How to Develop Grit: Perseverance And Passion For Long-term Goals

How to Develop Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-term Goals | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

We all want our kids to grow up and be healthy, thriving, independent young adults. One of the primary indicators of whether our kids will thrive after leaving home is something called grit: perseverance and passion for long-term goals.

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What is Grit Exactly?

So, what is grit anyway? I think it’s something that we’ve heard a lot about maybe the last 10 or 15 years or so. Ivy League professor and best-selling author, Angela Duckworth, defined grit “as the combination of perseverance and passion toward long-term goals.” Grit is when you’re able to harness the power of passion and turn it into resolve, persistence, stamina, and tenacity, working toward goals that endure over time. In short, grit is: consistent. hard. work.

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Examples of grit are someone:

  • developing a hobby or interest
  • learning to play a musical instrument like the piano
  • learning to dance or play a sport.
  • working toward graduating high school or college.

Grit shouldn’t be mistaken as short bursts of intense energy. It isn’t grit if a student was able to finish a school project over the weekend. They may have worked for hours and hours, the project was amazing, and they earned a great grade. That’s great work, but different than grit. Grit strives to delay gratification until your child’s goals are achieved. It is a mindset, a focus on consistent effort over long periods of time perfecting your craft. Grit is a willingness to embrace the daily grind in order to achieve long-term goals.

Grit is a little different than IQ which tends to be a little bit more fixed. Grit is something that actually can be developed, harnessed, taught, and most certainly improved throughout the course of someone’s life.

Benefits of Developing Grit

There are two benefits that come to mind when I think about developing grit. The first thing that stands out for me, is that grit prepares and conditions us for long-term success. That can be carried over into graduating college, career development, family relationships.

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A second natural benefit is that grit absolutely can overcome talent deficiencies. However, it is on rare occasions that I’ve seen that talent can overcome grit deficiencies. Here are a couple of examples of how grit may apply. Let’s say someone struggles with some academic learning, you may have a child that really struggles in that way. so what grit can teach is the ability to figure out things like taking notes is really hard, how do I figure out how to study 50 pages for an exam? How do I take out the themes or highlight the points? And then I can continue to improve and get better at those particular tasks and develop a growth mindset that will take me through high school or college graduation and prepare me for a career.

What if you have a child who struggles with some social or emotional learning? Or somebody who might be really bright but struggles socially with school? Maybe they’re very anxious, struggle with performance anxiety, or social anxiety really hinders school. How can grit help them?

I think that for most of us, when something is uncomfortable, or when we are not good at something, we I would shy away from them. Grit helps to bring about an opportunity to practice over a consistent period of time dealing with the very things that might be difficult. Again, contrary to the notion that we should shy away from things we’re not good at, grit would have us develop the skill necessary to become competent in those areas.

What if your child has a lot of talent and gets good grades? You may still be a little concerned about how much grit they have. What if they haven’t been challenged enough academically, socially or emotionally? And what happens when they get to college and school isn’t easy anymore? I think that’s the fear for all of us.

Grit becomes really critical to help insulate our kids in these challenging situations.

How to Develop Grit

Far too soon, our kids will be out in the world, deciding what activities to spend their time all on their own.  If our children are able to master this self-directed focus while living at home, in an environment that is safe for them to fail and learn, then they will thrive when they go out on their own.   Something we need to remember that as parents we can’t actually control our children. We can’t make someone develop grit.  We can persuade and influence and we can punish and reward. But in the end, if our kids don’t want to do something, we can’t physically make them do it.

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For example, if you have a piano player in the house who does not enjoy practicing. You as a parent may decide, “I am going to help them develop grit because I will make them go to the piano practice.”  Probably the only person in that scenario that may be developing grit would be you, the parent. You are the one who has to deal with the arguments, the frustrations, even the tantrums about practicing the piano.

However, there are several things you can do to create an environment that fosters grit development.

