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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Grit, Grittier
Well, Readers, I have been adrift from the blog, and the blog has drifted from my subject, success, over the last several weeks. Perhaps you are thinking, “Weeks? Try months! Months? Try years!” It is true, this blog is sometimes only related to success in the most tangential way. I like to think I exhibit some ingenuity in those linkages, and that keeps you all on at least a loose tether and interested in what on earth Hope is going to say next. 

Some of you like it when I tell stories from my life. (Hi, Dad!) Because then you know what is going on in my life. Some of you like it when I get into some tips for success and living well. So as the old saying goes, you can’t please all the people all the time. 

But you can sure hope they’ll keep reading. 

Because I keep on writing. I persevere. I persist. I exhibit grit. And grit is what I want to talk about. In fact, I have to apologize to you, Readers, because Grit, by Angela Duckworth, happens to be one of the more intriguing and helpful books on success I have read. Along with Mindset by Carol Dweck it has been among the most influential. Yet, in going over my blog, I can’t find any posts on the topic. Perhaps I wrote one and forgot, but perhaps I just overlooked it, as one overlooks something familiar and integral, such as the family dog. Until you trip over him. Or he demands your attention by sticking his nose into your hand. 

What is grit? Is grit muscling through weekend traffic on 495 and 95 to and from visiting your rising 10th grader at her theater camp's performance day? Is it sitting through four musicals and plays in one day, sitting, let me just add, first outside on wooden planks, then inside on theater seats, then outside in the amphitheater on split logs that are trying to pitch you down a hillside, then inside in the theater, and finally on the floor on a sleeping bag that might be infested with fleas?

Sadly, no, that is not grit. Although there was plenty of grit around. But this is a different kind of grit.  Did you ever read that book, True Grit? They made a movie out of it in 1969, starring John Wayne and Kim Darby. And the Coen brothers remade it in 2010 with Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld. Well, True Grit is about pursuing a goal with single minded passion and going through a lot to reach it. It, in the story, is the girl’s father. 

Well, Duckworth came to study grit from an interest in achievement. She was a student of famous psychologist Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology, and she was trying to figure out how talent, skill, effort, achievement, and success were all linked. She noticed, through her own and others’ research and experience that talent alone was not enough to succeed. A person needs skill, in addition to talent. In fact, she discovered, talent is intertwined with skill. Talent is “how fast we improve in skill.” 

In short, spend a little time with Duckworth, and you’re in the pond with the ducks. By which I mean, she continues the work of Carol Dweck that erodes the myth of the genius born with “natural talent.” Until I read Mindset, which I've written about in several posts, I was one of those people who fetishised the idea of the natural genius. Duckworth’s not saying there aren’t differences in the ability with which we may improve in skill, i.e. differences in talent. However, talent alone doesn’t make for success. In fact, she says, talent, which correlates with, for example, high SAT scores, does not predict success in life when pursuing sustained pursuit of goals. 

So what transforms talent into skill? Duckworth says effort

Talent x Effort = Skill

But in seeking to achieve a challenging goal, skill is not enough, either. Achievement requires effort, too. 

Skill x Effort = Achievement. 

Which means, according to Duckworth, that effort factors into success twice. She says, “If I have the math approximately right, then someone twice as talented but half as hardworking as another person might reach the same level of skill but still produce dramatically less over time. This is because as strivers are improving in skill, they are also employing that skill…..[Then] the striver who equals the person who is a natural in skill by working harder will, in the long run, accomplish more.” (p. 51) 

Grit is “passion and perseverance.” Grit is enjoying “the chase” as well as “the capture.” That is, having a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed one. That means you believe in your ability to improve. Another indication of grit is the ability to be “satisfied being unsatisfied.” That is, the ability to return to your work, your project, your book, your painting, your research, day after day, knowing that every day you haven’t yet achieved what you wanted, but that every day you are making it a little closer to your goal. 

What makes us work hard over a long period? Passion. I think you could safely call this intrinsic motivation. A growth mindset helps us persevere. And when we persevere with passion over a long period, we exhibit grit. 

