Psychologist Caren Baruch-Feldman offers 10 crucial strategies to help you stick to it, whatever “it” happens to be.

Being gritty, having self-control in the face of temptations, and rebounding from failure are not easy. However, there are ways that we know from science that make it easier for us to have stick-to-it-ness. The question is, what are some ways that can put you in the driver’s seat, as opposed to being driven by your temptations?

Here are my top ten strategies (secret recipe) based on the latest scientific research in helping people change in general that can be applied to growing your grit.

1. Frame the Behavior in the Positive

(For example, I will eat healthier, and I will be on time for class, I will get my work done on-time or early). Many people try to persist by simply resisting urges, using willpower and saying, “No” (e.g., no cookies, don’t be late, don’t procrastinate). However, the human mind doesn’t like being told “no.” Highlight the positive aspects rather than focusing on the deprivation.

2. Make It Easy to Be Gritty and Hard to Give into Temptation

Shawn Achor, a psychologist who wrote a book called Before Happiness: Five Actionable Strategies to Create a Positive Path to Success, speaks about wanting to run more and watch less TV. What did he do? He took the batteries out of the remote in his TV and slept in his running clothes, making it easier to focus on his long-term goal of running as opposed to what may make him feel better in the moment (TV watching).

3. Be Specific and Don’t Take on Too Much All at Once

It is best to change one behavior at a time. So don’t try to be grittier in all domains of your life at first. Specifically, take one area (e.g., academics) or one behavior (eating healthy) at a time. Also, you can shrink the change by breaking down the change so it no longer spooks you. It’s easier to tackle big problems if you take it on in small, manageable steps.

4. Write It Down and Monitor Yourself

We know that writing down what we want to accomplish helps change our brain more than just saying it. Also, what we monitor is what changes. Write down the specific steps to achieving your goal(s). Make goals actionable by scripting the essential moves and be specific. Instead of writing down, “I will go to the gym” in your phone or calendar, write down, “yoga, 7:30 Wednesday night.”

5. Pre-commit to Action

Pre-committing makes it more difficult to change our minds. I know when I pick out a class to go to from the gym and put the event in my calendar there is a greater chance that I will go, then when I decide to wing it and wait to see how I will feel on that particular day. Pre-committing makes it difficult to reverse your preferences.

6. Make It Public and Get Social Support

Let others know about your desire to be grittier and try to work on being grittier together. By letting people know what you are doing, you pre-commit and have a better chance of changing your ways. Also, when you surround yourself with other gritty people, their grit is contagious and will rub off on you.

In addition, when you are faced with a challenge, you can access that needed social support to get you right back in the game.

7. Stand Firm, No Wavering

This notion of “standing firm” has been, for me, one of the most important strategies in helping me be gritty. The idea is that to help you persist, it can be helpful to tell yourself that there is “No choice, this is what I am doing!” It is the wavering that causes all the trouble. Once you start having a dialogue, “Should I eat the cookie, it is only one, I was so good today,” or “I know I am late, but it is only a few minutes, I’m sure it will be fine,” you have lost the battle!

8. Change Your Environment and Avoid Your Triggers

Environmental cues have a tremendous effect on our behavior. We are much more successful when we set our environments up in a way that promotes gritty behavior than thinking we can put ourselves in a tempting environment and not give in. For example, turn the social media off when you study, instead of thinking you can resist the lure of Facebook or Instagram.

9. Develop Beliefs That Will Inspire You

Figure out your thinking traps, challenge them, and come up with new more helpful, positive ways to think that will inspire you to persevere. Focus on long-term goals as opposed to the immediate gratification. Having a growth mindset and being passionate about your future will inspire grittier behavior.

10. Get Back on Track and Don’t Overreact When You Mess Up

Remember, failure can be your friend. However, most people don’t see it that way and instead engage in the “what the heck phenomenon.” For example, once people lapse, they often react by blowing off the rest. For example, if they procrastinate by watching YouTube videos, they might as well blow the whole night off and watch some more. Instead of learning from the lapse, they overreact, causing way more damage than if they just got back on track.

This post was originally published by HuffPost.

When was the last time you modeled Cousin Vinny and asked your kids: How do you like your grits: regular, creamy, or al dente? Sure, french toast with crispy bacon, a slice of tasty pizza, or a Big Mac (or two) might be their preference but if you want to feed them the stuff that will help them achieve their goals, feed them healthy portions of grit.

Part three of a three-part series on fostering grit in teen clients. Read part one and two.

So far, I have suggested ways teens can grow their grit by focusing on changing themselves—their mind-set and behavior. As important as this internal work is, it’s equally important that teens build a community of grit—a grit team.

