In a previous post “Do You Have Enough Grit to Succeed?” we looked at a new book by Paul Tough called How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character.
As a follow-up to that fascinating book, here is an interesting front-line application of the principle of determination and focus trumping pure cognitive skill and the thesis that grit and focused determination is teachable due to the malleability of the pre-frontal cortex, that part of our brains that is critical to the regulation of behaviours such as focus and controlling unproductive impulses.
(One intriguing aspect Tough’s book covers is the potential for damage to this region of the brain from childhood stress from abusive, neglectful, or dysfunctional environments but also the potential for healing this impact.)
One program described is located in Brooklyn. A young chess instructor, Elizabeth Spiegel, is using chess as a means of motivating and instilling new skills in focus and problem-solving. A teacher at Intermediate School 318 in Brooklyn, Spiegel uses chess as a way of showing students the benefits of failure. In order to improve at chess, you have to focus on “what you’re bad at.” You have to analyze your games and “figure out what you’re doing wrong.”
In chess, Paul Tough says, failure is merely a stepping stone to your next victory, and he believes that children who are unused to failure are actually at a disadvantage. “They end up being fragile and brittle, and they’ll go out into the world and experience some kind of setback and it will often completely derail them, because they haven’t had that experience, that opportunity to learn how to fail,” he says.