Why do some people achieve more highly than others of equal ability? This question is at the heart of recent research on a personal quality called “grit”.[1] Recent research by American psychologist Angela Duckworth indicates that grit is more predictive of success and achievement in areas like education and business than is intelligence or natural ability. Greater grit is associated with people sticking it out through difficult periods, and staying longer in a job. As well as helping us toward greater success and achievement, research also indicates that those with higher grit are happier and more satisfied with their lives.

As defined by Angela Duckworth and colleagues, “Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress.”[2] This definition highlights two key components of grit:

  • Perseverance of effort – being willing to keep working toward a goal despite slow progress, lack of feedback, and setbacks.
  • Consistency of interest – maintaining interest and focus on particular subjects, goals, and projects over the long term.

While some people seem to be naturally more “gritty” than others, we can build and shape our own grit and that of those around us.

Build grit for yourself:

  • Take time to reflect on failure – To be able to learn from our failures, we need to think about them. Sometimes this is hard when the failure feels uncomfortable to face and we want to avoid it. Remind yourself that even the most successful people have failed, and take some time to think about why things didn’t go to plan.
  • View failure as a learning opportunity – Grit is all about perseverance, even in the face of setbacks. Instead of viewing setbacks or mistakes as evidence that your goal can’t be achieved, ask yourself, “What have I learned from this? If I did this again, what would I do differently? How might this experience help me in future?”
  • Give yourself feedback – A hallmark of gritty people is that they can keep going even without much positive feedback. In order to do this, we need to provide ourselves with the feedback we aren’t getting elsewhere. Ask yourself questions like, “What have I already achieved towards this goal? What do I know now that I didn’t a month ago?”.
  • Recognise disappointment and boredom – No long-term goal will be achieved without some difficulty along the way. You’re allowed to feel bored, disappointed, and uninspired at times. Feeling these emotions is human nature, and doesn’t mean that you have to give up. If these feelings are taking longer to pass than would be helpful, try reminding yourself why you might want to persevere, with questions like, “Why is this important to me? What got me interested or excited about this goal/ project/job in the first place?”

Shape and encourage grit in your team:

  • Praise efforts – Grit is all about persistent effort rather than natural ability. Recognise and encourage the efforts people have put in, rather than more fixed qualities. For example, “I can see you’ve worked really hard on that, thanks for your hard work” rather than, “You’re a natural at that”.
  • Reinforce a view of setbacks as temporary – Where someone has underperformed or a team faces a setback, give as much clarity as possible on where they can do better. Ideally, have a discussion about what success might look like on the way to a bigger goal – what would the individual or the team be doing? Often this discussion is really useful in teams when the goalposts have moved and people are feeling uncertain. If the big picture is unclear, what does success or progress look like over the shorter term (e.g., What will we be doing over the next 2 weeks if we’re working toward success?).
  • Put words to unspoken feelings – Where there are setbacks, challenges, or hold-ups, recognise that people might be feeling frustrated, bored, or disappointed. Being able to talk about these reactions often helps to reduce the intensity of the emotions. Take an enquiring approach rather than telling someone how they are feeling, such as, “The progress on this project has been slower than we expected, I’m wondering if that’s frustrating for you.”
  • Keep interest high – Essential to grit is maintaining interest. In order to keep people engaged and interested, keep novelty high – take opportunities to discuss new ideas and look at problems through different lenses. Even within everyday routines, try to create some variability – have different team members run meetings, or use different spaces and environments for working.

Interested in how “gritty” you are? Take Angela Duckworth’s Grit survey here https://angeladuckworth.com/grit-scale/

To find out more about developing greater grit in your organisation, give us a call to discuss how we can help.

[1] Duckworth, A. (2016). Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. New York: Scribner.

[2] Duckworth, A., Peterson, C., Matthews, M., & Kelly, D (2007). Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals. Personality Processes and Individual Differences, 92, 1087-1101.