When Angela Duckworth started teaching Grade 7 maths, she realised that IQ was not a reliable predictor of who would be her best and worst students. In fact, some of her strongest performers did not have stratospheric IQ scores. Equally, some of her smartest kids weren’t doing so well. Duckworth was convinced that each of her students could learn the material if they worked hard and long enough.
After several years of teaching, she came to the conclusion that a much better understanding of students and learning is required from a motivational and psychological perspective. In education, we know how to measure IQ, but what if doing well in school and in life depends on much more than your ability to learn quickly and easily?
Identifying the success factor
So, Duckworth left the classroom and went to graduate school to become a psychologist. She started studying kids and adults in all kinds of super challenging settings, and in every study her question was, who is successful here and why? Her research team went to West Point Military Academy and tried to predict which cadets would stay in military training and which would drop out. They went to the National Spelling Bee and tried to predict which children would advance furthest in competition.
They studied rookie teachers working in tough neighbourhoods, asking which teachers were still going to be there by the end of the school year, and who would be the most effective at improving their students’ learning outcomes. They partnered with private companies, asking, which of their sales people would keep their jobs? And who would earn the most money?
In all those different contexts, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success, and it wasn’t social intelligence. It wasn’t good looks, physical health, and it wasn’t IQ. It was grit.
What is 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 hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
“To me, the most shocking thing about grit is how little we know, how little science knows, about building it,” says Duckworth. “I do know that talent doesn’t make you gritty. Our data show that many talented individuals do not follow through on their commitments and that grit is usually unrelated or even inversely related to measures of talent.
“So far, the best idea I’ve heard about building grit in kids is something called ‘growth mindset’. This is an idea developed at Stanford University by Carol Dweck, and it is the belief that the ability to learn is not fixed, that it can change with your effort. Dr. Dweck has shown that when kids read and learn about the brain and how it changes and grows in response to challenge, they’re more likely to persevere when they fail, because they don’t believe that failure is permanent.”
Angela Lee Duckworth is based at the University of Pennsylvania, where she studies concepts such as self-control and grit to determine how they might predict academic and professional success.
Learning to Win
“You cannot win the game by simply participating.
You cannot win the game by simply showing up.
You cannot win the game when you are obsessed with what others are doing.
You cannot win the game by simply reading the instructions.
But here’s the thing…
Participating counts. Showing up counts. An awareness of what others are doing counts.
Reading the instructions counts. In isolation our actions mean little. But when you weave them all together, something magical happens. Winners weave.” — Erik Kruger (Personal Development & Leadership Coach and Speaker)