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Well Worth the Effort :: Developing Grit and Healthy Habits and a Whole30 Chicken Parmesan

Effort - Whole30 Chicken Parmesan

One of my stocking stuffers from Christmas this year was one of my family’s all time most beloved movies – Matilda. I had read the book by Roald Dahl as a little girl and loved it so much that when I saw it was also produced as a movie insisted we rent it to watch as a family. And it was a HUGE hit. I hadn’t watched it in ages, but for over 15 years now my dad, mom, brothers, sister and I have continued to quote the absurdly hilarious lines, so much so that some of them have nearly become family mantras and we may have even forgotten their origin. Recently for a night in, Jon and I watched the movie and the memories began to flood over me as I laughed hysterically. But it also made me consider a concept which I had just read about only a few days before. As Matilda recognized her very special and unusual telekinetic powers, the voiceover intonated: “it is said that we humans only ever use a small fraction of our brains…” As an exceptionally intelligent little girl, Matilda apparently had broken the mold and was learning to wield a greater portion of her available brainpower to do some pretty amazing things. And this reminded me of something which I read in Angela Duckworth’s Grit – “our potential is one thing. What we do with it is quite another.” As a MacArthur Fellow and Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, Duckworth has studied superlative performance across a variety of different disciplines and has found that the most common denominator of top achievers is a “never give up attitude.” She argues that we tend to recognize and highly value natural talent and ability, which often unfortunately leads to a devaluation of discipline, effort, and hard work and thus we never really reach our full potential.

William James, philosopher and one of the founding fathers of psychology, described this idea when he wrote “compared with what we ought to be, we are only half awake. Our fires are damped, our drafts are checked. We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources….The human individual lives usually far within his limits; he possesses powers of various sorts which he habitually fails to use. He energizes below his maximum, and he behaves below his optimum. Of course there are limits…the trees don’t grow into the sky: but these outer boundaries of where we will, eventually stop improving are simply irrelevant for the vast majority of us – the plain fact remains that men the world over possess amounts of resource, which only very exceptional individuals push to their extremes of use.” In Grit, Duckworth writes about a gap between potential and it’s actualization which at first pass may seem somewhat depressing, but she argues that on the contrary, “as much as talent counts, effort counts twice.”

We have an innate tendency to prefer and overvalue natural talents and gifting in comparison with effort, hard work and grit, which leads to biases in our decision making and the way that we view challenges and obstacles. Doing so can lead us to become discouraged and consciously, or subconsciously, reduce the effort we put forth. Duckworth’s work shows that in terms of high performance:

Talent x Effort = Skill


Skill x Effort = Achievement

Therefore she concludes that although talent is a valuable asset at the onset, effort is actually more impactful over the duration of those committed to high achievement in virtually any profession, athletic, artistic, or musical endeavor, etc.. Her research supports scientist Francis Galton’s observation from way back in 1869 when he concluded that “outliers are remarkable in three ways: they demonstrate unusual ‘ability,’ in combination with exceptional ‘zeal’ and the ‘capacity for hard labor.’ When we recognize that talent is only a component part of the big picture, it becomes obvious that hard work and dedicated effort is well worth the time (blood, sweat, and tears) that are sometimes entailed.

And this applies with profound implications across a wide variety of settings. Whether it comes to academic, professional, creative, or athletic pursuits, becoming a better friend, spouse, or parent, or becoming your healthiest version of you. Changing the way that you eat is tough. Although it is not easy or popular, healthy eating shouldn’t be about dieting or deprivation, but rather a lifestyle which is sustainable and satisfying. Your health includes more than just the numbers on the scale, the inches on your waist, but also your relationship with food and the healthy habits you establish or the negative ones you allow to persist. You don’t have to be someone with an “innate talent” or a proclivity towards healthy living. With effort you can make small and consistent changes in the right direction, which will have a compounding, exponential effect in the long run. As sociologist Dan Chambliss says, “superlative performance is really a confluence of dozens of small skills or activities, each one learned or stumbled upon, which have been carefully drilled into habit and then are fitted together in a synthesized whole. There is nothing extraordinary or superhuman in any one of those actions; only the fact that they are done consistently and correctly, and all together, produce excellence.” As you persist in your effort to become a healthier you, you’ll learn new skills, new recipes, and more nutritious swaps for some of your old favorites which accumulate and mean you won’t even miss what you have left behind. One such example, is this Whole30 friendly version of a classic – Chicken Parmesan (with minimal effort required!). It’s so tasty and flavorful that you might look back and wonder why you ever thought you needed cheese or breadcrumbs in the first place.

Whole30 Chicken Parmesan

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Cook time: 

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Serves: 4

  • Cashew Cream Sauce (Recipe Here) Warning the cashews should soak for at least 4 hours
  • Chicken Breast, Sliced in half or pounded flat 4 each
  • Ghee, melted 2 TBSP
  • Almond Flour .75 cup (70 g)
  • Nutritional Yeast .25 cup (15 g)
  • Black Pepper and Sea Salt to Taste
  • Canned/Tinned Chopped Tomatoes 1 cup (200 g)
  • Dried Basil 1 TBSP
  • Garlic Powder 1 TBSP
  1. Prepare the Cashew Cream Sauce and set aside
  2. Preheat the oven the 425 F / 218 C and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or brush with melted coconut oil.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the almond flour, nutritional yeast and salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Brush the chicken on both sides with the melted ghee and then dredge it in the almond flour mix. Press the chicken into the mix on both sides to fully cover in the "breading."
  5. Place the chicken in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes.
  6. In the meantime, mix together the tomatoes, basil and garlic.
  7. After 20 minutes, remove the chicken from the oven and spoon equal portions of the tomato sauce over each piece and then spread an equal layer of the Cashew Cream Sauce.
  8. Place back in the oven for about 5 minutes until the top layer is slightly melted/crisped and golden brown.
  9. I served mine on top of my Cauliflower Mash (recipe here) but you could also do it with mashed potatoes, a pasta, or side of your choosing.

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