Angela Duckworth’s journey to the study of grit began to take off when she began teaching. As she learned that the smartest kids in class weren’t the highest achievers, she wondered why. When she moved from teaching to psychology, the study of grit became a passion. This book covers everything she’s discovered to date about grit, where it comes from, and how to develop it.
Here’s what you’ll learn about in this summary:
- The traits, ways of thinking, and practices of someone who has grit
- Understanding what things contribute to the development of grit
- Ways that you can increase grit in your own life, and the life of your children
It was this combination of passion and perseverance that made high achievers special. In a word, they had grit.
Ultimately, adopting a gritty perspective involves recognizing that people get better at things they grow. Just as we want to cultivate the ability to get up off the floor when life has knocked us down, we want to give those around us the benefit of the doubt when something they’ve tried isn’t a raging success. There’s always tomorrow.
To be gritty is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. To be gritty is to hold fast to an interesting and purposeful goal. To be gritty is to invest, day after week after year, in challenging practice. To be gritty is to fall down seven times, and rise eight.
Grit – the tenacious and persistent can-do attitude of successful people is explored and understood through Angela Duckworth’s book.
THE BIG IDEAS
1. Being gritty makes all the difference
“In sum, no matter the domain, the highly successful had a kind of ferocious determination that played out in two ways. First, these exemplars were unusually resilient and hardworking. Second, they knew in a very, very deep way what it was they wanted. They not only had determination, they had direction.”
Most success stories involve action after failure, persistence, passion, and hard work. Through her work as a psychologist, Angela Duckworth became increasingly fascinated with a culmination of these categories, plus a few more, that she calls grit. Her extensive studies have covered evaluations of all types of people, of almost every age, and across a wide spectrum of industries, fields and areas of interest. With all of this research, Duckworth eventually developed a Grit Scale that can “measure the extent to which you approach your life with grit.”
A quick note to keep in mind before we move any further: It’s important when examining grit to not mistake it with talent…
Again, grit does NOT equal talent. In fact, studies show a much stronger inclination towards grit when participants were never perceived as talented in the first place. In a study of Ivy League undergraduates, SAT scores and grit were, in fact, inversely correlated. For West Pointers, first year cadets encountering the Beast, an intensive and demanding seven-week program designed to create Soldiers out of cadets, the most definitive criteria for success was a high score on the Grit Scale.
A high Grit Scale score also predicted:
- higher high school student graduation,
- the longevity of salespeople who worked for a company,
- the likelihood of pursuing higher education,
- the odds of winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee,
- and even those who will successfully graduate as Green Berets.
So, what are some of the other factors that work alongside with grit to help people achieve success? Prior experience is one factor. Having a supportive mentor or teacher is another. And having some baseline skills is another. Ultimately, however, Duckworth tells us that the most important factor to success is going to be grit.
Now let’s talk a little bit more about the relationship between grit, success, and talent…
As Duckworth transitioned careers from high-level consultant to teaching disadvantaged children, she could clearly see that aptitude did not guarantee achievement. This clarification between ability and success is a common theme throughout the book. Here’s how she puts it: “I grew less and less convinced that talent was destiny and more and more intrigued by the returns generated by effort.”
Those who are aware of natural talents and gifts tend to have less grit than those who have to work hard to achieve the same level of performance. Once this effort is established, many surpass the naturally talented by hard work and persistence with grit.
Researchers across the board agree that when it comes to success, a person’s willingness to work hard (their grittiness) matters more than a given person’s natural talent. For example, expert music instructors agree that productive hard work is more valuable than natural musical talent.
Even though the value of grit over talent is clear and measurable, for some odd reason our society still tends to prefer naturally talented people over everyone else — whether in business, sports, or music. And unfortunately, this can lead to some pretty disastrous results; like the total implosion of Enron, for instance. This was a company who used to boast in their hiring practices of top talent. Duckworth tells us that Enron’s focus on talent over grit “inadvertently contributed to a narcissistic culture…that encouraged short-term performance but discouraged long-term learning and growth.” In other words: people thought they were already too talented to put in the grit/effort to improve themselves whenever necessary… This “talent is better than grit” mindset pervaded Enron’s entire culture—starting from the top, and then cascading downward and then laterally until it infected the entire organization like a virus—contributing to the eventual demise of the entire company.
