“I have to write an essay on Beyonce’s video, Formation, for tonight's homework on perseverance and self-esteem,” my son said as he strolled into the kitchen straight off the bus from high school.
"I figured this was right up your alley," he smirked.
Well, this did sound interesting.
All I knew about the song was that after her Super Bowl Halftime show, sales at Red Lobster went up 20%. I had watched the performance and, to be honest, with the exception of the cool part where she said she had “…hot sauce in my bag, swag,” I had a hard time following the words.
I was intrigued to find out why my son’s high school teacher thought this song was a teachable moment on perseverance and asked if I could get in on the assignment.
“That's what I thought you'd say,” he shrugged.
And why not get my middle-school daughter involved in the conversation too? After all, it was a teachable moment with Beyonce! How often do you get those opportunities?
We decided that we should probably read the lyrics first. So we gathered ‘round and fired up the laptop…
…Uncomfortable silence from both kids.
Wow. In hindsight, I probably should have looked at the words first, before I invited my 12-year-old daughter to tag along for the discussion. Alas, no parent-of-the-year award for me again this year.
However, once we got beyond all the explicit prose (lots of explanations on my part), the purposeful use of hubris, and the uncomfortable Red Lobster line, we all had to admit that the teacher was right.
That’s because our family has been talking a lot about the incredible power of grit lately. Like every other desperate parent out there, much to my children's chagrin, I've been trying to find a way to make my kids grittier.
Research has proven that its impact on success is almost magical.
Forget about pumping Mozart into pregnant bellies, buying black and white mobiles to hang over cribs, paying through the nose for tutors, personal sports coaches, and music lessons.
Work ethic, motivation, tenacity, dedication, hard work, drive, determination…THIS is what's been proven the key to success in life.
Beyonce definitely has it.
“I see it, I want it,…,
I dream it, I work hard, I grind ’till I own it”
Not IQ. Not talent. Not even station in life.
Angela Duckworth, professor and psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, has spent several years proving that IQ and talent don't predict success. Perseverance does.
In fact, when Duckworth also held constant for things like race, family income, how safe people felt, and even social intelligence, “grit” was still the biggest predictor of who would graduate from military school, excel in the Spelling Bee, make the most money as a salesman, or be the most effective teacher in the toughest neighborhoods.
Duckworth even goes so far as to say, shockingly, that talent and IQ could have an inverse relationship to success in some cases.
This is independently confirmed by a separate study. British psychologist, Joan Freeman, has studied the life and adult careers of child prodigies. As she explains in her book, Gifted Lives: What Happens When Gifted Children Grow Up, she discovered that of the 210 baby geniuses that she tracked over many years, only six became incredibly successful in later life.
So, why is it that some kids seem to have this magical fairy dust and others don’t?
Why is it that some kids (and adults!) never seem to give up while others don’t even begin to try?
“You just might be a black Bill Gates in the making,
Cause I slay
I just might be a black Bill Gates in the making”
How do we teach our own kids to “slay” like Beyonce?
It turns out that grit isn’t magical dust. It’s simple and we can all get it.
Exciting research by Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck, has proven that a person gets gritty when they simply believe they can improve.
Her research shows that, when kids understand how the brain works, they not only become more persistent, but their persistence lasts. That’s because the children in the study learned that the brain grows in response to a challenge.
Struggles actually make you SMARTER!
Dweck calls this growth mindset.
In her book, Mindset, The New Psychology of Success, Dweck transforms the meaning of effort and difficulty - from feeling dumb to, instead, understanding that effort and tackling something hard develops more connections in the brain.
Initially, both “smart” and “dumb” students in the study who believed that intelligence is given at birth (fixed mindset) limited their achievement.
Dweck's seventh graders in the study were given a choice: either learn something new or do a task that would make them look smart. If they had a fixed mindset, they opted to look smart.
They stopped trying.
This seems to explain Joan Freeman’s child-prodigy results.
Once the children in Dweck’s study were taught how the brain worked, they stopped feeling stupid and giving up when they failed, because they realized that failure wasn’t a permanent condition.
This is truly a transformative approach since it positively impacts both the “geniuses” who might crumble at the first whiff of failure, as well as the “dropouts” who don’t even try because “what’s the use?” and helps make sure that both will succeed.
What is even more amazing is that these benefits were especially pronounced for students who were subject to negative stereotypes such as girls in math and African-American students.
So, can it work for non-study participants like our kids?
Acting like a true investigative reporter, last September, I enrolled both my kids (my perfectionist and my underachiever alike) into Dweck’s on-line Brainology® program as "homeschoolers".
I wish I could tell you that there was this amazing state-of-the-art learning system that blew us all away. Instead, it was just an incredibly easy, and slightly quirky, biology lesson. Very quickly the eye-rolls and the moans, for having to do extra work, diminished over the six-week long program.
It wasn’t hard. In fact, it didn’t take much of their time at all.
And herein lies the true elegance of this program...because the kids easily grasped the logic and the science, it unbelievably...worked!
Now I hear strange phrases like, "I have to study a bit more because I don't think I've gotten the material into long-term memory yet," or, "I need to get more active with this material."
We are seeing less stress, better motivation, fewer lows and, most importantly, better results.
A mindset shift.
Who knows? Although I haven’t looked, they just might have started to carry a bit of hot sauce in their bag.