1. Start with Passion

If you are just starting to help your child develop grit, try focusing on an area they are passionate about.  If you want them to strengthen their intrinsic motivation, it helps to start with something they already want to do. If they love music, get them playing an instrument.  Or if they love sports, sign them up for a team. But guide them toward something that will take consistent & prolonged effort.

The goal is not to make them hate life, it is to help them understand that it is okay to sacrifice comfort to get something they passionately want.

2. Use Commitments & Contracts

For most of us, the first time an activity is hard or difficult, or we make a mistake, or we feel embarrassed, the tendency is to think, “You know what, I don’t want to do this anymore.” It is in these moments when your son or daughter may say, “Hey, I went. I hated it and I’m never going back again.” They’ll want to quit an activity, not because they stopped wanting the outcome, but because the effort is hard.

Rather than allowing them to quit in midstream, try anticipating this situation talking about ahead of time. Make an agreement with your child before signing up for a particular sports team, hobby, or interest.  Let them know that there are two price tags for these types of activities: a financial price tag and a time/effort price tag. Let them know that you may be willing to pay the financial cost, but only if they are willing to pay the cost of time and effort.  Then talk about how it needs to be a sustained effort for whatever time period you are comfortable with. Maybe it’s three or four weeks, or maybe it’s three months depending on the activity. Just help them commit to an honest effort and attempt.

Again, the goal is not to make them suffer, but to help them be okay with discomfort while striving for something they want.

3. Help Them Understand Delayed Gratification

You could say that grit is just our ability to delay gratification, to sacrifice immediate gratification so that we can achieve long term goals.  When your son or daughter wants to quit something because it is hard, first help them remember why it is they started in the first place. Try to help them visualize what it will be like to win the championship, walk across the stage to get the diploma while their name is being called over the speakers and everyone is standing up cheering for them or to play that difficult musical arrangement at the next recital. This is why it is so important to start with setting a clear goal, something your child wants to accomplish.  It gives them something to hold in their imagination and look forward to when times get tough.

Second, help your son or daughter recognize and be mindful of the immediate rewards they are already receiving.  Can they recognize the value of the friendships they are making by being a part of a team? Or can they find joy in the fact they did better this week than last week? Most experiences are not all good or all bad.  When we validate our kid’s struggles while helping them find the good, it makes it much easier for them to persevere.

4. Develop Self-efficacy

It is difficult to keep working toward a goal if you don’t believe you can actually accomplish it.  Self-efficacy is the belief that one can accomplish difficult things. Higher levels of self-efficacy are linked to greater motivation and positive thinking skills.

Your son or daughter can develop self-efficacy just by trying to do things they previously thought were impossible. We see this all the time with the students at our program. These adolescents and young adults believe that “If I completed all of these difficult tasks during wilderness therapy, I can do other difficult things!”  Our students do things they never thought possible before coming to an adventure therapy program. They master many activities that initially terrify them, including rappelling, rock climbing, skiing, snowboarding, and mountain biking. With each activity, their belief in themselves grows. They not only believe they can do hard things, they know it.

Upon returning home, this confidence in their ability to do hard things helps fuel their commitment to school, family relationships, and other goals.  Self-efficacy is key to developing grit.

5. Embrace a Growth Mindset

Similar to self-efficacy, a growth mindset is a belief that one’s talents & abilities aren’t fixed.  This means that knowledge, skills, talents, and abilities can all be grown and improved depending on how much effort we put into developing them.  For example, someone with a fixed mindset may say, “I’m not good at math.” But someone with a growth mindset would say, “I’m not good at math yet.”  Here are two ways to develop a growth mindset and build grit:

Value Effort over Talent

Students today, particularly in our society, are highly praised for their achievement, test scores or talent. Instead, we may want to focus more on praising their effort. As parents we must ask ourselves, can we value hard work, can we value effort more than talent?  

I think we tend to get sort of enamored with talent and how amazing our kids are. If they start to see success, instead of focusing on how their achievement or talent, try honoring, praising, and rewarding their perseverance.  You may say, “Wow, you have practiced that a lot! No wonder the recital went so well” instead of commenting about how smart or talented they are. Continue to focus on the effort and tenacity that it took to achieve the goal.

