As I reflect on my childhood, knowing what I know regarding Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACE’s, and “my score” of a three, along with a high school graduating ACT score of a 15, it would seem unusual that in my freshman year at Northern State University that I, a “probationary student” would end the year on the Dean’s Presidential Scholarship List with a 4.0 GPA.

Equally astounding, was my completion of a Master of Science in Pastoral Care and Counseling degree with a 3.9 GPA. My life goal was to become an educator to make learning enjoyable and to be kind to others in the process. A defining moment in my life was when the well-intentioned high school counselor took me aside, and gently said, “You might be able to be a teacher’s assistant, although because of your test score, not the actual classroom teacher.”

It was exactly what I needed to hear. It agitated me just enough to set my sight on my goal and nothing was going to stop me from achieving it. I graduated from the university with an elementary education degree and a special education degree (K-12).

I went on to enjoy 27 delightful years as a classroom teacher until I had the opportunity to join St. Francis Health. Now in my seventh year, this life-giving Mission and Ministry position continues to exemplify how my students and parents continue to be my best teachers.

University of Pennsylvania Psychologist, Angela Duckworth, would call this “grit.” She defines grit as the “perseverance and passion for long term goals with no particular concern for rewards or recognition along the way. It combines resilience, ambition, and self-control in pursuit of goals that take months, years, or even decades.” Her published research in the book, “Grit-The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” a New York Times bestseller documents how grit predicts long-term success in nearly every realm of life.

Dr. Duckworth’s studies began when she was teaching math to seventh graders. She realized IQ wasn’t the only factor separating successful students from those who struggled. Goals through time were the highly predictive of success. In most research studies, grit and measures of talent and IQ are unrelated, suggesting that talent puts no limits on capacity for passion and perseverance.

Since we can only teach what we truly know, below is Dr. Duckworth’s “Pulse Check” to gauge your current level of grit, considering how true the following are for you:

1. I enjoy projects that take years to complete.

2. I am working towards a very long-term goal.

3. What I do each day is connected to my deepest personal values.

4. There is at least one subject or activity that I never get bored of thinking about.

5. Setbacks don’t discourage me for long.

6. I am a hard worker.

7. I finish whatever I begin.

8. I never stop working to improve.

Your disposition to pursue long-term goals with passion and perseverance like risk for heart disease, interest in art, and your intelligence is both heritable and malleable. Ninety-nine percent of your genes are the same as mine or your neighbors and literally everyone else you know. Only a tiny fraction of human genes differ. These genetic differences among people are correlated with differences in our physical and psychological characteristics.

Our genetic heritage does not have complete authority over our life destiny UNLESS we allow it. From Harvard University Center on the Developing Child epigenetics research, we know that genes make a difference AND so does experience so don’t assume that nature and nurture are mutually exclusive. It also reminds us of how essential it is to look for ways to enrich the environments of the young people in our lives. Epigenetics refers to changes in which genes are expressed and how early experiences alter gene expression and shape development.

According to Dr. Ducksworth’s research, here are some ways to encourage grit in others:

1. Model it. If you love what you do, let others know. Wear your passion on your sleeve. When you fail, openly share your frustration yet go out of your way to point our what you learned from the experience. Emphasize playing the long game in life. Life is a marathon, rather than a sprint.

2. Celebrate it. When you see grit, draw attention to it. “Your work on this project has demonstrated tremendous perseverance. I know it took a huge effort on your part.” Praise passion such as: “You are really in the flow with this project and I’m so happy for you.”

3. Enable it. The paradox of grit is that determination of individuals is made possible by warmth and support of friends, families whether biological or chosen, teachers, and mentors.

“God honors a beautiful blend of gift and grit! He gives the gift and expects us to have the grit to practice and learn how to use it effectively.” ~ Beth Moore

For more information on how to most effectively use behavioral science to transform people’s lives to bring out their highest good go to: bcfg.wharton.upenn.edu “Creating Enduring Behavior Change” or Dr. Duckworth’s: Characterlab.org for actionable advice for parents and teachers based on science.

Sandy Block-Hansen, MS. St. Francis Healthcare Campus Family Footprints Coordinator. A Catholic Health Initiative Mission and Ministry program created to support, inform, and offer resources to parents in the role of parenting. She can be reached at sandrablock-hansen@catholichealth.net or 218.643.0475

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