The Importance of Task Commitment

Today’s Venn diagram is Renzulli’s Three-Ring Conception of Giftedness:

What Makes Giftedness

Professor Joseph S. Renzulli is the Director of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented at the University of Connecticut and is one of the most highly respected experts in the field of gifted education.

I came across his Three-Ring Model in a 1985 edition of Education of the Gifted and Talented by Gary A. Davis and Sylvia B Rimm. The basic premise of the Three-Ring model is that gifted persons that make meaningful contributions to society are not just smart. Creativity is important as is Task Commitment.

Of the three criteria, task commitment stands out to me as the one that is most needed in our young people and most difficult to foster. Task commitment is the time and energy spent learning and perfecting skills within a specific area. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers: The Story of Success, documents the 10,000 hour rule. Across various fields from sports to music to chess to computers to industry, putting in a cumulative 10,000 hours of study and practice is a necessary component for achieving excellence.

In their studies of Talent Development, Bloom and Sosniak have also documented the importance of strong task commitment. In their research, after age 12, individuals who excelled in their fields as adults were spending as much time per week on their talent field as their peers were spending watching TV. This information was published in 1981 before our many choices existed for teenage entertainment. Now our students can watch their favorite shows at any hour on the Internet. They  are in constant contact with their peers through email, texting, and Twitter. A constant stream of “must see” YouTube videos closely tie them into popular culture in real-time. It is far more difficult today than it was in the 70s and 80s for our youth to proactively find the motivation and discipline necessary to put in the time necessary to reach the highest level of accomplishment in their chosen area of interest.

How much time are our talented students wasting on instant gratification and what will be the long-term consequences for them individually and for our society?


Creating Powerful Habits, part 3

This summer I will be working with my three kids to instill some new, healthy habits that will hopefully last a lifetime. We will be testing out the latest research on habit creation. It suggests that to set a pattern of behavior there needs to be a trigger that simultaneously sparks a desire for a specific reward and starts the action pattern to get to the reward. For example, donuts arriving at the office triggers a mouth-watering craving and before you know it, you are half way through your first donut.

The last three weeks I have attempted to set a new habit for myself of jogging first thing in the morning, three mornings a week. I am not a runner and have not been exercising regularly so this is a challenge. Using what I have learned, I first set the schedule and tried to make the behavior pattern as simple as possible. Running clothes are by the bed, the route is set, the time is set. Variables and choices need to be eliminated as much as possible to create a specific habit. The mere process of making a choice is mentally draining and diminishes the will power I need to get out the door and start my run. Habits in a way are the exact opposite of thoughtful choice. We can make a thoughtful choice to create or change a habit but the habit itself is automated.

In my attempt to set this behavior pattern the challenge is getting out the door. Once I am on the path all I need to do is run the pattern. I’m still working on setting the proper reward. Because scent is such a power trigger, I change-up the shampoo and soap in the shower on days when I run. I am also tracking and documenting the runs in detail so I can visually see the pattern I’m creating.

I am highly motivated to set my new jogging habit. I doubt the kids will be personally motivated to create the habits I choose. That means setting a simple behavior pattern and consistent, high value rewards will be key. Although I won’t finalize my choices for new habits to instill until school is out, my short list for all three kids includes:

  • Daily morning exercise and/or stretching
  • Daily morning face washing and application of sunscreen
  • Morning bed making
  • Evening bedroom straightening

Of course each of the above is just an idea. To make them habits the specific behaviors need to be broken down into detailed actions that can be consistently replicated with valuable, self-reinforcing rewards at the end of each habit.

Now here is where it gets interesting when trying to instill lifelong habits in kids. Frequently adults turn to the easy rewards of treats (usually some form of sugar) or money when trying to encourage kids. Our local public elementary schools consistently use candy to encourage the younger kids and then candy and fake money (that can be spent on donated toys and treats) in the older grades. However, in order for a habit to be internalized, I suspect the reward also needs to be internalized. Rewards for habits that last a lifetime need to be rewards that last a lifetime and work for kids living at home, young adults on their own with limited resources, and older adults. Candy is cheap but we really don’t want another generation growing up fat  because they “deserve” the candy bar. Empty calories are not a good reward. While working hard as an adult might lead to more income, it is not something that easily translates into a reliable reward. For instance, I think my run this morning was a $100 effort but I’m still waiting on that reward.

I need to develop rewards that are highly reinforcing for the kids and will last a lifetime. Any ideas?