Bottom line? Focusing on talent sends a message that the qualities inherent in a gritty individual aren’t as important as they actually are.
In the book, Duckworth shares touching and inspiring stories of people who were written off as not smart, or not talented, until they had a moment where they got to challenge this belief, and work towards a better future. All of these people became exceptionally good at the things they did, and made significant positive contributions to their world.
2. Effort is more important than talent
“Without effort, your talent is nothing more than your unmet potential. Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could have done but didn’t. With effort, talent becomes skill and, at the very same time, effort makes skill productive.”
Let’s do a point-by-point breakdown of the aforementioned quote, shall we?
NO EFFORT = UNMET POTENTIAL (Without effort, your talent is nothing more than your unmet potential. Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could have done but didn’t…)
- This first part of the quote refers to the naturally talented person who doesn’t work hard to achieve their highest potential. Here’s an example: On scale of 1–10, a naturally talented swimmer who never puts in the effort to get better might be at about a 7. Better than most. But is it optimal? Nope. Here’s why: If that same swimmer leveraged her talent AND put forth the effort to continuously improve herself as a swimmer, she might be at a 9 or 10, making her one of the best swimmers around.
TALENT + EFFORT = SKILL (…With effort, talent becomes skill…)
- Putting in the effort to achieve your highest potential in any given endeavor gives you the edge—both personally and professionally.
EFFORT + SKILL = SUCCESS (…and, at the very same time, effort makes skill productive.)
- When we work hard on our talents, they become skills. And when we work hard on our skills, we dramatically increase our likelihood of becoming more productive, which allows us to become better and better, which allows us to become more successful at what we do!
It’s easy to believe that only the talented will succeed. It lets the rest of us, who aren’t talented off the hook; allowing room to relax into the status quo. When you’re talented and you try hard, you can quickly improve, but when you use these improvements and continue to try hard you really begin to achieve. Effort is required for both. You can’t achieve unless you try, regardless of whether you’re talented to begin with.
In psychology tests, those people who are able to stick to a difficult physical challenge through continuous effort are the ones who display “psychological adjustment throughout adulthood.” An even better indication of grit is those who are willing to come back and perform the test again the next day, to improve their score. “[W]hat matters is that they wake up the next day, and the next, ready to get on that treadmill and keep going.”
From famous writers to master potters to actors, people who choose to put in effort to improve every day, regardless of talent, find success.
3. Your grittiness level
“Grit has two components: passion and perseverance.”
Wanna grow your grittiness level? Keep the following points in mind from Duckworth’s Grit Scale to get an indication of your own grittiness:
- Repeating the Grit Scale over time has shown researchers that grit is something you can grow.
- You can look at your own life for examples of how gritty you are.
- Someone who’s gritty is passionate about what they’re doing, and this makes them want to stick with it.
- Showing “consistency over time” is a great indication of grit. It can be something that starts as a childhood fascination, and grows over time and exposure. (This differs from those who have interests that change regularly.)
- Passion provides a compass to guide you as you explore different sides of an interest. It can lead you on a journey where you find where you ultimately want to be.
- People with grit approach life as an opportunity to continue to improve. It helps to have a guiding philosophy when you make choices about what tasks you will undertake.
Now let’s move into something a little more tangible…
Duckworth suggests seeing goals as a hierarchy. The top is your ultimate goal. Below that are mid- and low-level goals that can feed up to the top. These are short-term, specific goals. When one doesn’t work, look for a new goal that still leads to the top. “The top-level goal is not a means to any other end. It is, instead, an end in itself.”
