In this blog post, I want to explain the concept of GRIT in more detail and the important implications it has for us as parents in how we can support our children to become successful in their lives. But before I go into more detail about how it can help, let’s have a look at this concept and where it originated.
Grit = Passion & Perseverance For Long-Term Goals
The term GRIT was coined by Dr. Angela Duckworth, a psychology professor from the University of Pennsylvania, and she defined it as “passion and perseverance for long-term goals”.
GRIT is a reaction to one of the bigger misconceptions we still have in society, i.e. the belief that excellence and success are grounded in a person’s intelligence and talent.
Intelligence Is (Not) Important For Success?
Traditionally, it was assumed that intelligence (as in IQ) is one of the most important predictors in determining a person’s future success. Over time, however, more and more people have caught on to the fact that this might not be the whole truth.
Especially parents are generally more aware of this, as they experience it first-hand. They know that intelligence is just one variable in how “successful” their children are going to be. But in the past, there was no (scientific) proof that intelligence is not as important for success as we are made to believe. We had to rely on personal assumptions, observations and beliefs.
GRIT (Predicts) Future Success
With her research on GRIT, Dr. Angela Duckworth was able to show that intelligence and talent are helpful, but that another combination of factors can actually serve as a much more reliable predictor of a person’s (FUTURE) success.
She discovered that there are two factors that hold far more weight than intelligence or talent, which she called GRIT. She defined GRIT as the combination of “passion and perseverance for long-term goals”.
Where Does GRIT Come From?
To understand GRIT better and the impact it can have on your children’s future, it helps to know where it originated.
During her tenure as a U.S. middle school teacher, Dr. Angela Duckworth decided to look closer into this misconception when she noticed that the students with the highest IQ and best test scores were not always the best performers and the students who were the best performers were not always the ones with the highest IQ and best test scores.
She was sure that it had something to do with the students’ motivation and wanted to get to the bottom of this. She went back to study psychology at university and did numerous studies with participants in a variety of high-performance environments to figure out what exactly it was that made some of us more successful than others.
Dr. Angela Duckworth proved that the most reliable predictor of a person’s future success is their level of GRIT. Intelligence, talent or other factors were not.
She went back to high school to test if her findings could also serve as an answer to the question that originally got her started on this journey. She wanted to find out if GRIT could predict which students in a year group would later graduate and which students would not. The results were the same, GRIT was the only reliable predictor, all other factors that she examined, like a student’s intelligence, demographics, test scores or grades, were not.
Unfortunately, the traditional view that talent and intelligence matter most persists in the educational systems around the world. The majority of students are still separated by their level of “academic intelligence” and their (future) success is judged by standardized test scores and the grades they achieve.
And despite this, by having the knowledge of what really matters, parents can have a huge impact on their children’s development.
Combining Passion & Perseverance
In order to fully understand GRIT, you need to know two important details about this concept:
Effort Counts Twice
Dr. Angela Duckworth’s research was not about finding the one variable that predicts “everything” but about working on the common misconception and understanding that intelligence and talent are the most important variables in the success equation.
Her research shows that effort plays a major role in what even talented people can achieve. She found this particularly true while interviewing some of the most successful personalities of our time for her studies. In achieving excellence, she found another formula to be predictive for success:
Talent x Effort = Skill
Skill x Effort = Achievement
Talent is the basis, but you need to invest effort to develop skills. And once you have developed (outstanding) skills, you need to invest even more effort, which over time then transforms your (outstanding) skills into (outstanding) achievement. Effort counts twice.
This is essential to keep in mind because we vastly underestimate how much effort, deliberate practice and time-on-task really determine ultimate performance.
If you want to summarize the finding about GRIT in one sentence, it would probably sound something like this:
“To achieve excellence, you want to look for the perfect combination, i.e. to have talent in something that plays to your innate abilities and strengths and that you are passionate about,and then to invest your time and effort into getting better at it.”
Advice For Parents
There are four pieces of advice that can help parents in applying this concept with their children:
What Is “Passion”?
The question that remains, and something for which Dr.Angela Duckworth does not provide an answer, because this was not part of her research, is how we can find our “passion(s)” or know what we are “passionate” about.
The late Sir Ken Robinson, a creativity expert and the author of the most viewed TED-Talk of all time “Do Schools Kill Creativity” gives interesting insights and advice on how to find an answer to this question. But this will be the topic of another blog post.
Duckworth, A. (2017). Grit: Why passion and resilience are the secrets to success. London: Vermilion.