Angela Duckworth [ website ][ wikipedia ] is a psychologist, popular science author and at the time of writing this article, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

The book’s premise is that in achieving success, grit is more important than natural talent.

1. The grit scale

Developed by the book author, this test was given to the following institutions:

1.1. West Point US Military Academy across 2 years, where every year, out of 14.000 initial applicants, only 960 graduate

1.2. A vacation time-share company

1.3. The Chicago public school system, applied to a few thousand teenagers

In all cases, after revisiting the institutions months later, those who scored higher on the Grit Test were more likely to graduate, promote, succeed.

Grit predicted who stayed and who left.

2. Developing grit

2.1. Success is the accumulation of many small daily tasks put together over a large period of time.

Getting out the door by eight a.m. is a low-level goal. It only matters because of a mid-level goal: arriving at work on time. Why do you care about that? Because you want to be punctual. Why do you care about that? Because being punctual shows respect for the people with whom you work. Why is that important? Because you strive to be a good leader.

When you think in terms of big goals, you start organizing you small daily routines around reaching those goals.

In very gritty people, most mid-level and low-level goals are, in some way or another, related to that ultimate goal. In contrast, a lack of grit can come from having less coherent goal structures.

Take for example Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Tom Seaver

Pitching . . . determines what I eat, when I go to bed, what I do when I’m awake. It determines how I spend my life when I’m not pitching. If it means I have to come to Florida and can’t get tanned because I might get a burn that would keep me from throwing for a few days, then I never go shirtless in the sun. . . . If it means I have to remind myself to pet dogs with my left hand or throw logs on the fire with my left hand, then I do that, too. If it means in the winter I eat cottage cheese instead of chocolate chip cookies in order to keep my weight down, then I eat cottage cheese. The life Seaver described sounds grim. But that’s not how Seaver saw things: “Pitching is what makes me happy. I’ve devoted my life to it. . . . I’ve made up my mind what I want to do. I’m happy when I pitch well so I only do things that help me be happy.”

2.2. Warren Buffet’s 3 steps

2.2.1. Write down a list of twenty-five career goals.

2.2.2. Circle the five highest-priority goals. Just five.

2.2.3. Take a good hard look at the twenty goals you didn’t circle. These you avoid at all costs. They’re what distract you; they eat away time and energy, taking your eye from the goals that matter more.

When compiling this list, some goals might be inadvertently linked to one another

Then I tried to take Buffett’s advice and circle just a few of the most interesting and important goals, relegating the rest to the avoid-at-all-cost category. I tried, but I just couldn’t do it. After a day or so of wondering who was right—me or Warren Buffett—I realized that a lot of my goals were, in fact, related to one another. The majority, in fact, were means to ends, setting me up to make progress toward one ultimate goal: helping kids achieve and thrive. There were only a few professional goals for which this wasn’t true. Reluctantly, I decided to put those on the avoid-at-all-cost list.

Now, if I could ever sit down with Buffett and go through my list with him (which is unlikely, since I doubt my needs rate a place in his goal hierarchy), he would surely tell me that the point of this exercise is to face the fact that time and energy are limited.

The point of this exercise is to face the fact that time and energy are limited.

to Buffett’s three-step exercise in prioritizing, I would add an additional step: Ask yourself, To what extent do these goals serve a common purpose?

2.3. Peer pressure

If you want to be grittier, find a gritty culture and join it. Or create it.

“When I started studying Olympians, I thought, ‘What kind of oddball gets up every day at four in the morning to go to swimming practice?’ I thought, ‘These must be extraordinary people to do that sort of thing.’ But the thing is, when you go to a place where basically everybody you know is getting up at four in the morning to go to practice, that’s just what you do. It’s no big deal. It becomes a habit.”

2.4. Deliberate practice and setting goals

This is how experts practice: First, they set a stretch goal, zeroing in on just one narrow aspect of their overall performance. Rather than focus on what they already do well, experts strive to improve specific weaknesses.

