Congratulations to all of you on the hard work you’ve invested in your studies. Your effort has paid off.  I am proud of you.

As you know, I’m a runner. I like to listen to podcasts on long runs.  Recently, I heard an interview of a man named Paul Tough.  He’s a Canadian author who wrote a book called How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.  

In his book, he asked a fairly simple set of questions:

  • What’s the best predictor of high school students’ success in college or university?
  • Is it high school marks? IQ? Scores on some achievement test?

For many years, people assumed the answer was yes.  How “smart” you are predicted how well you’d do in college or university. Therefore, to increase students’ chances of success, educators must increase students’ brainpower.

But then a whole series of studies came out starting in the 1970’s and going through the present time by psychologists like Angela Duckworth and Carol Dweck and others.  These studies demonstrated that it’s not brainpower but something else. Depending on the researcher, they call that “something else” grit, curiosity, self-control, conscientiousness.

Let me take you back to the 1970’s to Stanford University’s marshmallow experiment.

In these studies, children were led into a room, where a researcher placed a treat in front of them.  It was an Oreo cookie or famously a white, fluffy, irresistible marshmallow.

The children were told they could eat the treat, but if they waited for fifteen minutes without giving in to the temptation, they would be rewarded with a second treat.

It’s funny to hear what some children did.  Some would cover their eyes with their hands or turn around so that they can’t see the tray.  Others started kicking the desk, or tugging on their hair.  Some started stroking the marshmallow as if it were a tiny stuffed animal.  Others couldn’t hold back and they simply ate the marshmallow as soon as the researchers left.

Over 600 children participated in the original set of experiments.  This is what the researchers found:  A minority ate the marshmallow immediately. Of those who attempted to delay, 1/3 deferred gratification long enough to get the second marshmallow.

But here’s the interesting thing.  Years later, the researchers tracked down the children who participated in the original experiment.

They found found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have higher SAT scores, higher educational attainment, healthier body mass index (BMI), more successful marriages, higher employment, and greater overall happiness.

In fact, the results of the marshmallow experiment were better predictors of success than IQ or any other test of cognitive ability.

A child’s ability to delay gratification, tough it out, exercise self-discipline predicted future success and happiness.

If you want to see how you’d do at this experiment, you can do it without marshmallows. You can take the grit test.  It’s ten questions.  It’s at angeladuckworth.com.

Tough’s podcast summarizes several decades of research.  He says that students who succeed in college and university are relentlessly dedicated to what they do. It’s true about high achievers in general, he found.  They have a kind of endurance in their effort.  When they face a challenge or a setback, they get back up again, and they are tirelessly working to get better.

Our mission at TanenbaumCHAT is to challenge, support, and prepare you to live lives of high moral character, intellectual curiosity, Jewish commitment, and civic duty.   I  am proud of the fact that our mission statement includes curiosity and character because the qualities that matter most in life have to do with character–skills like perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control.  And that’s what we hope you will develop at TanenbaumCHAT.  If you do, I’m certain we will have many more times in the future to celebrate your accomplishments.

Mazal tov

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