The book Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman argues how, in the long run, determination and hard work matter more than intelligence when it comes to success. Goleman’s initial experiment was simple and familiar: he put a marshmallow on every student’s desk in a first grade classroom, and told the kids that if they waited an hour without eating the marshmallow, they would receive three more marshmallows as a reward. Several of the students couldn’t last the hour, and their marshmallows disappeared. The students whose marshmallows remained got their reward. Goleman later assessed the IQs of each student and tracked them throughout their high school, college, and professional careers. He found–unanimously–that the subjects who had waited for the extra marshmallows as first graders were more successful in their academic and personal lives, regardless of IQ.
Having been an educator for many years, I have seen countless examples that prove Goleman’s research findings time and again. My most successful students–whether they attend medical school, become West Point graduates, or PhD candidates–were the ones who consistently worked hard and focused on their work. In my experience, intelligence is of course useful, but it’s often not as important a factor in measuring future success as many people think it is.
How can parents and educators help students apply themselves effectively?
I have found that the answer lies in consistency and hard work. Reading twenty minutes a day is more useful than reading the whole book the night before the test. Working on a long-term homework assignment every day instead of just before the deadline will give a student time to edit and revise.
The process of learning how to focus and apply oneself is gradual, but the habits young people pick up will influence the rest of their lives. One of the best habits to develop early is self-discipline (not necessarily a natural trait). It’s important that children have good role models and positive reinforcement for their efforts as they learn how to apply themselves to their work.
I praise students I tutor for completing assignments on time, but I try to praise them even more when they finish the assignment a day early. It’s gratifying to hear that a student I work with takes an hour each day to complete their homework: grades are important, but the process of spending time on their homework will serve them more. There are many smart kids who have difficulty focusing and following through with assignments and schoolwork.
Start small, start early, and build a little bit every day.
The results can be astounding.
By Grant Bergland, Private Tutor