When I speak to teens, they often tell me that connections to other people are what helps them persevere in the face of obstacles. Here are some ideas and concepts you can share with your teen clients to encourage them to create a community of grit.

Find a Cheerleader and Accountability Partner

Research shows that having a charismatic adult—someone from whom we can gather strength—is key when coping with stress and building perseverance. This is because when we connect with others we have better attention, emotional regulation, and even immune function. Having an accountability partner—someone who gives you support and keeps you on track—can also be helpful when building grit.

Be a Cheerleader for Others

If you’re like most people, helping others enhances feelings of positivity—making it easier to be persistent, resilient, and gritty. In addition, helping others can work as a way to deflect from our own struggles: when we move our awareness to another person, our problems seem smaller and we’re able to gain a better sense of perspective.

Develop a Community of Grit

Gritty people don’t just have one person they can count on. They are surrounded by a community of grit—a place where individuals come together to motivate and ignite each other’s passions and purpose. For both good and bad, we have a strong drive to conform to and imitate the behavior of others. So, when you surround yourself with gritty people, you’re more likely to be gritty yourself.

Remember, for teens to grow their grit, they need adults like you in their lives.

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Volume 46 Issue 3

It’s the day of the state math test at Harrison Avenue Elementary School in Westchester County, New York, and Persee, the perseverant puppy mascot, sits on top of the smart board, a visual reminder to students of the instruction they have been given throughout the school year that “perseverance pays off!” When faced with a challenging question, Persee reminds these third graders to exhibit an optimistic mindset, use flexible strategies in the face of obstacles, and to treat themselves with kindness and compassion.

Understanding and Framing the Problem

Persee is just one part of a transformation taking place at Harrison Avenue, the elementary school where I work as a school psychologist. He is part of a larger, concerted effort to explicitly teach character strengths such as kindness, mental flexibility, grit, and self-control. This year, working together with classroom teachers, we examined what kindness looks like in each grade, why self-control and grit are important, and how flexibility and problem solving can be used when facing an obstacle. This is critical work because, as important as academics are to student success, developing character strengths is just as crucial for today’s learners.

This year, as part of a deliberate initiative to teach character strengths, I worked one-on-one with a third grade class. Approximately once a month, the classroom teacher and I taught lessons on kindness, empathy, problem solving, flexibility, self-control, and grit. Each lesson contained a discussion, partner work, and videos to support the ideas. Outside the lessons, the teacher supported the work through literature and by reinforcing the strengths that were taught. For example, when she noticed students being flexible or persistent during testing, she praised the behavior. Before state tests, we placed Persee on the smart board as a visual reminder to the children that persistence pays off. One girl told me that when she was feeling stuck, looking at Persee helped her get over the hurdle. Another student told me that our conversations about kindness and empathy helped her avoid recess drama. During my final meeting with this class, I could see that they had absorbed this material on a cellular level. It was truly a part of them! Other teachers, noticing the positive results we were achieving in this classroom, want to take part as well, so this work will continue to spread throughout the building in years to come.

Linking to Existing Priorities

In addition to working closely with this class, I modified the fifth grade service club to include lessons on kindness, grit, and self-control. Service Club has existed at Harrison Avenue for many years as a way for the school’s oldest students to be leaders and complete service both inside and outside of school. What was different this year was that in addition to raising money for charity and participating in volunteer work, the fifth grade students served as teachers, role models, and accountability partners for the younger students. For example, for one project, fifth grade service club students learned about self-control. Then, with my help, they modified the presentation for younger students. Specifically, we adapted Walter Mischel’s famous “marshmallow” study in which children had a choice between having one marshmallow now or two marshmallows later. The younger students had a similar choice while listening to the fifth grade student presentation, and I am proud to say that the students all waited! Furthermore, after teaching this lesson, I noticed that the self-control of the teachers (the fifth graders) had also dramatically improved.

Through this work, I have noticed a cultural shift in the building. Students are seeking out opportunities to be kind, greeting each other with warm hellos and smiles, making an effort to hold the door for each other or pick up someone’s pencil. Students have shared with me that there is a spot on the playground where you can go if you do not have anyone to play with, and others know to join you there. In this way, students are creating ripples of kindness that affect the whole school community.

They are also being more deliberate and strategic in their use of self-control strategies. They are avoiding temptations (putting away supplies that distract them) or reframing those temptations (asking themselves, “Is it worth it to play with the papers in my desk?”) instead of relying on willpower alone. I love when I go into a classroom and hear students complimenting each other for demonstrating self-control strategies.

