Passion, zeal, tenacity, perseverance, ambition, hardness, resiliency and the need for achievement. These are the characteristics that make up an individual with grit, a non-cognitive trait that combines someone’s ability and desire to work at a long-term goal or objective, along with a deep motivation for success and, importantly, a toughness in the face of failure. It’s a characteristic that has long been studied and noted throughout history, and it is making its way back into pop psychology these days, in large part because of a book by Canadian writer, Paul Tough, “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character,” and the research of Penn psychologist, Angela Duckworth.
Grit allows people to not be thwarted or set back by adversity and failure–indeed, the bumps and snafus that come to gritty folks become almost like fuel for increased effort and motivation. Failures experienced by people with grit do not invade their psyches with a feeling of inability or unworthiness and, instead, promote new attempts at problem-solving. Gritty people do not give up easily and are not discouraged by having to work long and hard at an intended outcome, even without positive feedback. In an nutshell, it is the characteristic of those people (both children and adults) who are in it for the marathon, not the sprint.
Interestingly, all the research on this personality trait reveals that success has little to do with IQ and test scores, social intelligence or even good looks and almost everything to do with perseverance, curiosity, stamina, conscientiousness, optimism and self-control. As Woody Allen said, “90% of life is just showing up.” Gritty people show up again and again.
Little is known about how to increase grit in ourselves or in our children. What is known is that talent does not make grit. Grit is often unrelated or inversely related to talent. Also known is that grit is associated with a growth mindset, an idea developed at Stanford University by Carol Dweck, author of the book, Mindset. The growth mindset is a flexible one, one that believes that things like ability and intelligence are not fixed. It is the opposite of the fixed mindset which says things like, “I can’t help it… that’s just how I am.”
I’ve always believed that awareness of the problem is the first step toward its solution. I took the Grit Test and scored a 3.75 on the test’s 1-5 scale. In the top half, but I’m thinking that I’d like to be a little grittier. In addition to what all the researchers say, I think that grit is also related to the critical voice in our heads and how much we choose listen to it as well as the ability to approach change with an open mind… the simple “try it and see what happens” attitude can work wonders.
TRY THIS WEEK: Find your true grit.
Watch Duckworth’s TED talk.
Take the online Grit Test from the Duckworth Lab here: https://sites.sas.upenn.edu/duckworth/pages/research