4 February 2019

Resilience and Grit - Part I

John F. Kennedy made a speech in 1962 at Rice University, explaining America's commitment to sending a man to the moon before the end of that decade. In that speech, he said, "We choose to go to the moon…and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."

I love this particular speech because it speaks to several things which I think are very important. The first is the desire to explore; to go beyond what we know, whilst acknowledging at the same time how little we know about our universe. It also speaks of the importance of sharing the knowledge gathered with all people, for the benefit of all people. There is humility in this way of thinking, that combines with a determination to change things for the better. It contains hope, whilst acknowledging the challenges that will appear. And it pre-empts one of humanity's greatest achievements – landing a man on the moon – which we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of next year.

But perhaps the most important aspect of the speech is that commitment to tackle the hard things in life, not simply to sit back and take the easy path.

You may have heard of something referred to as the "Marshmallow Test". In the 1960s and 70s, psychologist Walter Mischel led a team at Stanford University. Young children were offered the choice between a small reward (a marshmallow) straight away or two if they were prepared to wait a short while (15 minutes), during which time the tester left the room. The study appeared to confirm the long-term benefits of delaying gratification, although subsequent studies suggest that socio-economic background and the presence or otherwise of a father-figure are also significant variables. However, I believe that it's never too early (or too late) to start developing this capacity to postpone reward in order to achieve more at a later date. If everything is given to us when we want it, without us having earned it or without having to wait or work hard, we stop appreciating the real value of things and we lose that ability to push ourselves – something we all need at some stage in our lives.

Roy Baumeister has studied willpower and he believes that we wake up each morning with a finite supply of the ability to say "no" to ourselves and to delay gratification. But we can build this ability within us. By developing resilience and grit, we seek to equip our boys and young men better for the challenges ahead of them. Resilience is the short-term ability to bounce back, while grit is a combination of passion and perseverance over time (just what JFK was talking about), and I will explore these in coming editions of Thistle.

SchoolTV

The latest edition of SchoolTV deals with Year 12 exam stress and it contains a number of useful tips for parents and students as we approach the challenge of final examinations. The link is here: http://scotch.wa.schooltv.me/wellbeing_news/year-12-exam-stress-special-report .

The short video highlights the following tips:

  • Study in 20-minute blocks
  • Say it out loud (without notes)
  • Consider putting in place apps that block social media apps
  • Ensure good sleep
  • Eat breakfast
  • Exercise
  • Study space
  • Routine
  • Don't be too intrusive; don't add to their stress; don't talk about your successes, or their siblings' successes

Perhaps the one thing which is left to add is to help your son keep perspective – help him to see that life goes on; and while there are consequences for actions (and for inaction), there is always a way to get through and for him to pursue his passion if he really wants to. In my view, at the end of the day, what is most important is what sort of person he is becoming, and how he treats others. If he is a young man of good character, good things await him, and the world will also benefit.

The English have a saying: "Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly." It is good to be reminded of this now and again.

Mr James Hindle
Director of Student and Staff Wellbeing