“It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.” –Babe Ruth
Today we will be talking about one of the most important character traits you can ever develop for life.
You need it, your kids need it, and you cannot be a great leader without it.
And we especially need it while facing the many challenges of the pandemic.
The BIG IDEA: Research shows that this trait—called Grit—predicts success in most areas of life.
Whether you are facing obstacles with your health, your work, your marriage, or your kids—consciously building more grit will undoubtedly help you succeed.
The ability to persist toward long-term meaningful goals is absolutely essential for strong personal leadership.
First weeks of graduate school
I will never forget what one of my professors told us during our first few weeks of graduate school.
“No one cares that you are getting your doctorate.”
The comment left the room of new graduate students—myself included—in stunned silence.
Although none of us were willing to admit we were getting a doctorate for egotistical reasons, his words still left us feeling deflated.
“And almost no one will ever read your dissertation, not even your parents.”
More deflation. Was this supposed to be motivating?
He went on to tell us that it would not be the smartest students who made it through graduate school or completed a dissertation.
I am living proof of that.
He warned us that trying to make your dissertation your life’s work, by perfecting every detail—or being sensitive to all the feedback we would get—was not a good way to go through this process.
“Take the feedback—and do whatever you have to do to finish. It’s not about being smart, it’s about being persistent.”
I’ve never forgotten these words, and it has been tremendously helpful for me to remember I don’t have to be the smartest to succeed in most areas of life.
Although he told me this almost 20 years ago, an overwhelming amount of recent psychology research proves this to be true.
Research at WestPoint
WestPoint is considered by many to be harder to get into—and get through—than Harvard.
Aside from intellectual test scores, candidates must meet rigorous physical standards, and are even required to get a nomination from a member of Congress—or the President!
For years, military psychologists had been trying to predict which traits would make someone successful at WestPoint.
They came up with a global score—based on a combination of physical and intellectual tests, standardized tests, personality assessments, and evaluations of leadership potential.
But the global score failed to predict who would succeed or drop out of WestPoint.
Enter Angela Duckworth.
Duckworth—a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania—sought to answer an important question: What is the psychological makeup of the most successful people?
She wanted to answer this question for people in any field—from artists to entrepreneurs.
I highly recommend her bestselling book, appropriately titled—Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.
Duckworth analyzed data from over 10 years and more than 11,000 WestPoint cadets, in an attempt to isolate the psychological traits that the most successful students had.
From this research, she created The Grit Scale, which proved to be the most accurate predictor of who would succeed at WestPoint.
She went on to test The Grit Scale in other environments such as timeshare sales—an industry where people are crushed by rejection on a daily basis. Only those with extreme persistence will last in a field like this.
Once again, her scale accurately predicted those who would be successful in selling timeshares.
So, what exactly is Grit?
Duckworth defines Grit as “perseverance and passion for long-term (meaningful) goals.”
Meaningful because you are more likely to persist at something you think is really important.
It’s not enough to have grit for just anything, gritty people have “determination and direction,” says Duckworth.
When gritty people face obstacles or setbacks, they pick themselves up and keep fighting to reach their goal.
You can see why this quality is a vital life skill that most of us could use more of.
In my experience, a rewarding life is made up of primarily long-term challenging goals. And without grit—we are unlikely to be either happy or successful.
Our culture and media love to sensationalize instant success and instant gratification, but that just isn’t the way that real success (or joy) happens.
I used to get annoyed when I talked with people from prior generations who felt that qualities like discipline and persistence were increasingly absent in younger generations. But I now see that many of our modern comforts and conveniences work against the development of grit.
Grit is exceedingly rare in our “quick fix” culture.
The great news is that even if you weren’t born with grit, research shows that you can grow it.
I’m glad you asked.
Turn information into action—How to grow grit
- Pursue goals with a higher purpose. Explore lots of things until you have a sense of what matters to you. You will be more likely to stick with goals with a purpose, or goals that you feel will positively impact the world.
- Change your internal story. The stories we tell ourselves matter. What really helped me was reading all this research and eventually telling myself that the goal itself wasn’t actually the goal. The higher purpose was picking goals that would make me a gritty person (which generally means failing a lot or having to persist for a very long time—not very much fun, but immensely valuable as a life skill). And that growing the quality of grit is what would ultimately help me reach more important goals in the future. You have to begin with the belief that developing grit is vitally important for your life.
- Never stop improving. We are more likely to pursue things we are good at, but getting good takes time. True experts learn to enjoy the painful experience of illuminating and improving their weaknesses. Just because you have been doing something for a long time, doesn’t mean you are an expert. I always wince when potential candidates seem to overvalue their years of experience in a job interview, because it just isn’t a good predictor of true mastery. You might just be strengthening bad habits over time! Click this link to learn more about deliberate practice.
- Surround yourself with gritty people. As John Maxwell says, the first law of leadership is—people do what people see. If you were not blessed with great role models for grit, you need to grab some good books, search out a mentor, or join some gritty groups of people! We become who we look at and who we hang out with. Research indisputably supports this.
- Make it a high priority to teach grit to your kids. My wife and I are huge fans of the Love and Logic parenting curriculum (I have no affiliation). A central tenet of Love and Logic is that “confidence only comes through struggle.” The optimal struggle should be appropriately challenging while not impossible for your child. Offer a “facilitated struggle” whereby you allow them to struggle with tying their shoes or riding a bike, but don’t offer so much support that they never internalize the ability to persist through difficult tasks. They need this skill to be a successful adult.
Have a great weekend!
*If you have enjoyed Parker’s blog, check out The Next Peak Podcast that Parker co-hosts. We interview successful leaders and discuss research-based principles that help people win in the workplace without compromising the things that matter most—relationships, a life of purpose, and health.
- Grit—by Angela Duckworth, Ph.D.
- Duckworth’s Grit Scale https://angeladuckworth.com/grit-scale/