How can we best help children and youth succeed in life? This question is a top concern among parents, educators and policymakers all over the world. Growing attention has focused on the key role of socio-emotional skills, such as grit (perseverance) and motivation to overcome obstacles and failures, in the path to success. Recent prominent examples of the spotlight on this topic are Salman Khan’s (of the online Khan Academy fame) Huffington Post blog on the subject, and the recent LinkedIn post by World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim.
This is not just another policy fad. It is backed by a burgeoning body of empirical research. Carol Dweck’s “growth mindset” theory posits that individuals who believe that their intelligence or their skills are not fixed, but, rather, can be improved through effort and dedication, are more likely to succeed. In her Mindset book, Dr. Dweck demonstrates how children with growth mindsets perform better in school compared to their fixed-mindset peers, and how people with similar talents in sports, music, or management are more likely to succeed when they hold growth mindsets. She advises parents and teachers to change the way we praise children: Saying “I am really impressed with how hard you worked to solve this problem,” rather than “You solved it so quickly, you are so smart!”
In their research, Angela Duckworth and colleagues have added that the belief that change through self-mastery is possible leads to sustained effort for achieving one’s goals. They have written extensively on Grit as a strong predictor of success, whether at school, the workplace, marriage or the military.