Students are learning to be more flexible when it comes to solving academic problems. Teachers are sharing with me that they see students being more persistent and flexible when taking exams. By learning to embrace challenges, our students are becoming more willing to take on hard things. Instead of taking failures personally, they are learning to see them as part of the process that leads to success. A real benefit for me of engaging in this type of work is that students see me in a positive light, which I hope will allow them to feel more comfortable and open to talk with me about their problems. A third grader shared with me that she was struggling to open the door to the classroom. She kept using the same strategy of turning the doorknob repeatedly. However, when she saw me in the hall, she thought to herself, “Maybe I need to try a different strategy.” Sure enough, when she tried something different, she was able to open the door.

Working With Allies

I am fortunate to have the support of my principal, who believes that developing these strengths is necessary for today’s youth. By having the blessing of my principal and starting slowly with one teacher, this program is organically growing without any resistance throughout the building. Teachers in my building are noticing the way this class is acting on the playground, walking in the hall, and persisting on high stakes tests and they want to be a part of what is going on.

We are also creating ripple effects beyond the classroom by collaborating with parents. I began the school year with a PTA meeting outlining the importance of character strengths. Throughout the year, I sent home newsletters reporting on what we were doing, and I finished the year with a party that featured a video montage of students sharing how they grew their character strengths.

Future Leadership Goals and Overcoming Barriers

But, just like my student who got stuck opening the door, there were challenges in implementing this work, the main one being finding time to do the work. Because even though I know this work is valuable, it didn’t reduce the responsibilities that are associated with being a school psychologist (testing, meetings, IEPs, etc.). My hope is that by doing this proactive and preventive work, there will be less of a need for some of the traditional work associated with being a school psychologist. Another goal of mine is to find time to collect data that will support what I know anecdotally is taking place. Furthermore, now that more teachers want to be involved, I will have to find the time to accommodate this growing interest. A good problem to have, I know, but a challenge nonetheless.

Ongoing Evaluation and Implementation

I plan on expanding this program by working through our existing buddy program. The buddy program gives older students a chance to buddy with and mentor younger students. During buddy time, both the older and younger students can work on building character strengths with the added benefit of a built-in accountability partner. Since the teachers have already planned for buddy time in their schedules, it will be easier to fit this work into everyone’s busy day. I hope to collect some data on the effectiveness of this program.

Scaling Up

By directly and explicitly teaching the character skills students need to succeed, we are preparing them to be tomorrow’s leaders. I am proud to be part of a school and community that is committed not only to growing children’s academic proficiency, but to nurturing their character as well. I know that the students, teachers, and the community at large have all benefited from this work.

I encourage other school psychologists to introduce the teaching of character strengths at school next year. To get more involved in the world movement to develop students’ character strengths and well-being, visit IPEN (International Positive Education Network; http://www.ipositive-education.net). IPEN is dedicated to a “character+academics” approach to education around the world. NASP members can also visit my website (www.drbaruchfeldman.com) for more information or to request lessons I used with the third grade class and with the service club students.

School Psychology Awareness Week, November 13–17 School Psychology Awareness Week (SPAW) is almost here! Are you ready? SPAW is a great opportunity for outreach in your district. This year’s theme, “Power Up! Be a Positive Charge,” enables you to highlight what you and others can do to help connect the dots between students and the evidence-based practices that help them achieve their best. It is crucial that families, teachers, and administrators are aware of our role in making those connections and providing those servicers. For ideas and resources, go to http://www.nasponline.org/communications/spaw/index.aspx.

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Congratulations to Dr. Caren Baruch-Feldman who was awarded School Psychologist of the Year by the New York Association of School Psychologists (NYASP) for Westchester/Rockland/Putnam Counties.  Dr. Caren Baruch-Feldman works with students at Harrison Avenue Elementary School.

“I believe that my work in teaching the importance of growing character strengths led to this award,” Dr. Baruch-Feldman said.  “I have worked on developing the character strengths of kindness, flexibility, and grit with students at Harrison Avenue for the last few years.  Across the grade level and peer-to-peer, we have been working on explicitly teaching character strengths to students and sharing this work with faculty and parents.”

Dr. Baruch-Feldman has been focusing on teaching children to “fill buckets”- highlighting words or phrases of compliments or support to add to a peer’s bucket.  Under Dr. Baruch-Feldman’s guidance, fifth grade students at Harrison Avenue lead discussions with the school’s kindergarten classes on how to best interact with each other.

“I have shared the work we are doing with my colleagues so that they can turn-key this work in their school districts.”

Dr. Baruch-Feldman has also published a new book titled, “The Grit Guide for Teens” available through New Harbinger and can be found at www.drbaruchfeldman.com/book

As Julie Snider, Director of Special Education for the Harrison Central School District, said in an email to the department, “Caren is being recognized for her great contributions to the field of school psychology.  She partners with her colleagues throughout the area and all are appreciative of her work and collaboration.”


