This morning I was planning out my Facebook posts for the next month, coming up with learning tips, tricks and insights for parents and I realised 30 minutes had passed and I had been smashing out the content unconsciously. After helping others with learning over the past 10 years I guess it is the natural thing to happen.
But the important question is, why was is so easy this morning and why can it be like pulling teeth other months?
The reason relates to an important part of the process of learning called flow.
What is the flow state?
In the diagram below you can identify your different experiential states as they relate to learning. To identify where you fall on the graph in certain learning situations, you need to think about the level of challenge of the task and also your perceived level of ability - whether you think you are capable of doing a particular task.
When you have high perceived ability and high degree of challenge you learn in a state of flow, where you are focussed, happy, alert and confident. This is a great space to be in for learning, but you will never stay here for the whole learning experience. This is because learning is a process to develop your abilities and knowledge and therefore, by default, you will have low ability in certain situations (the whole point of learning is to develop abilities of the things you can't yet do).
In this low ability state you can feel two things, anxiety, worry and stress (if the challenge remains high), or feeling stuck unable to navigate a way forward, which can correlate with feelings of sadness or depression. No one ever likes to experience these things but there is a problem!
The problem is that we actually need to experience stuck feelings and have times when we are stuck to move from a place of low ability to high ability. In fact research states the learning through a process of failing actually produces greater knowledge gains that learning to succeed all the time. A strategy often used in schools and by psychologists is called productive failure. Where you intentionally set out to fail in order to learn.
The challenge is that we don't want to stay in the stuck state for too long as this can have negative long term mental health outcomes and also relate to a learner wanting to give up quickly.
How do I get to a state of flow?
The way to teach our learners to move between a stuck to a flow state is to teach them to develop the behaviour quality of GRIT.
Grit is a way that we can behave, like kindness, it is a behaviour with particular attributes that we need to develop. Grit is a state where we develop perseverance, determination, focus and diligence. We don't let the gritty challenges of life hold us back, we find ways to navigate through them, we adopt positive behaviour habits and apply these consistently when we are in the stuck state. We don't give up and we seek alternative ways to overcome our challenges.
Learning to develop grit had been found to predict success outside of school above and beyond your IQ. This means that if you are grittier than someone who has a higher IQ that you, your measures of success after school can actually higher (e.g. a grittier person has higher university completion rates and better success at obtaining paid employment). Learning how to be gritty is more important than developing your intelligence. See Duckworth and colleagues: Measure your grittiness via The grit scale
Take a look at the image below. The arrow that moves from a stuck state to a flow state is actually the representation of Grit. It is Grit that will shift you from these two places and it is critically important for learning.
The challenge for parents
As parents we don't like to see our children unhappy, failing or struggling. Sometimes we take preventative action or take away the challenge from them to try and remove the negative outcomes. However, this can do a disservice to our children because we take away the capacity for them to learn to develop grittiness and resilience.
When your child is young and playing at the park we hover around so they don't fall. This does not enable them to develop grit and resilience when the do fall and you are not there.
When our child is having trouble with homework at school we want to do it for them but this doesn't teach them to seek help and develop grittiness to overcome their challenges.
There are so many times in the lives of our children that we want to get involved and take away the negative experiences, but before you do take action, try to think about whether this could be a learning experience for your child. Can this situation help them to develop the grit and resilience they need to succeed and support them throughout their lives. We all have negative experiences throughout our lives, what makes the difference is how you respond.
Of course there are times when imminent danger is present and this is not a time to leave them to learn. But there are so many learning opportunities we can identify to support our children in developing the grittiness required for resilience and success in life.
You can find out if you are the type of parent that supports the development of Grit in your children, because these parents are growth mindset parents or learning mindset parents. If you want to find out more visit the online course: