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On Giving Up & Grit

Inevitably, every student hits a wall. Motivation dissipates as the number of assignments continues to increase, outpacing meaningful progress and overcoming student satisfaction. Burnout is an incredibly difficult process to watch, especially when the stakes are high (admissions, eligibility, etc.). So, as teachers, parents, and coaches, how can we help students facing burnout? What can we say? What can we do?

Although we have examined practical steps to overcoming an academic slump and bouncing back after a low grade, this post focuses more on how to have the burnout conversation. In other words, let’s examine what to say when a student feels like giving up on school, whether it’s one pesky English essay or an entire semester.

Reframe: thoughts are suggestions, not orders.

The first step is to stop the bleeding. We need to encourage metacognition, thinking about one’s thinking. We can encourage students to reframe thoughts not as orders but as suggestions through delicate questioning and meaningful dialogue. Thoughts and other internal stimuli are fleeting and should be viewed as such.

For instance, several times a day, a student’s mind suggests taking an easier path, giving up, or procrastinating. However, encouraging the student to pause for a moment and consider these thoughts often produces new suggestions relating to a sense of reward and accomplishment through hard work. One of the most helpful things a parent, teacher, or coach can do when a student feels like giving up is to remind him or her that the brain is a suggestion machine, but we always have the power to choose which suggestion to execute.

Perspective is Powerful

Another helpful step in combatting dejection is gaining perspective. Gratitude is powerful. Encourage students to recognize what’s better this week than last week. Help them elucidate the things they are doing well and show themselves appreciation for this hard work. As we have considered in past articles and as we will explore in the next point, recognition of progress, whether internal or external, is the engine that drives motivation.

Minor Progress Is Still Progress

Lastly, tracking progress is a fantastic way to defy stagnation. Most of our unique EF-driven curriculum revolves around this point: when students have a system to prioritize tasks, divide up large projects into manageable chunks, and track progress, they succeed.

In moments of frustration, find ways to help your student make just a little bit of progress. Then, celebrate this progress and recognize their effort. In the words of the late, great John Wooden, “Success is never final. Failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.” Minor progress is a tangible way to feel courage.

There’s one bonus point I want to discuss. I often ask students to think of a time when they regretted hard work… most of them can’t. Personally, I have never regretted doing hard work. Even remembering monotonous, seemingly mundane tasks like organizing my garage produces a spark of accomplishment that makes me smile. Hard work is infectious and always has good returns. Grit is a beautiful trait to cultivate.

We hope the principles above help you in the challenging moments of low motivation. For more ideas on motivation, grit, and productivity, please read our other articles. If you’d rather let an expert help your student, reach out to find your child a one-on-one academic coach today!

Evan Weinberger


Staying Ahead of the Game offers unique academic coaching & tutoring services to help good students achieve greatness.

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