Getting Gritty about Grit

“Grit,” or “perseverance,” is one of the key factors in success. It’s the quality that keeps students motivated and working hard when life is at its most challenging. Put most simply, it means never giving up on your goals and your vision of the future. Grit means focusing on your long-term success. As psychologist Angela Duckworth explains, “Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Duckworth is an expert on “grit” and her 2013 TED Talks Education presentation gives a quick and clear introduction to the concept of grit and how you can make it work for you. She focuses on children in her talk, but the ideas apply equally to university students.

You can click here to visit Duckworth’s TED Talks speaker page. You’ll find a survey to help you discover how gritty you are already, and a link to Duckworth’s research lab and insight on how to get even grittier.

Increasing Self-Control so You Can Study

In his new book, The Marshmallow Test, psychologist Walter Mischel explains how our self-control is determined by the “hot” and “cold” systems of our minds.

The hot system threatens self-control. It’s impulsive, instinctive, desirous and emotional. It gives us cravings for foods we shouldn’t eat and activities that throw us off our study schedule. It’s the mental system that can make it almost impossible to study when your Xbox is sitting there practically begging you to pick up the controls.

The cool system is slower, rational and thoughtful. It allows you to set aside your urgent emotions and desires and think things through carefully.

Imagine you desperately need to study for your mid-term, but your hot system is giving you powerful cravings to play video games instead, and you’re finding it impossible to sit still and do your work. You might think the cool system is the only way to free yourself from your cravings. You could use the rational cool system to ponder your study goals and calculate the mark you need on the mid-term to get your A. This is a good strategy.

But, when you need to boost your self-control quickly so you can start work before it’s too late, you might even be better off putting your hot system to work for you.

Try imagining logging onto the site for your course and looking up the score for your mid-term and finding it’s 58%. Picture how this torpedos your average and how you’re going to have to re-think your applications to those great grad schools or forget about the big scholarship. Imagine as vividly as possible realizing that your awful mark was caused by playing video games, and picture how stupid you’ll feel for letting yourself waste your valuable study time.

Now your hot system is working for you. You’ll be feeling powerful emotions and instincts that will help convince you to toss the Xbox in the closet and get down to work! The hot system can derail our success, but when used skillfully, it can also boost your self-control and get you right back on the track to excellence.

Quick Tips–Boosting Self-Control

In the 1960s, psychologist Walter Mischel began studying self-control in children. In a series of experiments that became famously known as the “marshmallow test,” Mischel examined the skills and situations that could make squirmy kids hold off on eating one treat (sometimes a marshmallow) in anticipation of a double treat a little later.

Mischel’s new book, The Marshmallow Test, is filled with ideas on “mastering self-control.” I’ve just started reading it and I’ve already come upon one quick tip you can use to help yourself avoid temptations and distractions so you can study.

I love quick and effective strategies for reaching your goals, and Mischel’s explanation of “If-Then implementation plans” is elegant and powerful. All you need to do is plan ahead, and you’ll increase your self-control in the face of temptation. Make a plan. Tell yourself, for example, “At 5:00, I’ll start writing my paper.” Or “If my phone rings, I will ignore it.” Or, “If I get hungry I’m going to finish my chapter before hitting the kitchen.”

The key is to make the if-then plan before you face the temptation, and practice it until it becomes an instinct.

So simple, and yet it helps. Mischel explains the science behind the strategy and it’s a great read, but you don’t need to know why it works to use the trick to your advantage. Good luck! I’ll bring you more from Mischel soon.