A Google image search for grit returns numerous pictures of people doing what could be termed ‘really hard things’. This is not surprising as gritty behaviour is frequently linked with action and adventure sports—like Danny Way jumping over the Great Wall of China just 24 hours after suffering an ankle fracture and torn ACL in a practice run.
However, you don’t have to be an elite athlete or born gifted to be a high performer. Although our genes do play a role studies suggest that our experiences are just as important. This is especially true when it comes to the rate of skill development. For instance, good coaching in a supportive environment can significantly enhance learning and performance outcomes.
People high in grit can maintain steadfast focus on a high-level goal over considerable time despite challenges, setbacks and failure. They learn from their experiences (good and bad) and strive to continually improve. Angela Duckworth, a leading researcher and author, suggests grit has two components: passion and perseverance.
Passion can be overlooked when considering gritty behaviour, perhaps because grit is synonymous with persistence, determination, tenacity, etc. However, passion is important as it facilitates perseverance. When our goals are interesting and purposeful then it’s much easier to keep going when things get tough. And passion in the context of grit is about consistency over time.
“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”
Perseverance is the more familiar component of grit. To illustrate, most of us can quickly conjure up a vivid image of perseverance. It may be our favourite sports team winning a competition or an inspirational individual who has overcome the odds and achieved something amazing. Right now, I’m enjoying watching Ninja Warrior. Many of the competitors have overcome significant obstacles and have (or vow to) come back stronger each time.
Several studies have indicated that grit trumps talent and luck when it comes to achievement. It’s also important for people in leadership roles. In my own research involving 100 leaders it was shown that higher levels of grit increased a leader’s capacity for positive leadership.
This is great news for those of us who may not have excelled at school or didn’t know what we wanted to be when we grew up (aside from princesses and super heroes!).
It also explains why the backstories of successful people often include years of toughing it out and failure before clarifying and achieving their goals. These people were often seen as the underdog and set out to prove people wrong.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
How Can You Develop Grit?
Duckworth suggests there are four psychological assets that can help you develop grit: interest, practice, purpose, and hope. In my next two blog posts, I’m going to explore these psychological assets in more detail. In the meantime, here is a quick overview.
Interest and purpose can help you to develop passion.
Passion starts with developing an interest. If this interest is (or becomes) important and provides a sense of purpose then we’re more likely to stay focused. This process can take some time. For instance, we may need to experiment with several interests before finding one or two that become purposeful.
Practice and hope can help you develop perseverance.
Maintaining focus on a high-level goal over considerable time can be really hard. This is where practice and hope come into play. Mastering your passion requires many hours of deliberate practice. You’ll also need lots of hope: the kind that centres on the will and the pathways to achievement.