“At every practice, I would try to beat myself. If my coach gave me ten 100s one day and asked me to hold 1:15, then the next day when he gave me ten 100s, I’d try to hold 1:14.” - Olympic gold medal swimmer Rowdy Gaines

Deliberate practice predicted advancing to further rounds in final competition far better than any other kind of preparation.

The roots of knowledge are bitter, but its fruits are sweet.

2.4.1. Requirements of deliberate practice:

A clearly defined stretch goal

Focus on weaknesses

Immediate and informative feedback

Repetition with reflection and refinement

2.5. Make it a habit.

Eventually, if you keep practicing in the same time and place, what once took conscious thought to initiate becomes automatic.

3. Job < Career < Calling

Consider the parable of the bricklayers: Three bricklayers are asked: “What are you doing?” The first says, “I am laying bricks.” The second says, “I am building a church.” And the third says, “I am building the house of God.” The first bricklayer has a job. The second has a career. The third has a calling.

Aurora and Franco, cleaning bathrooms as a calling

I confessed to Aurora and Franco that it was hard for me to imagine how cleaning bathrooms—or even building a multimillion-dollar corporation that cleans bathrooms—could feel like a calling. “It’s not about the cleaning,” Aurora explained, her voice tightening with emotion. “It’s about building something. It’s about our clients and solving their problems. Most of all, it’s about the incredible people we employ—they have the biggest souls, and we feel a huge responsibility toward them.”

Kat, from waitress to manager, just to see if she could do it

One time early in Kat’s waitressing days at Hooters, the cooks quit in the middle of their shift. “So,” she told me matter-of-factly, “I went back with the manager and helped cook the food so all the tables got served.” Why? “First of all, I was surviving off tips. That’s how I paid my bills. If people didn’t get their food, they wouldn’t pay their check, and they certainly wouldn’t leave a tip. Second, I was so curious to see if I could do it. And third, I wanted to be helpful.”

4. Pain you can control - a mindset experiment on dogs

Marty Seligman and Steve Maier are in a windowless laboratory, watching a caged dog receive electric shocks to its back paws.

The shocks come randomly

In one cage, the dogs can stop the shock by pushing a pannel with its nose.

In a separate cage, the dogs are receiving shocks without any possibility of stopping these.

The next day, each dog is placed in a box with walls just high enough so they can jump these, if they try. A high-pitched tone is played.

Almost all dogs who had control over the shocks learn to jump over the barrier to escape the tone.

Only a third of the dogs who had no control over the shocks learn to jump over the barrier.

It isn’t suffering that leads to hopelessness. It’s suffering you think you can’t control.

If you’re a pessimist, you might say, I screw up everything. Or: I’m a loser. These explanations are all permanent

If, on the other hand, you’re an optimist, you might say, I mismanaged my time. Or: I didn’t work efficiently because of distractions. These explanations are all temporary and specific

When you keep searching for ways to change your situation for the better, you stand a chance of finding them.

When you stop searching, assuming they can’t be found, you guarantee they won’t.

5. Raising grit in children

In studies done on American teens, those with warm, respectful, and demanding parents earned higher grades in school, were more self-reliant, suffered from less anxiety and depression, and were less likely to engage in delinquent behavior.

Overdosing on extracurriculars is pretty rare

The average American teenager reports spending more than three hours a day watching television and playing video games.

It’s hard to argue that time can’t be spared for the chess club or the school play, or just about any other structured, skill-focused, adult-guided activity

Research by Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam and his collaborators reveals that affluent American high school students have been participating in extracurricular activities at consistently high rates for the past few decades. In contrast, participation among poor students has been dropping precipitously.

6. Final thoughts on developing grit

You can grow your grit “from the inside out” by

  • cultivating interests
  • developing a habit of daily challenge-exceeding-skill practice
  • connecting work to a purpose beyond onesself

You can also grow your grit “from the outside in” with the help of:

  • parents
  • coaches
  • teachers
  • bosses
  • mentors
  • friends

On happiness

Success — whether measured by who wins the National Spelling Bee, makes it through West Point, or leads the division in annual sales—is not the only thing you care about. Surely, you also want to be happy. And while happiness and success are related, they’re not identical.