“Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.” – Angela Duckworth
Angela Duckworth is an American psychologist and the author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Her research was centred on answering one question: who is successful and why? She wanted to know whether it was talent or effort that led to success in life, and her conclusion is that grit is the biggest predictor of life-long achievement.
So What is Grit?
A dictionary definition of grit might use terms such as courage and resolve, pluck, mettle, or strength of character, but what does it really mean to have grit? Angela used the words passion and perseverance in her book title, but she also puts it this way:
“Grit is sticking with your future day in, day out and not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years.”
You see, people who succeed in their field do so because they work out what they’re passionate about achieving and then they stick with doing whatever it takes for as long as it takes to achieve it. Achieving excellence is not down to talent alone, it’s down to focused and sustained effort – and that’s grit.
Who Needs Grit?
Anyone who wants to achieve excellence in anything will need grit. Let’s be honest, it’s all too easy to give up on a goal because things get a bit tough, right? You might even have talked yourself out of pursuing a goal with thoughts along the lines of, “I just don’t have the talent.” Angela studied world-class athletes, high-flying business executives, award-winning actors and musicians… people who have made it to the top of their field, and it became clear that it wasn’t talent alone that got them there. People with grit have an attitude of, “Whatever it takes, I want to improve,” irrespective of how well they can already do something, and irrespective of the inevitable setbacks and failures they experience along the way. People who succeed do so because they have a growth mindset.
Think about it. There are plenty of “talented” people out there who fail to achieve their true potential in life simply because they lack grit. Without focus and sustained effort, any level of talent can only get you so far. Getting to the top takes more than talent, it takes passion, commitment, and perseverance.
Can Grit be Developed?
Grit is essentially learning to stick with something, and “stickability” is a life skill anyone can develop. Grit can be grown.
Angela sets out the process of developing grit in four steps:
- Develop a fascination with what you’re trying to do
- Strive to improve each day
- Identify with a greater purpose
- Develop a growth mindset
So, let’s put this into context…
The first step is all about discovering what you’re passionate about in life, and it’s important to understand that no one is a born anything. As a child, Charles Darwin didn’t know he was going to develop a ground-breaking theory, he simply had a fascination with the natural world. Richard Branson didn’t know he was going to be founder of the Virgin Group when he was in high school, he simply had a fascination for finding ways to do things differently – and better.
The second step is all about committing to your passion and putting in the focused effort required to take it from something you’re interested in doing to something you’re excellent at doing. There’s no such thing as an overnight success. Ed Sheeran didn’t wake up one morning as a megastar; Usain Bolt didn’t wake up one morning as the fastest man on earth, and Jack Ma didn’t wake up one morning as a billionaire business magnate. These are all examples of people who committed to doing what they do to the best of their ability by striving to make small improvements every day.
The third step is about seeing the bigger picture and connecting your passion and efforts to something greater than yourself. For example, Richard Branson saw a way of improving the airline industry, not just for himself, but for everyone travelling by air, and Olympic athletes not only focus on their own performance but also their contribution to an entire team’s performance.
The fourth step is essential in terms of achieving all of the above. It takes a growth mindset to stay focused and to sustain the effort needed to stick with it. Ed Sheeran, Charles Darwin, Jack Ma… they all stuck with it through setbacks and failures, and they all chose to keep learning from every experiencing and to keep growing and improving.
Stickability is life skill that can be learned. It’s okay to try different things and then drop out of things that no longer hold your interest, but to achieve excellence in something, that something must become the one thing you stick with and focus on for as long as it takes. Angela Duckworth puts it this way: “To be gritty is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. To be gritty is to hold fast to an interesting and purposeful goal. To be gritty is to invest, day after week after year, in challenging practice. To be gritty is to fall down seven times, and rise eight.”
So, do you have the grit it takes to succeed?
Don MacNaughton is a High-Performance Coach, Mindset Trainer and Keynote Speaker