What makes people successful — Talent? High IQ? Money? Luck? Genes?
All those things help, but the true driver of success is grit.
At least, that’s the opinion of Angela Duckworth, a psychology professor who’s been studying it for years. She defines grit as a combination of unshakeable motivation, persistence and determination. Simply put, it’s sticking with it. Never giving up, even when it gets hard.
Duckworth has done tons of testing with students and teachers, adults and kids. She’s even written a book about it. Unfailingly, whether in school, work or life, it turns out high performance is most closely tied to high levels of grit.
The U.S. Military Academy at West Point is a one of her many believers. For most of its existence, it failed miserably at determining which cadets would endure their first 7 weeks — the infamous “Beast Barracks” — and which would pack it in. SAT scores, high school rank, physical fitness, leadership potential — nothing predicted success. That is, until Duckworth first administered her Grit Scale Test. The cadets who dropped out that year scored as well as their peers on everything but the Grit Scale.
This is great news for those of us who may not feel we’re the genius at the conference table or who don’t have an advanced degree from a top university hanging on the office wall. Talent and smarts matter, but so do believing strongly in what you’re doing and keeping at it despite setbacks.
Can you get grittier if you’re not hard-wired that way? Probably. Here are some ways to try:
• Develop a growth mindset. It’s a concept developed by Carol Dweck that says our ability to learn isn’t fixed. In fact, our brain grows in response to challenge. The key is believing failure isn’t a permanent condition.
• Be willing to fail. Take time to evaluate why, then start over with the lessons learned. (Note to helicopter parents: All of us, including our kids, need to be allowed to fail rather than protected from it. You might need to back off so your child can develop grit.)
• Try some online exercises like this one.
• Be patient. There’s not much grit involved in something that’s easy. Sticking with something by its very nature means there are stops and starts. It’ll take time. As Duckworth says, “Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”