We’re Teaching Grit the Wrong Way

David DeSteno | Chronicle of Higher Education

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.

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