This past week I had the opportunity to hear Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, speak about her wildly popular construct, grit. As Elsa summarized in a post back in 2013, grit is “passion and perseverance for very long term goals.” More importantly, her research indicates that people who have grit are more successful professionally and academically, and that having “grit” is more important than having mere high ability. In her talk at Teachers College, she discussed the nuances of this term and explained how it leads to success.
image from www.biggestjob.com
What is grit?
To understand what grit is, it is important to understand what it is NOT. It is NOT self-control, which is an important ability in momentary conflicts. Grit instead is the disposition to pursue challenging, long-term goals.
Grit involves stamina of both effort and interest. Gritty people persevere in the face of setbacks and obstacles and understand the importance of sustained hard work. However, they also have stamina of interests and passion: their interests are focused and stable. A gritty person will not abandon a goal in pursuit of something new and exciting.
This idea is not new. As Prof. Duckworth explained in her talk, Francis Galton and Charles Darwin were describing a similar thing back in the 1800s. As Darwin explained in a letter to Galton, “…I have always maintained that… men did not differ much in intellect, only in zeal and hard work…”
How does grit lead to achievement? 80% of success in life is showing up
Duckworth explains the relationship between grit and achievement using the formula:
Achievement = f (talent x effort)
She compares this to the formula for distance, (distance = speed x time), with the idea that some people learn things very quickly (speed or talent) but only through cumulative learning (time or effort) can knowledge be accumulated.
As can be seen in the slide I photographed during her talk, one’s skill at something is a function of deliberate practice, and around 10 years of this sort of practice is necessary to reach mastery levels.
Duckworth finds that people who are gritty do deliberate practice of their craft, which is characterized by:
- having a specific stretch goal
- concentrating 100%
- immediate, informative feedback
- practicing repetitively until fluency
In other words, experts know what they are working on, and they put on their blinders when working on it. Deliberate practice is often hard and rarely fun.
Future directions for this research include looking at various ways to build grit, investigating how social supports relate to grit, and determining whether communities can build a culture of grit.
I’d like to talk a bit more about this idea of grit, and what I like and don’t like about it over the next few weeks. For instance, when do you give up? How long should one doggedly pursue a singular goal if one’s effort are fruitless? Additionally, we should think about times when having a diversity of passion is useful, such as for creative endeavors.
Until next time…*