Book Review – Grit

What was the last thing you or your kids quit? Cooking lessons, dance classes, soccer, or piano. How many times have you heard “I don’t want to ____”. Fill in the blank… practice, do my homework or anything that requires a little fortitude…

It happens to me all the time. My kids have the worst attitude when it comes to doing something hard. “I can’t do it” “It’s too hard” or the dreaded “I’ll never be able to get it”. Now, granted my kids are young and many of the things they do are new and are hard. But I still hate that attitude.

I’m not always the hardest working person, but I have always had the attitude that I don’t quit. I will have to pull a hamstring before I stop running a race. In fact, many years ago, I was dreadfully out of shape, and my then girlfriend convinced me to complete a 5k run with her. I’ve always hated running, and at the time, the idea of running 5k was the equivalent of asking me to run a marathon naked. But she persisted, and I relented.

I still remember the look on her face as I approached the ‘finish line’. She was terrified. Why? Because there was no longer a finish line. The race had finished so long ago that all the race signs had been packed away. She was sure something must have happened to me because she couldn’t find me. But I was still chugging along, living up to my high-school basketball nickname ‘Grimace’.

I’ve since become a decent runner, but my point is that I would rather finish way past dead last, then give up. And that has always been my attitude about hard things. My challenge has been moderately hard things. The things I know I can do, but I also know would require a sustained effort over months or years. That is when I throw in the towel. All of this is to say Grit is something that has been on my mind for some time.

If Yoda were to write a book, this would be it.

Why can I put in the effort today, but find it difficult to sustain that effort over a month, or a few years? How do I get my kids to be and stay ‘Gritty’? Luckily for me, I now have some strategies to try, thanks to Angela Duckworth and her book Grit.

I received a copy of this book a few years ago after attending a lecture she gave at UofT. She has been a reoccurring guest on the Freakonomics podcast and is a thought a leader in Behavioral Economics, a branch of Economics that I’ve been fascinated with for some time. Since I’ve heard her speak, I was in no rush to read her book. I’m thankful that I finally sat down to read it because it provided a lot of insights on the topic of being gritty.

Talent vs Effort

I’ve read in several places that it is better to encourage and praise our children’s efforts and not their talent; and Grit reinforced this point. It went into great depth about how many people say they believe effort trumps talent but unconsciously think the reverse. Duckworth’s section on mindset reinforces the need to focus on effort vs talent. She demonstrates that with a growth mindset, we are more able to accept that with effort, you can gain skills, and achieve more. I’ve been lucky to have always had a growth mindset, but it is informative to realize that there are some out there who do not, and how that can affect not just their ability to learn, but their willingness to do so as well.

Practice

You may have heard of the 10,000-hour rule from Gladwell or others. The rule states that if you practice for 10,000 hours or more, you will be successful. I’ve known for some time that this ‘rule’ is more of a guidepost. However, if you consider how much effort is required for success and you start to dig deeper into what type of effort is necessary to achieve it, then that rule makes a bit more sense.  Duckworth makes a case for effort throughout her book and goes further to explain what kind of effort is needed.

If you consider ‘effort’ to be practice, then effort alone is not sufficient for success. Duckworth defined the type of practice that is necessary as deliberate practice. She describes ‘deliberate practice’ as

  1. A stretch goal
  2. Concentrated effort
  3. Immediate and informative feedback
  4. Repeat with refinement

Take my running, for example. It was only because I continued to run after that first 5k with the deliberate goal of increasing my speed, that I was able to get down to a more respectable time. But if I were to have had a coach to provide feedback, and continued to dedicate time to the sport, my speed would have doubtlessly increased in orders of magnitude more than it did.

Parenting

Duckworth is clear to say that a lot of the research on grittiness in children and parenting styles is still not conclusive, but given her work, to date, she does make a lot of recommendations based on what has been observed. If you have read a parenting book in the last few years, you would have likely also landed on ‘authoritative parenting’. This is what she calls wise parenting, not to be confused with ‘authoritarian’. Wise parenting is both supportive and demanding. That is, they give their children the emotional and physical support that they need, but also require their children to finish their homework, participate in the recital even though it is scary, or complete the soccer season even though they may not be that good at the sport. It is an effort to get the child to do “hard things” without quitting.

