Tag Archives: growth mindset

I Say Sitzfleisch, You Say Grit

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.


Failing is for Everyone

The world of entrepreneurs is running hot these days. Innovation is at the heart of entrepreneurship and to be successful that innovation must fill a need. Successful innovators identify a problem to solve.  Examples: Venmo, an electronic wallet app (Wouldn’t it be great if, after a shared dinner, we could pay each other back through our phones?), Tinder, a quick dating app (Wouldn’t it be easier to just hook up with people without all the requirements of on-line dating?), or Teachley, an EdTech company basing programs on cognitive science (How can teachers use app data to make faster, better decisions about student learning needs?).

Entrepreneurs know that they should “fail fast” because it’s a waste of time and money working on something that ultimately is not going to succeed. Entrepreneurs work fast, hard, and cheaply to create basic prototypes called MVP’s (Minimally Viable Products) that they can try out on friends, family, and market segments to find out quickly: Is this a product that people want? Will this work? How can I make it better? The product may or may not turn out to be something to pursue.

To an entrepreneur, failure is part of the process, often a badge of honor. Many successful entrepreneurs include “I failed X times and I learned from my failures” in their speeches to help motivate others. Success follows from failure if you are able to accept failure and learn from it.

Learning is a personal process of innovation. When you learn, you encounter, try out, and adapt new knowledge and ways of thinking. So why are students punished for failure: bad grades, not getting a diploma, embarrassment. Those who fail consistently often develop a form of learned helplessness: Psychologists have found that if people fail enough times without understanding, they will just give up trying. School for many children is a dead end of failing or a deflating experience of average accomplishment.

How can we turn students into learning entrepreneurs, learning from their mistakes, and trying again? One way is through transparency. We should incorporate ongoing review with students of their learning pathways. Explain how learning A leads to B. When they fail A, suggest other ways to get to B.

Another solution is to make problem solving and hard work the center of learning. Carol Dweck, Stanford University, has shown colossally positive results with children in failing schools by changing their attitudes to a “growth mindset,” a belief that abilities are not fixed, they can be developed through investing time and energy.

In her TEDx talk, Dweck gives an example of a Chicago school where students who fail are given a “not yet” rather than an F. The “not yet” signals that they are on a trajectory, they are on a journey. Failure is not a stop; it’s not a reason to give up. It’s just a bump in the road. Figure out how to get past it and you will keep moving forward. That’s a lesson we all should learn.

Read more on what educators can learn from entrepreneurial perspective on failure in Kathleen Parker’s Washington Post article, “How we succeed by failing.”