Grit: Turning Setbacks into Success
In 1869, the English anthropologist Francis Galton reported the findings from his study of eminent judges, statesmen, scientists, poets, musicians, painters, wrestlers, and other successful individuals. He found high achievers vigorously exercised three traits: "ability combined with zeal and with capacity for hard labour" (p. 33). Catherine Cox repeated the study in 1926 with 301 distinguished creators and leaders and concluded that traits evident in childhood could predict lifetime achievement: "persistence of motive and effort, confidence in their abilities, and great strength or force of character" (p. 218).
We often don't look to 'old science' for fresh ideas, but it seems Galton and Cox were on to something that modern day scientists are just beginning to rediscover: success in any human endeavor is predicated on a great deal more than inherent qualities.
In a more recent study, the researchers found "across 6 studies, individual differences in grit accounted for significant incremental variance in success outcomes over and beyond that explained by IQ and personality traits" (Duckworth, et al., 2007, p. 1098). Additionally, they found grittier individuals attained higher levels of education, earned higher GPAs despite having lower SAT scores, made fewer career changes, outranked less gritty competitors at a national spelling bee and predicted cadet retention rates at West Point. Research, new and old, clearly appears to identify grit as a major ingredient for any success formula.
If grit is a powerful player in the success game, what is it and how do you use it? Simply defined, grit is maintaining "perseverance and passion for long-term goals" (Duckworth, et al., 2007). It is the gritty individual that maintains their effort, interest and passion over months and years despite recurring defeats, painful adversity, constant challenges and progress plateaus. Their strength is in their stamina and they see achievement as a marathon, not a sprint. Despite setbacks, disappointment, boredom, delayed gratification, those with grit stay the course long after others have abandoned their efforts and quit.
What are the qualities of gritty people and how can you make them work for you? Here is what grit requires:
- Rigorous goal focus
- Undeterred by setbacks
- Extra effort
- Failure motivates
- Learn from your mistakes
- Finish what you begin
- Perseverance and diligence
Can these traits be taught? Perhaps. Can they be adopted and embraced? Definitely. That choice is yours. Perhaps the concept of grit was best stated by concentration camp survivor Victor Frankl who wrote "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." Passion and perseverance are the paths to success chosen by those with grit.
Cox, C. M. (1926). Genetic studies of genius: Vol. 2. The early mental traits of three hundred geniuses. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Duckworth, A., Peterson, C., Matthews, M., & Kelly, D. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92 (6), 1087-1101
Frankl, V. E. (1984). Man's search for meaning: An introduction to logotherapy. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Galton, F. (1869). Hereditary Genius: An inquiry into its laws and consequences. London: Macmillan