She also strongly recommends extracurricular as a path to build grit since it does give children a chance to practice hard things that can offer both challenge and fun, which few other opportunities do.

There are so many tips in this book that I want to tell you about. Duckworth’s family challenge to do one ‘hard thing’, her research on how children who participate and stick to their extracurricular in high school have higher levels of success after school.

It was an easy read, and I thought it was packed full of useful information. I know I will be applying a lot of the advice provided to help mould my kids, but even more immediately to help me continue to grow and be more gritty.  If you want a preview of Duckworth, check out her TED talk.  Oh and my 5k is down to a respectable 30 minutes or less now.

Book Review – Daring Greatly

A “friend” of mine reluctantly recommended Daring Greatly to me a few months ago. Let me unpack that sentence because there is a lot of contexts in there that you need to know. First, I say “friend” because this person just disclosed to me that she is a Grant Hill fan. I hate Duke University and want nothing to do with them, so this is why our friendship status is on tenuous ground right now (kidding not kidding).

More importantly, why a friend would be reluctant to recommend a book goes right to the heart of the book itself. Some of you may be familiar with Brene Brown, she is a best seller, has a few viral TED talks, and just came out with a special on Netflix. But until my friend introduced her book to me, I had no idea who she was or what she does. Brown’s specialty is shame and vulnerability. I know right, who dedicates their life’s work to shame and vulnerability? Luckily for us, she was able to shed a lot of light on those two topics, so that we can live a more fulfilling life.

Shame and Gender Norms

I enjoyed this book. It was very tangible. The book’s goal is to define what is keeping us from living what Brown calls a “wholehearted life”. The book could stand on its own for the sections that define shame and shame triggers based on gender norms. There’s no question that I’ve been triggered into shame by ridiculous gender norms, that also cause pain because they are silly and impossible to achieve. Here are two from the book: Women need to “be perfect but not make a fuss about it…” and men “must not be weak”.

Disaster vs Joy

Before reading the book, I would never have considered that to be happy; you need to make yourself vulnerable. I have done my fair share of reading, and if I were to subscribe to any dogma, it would be Buddhism, because it speaks to me in its attempt to accept both joy and pain as equal in the human experience.

That said, I still never made the connection to the fact that if you want to experience joy, you need to be vulnerable, you need to accept that the happiness is fleeting, and that to have “pleasure” you need to live with pain. I have a hard time with that. Those little disaster readiness plans I make in my head, “what if the car drives off this bridge, with the kids inside” that take me out of the moment of joy on a family road trip, is how I’ve dealt with the feeling of vulnerability.

Brown describes that as Foreboding Joy, and it hit me hard. Not long after that section, I experienced it in a very visceral way. We recently vacationed in Florida. My son and I took a walk to the beach on our first night there, and there is no other way to describe what he was feeling except pure joy. He was smiling, laughing, jumping and running on the beach and in the waves.

As I was watching my son, I had this feeling take hold, “What happens, if he gets pulled out the sea?”. He was in the shallows, the waves were small, and I was not that far from him. But still, fear took over.   I told him, ruined everything, “don’t go too far”. His joy vanished, and he started to worry. I traded in our happiness for fear.

Parenting

There is a trove of great advice in this book, like what to do when you are “foreboding joy”. With all the different angles that Brown takes, I believe it would speak to almost everyone who hasn’t looked at how they approach vulnerability. There is even a section dedicated to parenting.

My big take away from the parenting section is, there is a big difference saying “You lied” vs “You are a lier”. The former was a choice; the latter is a condemnation on the person. When I call a child a lier, and they believe me, where is the redemption? They have been labelled something less than. But if I say they lied, they can choose to do something different in the future; they can redeem themselves. A lie causes guilt. Being seen as a lier causes shame. Shame causes pain and sets up the child to feel less worthy of love and belonging.

There is so much to gleam from this book; her conclusions on belonging alone could fill up another post. I strongly recommended you read this one if you are trying to become a better you and live a more fulfilling life. When you read it, let me know in the comments what resonated with you.

Oh and, Duke Sucks!