Change How We See Failure & Stop Rescuing

This is kind of a paradigm shift for a lot of us, but to help our children learn a growth mindset we might need to let them fail.  An effective way to treat anxiety is called exposure therapy. This therapy slowly exposes people to their fears in incrementally increased doses until a thing no longer holds any power over them.  When we let our kids fail, it is kind of like providing a form of exposure therapy. We’re able to reframe failure from something to be feared and turn it into something that is necessary to learn and grow.

Let failure be an event, not a person. By allowing the process of failure to be a catalyst for teaching, our kids develop even more stamina and resolve.  Many of us have heard of the example of Edison and the light bulb. And it wasn’t about that he failed 1000 times, but that he found 999 ways not to make a light build.  By positively exposing your son or daughter to failure at an early age, you prepare them to handle the difficult situations they will face when they go out on their own.

And as a parent myself, I get it. This process is painful for us as parents. We want to rescue our kids from the pain of failure.  However, I don’t know that there is a better teacher than pain or failure or shortcomings. What we must not do is lift them up and carry them beyond those limitations and those failures.  We must not be helicopter parents or lawnmower parents, but rather failure to be the great learning experiences that can teach grit and long-term success. And success is growing/going from failure to failure without any loss of enthusiasm

6. Validate Painful Emotions While Showing Encouragement

Despite the fact we want our children to be comfortable being uncomfortable, we don’t want to negate what they are feeling.  Trying new things is hard. Failure is painful. And having grit doesn’t mean you don’t feel pain. It’s okay to feel hurt or frustrated.  We all have those feelings. The difference is that people with grit push through the discomfort and pain until they achieve their goals.

If your son or daughter is struggling to push through the struggle, first try to validate what your child is feeling.  Share with them your experiences trying new things.  Let them know that you understand how they feel. But, your goal is not to rescue them from the hard feeling but to strengthen their ability to handle difficult emotions.

Secondly, tell your son or daughter that you are confident they will be able to succeed.  It can be helpful to share specifics as to why you are confident. For example, you may say, “I know how difficult this is for you.  Learning new things can be hard and scary, even for me. I remember how you practiced so hard for your last recital and it turned out wonderfully.  I know if you keep practicing, you can master this piece too. I believe in you.”

And here is the hard part, our actions also need to show we are confident in their abilities.  We can’t tell them they are capable and then rescue them by helping them escape the discomfort or doing the task for them.

Conclusion

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Your child’s grit, or their ability to focus their perseverance and passion for long-term goals, might be a better predictor of future success and academic achievement than their intelligence. And while you can’t force your child to develop grit, through deliberate practice you can help your child develop grit.

Please contact us at (801) 349-2740 to learn more about how wilderness adventure therapy can help your son or daughter develop grit, overcome behavioral struggles, and heal your family relationships.

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About the Author

  • David Mayeski, LCSW
    David Mayeski, LCSW
    Family Services Director

Why is Teen Identity Development Important?

Why Teen Identity Development is Important | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

The importance of identity development for teens is huge.  The development of a confident and stable sense of self is one of the key tasks of being a teenager. The teenage years are usually the first time an individual begins thinking about how their identity may affect their future and their life. This results in many teens becoming extremely self-conscious about themselves and the way others see them and can result in a self-discovery and experimental stage.

Some teens are able to learn to develop and discover their identity in a healthy and age-appropriate way. However, for other teens, the time of identity formation results in participation in risky and promiscuous behaviors that could potentially have a negative and lasting effect on their lives.

Participation in harmful and inappropriate behavior can be very concerning for parents of troubled teens. However, it’s important for parents of troubled teens to remember that all teens can become healthy and happy once again with proper treatment. A credible adventure therapy program teaches teens healthy patterns of thought and action that can replace harmful and risky behaviors with positive and healthy attitudes, relationships, and a greater sense of self.

What is Teen Identity Development?

