Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

Why do naturally talented people usually fail to reach their potential while other far less gifted individuals go on to achieve amazing things? 

In this New York Times bestseller, pioneering psychologist Angela Duckworth shows anyone striving to succeed- be it parents, students, educators, athletes or business people- that the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and perseverance she calls “grit”.

When Angela Duckworth was 27 years old, she left a very demanding job in management consulting for a job that was even more demanding: teaching. She went to teach seventh graders math in the New York City public schools. And like many teachers, she made quizzes and tests. She gave out homework assignments and calculated grades.

During her teaching period, she got struck off the fact that IQ was not the only difference between her best and worst students. Some of her strongest performers did not have stratospheric IQ scores. Some of her smartest kids weren’t doing so well. And that got her thinking. The kind of things they need to learn in seventh-grade math, sure, they’re hard: ratios, decimals, the area of a parallelogram. But these concepts are not possible, and she was firmly convinced that every one of her students could learn the material if they worked hard and long enough.

After several more years of teaching, she came to the conclusion that what we need in education is a much better understanding of students and learning from a motivational perspective, from a psychological perspective.

In education, the one thing we know how to measure best is IQ. But what if, doing well in school and in life depends on much more than your ability to learn quickly and easily?

Angela left the classroom and went to graduate school to become a psychologist. She started studying kids and adults in all kinds of super challenging settings, and in every study, her question was, who is successful here and why? Duckworth and her research team went to West Point Military Academy. In their study, they tried to predict cadets would stay in the military training and which would drop out. They also went to the National Spelling Bee and tried to predict which children would advance farthest in competition. They studied rookie teachers working in real tough neighborhoods, asking which teachers are still going to be here teaching by the end of the school year, and of those, who will be the most effective at improving learning outcomes for their students? They partnered with private companies, asking, which of these salespeople is going to keep their jobs? And who’s going to earn the most money?

In all these very different contexts, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. And it wasn’t in social intelligence. It wasn’t good looks, physical health and it wasn’t IQ. It was grit.

Grit is a passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit it sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint. 

Duckworth started studying grit in Chicago public schools. She asked thousands of high school juniors to take grit questionnaires and then waited around more than a year to see who would graduate. Turns out that grittier kids were significantly more likely to graduate, even when she matched on every characteristic she could measure such as family income, standardized achievement test scores, even how safe kids felt when they were at school. So, it’s just at West Point or the National Spelling Bee that grit matters. It’s also in school, especially for kids at risk for dropping out.

The most shocking thing about grit is how little we know, how little science knows, about building it. The question is how do educators like you and me build grit in kids? What do we do to teach kids a solid work ethic? How do we keep them motivated for the long run? Honestly? I don’t know the answer. 

After hearing Angela Duckworth, I discovered that talent doesn’t make you gritty. Her data show that there are many talented individuals who simply do not follow through on their commitments. In fact, grit is usually unrelated or even inversely related to measures of talent.

Building grit in kids is in the “growth mindset” an idea developed at Stanford University by Carol Dweck. It is believed that the ability to learn is not fixed, that it can change with your effort. Dr. Dweck has shown when kids read and learn about the brain and how it changes and grows in response to the challenge, they’re much more likely to persevere when they fail because they don’t believe that failure is a permanent condition.

So, the growth mindset is a great idea for building grit. However, we need more. We need to take out best ideas, out strongest intuitions, and we need to test them. We need to measure whether we’ve been successful, and we have to be willing to fail, to be wrong, to start over again with lessons learned.

In other words, we need to be gritty about getting our kids grittier. 

 

 

 

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3 comments

  • Really great post on grit! I really like that you mention Duckworth’s specific studies and experiences that lead her to these findings. I also like your overall conclusive statement that adults need to demonstrate grit in teaching kids to become grittier. In the end, it all comes down to work ethic, and those who enjoy what they are doing are going to be more likely to succeed, and even enjoy a better sense of well-being as well! I write about topics such as grit along with others related to the field of positive psychology. I believe that an increased understanding of these fields can help anyone live a more meaningful and fulfilling life. Feel free to check it out and I welcome any contributions you may have to the content. Great post, keep up the good work, and I hope you are doing well!

    Like

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