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What is Grit?

You might already be familiar with Angela Duckworth’s relatively recent book, titled, “Grit – The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” along with her TED Talk, which has been viewed over 23 million times.

So, what is “Grit?” According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, grit in the context of behavior is defined as “firmness of character; indomitable spirit.” Duckworth, based on her studies, tweaked this definition to be “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” 

However, Duckworth’s research is conducted in the context of exceptional performance and success in the traditional sense, so requires it be measured by test scores, degrees, and medals over an extended period of time. Specifically, she explores this question, talent and intelligence/IQ being equal: why do some individuals accomplish more than others? The characteristics of grit, outlined below, include Duckworth’s findings as well as some that defy measurement.

Courage

While courage is difficult to measure, it is directly proportional to your level of grit. More specifically, your ability to manage fear of failure is imperative and a predicator of success. The supremely gritty are not afraid to tank, but rather embrace it as part of a process. They understand that there are valuable lessons in defeat and that the vulnerability of perseverance is requisite for high achievement.

Conscientiousness: Achievement Oriented vs. Dependable

According to Duckworth, of the five personality traits, (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neurotic), conscientiousness is the most closely associated with grit. However, it seems that there are two types, and how successful you will be depends on what type you are.  Conscientiousness in this context means, careful and painstaking; meticulous.

The achievement-oriented individual is one who works tirelessly, tries to do a good job, and completes the task at hand, whereas the dependable person is more notably self-controlled and conventional. In other words, in the context of conscientious, grit, and success, it is important to commit to go for the gold rather than just show up for practice. 

Long-Term Goals and Endurance: Follow Through

It is important to note that long-term goals play an important role. Duckworth writes:

“… achievement is the product of talent and effort, the latter a function of the intensity, direction, and duration of one’s exertions towards a long-term goal.”

Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory and Duckworth’s findings align to the hour. However, one of the distinctions between someone who succeeds and someone who is just spending a lot of time doing something is this: practice must have purpose. That’s where long-term goals come in. They provide the context and framework in which to find the meaning and value of your long-term efforts, which helps cultivate drive, sustainability, passion, courage, stamina, and grit.

Resilience: Optimism, Confidence, and Creativity

Of course, in pursuing a long-term goal, you likely will stumble, and you will need to find a way to get back up. But what is it that gives you the strength to get up? Resilience. So, while a key component of grit is resilience, resilience is the powering mechanism that draws your head up, moves you forward, and helps you persevere despite whatever obstacles you face along the way.  In other words, gritty people believe, “everything will be alright in the end, and if it is not alright, it is not the end.”

Excellence vs. Perfection

In general, gritty people don’t seek perfection, but instead strive for excellence. In general, perfection is someone else’s perception of an ideal, and pursuing it is like chasing a hallucination.

Excellence is an attitude, not an endgame. The word excellence is derived from the Greek word Arête which is bound with the notion of fulfillment of purpose or function and is closely associated with virtue. It is far more forgiving, allowing and embracing failure and vulnerability on the ongoing quest for improvement. It allows for disappointment, and prioritizes progress over perfection.

So, how much grit do you have? You can find out here!

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