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Sunday, 22 September 2013

Grit, Motivation and Success

Here is an interesting talk by a psychologist who had found that to be successful a person needs to have 'grit':
http://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_the_key_to_success_grit.html

But what is grit and how can we nurture it in students so that they can be successful?

I believe that grit is inherent and has to do with inherent motivation. For what makes a person "keep at it" and not give up but the internal motivation to "see it through to the end" no matter what. If it is external motivation then at the first or second hurdle, the person might give up and call it a day when the external regulation (rewards or approval) may be deemed as not worth it.


I remember when I first finished high school and got into university to do Pharmacy. It wasn't my choice but my parents' and I did it to gain their approval. I was externally motivated but I never had a love for chemistry and as the months wore on I lost the motivation to continue (needless to say I failed some subjects). Even the approval of my parents lost its power. I dropped out. 

Two years later my parents gave me a choice of choosing to do a degree that I wanted but it had to be not lower than my Higher School Certificate mark. There was not much choice but Business seemed to be the lesser of all the other evils (I had always wanted to do teaching but it was much lower than my mark so I was still not allowed to do it). So I chose Business and majored in Management.

When I did this course I was motivated to see it through to the end because I had wanted to finish this degree and get it over and done with. Even though I wanted to finish the degree I was very relaxed. I didn't push myself to excel but simply to get a pass. So I cruised along sometimes doing one less subject so that the load would be less. Then when everyone who started the degree at the same time as me were going to graduate the following semester, I began to panic. I wasn't graduating due to a few subjects that I still had to do and some that I had to redo.

While most people graduated, I still had to do an extra semester. I decided to cram all my subjects together so that I could graduate the following semester. My advisor warned me against it. He said that when I did one less subject I managed to get distinctions and credits but when I did the required amount of subjects I managed only to pass and even sometimes failed. But I told him that I wanted to do the extra 2 subjects so that I could graduate the next semester. I was very stubborn and what could he do but acquiesce?

In that last semester I pushed myself. I was very internally motivated to finish, even with all the odds against me and the advisor's negative feedback. I spent my time studying and I reasoned with myself that if I studied the whole of this semester then the next semester I would be free. But if I don't study then I will spend another 6 months still studying. What was it to be - the 6 months now or the whole year? I wanted to prove to myself (and possibly the advisor) that I could do it. Alhamdulillah, I passed with a few credits and the following semester I graduated. (My road to teaching was a winding one, after this I still had other obstacles to overcame. Alhamdulillah, we learn from our experiences!)

That was grit. It was not giving up. It's of wanting to succeed and not fail. It came from a motivation that was within. It is hard to teach it to others but I believe that it could be nurtured.

How do we, as teachers and parents, nurture student's motivation to succeed? 

Firstly, we could provide a supportive environment by: being emphatic to student's perspective; welcoming their thoughts, feelings and actions; acknowledging and accepting their negative expressions; providing rational explanations as to why something needs to be done; using non-controlling and informational language; being patient to allow time for self-paced learning; and nurturing whatever inner motivation that is already there.

Another way to have internalised motivation is to integrate a set of successful behaviours until it becomes a part of the person's identity and self-concept. For this to happen, we need to give students free choice to do it (autonomy), provide students with the capability of doing it (competence), and nurture students' connection to others when doing it (relatedness). When these three criteria are met a student will be internally motivated.

To read more on motivation click here.

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