This summer has served as a reminder to me about the virtue of virtues, specifically hard work and perseverance. Last winter, our 12-year-old son, Robert, was accepted into an honors performance group as a string bass player, based on his teacher's recommendation and an MP3 submission of his playing. In May, he was sent four pieces of music to master by late June, when he was to perform them in New York.
It was not easy. The music arrived late, and his summer schedule was already mostly filled with plans for a vacation and camp -- but the music had to be learned.
It wasn't until Robert's bass teacher mentioned to me in passing that the Mendelssohn piece was hard for him (the teacher) to play, that I became concerned. Well, never to be deterred by the prospect of hard work, we cancelled a few previously scheduled camps, added a few practice sessions during summer vacation and watched with pride as our son trudged forward, practicing his bass for hours each day.
There were a few moments when he (or maybe it was I) felt overwhelmed, unsure that it was possible, but -- after mutual reinforcement and additional hard work -- progress continued.
When Robert arrived last month in New York City, he was ready, placing third out of five in his section (where he was the youngest performer). While his eyes looked a little tired during the performance, he excelled and was glad that he had worked hard to ensure his success.
What he learned was that hard work and perseverance make success achievable. It helped that the framework he had been given at the beginning stayed the same.
Many of us are familiar with the marshmallow test conducted in the 1960s and 1970s by Walter Mischel at Stanford University. During the test, a child was offered two alternatives -- a small treat immediately or the promise of two treats some 15 minutes later. The test data showed that the children who delayed gratification had better outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, education and body mass index.
In 2012, researchers from the University of Rochester, led by Celeste Kidd and Holly Palmeri, tested to see if a prior intervention could change children's ability to delay gratification. In this test, the children were divided into two groups. In one group, the unreliable reward group, the children were promised better art supplies or stickers when the researcher returned. When the researcher returned he or she was empty-handed.
In the second group, the reliable reward group, the same promises were made -- and kept.