When you are passionate, this top-level goal, or guiding philosophy, is constantly on your mind. Having your priorities focused towards this goal, and sticking to that goal is having grit. Note that you can substitute lower-level goals as you proceed, keeping in mind you are always looking for what will get you to your top goal. Eliminating goals that don’t work is necessary, since you have a finite amount of time and energy. “On any long journey, detours are to be expected.”
Going back to the idea of talent versus success, Duckworth shows how analysis of some of the most remarkable figures in history revealed that “the relationship between intelligence and eminence…was exceedingly slight.” Things that showed a strong relationship to these high achievers were as follows:
- having a clear top-level goal,
- having a mindset of following through over time,
- having perseverance,
- and not quitting when encountering challenges.
These were the attributes of history’s grittiest people.
4. Where grit comes from
“in the simplest terms, this means that some of the variation in grit in the population can be attributed to genetic factors, and the rest can be attributed to experience.”
There is indication that grit is genetic to a certain extent, but this measure is small in comparison to the influences around you that can develop grit. What type of environment you grow up in has a significant impact on your development of grit. The experiences you have, the failures you experience, and people around you are definitely going to have an impact on your grittiness. But your grit also changes over time as you grow and adapt to challenges. It’s also constantly impacted by the culture you are surrounded by.
There are four traits that gritty people have in common:
- Interest — Gritty people have an interest and a passion in what they do.
- Practice — Their deep interest leads to deep practice (“the daily discipline of trying to do things better than we did yesterday”).
- Purpose — A belief in the meaning of the work.
- Hope — The last trait is hope, the optimistic belief in engaging in every stage regardless of setbacks. “You can grow your grit from the inside out.”
5. Passion and grit
“passion for your work is a little bit of discovery, followed by a lot of development, and then a lifetime of deepening.”
Loving what you do can take time and experimenting. Many gritty people took a long time before they created their top-level goal. In order to discover your passion, you need to get out there and try things. Don’t expect an immediate revelation. Give things some time. When you find an interest, surround yourself with supportive people.
Additional points on passion and grit:
- If you’re a parent, encourage your kids to play and goof around, because play plays a role in triggering and re-triggering areas of interest. Also remember that everyone starts out as a beginner. Let kids make choices about what they’d like to try. Give them encouragement without too many expectations. In the end, this pays off, as people who are gritty will spend less time changing careers and searching for an elusive purpose.
- As skills and interest develop, the novelties of a passion become a special nuance to the expert. This is evident for those who are experts in an art form, or a sport, or in business.
- If you are seeking your passion, start with discovery. Ask yourself what you love and what fascinates you, as well as what you absolutely cannot stand. When you find a direction you’re interested in, experiment with it. Feel free to make guesses, and eliminate what doesn’t work. Then, develop this interest by asking questions, digging deep for answers, finding others who share your interests, and looking for a mentor. If you have a direction of interest, but no clear passion, look for ways to explore passion within that interest.
6. Practice and grit
“the most important finding was that the type of practice mattered tremendously. Deliberate practice predicted advancing to further rounds in final competition far better than any other kind of preparation.”
Practice is driven by a desire to improve and excel. Experts practice thousands of hours, but in addition to quantity of time, they also incorporate quality of practice into their routines. Experts practice by setting up a specific goal related to their passion. This goal is something that is not immediately attainable. As they practice, they get feedback, and then they use this feedback to practice until they achieve their goal. Then, they establish a new goal and begin practice again. “One by one, these subtle refinements add up to dazzling mastery.” By breaking down their largest goal into components, and then achieving each component, they are able to achieve great things. This type of deliberate practice requires significant effort. It’s not easy. Whether it is a mental challenge or a physical challenge, it is demanding.
A reward for deliberate practice is when you experience flow ease and enjoyment from something that was previously challenging. Experiencing flow leads to more deliberate practice, and this cycle sets apart gritty people from average achievers. Studies have also shown that gritty people enjoy deliberate practice more, even though they find it takes more effort.
Define your stretch goal, practice with total focus, seek and use feedback, and then repeat with all of this in mind. Make deliberate practice a habit. View each experience the success and the failure as a productive part of deliberate practice.
