treading water when the side view mirror needs to be replaced because someone who shall remain nameless, one of the three drivers in the family, knocked it beyond askew; when the other car goes in for regular maintenance and comes out with a definitely unnatural knocking sound that turns out to be a broken bolt in the brakes; when the dryer breaks, and so on. "So on" in this case means I forgot to mention that when we returned from the beach, we blithely drove into our garage, forgetting that there was a large luggage container on the roof of the car and damaging the garage. 

And there was more in the last week, but I was letting the dog’s muzzle whorl stand in for it all. That went well, didn't it? 

Anyway. There’s grit and there’s grit. The kind we want, Readers, is “authentic grit.” Authentic Grit is not the same as persevering at all cost. Authentic grit is “the passionate pursuit of hard goals that awes and inspires others to become better people, flourish emotionally, take positive risks, and live their best lives.” Grit is positive, she says, only if it is a force for good. 

Welp. I feel cowed. That is a tall order. Especially when so often my life is about burrs in muzzles. Metaphorically and literally. Nevertheless, I persist. 


So. How to develop authentic grit? Well, developing grit depends on, as CAM says, “experimenting with” the several qualities she mentions in part two, working on each of them. These are the ingredients of what she calls the “Grit Cake.” And working with each of the ingredients, over time, will help us evolve “from a cook who masters one behavior at a time to a master chef who blends them all.”  

So, here they are:

  • Passion. As in, identify your passion, or even better, two of 'em, because they help give you energy and purpose.
  • Happiness. Work on upping that because happy people are better at maintaining the other qualities that grit requires. Also, being happy feels good.
  • Goal Setting. Challenging but not unrealistic goals, people. We've been over this.
  • Self-Regulation. Resist the marshmallow!
  • Risk-Taking. This does not have to be harrowing, but taking risks feels exhilarating. And when you survive, you get a big confidence boost. 
  • Humility. Benjamin Franklin added this to his list of virtues after a friend or two told him he was a little too full of himself. 
  • Perseverance. Goes without saying, doesn't it? Gotta keep on keeping on. 
  • Patience. Achieving goals takes time and maintaining focus and energy over time takes patience. 

Of course all of these qualities are multi-faceted. Each is a lifetime’s pursuit on its own. For example, passion. Developing passion sounds easy. But there’s passion and there’s passion. Passion can be obsessive (not so healthy) or harmonious (healthy), and managing that can take skill. And passion can be challenging to identify, if you’ve spend a lot time taking care of others’ needs at the expense of your own. Or happiness. There’s a broad subject full of complexity. For this reason, CAM suggests starting with one quality you think you most need help building and work from there. 

The good news is, focusing on these things is synonymous with living a really full and fulfilling life. Developing passion and directing it towards a goal, challenging yourself by taking risks, building happiness and self-control, and learning to play the long game are all about, as the almost 10th grader likes to say, “living your best life.” She says it ironically, but never mind. I am not being ironic. Sometimes it is important to be earnest.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Getting Grit

Yesterday I went to Pilates at the gym. When I returned home, I washed my face as usual with witch hazel on a round cotton pad. These cotton rounds are from France, by the way, which makes them extra special, and they have one side that’s a little rough. This is probably for exfoliation. I am assuming so, after much time wasted on articles on skin care over my now rather lengthy lifetime. There’s no explanation on the packaging. This is because all French people are born knowing about exfoliation. 

That last statement was a generalization and a stereotyping and it was BAD because stereotyping people is BAD. The stereotype is that all French people know more about beauty and style than everyone else, which you know, because it’s a stereotype. But it was also funny. And it’s a thing we tend to do: group people by identifying characteristics. So that’s a thing that’s problematic. (I’m with you, Tina, even if I cringed a little at your recent “sheetcaking” rant.) 

Anyway, as I was wiping witch hazel across my face with the exfoliating side, I noticed that the exfoliation seemed much deeper, stronger, and more pronounced than usual. It felt pretty good, and as if it might actually leave me with younger, glowier skin (always a plus). After a moment, I leaned into the mirror and rubbed my fingers over my face. I discovered it was covered in sand. I had grit.

Because I was at the beach, Readers. And so was my yoga mat. Not that it got much use. Or any, come to think of it. But it was there, and it was often covered in sand because it was at the bottom of the pile of beach chairs and boogie boards and towels in the back of the car. So when I finally unrolled my mat at the gym yesterday, I realized I had brought a little bit of the beach home with me. I had gotten grit. 

Did you miss me? I missed you, I promise. However, I was too busy boogie boarding and reapplying sunscreen (young and glowy, remember that’s the goal) and often shivering since the weather wasn’t as warm as it could have been to write. 

Wow, I was wondering how that sandy face thing related to this topic and here it is. Grit. I got it. So much of it. All over my face and body. I was just covered in grit, which seems like a good segue-way. I have been reading up on grit. 

Right off, I must ‘fess up that I haven’t worked on my book in two weeks. And when I get away from my writing, I begin to question if I can ever get back to it. This leads me into doubt about my project, doubt about my ability, and also doubt about my willpower, as well as into frustration with myself for letting time expand so freely. 

Anyway. Grit. Perhaps I don’t have as much as I thought, I thought, and I sat down to read Getting Grit by Caroline Adams Miller, which is exactly as advertised, a book about taking Angela Duckworth’s research on grit and success to the masses and helping us get more of it. It’s well-written and well-organized, and she works in the research and terminology in an organic way, so the reader learns new terms and what they mean in context and it all slides down nice and easy. 

There I am reading along her outline of her program to help readers develop grit and I am thinking I do have a lot of grit. I do need to finish the book, though, because apparently there is good grit (authentic) and not-so good grit. Knowing me, I have the not-so-good kind. I haven’t gotten to what that is yet, but if it has anything to do with a persistence in self-flagellation and a floundering in the quicksand of self-criticism and self-doubt, then, yep, I’ve got it. 

I had this little moment while reading about Caroline’s coaching. This little voice in my head whispered, “When the student is ready….” and the joke Anne Lamott tells about the guy whose plane crashes in the dessert and he prays to God to save him. Then a guy with a camel comes by and asks if he needs help and the pilot dude says, “No, I’m waiting for God.” and another person comes by and offers help. Same answer. Until somehow the guy is in communication with God herself and complains, “I prayed and prayed but you never answered my prayers.” And God says, “What are you talking about? I sent you the guy with the camel and the other guy. “

So I’m thinking, maybe Caroline Adams Miller is my guy with a camel. So that’s good. And guess what? There’s another quiz! Everyone likes a quiz. 

Caroline Adams Miller recommends the Values in Action Character Strength Assessment (VIA).* So I go to the website and I take the quiz which has 120 questions. I get my assessment, which lists about 20 qualities and highlights your top 5. I get mine, and they are as follows:



love of learning



That’s 6, not 5, but zest and perseverance were tied. As were fairness, humor, and love of learning. So why didn’t they give me a top 8? But whatever?

I have to admit this list disappointed me. I mean, creativity was near the bottom, which seems crazy. Also, spirituality was absolute lowest, and yet I meditate daily. Furthermore, I liked Caroline’s strengths better. She mentions them in the book. Love, creativity, zest, bravery, and wisdom. I liked those. And I like to think I have some wisdom. At least a little. 

So I obsessed about that for a little while. Then I inspected my results again. I saw that wisdom was not even listed on the chart of the quiz I took. It wasn’t one of the qualities. Was that because the test is slightly different than the one Caroline took? Or am I so lacking in wisdom it wasn’t even in my top 20????

Then, what was this judgment thing I was doing? As in, judging my results? As in, assuming some results are “better” than others. What was that about? 

I’ll tell you what: In the book, Caroline Adams Miller mentions that several character traits “among the ones that I know will be important for grit are self-regulation, sense of purpose, hope, zest, humility, and bravery.” And I have one of them in my top five. ONE. And one of those top qualities she lists isn’t even on my LIST.

So the LIST must be different from hers. And I didn’t have ACCESS to that one. Which meant I could spend some time on the Interwebs searching for the same list she had, or I could go and work on my book. And which do you think I did? 

Neither, Readers. Instead, I take the test again. This time I manage my answers so as to score much higher in creativity, but still no wisdom (not there) and no sense of purpose (not there) and no humility, bravery, nor self-regulation. 

Things were not looking so good for my grit level at this point, which was in contrast to the Duckworth Grit Scale, by the way, on which I scored pretty high. Go figure. 

I was not finished with this character survey stuff. So, after some additional moments of research, I discovered that UPenn, home of Positive Psychology, has a website with TONS of quizzes.** There’s a place to register and you can take bazillions. I found a different version of the VIA. It was longer, with 240 questions rather than 120. That seemed promising, so I took it.

According to the UPENN Authentic Happiness quiz, my top character strengths are as follows:

Fairness, equity, and justice 

Curiosity and interest in the world 

Forgiveness and mercy 

Judgment, critical thinking, and open-mindedness 

Kindness and generosity 

So, what to say? I liked this test better. It was longer, and the answers were more discursive. However, these traits were not so different from the results of the other quiz. Zest was missing, and that was one of the qualities that appealed. Still no wisdom, bravery, or self-regulation and those other things that are key to grit, but they are not bad. 

Let us remember that this quiz is about strengths, so none of the characteristics is bad. I realize I am talking to myself here, but it seems like a good thing to remember. Sort of a straighting of the cap to remind myself this is not about finding out I am lacking important qualities. It’s about assessing my strengths and then using them productively. To grow my dang grit. That’s the message from Caroline Adams Miller’s book: you can increase your grit and she will tell you how. And I will tell you how after I finish the book. I got a little side-tracked. At least I demonstrated a couple of my character strengths in pursuit of identifying them. And I am happy to offer you, Readers, a couple of places for you to assess —or obsess—over your top five character strengths. 

Remember to exfoliate.