Wednesday’s Thoughts

No, not that Wednesday…

Okay, so part of learning is making mistakes and learning from them. I think I made a mistake with “Willpower Wednesday.”

It’s not that I don’t want to write about Grit, the Growth Mindset, Willpower, Self-Control, and Self-Efficacy … it’s just that I’m just not far enough along the learning curve to write about it every week and have it be worthwhile. I don’t have that much insight yet.

Don’t worry, I’ll still write about these topics from time to time, but only when I have something worth writing.

I’ll do something else on Wednesdays. It may take me a little while to settle on it. I may simply use the day to support the overall themes I’m working on at the time, allowing me to focus on specific topics, rather than dragging them out over several weeks.

I’ve been feeling like the blog had lost touch with its initial vibe anyway, like it had sort of lost its way and become fragmented. Maybe this will let me reunify things a little, while still talking about my experiences with going vegan. This always was a more spiritual than practical and academic blog anyway.

I want to use this space to explore a sort of “unified theory” to the changes I’m trying to make in my life right now, and the Grit stuff just doesn’t fit. C’est la vie.







Willpower Wednesday: A Gritty Library


No, I don’t mean what happens when you leave the book depository door open during a sandstorm…

Angela Duckworth, PhD, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance Dr. Duckworth is really the researcher who popularized grit with her TED talk. This is the “big one” from the researcher who really brought Grit to the forefront.

Carol Dweck, PhD, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dr. Dweck’s work is really foundational to grit, both in the sense that it is impossible to have grit without having a growth mindset, and in the sense that it’s almost impossible to understand grit without understanding the growth mindset.

Erik Weihenmayer and Paul Stoltz, PhD, Adversity Advantage. Weihenmayer was the first blind man to climb the highest mountains in the world. Dr. Stoltz is a business writer who’s studied perseverance and adversity.

Paul Stoltz, PhD, GRIT: The New Science of What it Takes to Persevere, Flourish, Succeed. Stoltz has a lot of credentials in his field, but I find his writing style difficult. He writes in what I call a “business buzzwords” style, turning grit into an acronym (Growth, Resilience, Intuition, Tenacity), and using phrases like Grok-Gauge-Grow and “Optimal Grit.” I’m certain there is good material in there (his work comes highly recommended by educators and academics that I trust), but as an academic and introvert by nature, I’m having trouble pushing through the sales pitch to find it.

I’m also looking into a few books about self-control:

Reg Dawson and Richard Guare, The Smart But Scattered Guide to Success. An expansion of their guide to helping ADD/ADHD students learn self-regulation, this book is aimed at adults with or without ADD/ADHD. I haven’t finished reading it, but so far it’s empathetic, intelligent, practical, and easy to grasp.

Dr. Kevin Leman, Have a New You by Friday. This is a pretty fluffy popular self-help book, but it wasn’t bad. It involves a lot of stuff about birth order and personality types that isn’t really empirically solid, but a lot of the advice is good anyway.

Most of us don’t have a passion so all-consuming it motivates us to practice constantly. Most of us need to push ourselves forward sometimes. That’s why the next two books are good.

Roy Baumeister and John Tierney, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength

Kelly McGonigal, PhD, The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It.

Well, that ought to keep you busy for a little while. I’ll review/summarize some of these in later posts, but right now I’m still very much in the research phase.

Honestly, I probably shouldn’t be trying to write about grit and research it at the same time. But I’ve already started, so I’ll keep the posts like this, more a matter of passing along information and resources than proclaiming new insights or assessments.

Freestyle Friday: Becoming a Writer


I realized two things recently about my fiction writing. One of them should have been evident from the beginning: that I have trouble finishing what I start (that’s the thing that kills most writers’ dreams. You can’t work on the same novel for ten years and expect anything to happen, and you can’t do a thing with twenty half-finished stories).

The other is a little more humbling and required a good big of introspection and distance: I don’t yet have the writing skill I need. I’m not yet good enough.

(That “YET” is a key part of this. It goes back to the Growth Mindset, which I discuss in my Willpower Wednesdays posts).

What it took for me to realize this was writing something that was actually good. I mean, really, really good in the sense of being everything I wanted it to be:

  • An engaging and relatable main character (Polly)
    • with a real reason to be out doing what she’s doing
    • and with real agency within the plot (she drives the whole thing, really)
  • A fast pace, with lots of kinetic action
  • Protagonists who do not solve their problems with violence
    • Specifically, a narrative that refutes the myth of redemptive violence at every turn
    • Without actually heavy-handedly mentioning that it’s doing so
  • Breezy reading style (meaning it reads quickly)
  • Vivid descriptions, with lots of nice set pieces (it would make a good movie)
  • A positive, joyful vibe that made it a pleasure to write

… and then trying and failing for two and a half years to make lightning strike twice.

I know what I want to write. I wrote what I want to write. But I don’t have the skill to write it again … yet.

