This month for our book club, we read Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. Duckworth is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and has spent years researching the concept of grit.
Grit is the culmination of Duckworth’s research. In the book, she outlines why grit is so important, how grit can be increased, and how to boost grit in those around you. Her conclusions are backed by many examples and details from the various studies she and her team have conducted.
This book has less practical advice than some of the previous books we’ve read this year. However, I think because grit is a trait that can apply to such a wide range of activities and skills, it’s difficult to provide universal advice.
The research Duckworth shares is from a broad range of topics, so it was interesting to see how grit can apply in so many different areas of life. Her passion and dedication to the subject was clear throughout.
Now that you’ve got an overview of the book, let’s jump in to our three key takeaways from Grit.
1) Passion + Persistence = Grit
What exactly is “grit?” Duckworth describes grit as the intersection of sustained passion and persistence. Passion that is fleeting or persistence towards something that doesn’t really matter to you or align with your goals doesn’t really qualify as grit.
“What I mean by passion is not just that you have something you care about. What I mean is that you care about that same ultimate goal in an abiding, loyal, steady way. You are not capricious. Each day, you wake up thinking of the questions you fell asleep thinking about. You are, in a sense, pointing in the same direction, ever eager to take even the smallest step forward than to take a step to the side, toward some other destination. At the extreme, one might call your focus obsessive. Most of your actions derive their significance from their allegiance to your ultimate concern, your life philosophy. You have your priorities in order.”
In short, passion means you prioritize your actions so that they line up with your life philosophy/high level goal. You don’t get bogged down in minor goals that don’t contribute toward your higher goal or change your focus every few months.
If you don’t feel like you have a passion as described above by Duckworth, don’t panic. It can take time to find that passion. It typically doesn’t just appear one day and most people who find their passion explore many interests before settling down on one thing.
Grit also means that once you find what truly matters to you, you don’t give up. The book shares examples of a cartoonist with thousands of rejections before he started working for the New Yorker, Super Bowl winning coach of the Seattle Seahawks Pete Carroll, and National Spelling Bee winners. People from all walks of life and at all stages of life can be gritty.
Want to know how gritty you are? You can complete the Grit Scale that Duckworth used in much of her research here at her website and test your own grit.
2) Grit predicts success
Over the course of Duckworth’s research, she found many areas where grit is the biggest predictor of success. Whether it’s which West Point cadets make it through training, which high school students succeed in college, or which elite athletes go on to win, grit seems to be the key factor that separates the good from the great.
In many cases, we assume that those with the highest test scores or the earliest signs of talent will be the most successful. And many times, those people are successful to an extent. But in the end, what mattered the most was grit.
The one to win the gold medal isn’t the one who started swimming at the age of 2, but the one who got in the pool day after day and never gave up. The one who goes on to get a PhD isn’t always the student who got perfect SAT scores, but the one who is willing to study harder for as long as it takes.
“Without effort, your talent is nothing more than your unmet potential. Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could have done, but didn’t. With effort, talent becomes skill and, at the very same time, effort makes skill productive.”
3) Grit Grows
If you lack grit, the good news is that grit can grow. In fact, Duckworth found that it typically grows as we age. We mature and gain experience that helps us grow grittier. But there are also ways you can deliberately set out to increase your grit level.
Grit develops by first finding your interest, then practicing to improve in that area. Next, your interest grows into purpose - using that interest in a way that helps others. Finally, Duckworth says that having hope at every step of the way is what keeps you moving forward.
I want to go a little deeper into the subject of practice. The book focuses on the idea of deliberate practice. Spending more hours on practice is certainly beneficial, but it’s not just about quantity. You may practice something every day, but unless you’re practicing specific weaknesses, you will eventually hit a plateau and stop improving.
Instead, focus on deliberate practice. The steps include:
1) Setting a stretch goal focused on a specific area of weakness
2) Work toward that goal with undivided attention
3) Seek immediate feedback on performance, especially looking for what went wrong
4) Finally, do it again and again until the goal has been mastered
Setting and meeting these goals over the course of time adds up to incredible mastery and skill.
Grit can also be contagious. Surrounding yourself with gritty people will help motivate you to be more gritty. You can find a gritty mentor to inspire you or someone who can push you to get better, like a coach. Teams and organizations that are gritty tend to attract other gritty people and motivate them to continue to get grittier.
Grit is an incredibly detailed look at how our fortitude impacts every area of life and is one of the biggest predictors of success. Backed by countless examples and years of research, it’s hard to argue with Duckworth’s conclusions.
The concept of grit puts your success in your hands. “It rests on the expectation that our own efforts can improve our future. I have a feeling tomorrow will be better is different than I resolve to make tomorrow better. The hope that gritty people have has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with getting up again.”
How gritty are you? Share your thoughts on the book and even your own grit score in the comments below.
Join us next month for our final book of the year. We’ll be reading Leading from the Front by Angie Morgan and Courtney Lynch.