Grit is the character trait of the moment. This four-letter word has singlehandedly been brought into the mainstream by University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Angela Lee Duckworth, PhD, who gave a 2013 TED talk on grit (nearly 8.5 million views and rising), won a 2013 MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant for her work, and is the author of the best-selling (and extremely inspiring) book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.
In her research, Duckworth has studied certain groups of people, such as first-year cadets at West Point, competitors in the National Spelling Bee, public high-school students in Chicago, and Green Berets—all of them are in high-pressure situations that cause many participants to drop out. She wanted to find out what characteristic was shared by those who managed to make it through and succeed. The answer was grit. So what exactly is grit? The definition is in her book’s subtitle: it’s a combo of passion and perseverance.
Duckworth has stressed that both of these qualities are equally essential. “I think the misunderstanding . . . is that it’s only the perseverance part that matters,” Duckworth told the Science of Us. “But I think that the passion piece is at least as important. I mean, if you are really, really tenacious and dogged about a goal that’s not meaningful to you, and not interesting to you—then that’s just drudgery.”
To find out if you have grit, below are three statements to pose to yourself. For each one, determine which description—Not Like Me at All, Not Much Like Me, Somewhat Like Me, Mostly Like Me, or Very Much Like Me—is the most accurate.
1. New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones.
2. Setbacks don’t discourage me. I don’t give up easily.
3. I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one
People with high levels of grit typically answer “Not Like Me at All” for questions 1 and 3, and “Very Much Like Me” for question 2. (These questions are only part of Duckworth’s 10-question Grit Scale. You can take the entire scale here and find out what your grit score is.)
And if you came up a little bit low on grit, you can do something about it—that’s what’s empowering about Duckworth’s work. Anyone can strengthen their grit, Duckworth believes. Since grit has two components (passion and perseverance), it’s possible you haven’t found something you’re truly excited about. In that case, there are four steps you can take: 1) Look at all of your interests, and identify your passion (or passions); 2) devote time to pursuing it; 3) define the big-picture goal or purpose that lies behind your passion; and 4) get help from other people when you face roadblocks in your pursuit.
To develop perseverance, Duckworth and her family (she has a husband and two daughters) have adopted a great practice they call “The Hard Thing Rule.” It has three parts: Every member of the family must do a hard thing, which Duckworth defines as an activity that requires daily deliberate practice, like yoga, running, or playing an instrument; you’re permitted to quit but not on a whim and only at a “natural” stopping point, like the season is over or your membership expires; and you pick your own hard thing to pursue rather than follow what someone else thinks you should do.
“Following through on our commitments . . . both requires grit and, at the same time, builds it,” explains Duckworth in her book. As you do your Hard Thing day after day, you’ll attain mastery because you will get better at it but you’ll also find experience adversity—whether it’s bad performances, bad games, bad moods, bad weather, bad grades, bad days.
And every time you encounter adversity—and you will—try to learn from it. After a setback, the gritty people whom Duckworth interviewed all ask themselves: “What could I have done differently? What could I have done better?” Then, they use this information to alter their approach. “When you keep searching for ways to change your situation for the better, you stand a chance of finding them,” writes Duckworth in her book. “When you stop searching, assuming they can’t be found, you guarantee they won’t.”
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sign up for knitting lessons.
Courtesy of Scribner