When Angela Lee Duckworth, now a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, was 27 she left a high-flying job in consulting to teach math to seventh graders in a New York public school. She quickly realized that IQ wasn’t the only thing separating the successful students from those who struggled.
There were students with lower than average intelligence who performed well academically, and there were students with higher than average intelligence who performed poorly academically. Angela began to wonder what characteristic separated the top performers from the others.
Angela put together a research team and visited WestPoint Military Academy and examined which cadets would make it to graduation. They went to the National Spelling Bee and tried to guess which students would get the furthest in the competition. They studied rookie teachers working in really tough neighborhoods to see which would still be teaching at the end of the school year, and out of those who stayed who would be the most effective at increasing test scores. They also visited private companies, trying to see which salesmen would be the most successful. In all these different situations they asked the same question: “Who is successful here and why?”
One characteristic emerged as significant predictor of success. It wasn’t social intelligence, it wasn’t good looks, it wasn’t physical health, and it wasn’t IQ. It was grit.
Grit is passion and perseverance over long periods of time. It’s stamina. It’s sticking with your future- not for the week, not for the month but for years-and working really hard to make that future come about. As Angela says, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Talent doesn’t make you gritty. There are many talented individuals who do not follow through on their commitments. Research shows that grit is unrelated or even inversely related to measures of talent.
There is very little scientific study about grit or how to teach it. The best theory that exists is known as “growth mindset,” the belief that the ability to learn is not fixed, but can change with effort. When people learn about the brain and how it changes and grows in response to challenges, they are much more likely to persevere when they fail because they don’t believe failure is a permanent condition. They accept the failure, learn from it, and start again.
You’ve probably heard the quote credited to Thomas Edison, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” In order to succeed you have to be willing not only to fail but to also learn from those mistakes, even if that means admitting you were wrong. You have to persevere even when it seems like you’re fighting a losing battle. When you know that what you’re doing is worth it, you have to be willing to go outside your comfort zone and work hard even when you feel like giving up. In other words: you have to have grit.
Check out Angela’s TED Talk here: