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Friday, August 16, 2013

Grit: True Marker of Success

I’m thinking about perseverance. Grit. Stamina. Why? Well, the husband showed me this article about Carol Dweck’s research on mindset, motivation, and success, which talks about how to praise children. The wrong kind of praise extinguishes their will to try harder. The basic idea is that praise should be specific and focused on effort, not on labeling a quality of mind. Say, “I love how hard you worked and how much you improved since last time,” not, “You’re so smart - you’re my little genius.” Now, actually, as my mother-in-law noted, psychologist and parenting expert Haim Ginott and his proteges Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish said this very thing in the 1970s and 1980s; now research has proved them right. Luckily I read Haim Ginott when my kids were little (props to the MIL), and Faber and Mazlish, so I have done everything perfectly through much perseverance and grit regarding them and they have turned into persevering little cusses, if I do say so. Not a wrong word uttered ever. Parenting 101? I wrote that curriculum.

I am not serious, Readers. Please. You know me. I’m nothing if not questioning of every single, eensie, tiny decision I make, as well as practically undone by every single large decision I’m forced to make. But not totally undone, because I may lack physical grit, but I have psychological grit.

Speaking of me brings up another point about perseverance and grit; namely, that teaching people is about more than just choice words, it's about modeling behavior. So how gritty am I?

A friend came to visit for a couple days, and I used her visit as an excuse to skip my morning mini-routine of yoga, and came downstairs to my comfy tea and reading chair to wait for her. While sitting there, I heard thumps coming from upstairs. At first I thought maybe my friend's son was up early and dropping books on the floor, but then I thought maybe she was doing yoga. I wondered how on earth, since the room is tiny, and when the rollaway bed is open, there is not enough room to stretch out on the floor. When my friend came downstairs, I discovered she had been the one thumping upstairs. She was indeed doing yoga in that tiny room. How? By folding up that rollaway bed. 

Would I have done that? Probably not. Possibly, she has a lot more grit than I do. Or, you know, a couple extra inches in height can make a big difference. I find folding that thing nearly impossible. Not impossible, but nearly so. Enough so that it’s a deterrent to me doing it myself. I can’t really reach across it well because my arms are too short. Because I don’t have those extra couple inches. Or maybe because my boobs are too big, adding a couple extra inches in width that render reaching across to close that thing and hook it next to impossible. Painful, even. But my friend has those extra couple inches in height, minus those extra in boobage, and therefore, I guess, was undaunted.  

I am not that gritty. At least not physically. I lack physical grit. This was brought home to me in numerous ways over the years I lived in New England and hung around with a lot of native Yanks. I’m thinking in particular of a humbling bike trip from Somerville to the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, about eleven miles, undertaken with our group of friends, subscribers to the Penny Pincher Gazette. I was going to say “subscribers all” to the Penny Pincher, but I know that’s untrue. They are thriftier than that and pass it around among them. That is how thrifty and gritty they are. Anyway, my point is, this bike trip involved hills like you’d not believe, and even though there were others as unused to arduous bike trips as I on our expedition, I was the only one whose 21 speeds proved insufficient and who had to walk her bike up one – or two, or several but who’s counting? – of those hills. 

But psychologically, I have grit and stamina. Today, I awoke to a loud boom – I offer this as an example of my psychological grit – which I attributed to a bomb for only a second, just one split second. I only wasted a split, split second of this morning on the idea of terrorism in my leafy suburb in upstate New York that is on absolutely nobody’s list of ideal places to make a violent political statement. Directly I had that thought, I knew that noise had to be related to the demolition of the burned house that has finally begun, around the u-bend of our street, five houses away. See? That’s how blasé and, well, gritty, I am. Yes, my first thought was: Bomb. Perhaps that's not the first thought my Yankee bicycling friends would have, but I had no control over it. The point is that it was only for an instant, and then I mastered the fear. Then I rationalized. That's grit. How else have I made it all these years without totally cracking? Considering my tendency to, um, panic. Sheer psychological grit. Grit that somehow links to my lack of physical grit in some kind of inverse relationship. It’s all of a piece. And by it I mean me. The ebb and flow of grit and no-grit that makes a person who she is. 

What I’m saying here, with these examples of my lack of physical grit and my questionable psychological stability, is that despite my weaknesses, my questioning, my struggles at times with motivation, I persevere. We each have our challenges - our issues, our childhoods, our illnesses, our phobias - that require grit. Sometimes the effort required might look to an outsider like just getting by. Sometimes that perseverance manifests in small wins. Sometimes perseverance manifests as big, public wins. Overall, do you keep going? Do you keep trying? I do. According to Carol Dweck, that is key to success. So – yay.

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