Identity refers to one’s sense of as an individual and how they define themselves in terms of values, beliefs, and role in the world. Self-identity in adolescence forms the basis of our self-esteem later in life. A teen’s identity is the result of various internal and external factors. Though a teen has some control over their identity development, teen identities are also formed by environmental forces outside of their control: peers, family, school, ethnic identity, and other social environments. A developmental psychologist, James Marcia, advocates that teen identity development occurs in response to crises in domains such as school, relationships, and values.

Teen identity develops as teens try out different roles and attitudes in different settings, such as home, school, and social atmospheres which allows teens the opportunity to explore their own values, belief systems, personal ethics, spirituality, sexuality, and gender.

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Why is Teen Identity Development Important?

Identity formation in teens is about developing a strong sense of self, personality, connection to others and individuality. Therefore, a positive teen self-identity is vital because it shapes a teen’s perception of belonging not just for their teen years but for most of their adult life. In addition, a positive self-identity is correlated with higher self-esteem. Positive reinforcements of effort, good choices, and perseverance from parents can help adolescents develop a strong sense of self.

Erik Erikson, a psychologist, argues that if a teen does not establish what their personal beliefs and values are then they will have an identity crisis. Erikson believes identity development is a key process for teens and that a failure to establish identity leads to role confusion and a weak sense of self later in life.

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5 Common Ways Troubled Teens Display Their Self- Identity Issues

As a way to navigate the stress and confusion that comes with identity development some teens, turn to outside signs and symbols to help them define their identity. Les Parrott, Ph.D., a professor of psychology, developed the five most common ways in which teens demonstrate their struggles with identity.

Examples of Identity Issues

The 5 most common ways teens display issues with self-identity include:

  • Seeking Status Symbols: Includes clothing and possessions to create a sense of positive affiliation
  • Forbidden “Grown-up” Behaviors: Some teens believe that appearing mature will bring acceptance, so they begin engaging behaviors such as smoking, drinking, drugs, and sexual activity.
  • Rebellion: Many teens use rebellion as a way to show that they are different from their parents and to be accepted by their peers.
  • Idols: Some teens may identify with a famous person and as a result, try to become like that person. As a result, they lose hold of their own identity.
  • Cliques: Teens who are forming their identity will often form cliques because they do not want to be associated with anyone with undesirable characteristics.

Again, there are a variety of ways that teens experience identity formation, some experiences being more harmful than others. In the sections below, we discuss the more serious issues in teen identity development and how parents can help.

How Parents Can Help Their Teenager Form a Positive Self-Identity

Parents are very important in terms of teen identity development. Teens with close relationships with their parents have lower rates of experimentation with drugs and risky sexual behaviors (Teen Connection, Mental Health, and Youth, PBS). For your teen, the process of teen identity development can be a stressful time and can lead to one feeling overwhelmed and unsure. Providing your child with a caring and accepting adult influence, whether you are a parent, relative, or teacher, is critical in securing a healthy identity development. Simply spending time with your troubled teen is one of the most important roles you can play in their life. The consistent and caring influence and presence of adults in an adolescent’s life is one of the best ways to ensure a seamless transition to adulthood.

Parents can help their troubled teen develop a positive self-identity in the following ways:

  • Model healthy lifestyle habits and skills to manage stress
  • Teach healthy ways to handle life disappointments
  • Avoid making comparisons between your teen and others
  • Give your teen compliments or positive reinforcement
  • Encourage and promote healthy sleep habits for your teen
  • Hold boundaries with your child while communicating love for them as a person

When parents have exhausted the above methods and still continues to see their teen struggle to form their identity, it may be time to seek professional help. One of the best treatment options in helping struggling teens develop a positive self-identity is through a credible adventure therapy program. Adventure recreation has a long history as an intervention used to promote positive change in promoting healthy identity development in teens.

How Can a Wilderness Program For Teens Help Your Family?

Though it can be hard for parents to let go and acknowledge their teen needs external help, a credible adventure therapy program can relatively quickly and positively change your son or daughter’s life for the better. Psychologist Erik Erikson advocated that teen identity development is fostered by experiences that allow individuals to express their individuality and receive feedback and validation from others.

