Grit: What It Is and How You Can Learn It

Grit What It Is How to Learn It

Grit is mental toughness and courage. It is the ability to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term and particularly challenging goals.

It is also one of the most critical skills for developing unwavering self-confidence.

What does the research say?

Angela Duckworth, an American psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, is a world leader in the study of grit. In essence, Duckworth studies what it takes for a person to dream big and never quit. 

Before attending grad school, she was a math and science teacher in a low-income neighborhood, where she observed that the students who excelled weren’t necessarily the brightest, but they were almost always the ones who never quit. 

They had a capacity to stick with something and endure setbacks that separated them from their less successful peers. If they failed, they tried again.

Duckworth went on to become a leading researcher in the area and helped develop a 12-item self-response questionnaire to measure the skill of grit. 

Her team was invited to work with the leaders at the world-famous United States Military Academy, known commonly as West Point, to develop an effective predictor of which candidates would stick with the program. 

Despite having one of the most rigorous admission processes in the world, West Point found that 1 in 20 of their freshmen dropped out before the first summer was over. So Duckworth and her team set out to draw a correlation between a student’s grit score and their success during “Beast Barracks,” the seven-week-long Cadet Basic Training. 

In the end, they found that the skill of grit—basically, determination plus perseverance—was a more accurate predictor of success than any of the instruments West Point had been using. 

Since then, Duckworth and her team have gone on to demonstrate that grit is an emotional and mental quality required for success in almost any setting.

Related: 21 Things That Change When You Start Respecting Yourself

I also consider grit a prerequisite skill for self-confidence, because I have learned from experience that people who quit early or who can’t handle setbacks never develop a basic belief in their ability to accomplish things. 

But you can learn to stick with things. You can practice perseverance. Like all the others, grit is a skill learned through repetition. And when you acquire more of it, your belief in yourself rises and you are another step closer to being a person of high self-confidence.

Grit Builder #1: Believe You Can Change

Let’s add another expert to the mix to understand why some people work through tough moments while others quit.

Carol Dweck is a renowned psychologist from Stanford University who wrote a seminal work called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

This is the key idea of her research: A person’s view of their ability to improve has a huge effect on their actual ability to improve. 

If you have a growth mindset—the belief that ability, intelligence and personality can improve—you will continually progress and excel. 

If you have a fixed mindset—the belief that abilities are inborn and cannot change—you will conclude that you can’t grow your intelligence and will have a tendency to give up when things get tough. 

Failure is a sign of being stupid, and stupid is something you can’t change, so what’s the point of carrying on? 

So believeth the fixed-mindsetters…

In one study, Dweck and her colleagues organized seventh graders in a New York City public school into two groups: those who showed a growth mindset and those who showed a fixed mindset. The researchers then provided feedback that matched the students’ existing concept of intelligence. 

The fixed-mindset kids were told “You got it right because you are smart” (as if “smart” is something you just “are”). 

The growth-mindset kids were given feedback about effort, not intelligence: “You worked hard and that’s why you found a solution.” 

The researchers then monitored academic progress of both groups of students for two years. The results were significant. 

Students with a fixed mindset—even the very intelligent ones—struggled with achievement and were more likely to give up in the face of a challenge and conclude they were no longer smart. They believed that intelligence was something they either had or didn’t have—and if they couldn’t do something, it meant they didn’t have it, so why even try? 

The kids with a growth mindset stuck with problems longer and had much-improved results. They believed that effort and persistence would lead to success. They stuck with difficult problems and as a result, they got smarter and better.

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