Grit: The secret sauce of success
Find out what grit is, how it can help you…and then take the test!
Angela Lee Duckworth is a psychologist. However, she started off her career as a business consultant. She studied at an Ivy League college in the US, took a scholarship to Cambridge University in the UK, and then joined a large consulting firm to start her working career. At the age of 30 Duckworth returned to academic study in psychology. She characterises her first 10 years of study and work as a pursuit of many different goals.
In a TEDx talk, Duckworth compares herself to a speedboat going first in one direction, then another, and then another. The speedboat might get places quickly, but it never actually gets anywhere in particular. She argues that while she saw considerable success, she was not on a path to achieving any specific long-term goal.
Duckworth’s work is uniquely related to her own journey. She studies the notion of grit, which she defines as ‘perseverance and passion for long term goals’. Grit overlaps somewhat with many related concepts such as perseverance, resilience and ambition. Tutors can apply the notion of grit with their students, aiming to increase their perseverance and passion, and help them understand what it means to be ‘gritty’.
Grit is important because Duckworth has been able to link ‘grittiness’ to performance in a range of areas. She developed a ‘grit scale’ and applied it to different groups of people. She found that scoring highly on the ‘grit scale’ predicted:
- A higher grade point average in college students
- Retention in a military cadet programme in the US
- Better performance in a spelling bee
Duckworth argues firstly that the grit scale is a useful measure of the concept of grit. Secondly, she argues that grit, in turn, enables people to persevere in pursuing a goal over an extended period of time, despite obstacles and challenges.
I advise our tutors to use a concept like grit to help people explore their personality, and think about how they like to approach various tasks. Grit is also related to age, with people becoming more ‘gritty’, the older they get. Duckworth and colleagues suggest that a desire for novelty and a low threshold for frustration may be good for young people, who will move on from dead end pursuits, and discover more promising paths. However, they point out that excellence takes time, and that ‘discovery must at some point give way to development’ (Duckworth et al, 2007, p. 1092).
 Duckworth, A.L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M.D., & Kelly, D.R. (2007). “Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92 (6), p. 1087.