Adventure therapy programs provide experiences that promote healthier relationships and positive identity formation in teens. A credible adventure therapy program can also positively affect a teen’s self-perception, confidence, and leadership skills by providing unique experiences and challenging opportunities that develop competence and confidence from within.

Wilderness Therapy Promotes Healthy Teen Relationships

The activities of a wilderness therapy program include unique experiences such as rappelling, rock climbing, and mountain biking. These experiences provide a novel and prime opportunity for teens to develop their identity and learn how to relate to others in a healthy and positive way. Research shows the scope of adventure activities led individuals to drop their social facades and allow teens to become more open to self-reflection and feedback from others (Taniguchi, 2004). Furthermore, a credible adventure therapy program allows troubled teens with a unique opportunity to develop meaningful friendships with peers and adult therapists because many of the activities require participants to work together in teams in order to succeed.

Wilderness Therapy Promotes Confidence in Teens

Adventure therapy also promotes confidence in teens. When a teen participates in a challenging activity, they see they can overcome obstacles and activities that seem difficult at the start, such as rock-climbing, hiking, or backpacking. Pushing past a physical boundary can increase the youth’s self-esteem and teach them they can do hard things.

In learning that they can overcome difficult odds, their perceptions of themselves and their personal abilities are improved. They can take pride in who they are and what they can accomplish. While engaging in these various physical activities, the trained staff give them positive verbal encouragement and feedback which also helps to increase their personal efficacy. Processing experiences during and after activities with therapists help teens internalize the experiences they are having and relate them to their sense of self.

Wilderness Therapy Promotes Positive Identity Formation in Teens

Research shows that providing teens with opportunities for self-expression, feedback from others, new experiences, skill acquisition, and self-reflection can help facilitate positive identity development in teens (Duerden, Mat. Widmer, Mark. “Adventures in Identity Development: The Impact of Adventure Recreation on Adolescent Identity Development, 2009). A credible adventure therapy accomplishes this through organized adventure activities that challenge the individual just enough to promote positive identity development. Within this spectrum of organized activities, a credible adventure therapy program teaches teens how to overcome challenges and develop a sense of competence, both of which promote identity development in teens.

Additionally, the recreational activities in an adventure therapy program, such as hiking or biking, can play a critical development role for teens because it provides a context to participate in a challenging activity that will positively contribute to identity development and self-confidence. Along the way, a credible adventure therapy program will provide the teen with experienced and caring therapists to provide helpful tools and feedback that can positively impact their identity development.

Conclusion

The process of forming an identity is a critical task of adolescence. Teen identity formation involves one learning how they want to express themselves and their personality in their own unique way. This process can lead to some teens making choices that disappoint the expectations of some of your family or friends. Parents of troubled teens should ensure they are providing their teen with love, support, and healthy boundaries that promote healthy development.

However, when the choices your teen makes become harmful to themselves or others, it may be time to seek external help. A growing body of findings suggests that the organized activities a credible adventure therapy program offers can provide teens with lasting benefits in establishing healthier patterns and can assist teens in positive identity formation. With proper help, your teen can become their best self and feel content and confident in their own skin.

To learn more about why teen identity is important, download our FREE white paper today by following the link below.

About Aspiro Adventure Therapy Program

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Aspiro’s Wilderness Adventure Therapy program was uniquely crafted to assist students and their families in creating lasting, life-long emotional changes through compassionate, intentional, research backed, and safe outdoor adventure therapy programs. The professionals at Aspiro Adventure understand individuals don’t come with instructions, and every student is unique, capable, and amazing in their own right.

At Aspiro Adventure, we focus on helping adolescents, young adults, and their families through difficulties that occur when various emotional, behavioral, cognitive, or developmental issues are present. Research shows that engaging individuals on a personal level with strategic and intentional activities will aid in developing the tools and skills necessary to engage life in a healthy and positive way.

