The Hard Thing Rule

I shared some thoughts on grit and Angela Duckworth’s excellent book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance I also wanted to share an idea from Duckworth’s book about how to help your kids (and yourself) develop grit. Her family, she writes, lives by the Hard Thing Rule.

  1. Everyone (including mom and dad) has to do a hard thing. (“A hard thing is something that requires daily deliberate practice.”)
  2. You can quit. But you can’t quit until some “natural” stopping point has arrived. (“In other words, you can’t quit on a day when your teacher yells at you, or you lose a race, or you have to miss a sleepover because of a recital the next morning. You can’t quit on a bad day.”)
  3. You get to pick your hard thing (“because it wouldn’t make sense to do a hard thing you’re not even vaguely interested in.”)

I recognize that there is some push back to having kid’s in structured extracurricular activities from birth (and rightly so), but as Duckworth writes, most kids are not actually spending all their time doing extracurricular activities – it’s more likely that they’re playing video games, scrolling social media, and watching television (up to three hours a day). The great thing about an extracurricular activity (and again, I run a business that is an extracurricular activity, so I do have a proverbial dog in this fight) is that it can be both challenging and fun. This is a great way to build grit.

Duckworth also writes:

These activities possess two important features that are hard to replicate in any other setting. First, there’s an adult in charge — ideally, a supportive and demanding one — who is not the parent. Second, these pursuits are designed to cultivate interest, practice, purpose, and hope. The ballet studio, the recital hall, the dojo, the basketball court, the gridiron — these are the playing fields of grit.

Duckworth’s research indicates that an extra curricular activity done for more than a year helps people learn to see progress and growth. Learning to be good at something is hard, so seeing the progress over time helps you recognize why something might be worth sticking with in the first place.

I know that for my kids what I want them to be happy. But not just a momentary freedom from difficulty. I want them to know the satisfaction of doing something well, and also of doing things they love. Sometimes love takes time to grow. So many times in my taekwondo school, I’ve seen parents let their kids give up after one bad class or because they said they didn’t want to do class on one day. I’m as eager to avoid fighting with my kids as the next person, but I also hate to take away their struggle. We all need to push through challenges and get over the hurdles of life, and I think it’s important not that we white knuckle our way through life, but also recognize when it’s time to push through the struggle to get to the other side, which is why I love her caveat: you can quit, just not on a bad day.

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