Grit Exercises

By Stephen Rispoli

To continue with our “grit” challenge, we offer additional thoughts about teaching grit to law students. As we shared in our previous post, grit is defined by Psychologist Angela Duckworth as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” When discussing with our students, we share that people naturally get “grittier” as we experience life and overcome challenges. Age does have some advantages!

Some students arrive in law school with more grit than others, but most are likely to grow in grittiness during law school as they persevere and advance toward graduation. Leaning toward positivity will help them embrace challenges as growth opportunities. How do we help them look for the positive in challenging times, so they persevere?

To compound the issue, we lawyers listen to respond rather than listening to understand. Law school has trained us – and done a fine job at it – to listen to what another person is saying and immediately formulate an argument that rebuts that person’s position. I have learned this the hard way with my lawyer-spouse, Jeanine. The mark of a great lawyer, after all, is the power of oration and persuasion, and based on how our arguments usually go, Jeanine is clearly the superior lawyer. But a different and more important question is whether the responding person really understood the first person’s position or argument before choosing to respond.

Before covering the topic, we ask our students to take Angela Duckworth’s grit test as mentioned in the previous post (available here: https://angeladuckworth.com/grit-scale/) and bring their results to the discussion. We also provide the following prompt:

Be prepared to discuss the following questions:

  1. Were you surprised by your results? Why or why not?
  2. What habits can you form to be grittier?
  3. When faced with a challenge or setback:
    1. Are your first thoughts positive or negative?
    2. How might your natural inclination toward positivity or negativity influence your response?
    3. What plan of action might help you respond more positively in order to achieve your goal?

We are always amazed by the conversation that this sparks! The students are sometimes reluctant to start on this topic, but once they get going they frequently follow-up with comments on each other’s statements. Helping them lean toward positivity can help maintain passion as they pursue a long-term goal.

Another fun exercise involves using “Grit Cards.” The objective is to identify and develop grittier and more resilient approaches to failure, feedback, and challenges.

Supplies needed:

Index cards in two different colors such as pink and yellow. 2 boxes or buckets.


Give each student one pink notecard and one yellow notecard.

On the pink card, each student identifies a failure or bad outcome by completing this sentence, “If I were….” Examples include:

  • If I were to fail a course
  • If I were to not get a job
  • If I were to look stupid when I got Cold Called
  • If I were to forget to turn in an important assignment
  • If I were to fail the bar exam

On the yellow card, students provide a response to that situation but completing this sentence, “I would…” The responses can be as fun or as serious as the students want, such as:

  • I would run away for a day
  • I would drop out of law school
  • I would retake the class
  • I would support the next person who got called on
  • I would take my dog for a walk/li>
  • I would decorate my house for Christmas and ignore life for a bit

Put all pink cards in one box or bucket; put all yellow cards in a separate box or bucket. Have each student pull one pink card and one yellow card and read the “failure” and the “response” aloud. Discuss how different responses reframe the issues.

When mixing the prompts and responses, it is incredible how the solutions to other random prompts often make sense! This fun exercise encourages a more positive and creative approach to trials and tribulations. By approaching setbacks as obstacles rather than roadblocks, our student can better cope with challenges in law school and in life. By maintaining a positive attitude and developing a determination to find a way around, over or through the obstacle, our students can thrive in their lives and careers.