THE BLOG

The Gift Of Grit (With Gratitude To Angela Duckworth)

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When she was a school teacher, Angela Duckworth observed that some of her students performed better than would have been expected based on the results of their IQ test. She noted that they were motivated, passionate and persevered to achieve a goal in spite of difficulties,

Spurred on by her observations, she became a psychologist and devoted her studies to the subject of grit--a term that refers to an individual's effort, passion and perseverance in achieving a long term goal.
(Duckworth credits her predecessors, including William James, Erik Erikson, and Aristotle, who recognized the value of tenacity.)

Duckworth presented a TED talk, received a MacArthur fellowship in 2013, and her book , GRIT: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, was published this year. This New York Times best seller details her studies that extend from West Point Cadets to salespeople to students to show that grit supersedes IQ and the Big Five personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) in explaining who accomplishes their goals and derives satisfaction from their lives.

She concludes that aptitude tests can get a lot wrong and intelligence leaves a lot unexplained. Some smart people aren't high achievers, and some achieve a lot without having the highest test scores.

Unlike the relatively stable measure of IQ, grit isn't a fixed trait but, when nurtured like tomatoes in a well-tended garden, can flourish.

In other words, we can benefit (enhance human potential) by shifting the (educational) focus from IQ and talent to grit.

Duckworth suggests several ways to increase grit, first from the inside. Following your passion, practicing it, discovering purpose and maintaining hope all enhance grit. Ways to increase grit from the outside include:
1. Wise parenting--demanding performance within a supportive environment
2. Finding the playing fields of grit--activities that require discipline and offer support--such as ballet or marathon running.
3. Finding a gritty culture--a group of people that support grit. As an example, Duckworth quotes the psychologist, Dan Chambliss, who studied professional swimmers. "The real way to become a great swimmer is to join a great team."

In my experience, good-enough parents and psychotherapists know how to increase grit in others. It can be summed up simply in one sentence (rephrased from my blog of June 13, 2016). Simple in its dictim and highly intricate in its execution, the goal is to nurture with an open and curious mind and to avoid negative criticism, while homing in and encouraging the individual's interests and attributes.

We psychotherapists work to uncover the obstacles that interfere with a person's grit. For example, Ms. O. was raised in a well-meaning family that didn't understand a child's needs. She had passion for writing, but her parents demanded she earn a living. Tragically, the emotional pain of criticism and rejection caused her to turn to drug abuse. In a supportive psychotherapeutic relationship, she accessed her grit, learned how to stand up to her parents, stop drug use, pursue her writing career, and join a gritty writing group.

In summary, the passion and persistence of grit motivates and carries us over rough seas like a well-made surfboard. We can think of an absence of effort like a crack in our surfboard that needs repair.

Conclusion: Grit predicts performance better than IQ and talent.