Is Grit the Key to Success?

Orange sign with white letters reading "got grit?"Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth is a psychologist and a 2013 recipient of the MacArhthur Fellowship. Her work focuses on traits that predict achievement. In order to study this, she went to many different places and studied predictors of success in different contexts. For example, she went to the West Point Military Academy and tried to predict which cadets would stay in the rigorous training program and which would drop out. She also went to the National Spelling Bee and tried to predict which students would advance furthest in the competition. Then, she looked at teachers in tough schools to try and see which teachers would still be there at the end of the academic year. Finally, she partnered with private companies to look at salespeople to track not only who would keep their jobs but also generate the most money for the company.

In all of these different settings, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success – grit. Intelligence and talent are often thought of as the best predictors for success; however, it turns out that doing well not only in school but in life depends on much more than your ability to learn quickly and easily. IQ, social intelligence, attractiveness and even physical health were not as predictive of success as grit.

But, what is grit? The essence of grit can be subjective, but it essentially means being a hard-worker and never giving up. According to Duckworth in her TED talk, “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina and living life like it’s a marathon not a sprint.”

Robin Koval, author of the book “Grit to Great” was asked for a tip on how to cultivate grit even as you get older. She suggests that you plan on living to 100 years old. Write down your goals for each five or ten-year milestone. See how much you want to accomplish for the next 25, 35, or even 45 years.

While this tip is nice in theory, in actuality, very little research has been done about how you can successfully build grit. This is a popular topic amongst parents hoping to instill grit in their children. The best idea seems to be the idea of a “growth mindset” as put forth by a psychologist named Dr. Carol Dweck. She put forth the idea of two mindsets — fixed and growth. In a fixed mindset, people believe basic qualities like intelligence or talent are fixed traits. In a growth mindset people believe that basic qualities like inborn intelligence or talent are just the starting point and can be developed further through dedication and hard work. The growth mindset viewpoint reflects an attitude toward learning, possibly failing and then persevering with resilience. If nothing else, these mindsets are a reminder not to rest on past laurels.

As a research scientist, you are probably well-versed on grit. A lot of research is about keeping on through monotony, drudgery and failed experiments. Have you ever wondered how gritty you are compared to others?

How much grit do you have? Take this test to find out!

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