This is the time of year when there are lots of "back to school" articles aimed at parents who want to motivate their children to be successful. Intelligence isn't the most important factor in academic success.
Margaret Wente at the Toronto Globe and Mail has written a terrific article interviewing writer Paul Tough (good name!) and summarizing the recent research on "productive failure". Heaping "self esteem" on kids doesn't work very well in motivating them to succeed. Character, Tough says (and Wente agrees), is actually built through failure. That's how we learn persistence, curiosity, optimism and grit. We have to let our kids fail. Because that's how they build character. Especially grit.
But: it's not just kids who need to learn. All of us are learning and relearning all the time, our whole lives long. And particularly in the weight loss context, we know that motivation is key. To learn to sustain the motivation essential to maintenance, we have to let ourselves fail too. Maintenance, I'm thinking, is another process of productive failure.
We lose all the weight. Then we learn how to maintain the weight loss.
And we learn, inevitably, by failing: by putting some weight back on.
And then taking it off again. Immediately. This time, not giving up. This time, keeping the fluctuation within a range.
We learn to be persistent: we keep on tracking.
We learn to be curious: we explore what works.
We learn to be optimistic that this time we will succeed. This time, we will not give up. Ever.
And that requires above all, that we learn grit. Grit in the weight maintenance context means:
willingness to tolerate some hunger;
willingness to tolerate some social inconvenience (when everyone else is eating and we can't); and
willingness to tolerate the day-in, day-out every-dayness of exercise and calorie control necessary for life-long weight loss maintenance.
The initial weight loss process was somewhat glamorous. People noticed. People offered congratulations. There was lots of praise, and the ol' self-esteem rose pretty rapidly. But self-esteem isn't a solid foundation to maintain weight loss. We need something more. Grit.
Grit, for me, means accepting the unpleasant reality of weight loss maintenance. Learning to accept the discipline that it takes. Maybe even, eventually and at least some days, to like it. But to stick with the program even on those days when we don't much like it. To say "oh well". And stop eating. And start moving.
It's those failures we've had in the past -- the yo yo losses and regains --- which eventually produce this change in attitude. That build character in us, just as productive failure builds character in our kids.
We make our failures productive failures when we don't give up! When we learn, instead, the persistence, curiosity, optimism: and above all, the grit which are necessary to sustained success.
Try the grit test!! Pretty interesting!
(I did and . . . was pleasantly surprised by the result).