As I watched the Olympics this Summer and witnessed the amazing performances, I was reminded of a talk I attended (pre-pandemic) on the science of grit by psychologist Angela Duckworth. Whether it is athletic ability at the Olympics, a master musician in an orchestra or a prima ballerina performing, it is inspiring watching people reach this level of excellence. Is it purely talent? Or is there something else in the recipe for this level of achievement?

Angela Duckworth argues that talent is not enough. People that reach the highest levels of excellence tend to have a high level of grit. She defines grit as “passion and perseverance – particularly for long-term goals”. In her talk, she gave many examples of grit in all fields – performers, athletes, businesspeople, etc. In her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, she provides more background on her research, many examples and gives a guideline of what grit is and how it can grow over a lifetime.

Two-part Formula for Grit

Her powerful discovery is that the secret to achievement and purpose in life is not pure talent – that is simply unmet potential when not combined with effort and perseverance. The bottom line of her research is found in her formula for grit. Her two-part formula is:

Talent + Effort = Skill

Skill + Effort = Achievement

Effort counts twice as much as any natural talent we may have or skill we develop. Without sustained effort, full potential will not be reached. In various studies and settings, grit was the determining factor in success.

The Four Stages of Grit

  • Interest is crucial as a starting place for finding a passion. Interest permits and encourages you to persevere and put in the necessary work to excel. Passions do not come fully developed. We normally try lots of things until we stumble into something that truly sparks our interest.
  • Practice is the next step in taking that interest and pushing to be a little better every day. She mentions “deliberate practice” in the book or setting stretch goals every day for continual improvement.
  • Purpose comes next, which is when the passion shifts from being self-focused to other-focused. As you come to see your work as a calling, your perspective and purpose have changed. With your focus more on making the world a better place, you’ve likely reached true purpose in your work.
  • Hope is the last element she mentions. Hope is described as having a growth mindset and a sense of optimism. A growth mindset assumes that we are not stuck in our current condition – we can improve and grow. If we get knocked down, we get right back up and try again.

The Grit Scale

If you’re curious how “gritty” you are, Angela includes a Grit Scale on her website. It is important to note that grit can grow over time. Here are a few suggestions she offers for creating this growth:

  • Cultivate interests
  • Daily habits of deliberate practice or “do the hard thing”
  • Connect to a purpose beyond yourself
  • Have hope in face of challenges or adversity

The science behind the psychology of grit is fascinating and I highly recommend reading her book. If reading long books on psychological research is not your idea of a good time, check out her Ted Talk or this Freakonomics Podcast on Grit.

As always, we are here for you. Please email or call if you want to set up a Zoom videoconference meeting or talk by phone.

Mary McCraw, CFP®

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