Getting through the struggles of life and coming out better on the other side may depend more on "grit" than intelligence or talent.
Angela Duckworth, author of Grit: The Power and Passion of Perseverance, says grit "…beats the pants off I.Q, SAT scores, physical fitness and a bazillion other measures to help us know in advance which individuals will be successful in some situations."
Grit is the new buzzword that’s generally seen as an element of character that can help lead to positive results in facing life’s challenges. Grit is considered an advantage in education, parenting, career and the unpredictable events that show up in everyone’s life, at one time or another.
Grit has an element of passion and inner meaning that takes a long-term view. Duckworth says grit is different than just pushing ahead and enduring because you have to, or even because it’s the right thing to do.
Duckworth studies the nature of grit in high-performing individuals and in The Character Lab she created at the University of Pennsylvania, where she is a professor of psychology.
She says grit involves "enduring effort and sustained passion." Girt is more than not giving up.
"It’s getting better every day on something that’s intrinsically meaningful to you," says Duckworth. "It’s problem solving. It’s intentional. It’s thoughtful. It’s not just brute force." She’s found that people with grit fail at times, and they admit it. They get discouraged. But they don’t let failure or discouragement stop them or turn them away from what they truly and deeply want to do. Duckworth found that people who are successful in whatever they pursue have this essential element of grit: Getting back up when you fall down.
No one is excluded from developing grit because it crosses social, economic, age, racial, ethnic and educational boundaries.
As matter of fact, people with inborn intelligence or talent may sometimes have developed less grit because accomplishments have come easier to them. That’s a theory Duckworth offers in a radio with interview with On Point.
Sometimes the more talented kids or adults are slightly less "gritty," she says. That could be because they may not have experienced falling down and getting back up, or struggling and getting through to the other side.
Interest is an essential element in developing grit, Duckworth says in an interview with The New York Times.
"You cannot will yourself to be interested in something you’re not interested in. But you can actively discover and deepen your interest," says Duckworth. Once you really spark your interest, grit comes in to push your effort along.
"Another thing is really maintaining a sense of hope or resilience, even when there are setbacks," she says.
Parents can help develop grit in children by being demanding, but at the same time being very supportive, loving and respectful. Encouraging children to make their own decisions, as soon as they are capable, helps them develop grit, advises Duckworth, who was named a MacArthur "genius" in 2013.
As in all things, perspective and moderation have to be applied to grit. In an episode on the possible problems with grit, the podcast Hidden Brain reported that some research has pointed to a potential downside to grit: "Like stubbornness, too much grit can keep us sticking to goals, ideas or relationships that should be abandoned." If stubbornly sticking to a project or a mission doesn't give you insight and help you prevail, then grit can keep you stuck in a dead-end.
To guide you, your friends and your loved ones in staying on the upside of grit, watch for, and do your best to maintain, these four key psychological assets: interest, practice, purpose and hope.
If you’re curious, here’s a survey developed by Duckworth that can quickly, and informally, measure your own level of grit.
Duckworth, Angela, "Angela Duckworth on Grit and the Power of Perseverance," On Point, WBUR, May 2, 2016.
Scelfo, Julie, "Angela Duckworth on Passion, Grit and Success," New York Times, April 8, 2016.
Useem, Jerry, "Is Grit Overrated?" The Atlantic, May 2016.
Verdantam, Shankar, "The Power and Problem of Grit," Hidden Brain, NPR, April 5, 2016.