7. Purpose and grit
“In my “grit lexicon,” therefore, purpose means “the intention to contribute to the well-being of others.””
Gritty people may begin with a passion that is self-focused, but those with the most success find a way to make this passion create benefits for others as well. They find a purpose to their passion and hard work and ultimately, their efforts pay dividends to other people. This purpose provides strong motivation to excel, to engage in deliberate practice, and to enjoy a meaningful life. Oh, and by the way, those who have great purpose in their lives have higher Grit Scale scores.
The same job that one employee sees as ‘just a job,’ another employee may see as their purpose or calling. It’s not the job, but the person’s outlook that makes the difference. Those who find meaning in their work are happier, and more conscientious.
At first glance, grit may seem at odds with purpose. Grit involves focusing on a personal top-level goal, while purpose requires deep consideration of others. However, those who can “keep personal and prosocial interests in mind do better in the long run than those who are 100 percent selfishly motivated.” Having both outlooks leads to greater success.
There is a process for acquiring purpose: It starts with a spark an interest. Then, you find someone who is purposeful and watch them. See how they live with purpose. What follows is an internalization (“I believe that I can personally make a difference.”) …And that’s how purpose begins to develop.
A spark + A role model + A dedication to making a difference = PURPOSE
To cultivate purpose, think about ways the work you’re already doing can help society. When people start to think creatively about their job, and generating purpose, they come up with all kinds of ways to make their work more meaningful. Again, finding a role model that you can observe is important.
8. Hope and grit
“Grit depends on a different kind of hope. It rests on the expectation that our own efforts can improve our future. ”I have a feeling tomorrow will be better“ is different from ”I resolve to make tomorrow better.” The hope that gritty people have has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with getting up again.”
Studies about suffering and hope have shown some important lessons. When suffering can’t be controlled, it leads to learned hopelessness. But when suffering that has an ‘out’ something that can be done to change the circumstances resilience and fortitude develop.
Pessimists tend to place blame on “permanent and pervasive causes,” “optimists habitually search for temporary and specific causes of their suffering.” This difference in outlook can change a life. Optimists often see causes as their personal responsibility which means they can change their circumstances. When something doesn’t work, they move on and keep on trying. To quote Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t you’re right.” Failure can be seen by an optimist as just a reason to try harder.
Having a growth mindset means believing people can change. “With a growth mindset, you believe you can learn to do better.” This correlates very well with grit. Gritty people just keep on going because they believe it will make a positive difference. Being a model of this type of thinking can have a strong impact on the people around you. Studies have supported this view. Believing that a situation can be controlled and changed leads to stronger, grittier people. This belief is often formed when “you experience mastery at the same time as adversity.”
Developing hope progresses from three steps: (1) a growth mindset, that leads to (2) optimistic self-talk, which leads to (3) perseverance over adversity.
In each step, ask yourself, “What can I do to boost this one?” Remember that you can learn and develop intelligence and skills these are not fixed aspects. Practice optimistic self-talk. If this is a struggle, consider working with a cognitive behavioral therapist who can train you. Ask hopeful people to help you learn hope.
9. Raising gritty children
“If you want to bring forth grit in your child, first ask how much passion and perseverance you have for your own life goals. Then ask yourself how likely it is that your approach to parenting encourages your child to emulate you. If the answer to the first question is “a great deal,” and your answer to the second is “very likely,” you’re already parenting for grit.”
Duckworth’s research has shown that parents who raise gritty children are both loving and kind, and firm with high expectations. These parents offer children “love, limits, and latitude to reach their full potential.”
Children are excellent emulators. They imitate the actions and words of the adults around them. When children and teens are challenged to slightly exceed their believed limits, they create success.
Teachers also have a significant impact when it comes to raising gritty children. The ideal is a teacher who is respectful and supportive while expecting the very best from each student. Many gritty adults attribute their success to a special teacher who challenged them, and believed in them.
