Grit, Growth Mindset, and Reflection on my own critical turning point.

We talk a lot about growth mindset and grit at Motivis Learning.

Internally, we debate whether or not an individual’s grit and ability to persevere amid obstacles and challenges is the result of nurture or nature. We wonder what impact socioeconomic factors have on the development of grit, and how things like family size and birth order influence growth mindset.

We also discuss if those things can be taught, and what that might look like in the classroom. The consensus here is that grit can be taught, and the earlier the better. And that teaching resilience, a growth mindset, and that failure is okay helps students of all ages handle stress in a positive way.

Then the question becomes: How?

If you can identify a person’s passion—what motivates them intrinsically—early on, and put them in a place to work on it freely,  it’s a kick starter. This internal passion drives motivation and perseverance in spite of the odds, regardless of obstacles.

To demonstrate this theory, I examined myself.

I grew up in Somerville, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. At the time, it was a blue-collar town, where many first-generation Americans settled to work and raise their families.  My parents among them.

  • My father worked 2-3 jobs and had no education past 10th grade.
  • My mother worked in a department store and had no education past 10th grade.
  • I am the youngest of 3.
  • My brothers are both older than me, by 7 and 9 years, respectively.  
  • At the age of 13,  one brother was in the military and the other was married. Essentially, I was the only child residing with my parents during my teen years.

Those facts are what interests me in things like birth order and other socioeconomic factors when it comes to Grit and Growth Mindset.

Brian Peddle as a child
Tiny Brian Peddle

On the verge of adolescence, I was inspired by the movie War Games and in 1983, I got a Commodore Vic-20 and was locked in on learning everything I could about coding and how to leverage technology for world domination—or least hacking into something (I’m pretty sure I can finally talk about some of these things as the statute of limitations should be up, but we can save that for a future post).

This was where my passion for coding was born. It’s what motivated me.

And, it was a critical turning point.

This is where I developed grit, because I had to figure it all out for myself. If I wanted to make something, I had to do it for myself, there was no one at home to teach me. Every failed line of code was a lesson on what not to do again. The dopamine would flow for every victory and I would run to show my parents or grandmother. Each success, no matter how small, was creating positive reinforcement causing a repeated release of dopamine. In this, I became addicted to learning, even if I didn’t recognize it at that time.

This period and experience was key for me. If I wanted to make a game, I walked to the library and got a book that taught me how. And every success kept me going. Especially because, when you write code, you seldom get it right the first time. That doesn’t mean you stop and give up. You rewrite and keep going until you are successful. I want that dopamine! 

Here is where I start to wonder about birth order. If I were the first child and for lack of a better term, “micromanaged,” would I have been allowed to explore so freely on the computer? I also wonder if my parents’ incredible work ethic and determination to provide for their family instilled a greater sense of grit. This is a trait I have carried throughout my career, hard work pays off.

You’ve heard the saying, “It’s who you know.” Well, the reality is that it’s who knows you. Your connection may get you the interview and the job, but you are the one who needs to deliver and having the right mindset. The right mindset guarantees that people will remember you.

How students learn to overcome their challenges depends on their mindset.

My early experience with Commodore Vic-20 is why I think Project-Based Learning (PBL) is so important. It encourages learners to learn for the sake of something greater than just learning for a test. PBL encourages students to learn new skills, abilities, and to build their knowledge base with meaningful and important opportunities to demonstrate these skills, abilities and knowledge in a way that is authentic and meaningful to them.

If I had a fixed mindset as I stared down the challenges I encountered early on learning to code, I would not have been able to craft my own supports and strategies for success. As a lifelong learner, I look back on these earlier learning experiences and understand that the instances that challenged me taught me so much about how I learn best, and how to stick with it, even when the odds seems insurmountable.

If growth mindset can be established early on in the learning experience, the road is paved and the mind is primed to affect change in their own lives, providing them the confidence and determination to overcome obstacles. Their success as adults in their profession and in their personal lives is encouraged by their mindset. According to Carol Dweck, developing these vital success skills can occur at any time. “It’s never too late to change your mindset. Mindsets are beliefs—powerful ones and ones that shape our motivation—but beliefs can be changed.”  (see Neuroplasticity)

Growth Mindset Goes Mainstream

It is great to see so much literature and research surrounding the importance of enabling and cultivating grit and growth-mindset in education. Angela Lee Duckworth’s TEDtalk has inspired many with her words of fortitude and perseverance. Big ideas on grit and growth mindset are integral to understanding what makes a person successful in all facets of life, whether they’re writing code or climbing Everest.

In educational technology, it is essential that we incorporate language and experiences that encourage the cultivation of growth-mindset and grit early on in student learning. It can be as simple as the trials conducted at PERTS where priming messages were tailored to students at Khan Academy: “If you make a mistake, it’s an opportunity to get smarter!”

The pervasive use of the terms grit and growth mindset in our daily vernacular has elevated the recognition and importance of metacognition and behaviors that promote success in a fierce and impactful way.

We have a great opportunity to design for student success—not just in the courses where students are currently enrolled, but to develop the behaviors conducive to successful lifelong learning and the willingness and ability to overcome the challenges and obstacles encountered along the way.

Most notably, the important notion that in the game of life, learning, and success:

Success = winning; Failure = Learning!