Grit in common everyday language refers to the very small pieces of sand or stone found in air, food or water. In that context grit is an irritation. However, in psychology it is much more positive. In that case it relates to firmness of character or a tendency to keep going in spite of setbacks or failure. It is the tenacity to keep going no matter what. How much does grit matter in life? A lot.
The 6 minute TED talk below by Angela Duckworth opens up the question of how grit may well be the factor that distinguishes those who achieve and succeed in life with those who don’t.
We tend to assume that people succeed in life because of their natural giftedness or talent, their social intelligence or qualifications. But it is no way near as straight forward as that. I can think of a number of people who are talented and can do well academically in school, but then when the challenges in life became greater or more varied have struggled enormously. I have to confess that I too am one of those people.
Here is how Angela Duckworth in the video describes grit:
“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Defining grit is not easy. It is certainly helpful to break it down into passion and perseverance for long term goals. But it also includes a number of inter-related characteristics. Here is one extended definition I came across:
“Grit is a distinct combination of passion, resilience, determination, and focus that allows a person to maintain the discipline and optimism to persevere in their goals even in the face of discomfort, rejection and a lack of visible progress for years, even decades.”
There is a definite overlap with the growth mindset that Carol Dweck refers to (for more on that see here). Simply put a growth mindset means believing that your brain and skills are malleable and change over time. Much more common is a fixed mindset that believes you have what you were born with and that is it – you can’t change or develop. So when facing a problem or difficulty rather than self-judgement and just giving up because you believe you can’t do something, there is excitement and engagement. Simply changing your belief that learning is not fixed and can change with effort can lead to a different response to challenges. That means when attempting something and failing, you are much more likely to persevere because you don’t believe failure is a permanent condition. (See Never or Not Yet? On Having The Right Learning Mindset)
Here is a vivid picture of grit as described by Teddy Roosevelt in 1907:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strived valiantly; who errs, who comes again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
In a future post we will look at how grit can grow and develop.
For now what questions, thoughts and comments about grit do you have?
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