Having a total system of support from family, mentors, teachers and friends has a substantial positive impact on a student. As these students work through challenges and begin to develop their own personal missions, gritty actions and beliefs develop.
There is strong evidence to support the importance of involvement in extracurricular activities for developing grit. Children who are involved in any activity for at least a year show more grit. As they become teenagers, commitment to these activities becomes even more important. The longer they stay involved in activities the better. “There are countless research studies showing that kids who are more involved in extracurriculars fare better on just about every conceivable metric they earn better grades, have higher self-esteem, are less likely to get in trouble and so forth…overdosing on extracurriculars is pretty rare.” Learning to follow through with activities, and participate in areas where they can see personal improvement is extremely beneficial. It’s something that requires grit, and develops more grit. Children’s personalities are not fixed, they can grow, develop, and change within the right environments. Giving children challenging tasks helps them grow gritty, and develop “learned industriousness.”
Duckworth has instituted a “Hard Thing Rule” for her family. It has three criteria: everyone in the family has to do something hard (professional development, music, sports), you can only quit at a reasonable stopping point, and each family member picks their own Hard Thing to do. This shows that the whole family is committed to growing and improving. Once her daughters reach high school they must stick to their choice for at least two years.
10. Grit in culture
“The bottom line on culture and grit is: If you want to be grittier, find a gritty culture and join it. If you’re a leader, and you want the people in your organization to be grittier, create a gritty culture.”
Being part of a gritty culture provides great benefits. It can be a team, a family, a club, or even a country. When you are surrounded by characteristics such as perseverance and determination, you tend to increase them in your own life. “The way we do things around here and why“ eventually becomes ”The way I do things and why.” You internalize what you are surrounded by.
In Finland, grit is similar to the term sisu. This perseverance, and inner strength is a national trait. “Finns believe they’re born with [it] by dint of their Finnish heritage.” This small country managed to hold off the Soviet army for months in 1939 because of their perseverance. Most Finns “have a growth mindset” about the development of sisu. They believe it can be developed, and practice opportunities for their children to be challenged and stretched. To capture this attitude, choose to see yourself as someone who overcomes significant challenges, and visualize an internal energy that you can draw on when you feel you have nothing left… “there is a way to accomplish what all reason seems to argue against.”
This type of gritty culture has also been found in sports organizations, corporations, and schools. If you can’t join one, make one. Surround yourself with people who are tenacious, optimistic, and hard-working. Memorization of affirming and grit-building statements also leads to gritty community.
11. Grit and the bigger picture
“On your own, you can grow your grit “from the inside out”: You can cultivate your interests. You can develop a habit of daily challenge-exceeding-skill practice. You can connect your work to a purpose beyond yourself. And you can learn to hope when all seems lost. You can also grow your grit “from the outside in.” Parents, coaches, teachers, bosses, mentors, friends developing your personal grit depends critically on other people.”
Grit is something you can grow. And as you continue to cultivate your own grit, you’ll also find that you’re cultivating more satisfaction with your overall quality of life.
To date, Duckworth has not identified any negative results of growing grit. It also does not appear that you can have too much grit. It is still important though, to recognize the importance of other traits, such as self-control, gratitude, and social intelligence, since grit does not develop in isolation.
Here’s to having a clear focus on becoming grittier, and just as important taking the necessary actions to help you live the greatest, grittiest life you can imagine!
- Grit is a quality that nearly insures success and life satisfaction. It is available to everyone, and can be developed regardless of IQ, talent, or current circumstances.
- Being gritty is a choice, so decide that you want to be grittier.
- Start with your interests and explore them in greater detail.
- Pay attention to the things you are passionate about.
- Make a top-level goal and lower goals, and begin to work your way up.
- Honor your top-level goal, and adjust the lower goals as necessary. Stick to it!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
- Angela Duckworth is a brilliant psychologist who has spent years exploring and explaining grit. She credits her success less to talent, and more to her passion for research into grit. She is also a TED Talks speaker and author. Learn more and connect: angeladuckworth.com