References & Resources

About the Author

Troubled Teens and Self-Identity: Causes, Problems, and Common Behaviors

Wilderness Therapy Programs For Troubled Teens | Aspiro Adventure Therapy
While there are a variety of ways that teens experience identity formation, some experiences can become very harmful to the individual. In the sections below, we discuss the causes and more serious issues in teenage identity issues & development and how parents can help.

Common Causes Contributing to Unhealthy Teen Identity Development

The importance of identity development for teens is huge. When a teen is developing their identity they are learning what makes them unique while also feeling the need to fit in. For teens who feel excluded from others due to their cultural, ethnic, gender, or sexual identity, this process can lead teens to begin participating in harmful behavior. Other factors that prevent the formation of a secure and positive self-identity include:
  • Lack of attachment to parents
  • Low self-esteem
  • Absence or negative influence of adults
  • Lack of acceptance in a positive peer group

Common Problems and Behaviors Surrounding Unhealthy Teenage Identity Issues

The causes above make a teen more likely to engage in risky behaviors such as drugs, substance addiction, and promiscuity. These teens are also more likely to perform poorly in school, have low self-esteem, and to act compulsively. This is due to the fact that during this time teens are still developing cognitively which makes their thinking process more impulsive than adults. Therefore, the simple encouragement from peers can be enough to persuade a teen to engage in risky behavior without much thought. The result of a teen’s participation in rebellious or promiscuous behavior can result in the teen feeling even worse about themselves and can create a downward spiral of unhealthy patterns and behavior.

15 Warning Signs of Teenage Identity Issues:

  1. A distorted or unrealistic perception of oneself
  2. Lack of congruent behaviors and values in different settings
  3. Self-worth relies on the opinions of others
  4. Poor academic performance or failure.
  5. Promiscuous behavior
  6. Low self-esteem
  7. Putting down others (i.e., teasing, name-calling, or gossiping)
  8. Dramatic or out of context behaviors
  9. Glances around to monitor others
  10. Putting self down
  11. Keeps his or her own views or opinions to self
  12. Intense emotions of anger or sadness
  13. Change in peers and/or avoids positive friendships
  14. Disregarding rules and limits
  15. Use of illegal substances
If your teen displays several of the above behaviors, they are likely struggling to form their identity. The next step parents can take to encourage healthier patterns is to ensure their teen is getting the support he or she needs at home.

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About Aspiro Adventure

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Aspiro’s Wilderness Adventure Therapy program was uniquely crafted to assist at-risk youth and their families in creating lasting, life-long emotional changes through compassionate, intentional, research-backed, and safe outdoor adventure therapy programs. The professionals at Aspiro Adventure understand individuals don’t come with instructions, and every student is unique, capable, and amazing in their own right. Aspiro Adventure focuses on helping adolescents, young adults, and their families through difficulties that occur when various behavioral, cognitive, or developmental issues are present. Research shows that engaging individuals on a personal level with strategic and intentional activities will aid in developing the tools and skills necessary to engage life in a healthy and positive way.

David Mayeski, LCSW
Family Services Director

Also specializes in: Family Systems Work / Understanding Family Roles, Dynamics and Power Struggles / Genograms

David comes to Aspiro with almost 20 years of experience working with families in therapeutic programs. Originally David received his Bachelor’s degree in Government and Politics and went on to earn his Master of Social Work.

Prior to joining Aspiro, David served in many capacities at highly respected residential treatment centers as a primary therapist, Admissions Director, and Clinical Director. After working as a primary therapist for two years, he was awarded his License in Clinical Social Work (LCSW) in 2003 and has continued practicing therapy with students and their families. His desire to help families heal and overcome obstacles, his years of experience, and his clinical sophistication, make him the perfect match as the Family Services Director where he continues to help families heal through parent coaching, therapy sessions, webinars, and during groups over Aspiro’s Parent Seminars.

David is passionate about helping others and guiding families through their journey of connecting and healing as a system. David enjoys talking politics, playing a round of golf, and especially cherishes time with his beautiful wife and three children.