So now I’ll bet you all want to know if you have grit. I do. I have grit. Of that I am one thousand percent positive. Which is nice for a change from my usual state of self-doubt. I know from looking at how I live my life. I am a writer. Still. After decades of effort. But I also know because Angela Duckworth has a little quiz in her book, which I took, and yes, I have grit. You can take the quiz here:  

Let me know how gritty you are! 

Don’t be afraid. I feel like this is all good news. Success is largely in our control. We tend to get grittier as we mature. "Grit is growable," says Duckworth.  More on that in a future post. Plus, if all goes well, I will have an interview about this topic to share with you. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Inner Game of Life

Oh my word, my desk. My desk is in such a mess. This is what working on a book looks like in my part of the world. Meaning in my study. 

It took me way, way too long to find my notes on The Inner Game of Tennis. I had to return the book to the library, because I had renewed it twice and someone else had put a hold on it. Which goes to show you that it’s an excellent book, first published in 1972 by W. Timothy Gallwey, at that time a tennis coach. In future, a life coach. His book became a best seller, not only because tennis was super sexy back then, what with Bjorn Borg and Chris Evert and those incredible icons, but because the book spoke to non tennis players as well. Everyone likes a good sports analogy, so learning to play tennis well became an analogy for success in other (business) realms. 

And, in fact it transpires that I have not found those notes. If only I could find those notes. I found the dog treats I use to lure Milo to sit with me upstairs when he would rather patrol downstairs. I found the little sticky note tabs I like to mark pages with when I’m looking for juicy quotes. I found the chunks of Himalayan pink salt I bought from a Himalayan pink salt-and-other-holistic-and-New Age-gewgaw-selling shop in Troy. The 9th grader and I were showing our French exchange student around and I felt too guilty tromping in and out without buying something. Salt, like talk, is relatively cheap. Also, if it actually does absorb the bad energy from my laptop and purify the air, as claimed, then—yay! We were looking for hipsters that day in Troy, by the way, since apparently they’re not in our exchange student’s town in France. No hipsters in the Himalayan pink salt-and-holistic-gewgaws shop. Perhaps that was to be expected. We did find a couple working in the barber shop. Then it began to rain, and we headed for the car. 

But I digress. I wanted to talk about The Inner Game of Tennis, since Wimbledon is happening now. I did find a short note about the Inner Game, but not the longer notes. The short note was almost overridden by my jottings on color and value, which I took, while avoiding work on my book, from a blog about fashion and choosing the best colors for my skin tone. Did you know there is much more to choosing colors than undertones? There is also the amount of contrast. Color contrast and value contrast. 

I don’t remember what any of that means, at this point. 

But here are a couple of key ideas from The Inner Game. The whole book is about unlocking your potential, and if that seems like a cliché, just remember that Gallwey was one of the originators of this self-help idea. There’s so much in the book that has been taken and developed and studied and better understood over the last several decades since it was published that I see why it’s considered a bedrock text. 

Unlocking potential takes some skill, but the essence of it is cultivating relaxed concentration. To do that, says Gallwey, you have to learn how to stop Self 1, which is the conscious, superego-like self, from getting in the way of Self 2, your unconscious self, controlled by the nervous system. The interplay between these two selves determines how well you can translate your knowledge into action. 

Now, Gallwey is talking about tennis. Specifically, he believes that after you’ve learned the basic strokes, your Self 1 is a big saboteur. Doubt and self-criticism live in Self 1. Self 2 is the keeper of muscle memory and innate confidence. So, to perform at your best—in the zone—occupy Self 1 with something concrete on which to focus, such as keeping your eye on the ball. Focused on the ball, Self 1 forgets to be all judgmental and doubtful. In fact, Self 1 practices non-judgmental seeing. This frees up Self 2 and thus, with a combination of mindfulness and concentration and release, you have relaxed concentration. 

There’s one more key skill Gallwey teaches, and that is picturing the outcome you want. For example, want to stop serving into the net? Literally and metaphorically? Picture your serve going over and landing right in the box. Then focus on the ball. Voilà

See what I mean about all the elements that are current? You have the two selves (Kahneman). You have your mindfulness (Jon Kabat-Zinn and everyone). You have your positive thinking (you name it, she says it). You have flow (Czikszentmihalyi). You have maximizing potential. You have success