With all due respect to my education professors in graduate school, most of what I know about learning and teaching came from my mother who never went to college. She told me that the key to success is sitzfleisch. Sitzfleisch is a word that comes from the German, literally, sitting on your ass.
In English, sitzfleisch is the ability to focus on a task whether or not it is engaging for the amount of time needed to master or complete it which is not necessarily the amount of time you want to spend on it. Yes, all of that. According to Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love,
Sitzfleisch is sort of the opposite of Ants In Your Pants. The amount of sitzfleisch you’ve got will directly influence how much work you can produce. How long can you stand it, to sit there and push through? Inspiration is beautiful, imagination divine, and we all love soaring dreams. But sitzfleisch? Ass meat? THAT’S how you write your novel. That’s how you compose your symphony. That’s how you paint your masterpiece.
Nowadays, a great deal of research is being done on sitzfleisch only it’s called grit and self-control. Psychologist Angela Duckworth, leads the research in this area. This is how she defines these terms:
Self-control entails aligning actions with any valued goal despite momentarily more-alluring alternatives; grit, in contrast, entails having and working assiduously toward a single challenging superordinate goal through thick and thin, on a timescale of years or even decades.
Duckworth’s work is ongoing. She is proving in study after study that self-control or grit or a combination of both, is more highly correlated to success in school and life than IQ and talent. So, of course, now everyone wants grit and self-control especially for their children. How do we teach them grit?
Duckworth admits she doesn’t know–yet. She says that Carol Dweck’s growth mindset (see previous blog post, Failing is for Everyone) may be one of the ways to get there. In growth mindset, when the process of learning is explained to children, when they are told that success means hard work and pushing through failure, they stay the course.
Being aware of the learning process helps prepare us for its challenges. People who are gritty not only know that they can “push through,” they have strategies to shore up their staying power. Next time you have “ants in your pants” try one of these actions:
- Look at how much you have accomplished and how much further you have to go. Then, make realistic goals for yourself.
- Give yourself a moment to think about what pushing through now will get you in the immediate future (time for dinner with your significant other? freedom to kick back and relax?) or in the long run (a condo in the city? worldwide recognition?)
- Call a friend to complain to for a few minutes. Make sure it’s a friend who empathizes with you and values your succeeding. (Not the friend who says, “I hear ya, screw it, come party with us!”)
The more you practice grit and self-control, the easier it will get, and the more successful you will be.