Learning is an Eternal Principle

Grit: The Eternal Learning Principle

June 27, 2017

How do you improve your capacity to learn? Research shows "grit" is the answer. Enhance your grit with these 10 tips.

Through learning, we progress. We fulfill the measure of our creation, have joy, and eventually return to our maker. So, how do we improve our capacity to learn? Learning seems to have two dimensions: the first is personal energy and passion, and the second is the ability to demonstrate a growth mindset. Psychologists have called this learning process “grit”. They have found that grit is a better predictor of long term personal, educational, and leadership success than intellect (IQ), emotion (EQ), or sociability (SQ).

So, with a predisposition to and experience with grit, here is a top 10 list of how to enhance grit. Some of these grit-enhancers come from research, some from personal experience, and some from observations.

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10 Grit Enhancers:

  1. Set realistic expectations:
    Sometimes, we try to achieve that which is unachievable. I learned early in my life that while I really enjoyed playing basketball, I would never be able to make a living as a professional athlete. Grit needs to be directed with realistic expectations.
  2. Take risks and challenge yourself to do new things:
    Doing what we have always done will get us what we have always got. I like to try new things, experiment and be curious. Habits and routines are 70%-80% of our lives, but experimenting with new routines allows us to grow. While change is not always easy, it is helpful to embrace change and see it as an opportunity, not a threat.
  3. Persist in the face of setbacks:
    When trying something new, it often doesn’t work. New recipes aren’t easy and may not taste great, new lectures fall flat, new clothes are often uncomfortable and new cities are hard to navigate. Mistakes and failures are a major part of learning. When there is a mistake or when something goes wrong, it is very easy to blame and rationalize. It is more important to face the mistake, run into it and honestly evaluate what worked and what did not work.
  4. Relish success. Share credit. Focus on why:
    While we can learn from failures, we must relish success and figure out what worked. When we share credit for success, we endear others to us and we see that our efforts can be scaled and multiplied. It is also so important in a growth mindset to focus on why we succeed more than that we succeed so that it can be replicated.
  5. Effort is the path to mastery:
    Without effort and hard work, success is a fluke or nearly random event. To create a pattern of long term learning and growth, we have to have sustained effort. Some of this sustained effort comes from having a passion for the outcome that we want to achieve.
  6. Ask: “what do you think”:
    Criticism is a gift of improvement. We learn by asking others what they think and how things might have worked. I like role-playing in front of audiences to model the principles I teach. Then, I always debrief by asking for what I did right and wrong. By encouraging feedback, I want to model learning. I generally like to see the pattern of criticism so that I know where to improve.
  7. Build on strengths:
    It is easy to get discouraged about what does not work. It is more important to focus on what is right and build on it. Sometimes, when something is not going right or someone makes a mistake, that mistake becomes an obsession and that person cannot see what is right. A friend got into a vicious cycle about not being a perfect Mormon and he felt a continuous lack. This lack multiplied until he ended up leaving his church because he could not fulfill all the expectations.
  8. Find lessons and inspiration in the success of others:
    Celebrating in the success of others allows us to multiply our learning. It is often so tempting to tell people what they should do to improve, when we are better off asking, “what do you think?” so that the person learns. Likewise, finding joy in others’ success allows us to learn from their success and adapt to our circumstance.
  9. Surround yourself with friends who are learning and growing:
    Our chosen friends become a mirror of who we are. It is useful to look at your closest friends to determine how you are likely to be seen. If you choose friends who learn and grow, you are likely to mimic their behaviour. In addition, relationships build our capacity to learn. With relationships, we have a secure base that enables us to take risks and bounce back.
  10. Start small and use this learning mantra:
    • Think big: have big ideas, work on principles, have grand aspirations.
    • Test small: start with little things, fold the future into the present, experiment, try, start, chunk big tasks into small behaviours.
    • Fail fast: recognize what is not working, be open to criticism.
    • Learn always: reflect, renew and improve.

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Dave Ulrich
David (Dave) O. Ulrich is Rensis Likert Collegiate Professor of Business Administration and Director, Human Resource Executive Program, University of Michigan. He is also a Partner, the RBL Group.

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