This means I’m not really ready to be writing fiction right now. This means that I need to do what I should have done twenty+ years ago … sit down and spend a few months (or more) actively practicing my fiction skills every day.

I’m still researching the best ways to do this, but I’ve got a tentative plan. Since my biggest issue is not being able to recreate a protagonist who is relatable enough and relatably driven enough to drive the whole plot of a novel, I’m going to start by writing short stories (using a short story-writing textbook I’ve found), aiming to create characters relatable enough and relatably driven enough to drive short works. With enough practice driving 2000-3000 word stories, I’ll hopefully get the fundamentals and be able to drive novellas and novels.

Along the way, I’ll try to improve my technical skills (more on that in a later post), but that driving force protagonist is the main missing piece. So that’s what I’ll work on first.

Things are all coming together in a way. If I hadn’t been studying Grit and its associated factors (including the Growth Mindset and deliberate practice), I doubt I would have ever thought to do this.

Theory Thursday: The Power of Consistency

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” way back in 1841, but in 2016, I say “A lack of consistency is the blood-sucking leech of all our minds.”

You’ve probably guessed by now that this ties in with Grit. Dr. Duckworth’s book is full ofthe importance of consistency. Consistency is the key, but don’t take my word for it:

Comedian Louis C.K., in a July 6, 2011 interview with the A/V Club, said “I’ve learned from experience that if you work harder at it, and apply more energy and time to it, and more consistency, you get a better result. It comes from the work.”

John Wooden, legendary UCLA basketball coach, famously said, “Self-Control creates consistency. Consistency is crucial to getting to the top and staying there.”

Kevin Nash, the famous pro-wrestler, was once asked if he had any workout secrets or tips he could share with the readers. Rather than reply with his customary swaggering humor, he gave a one-word answer: “Consistency.” (I wish I could find the link to this interview, but it’s been 15 years or so since I watched wrestling. The answer stuck with me…Nash, by the way, is still working at age 56, albeit at a reduced pace. That’s consistency.).

Sean “Seanwes” McCabe explains in a video and article the importance of consistency: “Show Up Every Day for Two Years.” It’s his “secret” to building a platform and a following as an author and web personality.

Just google “importance of consistency”, and you’ll get several days of reading material. Or try “consistency in parenting” for even more googly goodness.

Consistency is everything, and it’s the hardest thing for some of us (myself especially) to practice.

Why is it so important? Partly because the only way to get better at something is to do it, over and over again, usually in the form of deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice means doing the hard work to improve skills, working on the weak spots rather than doing what’s most fun. It’s playing scales or replaying the three measures you never can get right, rather than breezing through the rest of the song. It’s the difference between rehearsal and just singing through a few songs.

I’ll write more about deliberate practice later, but it’s the hard work that makes you better at whatever it is you’re doing. You can get a little better by just playing through, but you’ll never really attain mastery without breaking it down and practicing hard.

And one day of practice isn’t enough. You need to do it every day. Maybe you can take weekends off like you do in your day job. Maybe you can take Christmas and Thanksgiving off. Maybe not. But you have to hit it like a real job, every day.

Health is the same way. If I eat vegan 2-3 random days a week, what good does that do for me or the environment or anyone?

I can tell you what good my sporadic attempts at exercise have done for me: nada. Zilch. Zip.

And if you’re trying to build a presence online, you need to put out content that someone out there finds encouraging, entertaining, informative, inspiring, or otherwise valuable, and you need to do it on a regular, reliable basis. Whenever you want won’t cut it.

Consistency is everything.

But consistency is HARD. Developing consistency requires commitment, courage, time management, energy, time, and a few other ingredients that I honestly don’t understand yet.

And in the course of my Grit studies, I’ll be looking for those ingredients. Because I need consistency, and so do my students.


Willpower Wednesday: Introducing Grit

I first heard about Grit in the context of a First-Year Seminar course that my department is designing (I’m not directly involved in the design, but I will teach the course this Fall). Our director sent around a pre-release review of Dr. Duckworth’s book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

The article intrigued me, so I searched for more information. I found Dr. Duckworth’s Ted Talk, (the lead-in video), her web site, with its Grit Scale self-test, and quite a few related concepts (which I’ll talk about more later), such as Carol Dweck’s Growth and Fixed Mindsets.

To put it succinctly, and in Dr. Duckworth’s own words, “Grit is passion and perseverance for long-term goals.” It’s not just intensity, or desire, or willpower. It’s a long-term combination of those and more.

My own Grit score wasn’t that great, which didn’t surprise me. I’ve always had trouble seeing things through on my own, at least once they got difficult. My attention tends to flit from one thing to another, and I need the support of someone much “Grittier” (like my wife) to push through. I doubt I’d have completed my Ph.D. without her encouragement.

So of course, I’m very interested in exploring this further, as I’ll do in future “Willpower Wednesdays” posts.