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Help Your Child Develop Grit

By Bonnie Gonzalez | May 11, 2018 | Aim Academy Online, High School, Meet the Teachers, The Science of Learning

If Grit was simply will power or self-control eventually most of us would be exhausted and there would be few of us who would be able to keep up with the work.  Although these characteristics are important, for the persistence needed to be gritty we need to develop a different strategy.  The strategy of consistently changing our habits.

Will power and self-control are limited resources, and setting ourselves up for success involves doing something that is automatic and doesn’t draw on these limited resources.  If every morning I were to exercise only based on my will power, most mornings I would fall back into bed as a dismal failure.

Habits are aspects that we can change with a minimal amount of effort since they require only an understanding of their components.  Habits exist because, according to Charles Duhigg the author of The Power of Habit, there is a cue, a routine and a reward. 

For example, when you procrastinate it starts with:

  • A cueI have so much work to do.
  • The routine is then that you find something else to do to delay the work
  • The reward is that you feel better in the moment because you found something else to do that made you uncomfortable.

This behavior creates a “Habit loop”.  You feel better in the moment, but you still have the work to do. When you change a habit the cue and the reward stay the same – although it is important that you find out what really is rewarding you with a particular habit.

What needs to change is the routine.

The cue helps you see when you are about to fall into an old habit, and then what you need to do is to find a new routine. 

Looking at the same example:

  • The cue is the stressful feeling you have when you have a lot of work
  • The new routine could be getting started the minute you experience the cue.
  • The reward is that you feel better only this time is will be for a longer period of time.
  • Changing habits is difficult.  Our brains are lazy and unless we deliberately create a new routine we will more than likely follow the old habit.  The good news is if you work hard at creating new routines, these become as automatic as the old bad habits once were.
Download Debra Bell's Study Smart Student Toolkit

Here are some specific tips to building new habits:

  1. Make it easy to engage in a new habit and hard to engage in an old habit.  In his book Before Happiness: Five Actionable Strategies to Create a Positive Path to Success, Shawn Achor writes about wanting to develop the habit of running more and watching less television.  In order to change his habit he took the batteries out of his remote control and slept in his running clothes. What could you do to help achieve a habit you wanted to create?  Move your phone out of the way to keep you from getting distracted, and leave your notes to study on the table beside your bed.
  2. Be specific and don’t try to change more than one habit at a time.  When you have identified a behavior you want to change, break it down into small, manageable steps that you can handle.
  3. Write it down and monitor yourself.  Science has shown that writing something down that we want to change is more effective than just saying it.  Instead of saying I have to get my homework done, make a schedule and write it down.
  4. Stand Firm, No Wavering. Try to create rules for yourself and follow through as though you had no other choice. Commit ahead of time, and state your rules clearly. An example might be, I won’t talk on the phone until I am finished with my work.
  5. Don’t overreact when you mess up. We all fail, but don’t make the failure larger than it should be.  Move on and start again.  Author Judith Beck uses a great analogy to describe this: “If you fell down one step, would you fall down the rest?”  Of course not!   Acknowledge the lapse and get back on track.
  6. Anticipate challenges and plan for obstacles. Using the if/then plan we talked about in the first week of class, will help you make the decision in the moment, and not be so easily tempted.
  7. Reward yourself often!!!

Bonnie Gonzalez has 36 years of experience as a counselor. She has taught high school and college classes and is now offering Intro to Psychology and the Secrets of Success course series through Aim Academy.

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