Helping You and Your Child to Understand What Success Is

6 Jan 2019

ETR: 4 minutes

What is Success?

While it is definitely something we all want and strive for, what are we actually talking about?
The Oxford Dictionary defines success as a person or thing that achieves desired aims.
Since achievement is a core value at SPARK Schools, the important word here is ‘achieves’ and the reason it is important and a concept to consider carefully is that we are all taught to achieve in different ways.
There are people who believe that achievement is easier for some than for others based on natural talent.
Then there are others who believe that learned practice through hard work can result in great achievement.
SPARK finds it important to explore both ideas across both physical and intellectual activities since as Matthew Syed put it “the very belief about how success happens shapes the behaviours that we adopt.”
While genetics can be very helpful and play a greater role in achievement when it comes to physical activities, such as height in basketball and size in rugby, purposeful practice has allowed many who lack in natural physical ability to achieve as much if not more than those naturally gifted in size and speed.
In fact, many studies show that children who are disciplined in the practice of a sport or subject often ends up achieving more than those who have a natural skill. This is due to the work ethic and attitude which is developed through purposeful practice and disciplined effort.

According to Angela Duckworth, a psychologist/academic researcher, humans generally overvalue talent and undervalue effort. Her research shows that effort actually matters more than innate skill and that only through consistent effort can there be achievement.

Talent x Effort = Skill

Skill x Effort = Achievement

Even if your child is naturally gifted, if they do not put the effort into improving their skill they will not achieve their desired aim.
Good examples of this are the many studies of top-performing Asian countries which show that due to the very widespread cultural belief that you get better with training, pupils attribute their success or failure to their own level of effort.
Unlike majority of the world where pupils believe that if they are initially bad at a subject like mathematics, for example, that they will never be good at it because they do not have a ‘brain for numbers’.
We, as parents and teachers, need to focus on helping our children understand that they will undoubtedly get better at anything through training and consistent hard work.

But what can we do to teach our younglings such a difficult concept?

  • Entertain the idea of failure and that it is natural, expected and not a bad thing. As cliché as it may sound, our children need to understand that they only fail when they give up and stop trying. Continued commitment will result in achievement.
  • Cultivate their grit. Gritty individuals are determined, refuse to give up, and stick to their goals. They understand the long-term perspective and goal. Our role as parent and teacher is to remind our kids about the long-term goal when it is difficult for them to see it themselves. The discipline of pushing through a temporary feeling of not wanting to do something in order to achieve a greater goal is a life skill all pupils needs to learn.
  • Be supportive. In one study, psychologist Benjamin Bloom studied a group of top performers in six fields: swimming, tennis, piano, sculpting, mathematics, and neuroscience. The one thing that stood out about these very accomplished people was that as children, they all had at least one very supportive adult in their lives. A supportive environment tremendously increases the odds that a child will be successful.

As adults, taking a second to reflect on our own lives and achievements will in all likelihood show that effort trumped ability in most situations resulting in success. For our children, to learn such a valuable lesson at their young ages will result in a discipline and resilience that can make any challenge lying ahead of them positively attainable.

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