Saturday, March 24, 2018

"We're Teaching Grit the Wrong Way"

This is an article worth reading in the Chronicle of Higher Ed by David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University and Director of its Social Emotions Group, who also recently published a book on the same topic called Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and PrideI actually just finished reading Professor's DeSteno's book and it's a good one. Essentially, he argues that relying on executive function to "will" ourselves through situations that require perseverance and "grit" is a doomed strategy that flies in the face of our evolutionary programming. Instead, we should finds ways to leverage pro-social emotions and motivations grounded in gratitude, compassion and pride. You can read another short piece from the New York Times where Professor DeSteno describes his theory of  emotional based perseverance and grit here.  

In the meantime, here's an excerpt from his CHE education piece:

We’re Teaching Grit the Wrong Way


Let’s face it, for most students academic work isn’t intrinsically enjoyable. Even for the highly motivated ones, studying certain subjects or going to certain classes can feel like pulling teeth, especially if it stands in the way of more pleasurable options like watching television or checking updates on Facebook. But, of course, choosing short-term pleasures too frequently bodes ill for eventual success.


The way people usually solve such dilemmas — accepting sacrifices in the present in order to reach future goals — is with self-control. Beginning with Walter Mischel’s marshmallow studies, decades of research have confirmed that those who can delay gratification have better life outcomes. Good self-control has also been shown to be a key component of grit — perseverance in the face of educational challenges. It’s no wonder, then, that colleges have placed great emphasis on teaching students better self-control.


But the strategies that educators are recommending to build that self-control — a reliance on willpower and executive function to suppress emotions and desires for immediate pleasures — are precisely the wrong ones. Besides having a poor long-term success rate in general, the effectiveness of willpower drops precipitously when people are feeling tired, anxious, or stressed. And, unfortunately, that is exactly how many of today’s students often find themselves.

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Continue reading here.


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