Part two of a three-part series on fostering grit in teen clients. Read part one here.

While developing a gritty mind-set is important, if that mind-set is not accompanied by a change in behavior, you will not get the results you want.

So, how can you help your clients create gritty behavior?

Set Effective Goals

Help your teen clients establish goals that are specific and measurable—and then stretch them. Encourage them to write their goals down and place them where they will see them every day, for example, on their bathroom mirror or as a daily reminder on their phones. Let them know there may be days that they don’t meet a particular goal, but instead of putting themselves down, remind them to learn from it. As they work on their goals, be sure they acknowledge and savor all their wins—no matter how small.

Have Your Clients Practice Their Gritty Behavior

Give teens opportunities to practice their gritty behavior, for it is only through practice that behavior changes and grit grows. For example, while writing my book, The Grit Guide for Teens, there were times when I did not know what to write. However, it was through the practice of writing that my ideas emerged. Teach your clients about deliberate practice: a type of practice that gritty people use to improve performance. Deliberate practice is focused, intentional practice combined with feedback from experts and lots of repetition. Think of a basketball player taking three-point shots over and over again, or a violinist playing the same section of music again and again. When you combine focus, repetition, and feedback, you can improve performance and achieve your goals.

Turn Your Gritty Behavior into a Habit

When we look at the behavior of gritty people, we see that they are not exerting self-control or using willpower all day long; rather, they are engaging in habits that promote grit. When an activity becomes a habit, it is automatic and no longer needs to draw upon our limited resource of willpower. Changing habits is hard, but the good news is that if you are diligent and consistent, these new routines will become as automatic as your old bad habits.

In Part 3, you will learn how to go beyond yourself and create your own “grit team”.

What you’ll learn in this episode:

  • How we can help teens be the best version of themselves.
  • What mindset, behavior, and culture supports grit.
  • What YOUTH Positive is.
  • Why happiness is a worthy goal.

Links and resources mentioned in this episode:

Part one of a three-part series on fostering grit in teen clients

You may be wondering, “How as a therapist can I bring the latest research from the field of grit into my practice? And, more importantly, how can I foster grit in my teenage clients?”

In this three-part series, you will discover:
1) How to help teens develop a gritty mind-set
2) How to help teens develop gritty behavior
3) How to help teens develop a grit team and community

Part 1: Helping Teens Develop a Gritty Mind-set
How one thinks affects one’s behaviors and emotions. So, what type of mind-set fosters grit?

Make It about “Yes”
If you can help teens find the positive in growing their grit—or make it about YES —they will be more likely to persevere. People often try to be gritty by telling themselves “no”—no more feeling anxious, no more procrastinating, no more yelling. However, when we focus on the “no,” we often make things harder for ourselves. Look instead for the “yes”—the positive benefits of changing a behavior. When teens are able to think about difficult tasks in a positive way—what they will gain as a result of the new behavior and how satisfied they will feel—the tasks become easier and are more likely to be accomplished. Encourage your teen clients to see their grit as a “want to” rather than a “have to.”

Make It about Optimism and Failing Forward
Research shows that having an optimistic mind-set is linked to grit. Optimists are more likely to think of the bad things that happen to them as temporary and specific events set against a backdrop of mostly good. When we tell ourselves that we failed because of something temporary and specific, we are more likely to keep trying. Also, let your clients know that mistakes are part of the process and setbacks are opportunities for learning. Teach them the acronym FAIL: a fail is just a “First Attempt in Learning.”

Make It about Commitment and Meaning
It’s essential that teens are committed to growing their grit. Share with them the idea that, once committed to a gritty lifestyle, there is no other choice. Help them make rules for themselves like “I will go into my class even if I’m anxious” or “I will not use Snapchat until I have finished my homework.” Once they start having an internal dialogue or making deals—like “I’ll go into class in five minutes” or “I’ll just spend a few minutes checking my phone”—they have lost the battle! Lastly, help teens see how growing their grit can be meaningful to them and the world at large. When they can see that being gritty not only helps them but helps others as well, they will be more likely to persist.

Remember, mind-set matters, and by developing your mind-set in this way, you will learn to become more persistent and resilient.

In Part 2, you will learn how to put that gritty mind-set into action by creating gritty behavior!

We all have stress, worry and anxiety in our lives. The new school year, your job(s), your relationships and multi-tasking to get it all done can add up to way too much. Managing your reactions is key to coping.

Here are my top ten strategies (secret recipe) based on the latest scientific research in helping people change in general that can be applied to growing your grit.

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