Instilling “Grit” – Exchange Between Renee Stephens and Donald Pelles

Renée Stephens, Ph.D., is the author of Full-Filled: The 6-Week Weight-Loss Plan for Changing Your Relationship with Food and Your Life-From the Inside Out; available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Books a Million. She is also the creator of Inside Out Weight Loss, A Mindful and Transformative Approach to Lasting Weight Loss.

Donald Pelles, Ph.D., is a Certified Hypnotherapist who has worked effectively with weight-loss clients for over 7 years. He is the author of Hypnosis and Weight.


I just watched this video about the importance of grit. This is a hot topic right now, especially for parents like me whose kids are growing up in middle class comfort and have lots of support.  How do we help them develop grit?

I also think developing grit would be hugely helpful for my weight loss clients. My program works but you do have to use the tools and stick with it.  I already have multiple mechanisms to cultivate the growth mindset that she talks about (I call it a learning mind), but there is something else too that’s part of grit.

So now I am fascinated by how we could help someone develop grit – the ability to stick with a long term goal through challenges.


I believe that part of the answer is contained in Steve Andreas’ book, Transforming Yourself: Becoming Who You Want to Be, which deals with self-concept. Steve views self-concept as a collection of qualities that you “know” you possess – perhaps intelligence, kindness, resourcefulness, persistence (“grit”) – these would be positive qualities – laziness, failure, clumsiness – these would be negative qualities.

Self-concept is based upon memories, incidents in your life where you exhibited each of these component qualities, but more than that, it is how these memories are organized – what Steve calls your database (one for each quality). Your database for, say, intelligence, will have a particular sensory form. One client of mine saw it as a tree with individual instances hanging from the branches; another client saw and felt it as a cube in her head, where the instances were stored; another thought of it as up and to her right, a kind of cloud.

Not only is self-concept based on past memories, but it is also a feed-forward system: it is a determinant of future behavior. So If I think of myself as honest, I will tend to act like an honest person; if I think of myself as persistent I will behave that way. So if you think of yourself as having “grit”, being persistent, if that is part of your self-concept, you will also tend to be that way in the future.

Not only does Steve describe and define self-concept, he shows how to change it:

  • to enhance and strengthen positive qualities that you already you know you have;
  • to change positive qualities that are ambiguous – that you may or may not have – into qualities that you know you have;
  • to build new qualities that you would like but don’t believe you have;
  • to transform negative qualities that you believe you have.

He also talks about the “not-self” – things you feel you are not. I am working with a client now, a weight client, who told me she was “not selfish.” Her parents used to tell her (as many parents do), “You’re selfish – all you care about is yourself.” So she grew up determined to not be selfish. Caring about and for herself – her appearance, her health, her weight – she saw as selfish. This was in contradiction to her desire to be fit and slim. I asked her, “If you’re not selfish, what are you?” At first she said “selfless”, but really that was another version of “not-selfish.” What she finally came up with was “caring”. She already felt she was caring, for others, but we enhanced that quality (her database) to include self-caring. It’s too early to see the results as yet, but I think it will make a big difference for her.

So I strongly recommend reading Steve’s book – then if you want to compare notes, I’ll be glad to do that.


Thanks for this thoughtful response. I think that self-concept plays a role, and  I think there is another piece too – the part that causes someone to really dig in over time to achieve something. I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit, and  I think grit has a lot to do with setting and achieving goals, in particular the propensity to set and stick to long-term, stretch goals. Self- concept would have something to do with this I imagine but it seems self-concept is more static. Goal setting is a more dynamic process. I’m curious to understand the relationship between self-concept and goal setting. Does Steve address this in his book?

Sense of time must be involved too, as are beliefs about oneself (capability, worthiness), and what Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset.”


I think self-concept can be a big part of having “grit”, though there may well be more to it. Grit itself – persistence, digging in over time, can be one of the qualities that makes up someone’s self-concept. If she doesn’t have it or is not sure, we can build it as a positive quality the person knows she has. Then the feed-forward mechanism of self-concept will predispose her to exhibit it in appropriate situations in the future.

The way to do this, by the way, is to have him go back and find at least a few memories of times when he was persistent and carried through – gritty – (we all have some of these) and put those into a structure, a “database”, that has the same form, the same sensory characteristics, as the structure of a positive quality that the person already knows he has. And then we further strengthen and enhance the new “database”.

Steve doesn’t directly address the relationship between self-concept and setting and achieving goals in this book. Having grit does not guarantee that the person will have the knowledge to be good at setting goals and planning to achieve them. This is the subject of Chapter 21 of Heart of the Mind, by Connirae and Steve Andreas – “Knowing What You Want”. (I admit it, I’m an Andreas fan.) A gritty person, of course, will find a way to acquire those skills.

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