How Peer Pressure Builds Grit

(This Article’s Strategy is part of our Grit Builders Worksheets which is available Here)

Ever since I saw the movie Lone Survivor, I have been enamored with the Grit of Navy SEALs.  The SEALs in the movie were shot dozens of times (literally) and continued to fight on…

How could anyone survive that and continue on?

Just to become a SEAL, you have to survive SEAL training which in itself is grueling.  In which the most harrowing is what is known as Hell Week.

Hell Week –   5.5 days during the fourth week in the SEALs training named BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition and SEAL Training) is a continual 132 hours of physical labor.

Here’s the kicker….

Only 10% to 20% survive BUD/S.


Despite the fact that SEAL candidates train for months and are in incredible shape, the failure rate for BUD/S is 80%+!


The Hot – Cold Dilemma 


80 – 90% of those who sign up for BUD/S quit.  One of the reasons may have to do with the Hot-Cold Empathy Gap – a cognitive bias defined as the  “inability during a cool, rational, peaceful moment, to appreciate how we’ll behave during heat of passion and temptation.”

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely has performed a lot of experiments where he discovered that turning up the heat makes the unthinkable become thinkable.

Would be SEALs believe they will make it all the way through because they are signing up in a “cool” state and have to endure the “hot” state of Hell Week and more!

But there is a strategy that  SEALs use and it can work in your classroom.

And Here’s the Best Part…

76% of People who engage in this strategy achieved their goals!

Others Focus

It turns out that SEALs don’t usually do it for themselves.  In fact, their own survival may be the last thing in their mind.

As former SEAL and author Eric Greitens put it,

“Even in great pain, faced with the test of their lives, they had the ability to step-outside their own pain, put aside their own fear and ask: How can I help the guy next to me? …They had a heart large enough to think about others, to dedicate themselves to a higher purpose.”

A recent study has backed up Greitens’s hypothesis.

Dr Emily Ansell, a clinical psychologist who led the study, said:

“It was surprising how strong and uniform the effects were across daily experiences. Our research shows that when we help others we can also help ourselves.

Stressful days usually lead us to have a worse mood and poorer mental health, but our findings suggest that if we do small things for others, such as holding a door open for someone, we won’t feel as poorly on stressful days.”

(Get Your Grit Builders Worksheets Here)

As I’ve written about before, social rejection and isolation can cause many problems in school…

So how can teachers ensure that students feel included?

Swim Buddies.

061031-N-5307M-102 Norfolk, Va. (Oct. 31, 2006) –  U.S. Navy photo By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Tristan Miller (RELEASED)

What’s a Swim Buddy?

A swim buddy is a partner that helps you achieve your goals.

Here’s  Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell (the Lone Survivor):

“(Indoc) is where you first understand the concept of a swim buddy, which in SEAL ethos  is an absolutely gigantic deal. You work with your buddy as a team. You never separate… if one of you falls over the side into the freezing ocean, the other joins him. Immediately. In the pool, you are never more than an arm’s length away. Later on, in the BUD/S course proper, you can be failed out of hand, thrown out, for not staying close enough to your swim buddy.”

Sound too simplistic?

People tend to work better and longer in the company of others.

Via Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are:

“There’s a concept in ADHD treatment called the ‘body double,’  ” says David Nowell, Ph.D., a clinical neuropsychologist from Worcester, Massachusetts. “Distractable people get more done when there is someone else there, even if he isn’t coaching or assisting them.” If you’re facing a task that is dull or difficult, such as cleaning out your closets or pulling together your receipts for tax time, get a friend to be your body double.

As Dr. Patricia Quinn put it-

Many people with ADD find it easier to stay focused on housework , homework , bill paying , and other tasks when someone else is around to keep them company. The body double may just sit quietly. He may read, listen to music on headphones, or work on the task that the person with ADD is working on. Hard work is simply more fun when someone else is nearby.

Even if students do not have ADD, Swim Buddies can help them overcome distraction and stay committed.

It gets better….

Commitment Cards

As I wrote in an article for Edutopia,

This is one reason that the De La Salle High School football team holds the record for the longest winning streak. They all made commitment cards each week and were held accountable by a partner.

Each week, the players would write down their goals, then on Friday they would declare their partner goals to the whole team.

Writing down goals makes it 49% more likely that you will achieve them.

If you combine that with a swim buddy or commitment partner…

You are 76% more likely to achieve your goals!

Below is part of our Grit Builders worksheets (available here).

Write your commitment in one or all of these categories. Discuss it with a partner. Friday-follow-up with your partner, to see if you have kept your word. (Integrity)

 Weekly Commitments               Partner Commitments       Partner Initials



















There are many other ways to facilitate Swim Buddies, but this is one to get you started!

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  1. Thank you for this article! It is terrific.

    I’ll be sharing it with teachers and administrators. We face such apathy in schools today- the overzealous testing movement has left students feeling beaten down. They all too often lack a sense of purpose in their presence in school and so many of them also have attention deficits that make teaching and learning a challenge. We hold great power to change the outcomes of those we teach.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lisa thanks for your kind words. I think the key word in your comment was purpose. I think we often forget about this as teachers and probably could remind ourselves more often.


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