According to Angela Duckworth, Grit is the product of our passion for something and the perseverance we have to pursue it long-term. In my last article I introduced you to Duckworth and her research into grit. I also gave you a link to her free and quick Grit Assessment, which takes less than five minutes. In this article I will recap the assessment and then share tips from Duckworth on how we can develop grit in ourselves and when we coach others.
Grit Assessment. When Duckworth designed the grit assessment, she structured 10 questions that help us understand whether we are inspired by our passions and how well we naturally persevere through the ups and downs of life.
The grit assessment is a “self” assessment and Duckworth acknowledges it has a “reference bias” because each person tries to gauge her/himself against others and we are not always the best judge of this. High achieving, ego-centered people quickly figure-out how they should answer the questions and score high. And, more modest folks, often score lower. She encourages people to try to compare themselves to the whole population and that might help us be more accurate.
To think about your passion and perseverance more deeply, just write down your answers to each of the questions. Then tabulate the odd-numbered questions to get insight into your “passion” and the even-numbered questions for your “perseverance”. You might even calculate a passion score and a perseverance score separately.
My “cousin” Dorrie is someone who, I think, is a great example of someone who makes Duckworth’s point. Dorrie is a very humble and kind person with enormous creative talents. One of Dorrie’s many creative passions is gardening and especially flower gardens. One flower she loves is the lupine. Lupines are not flowers that grow easily, we cannot just throw seeds out and flowers appear (I tried that). They are flowers that need seeds planted and cared for over several years. As you can see in these photographs from her lovely home in Jaffrey, New Hampshire overlooking Mt. Monadnock , Dorrie worked for many hours and years to create this beauty. She persevered through personal health and weather challenges. Dorrie has grit.
Tips for Developing Grit in Yourself. Duckworth has many tips for developing grit in ourselves. Here are suggestions linked to the traits she believes people with grit have in common.
Interest. People with grit have extremely well-developed interests that have developed into passions. The development of interest is “a process of discovery, development, and deepening.”
When we are younger our true interests may not have emerged or formed yet. Insights into your interests may come from what you enjoy thinking about and to where your mind wanders. Watch what you enjoy doing and what you do not. Then experiment and try different things because then you will learn more about your true interests.
For example, I am passionate about business; if you are a faithful reader, I am sure you can see that. I have been interested in business since I was very young. My mind wanders there all the time. When we travel, and my family will confirm this, I am always thinking about every business I encounter. I wonder why they do this or that. In restaurants I evaluate the customer service, I count the customers, and I calculate the sales and gross profit while sitting at the table. Business success has become my passion.
It is part of our human nature to learn new things, to explore the world, and to search for novelty. People with grit, Duckworth notes, discover “novelty is nuance.” They learn to find novelty in the old. If they are passionate about their work or their company’s mission, for example, they try new things and experiment doing things differently to make things better.
So if you constantly move on to a new thrill, you could try to find another level, another dimension, to what you are currently doing. This will deepen your interest and passion.
Practice. Once you have an interest, people with grit practice it deliberately to constantly improve their skill. Deliberative practice has four elements – (1) A clearly defined stretch goal; (2) Full concentration and effort; (3) Immediate and informative feedback; and (4) Repetition with reflection and refinement.
To improve something you must learn to “fractionate” or break-down the job into small, bite-sized portions. Practice those tasks and look for the ones you need to improve most. It helps greatly to have a coach watch because they can help you recognize where you are weakest. Then you set a stretch goal for improvement for that specific task. You then practice the task, get feedback, and stick to it until you achieve the stretch goal. Then, people with grit, tackle another task and go through the same process.
One helpful coaching question right after a task is completed is, “Is there anything you did just now where you were in doubt? Anything you weren’t sure about?” Inside the answer to that question often lies a specific item to work on.
Purpose. People with grit usually develop a sense of purpose, which is “the intention to contribute to the well-being of others.” Purpose in most of us develops as we mature and move beyond only caring about self. Bill Damon, a Stanford developmental psychologist, suggests we develop a sense of purpose as we move through four phases – (1) We get “sparked” by an interest; (2) We observe someone, a role model, who demonstrates it is possible to accomplish something on behalf of others; (3) We have a revelation about something in the world that inspires us; and (4) We discover a way to take personal action.
Three tips from the author for developing or refining your purpose. First, reflect on how the work you’re already doing can make a positive contribution to society. Second, think about how, in small but meaningful way, you can change your current work to enhance its connection to your core values. And, third, find inspiration in a purposeful role model – then imagine who you will be in 15 years and what you need to do to be that person.
Hope. Gritty people believe they can make tomorrow better through their own efforts. Hope for them is not just optimism, it is action. Duckworth, who is very interested in childhood development, reminds us of how this level of hope is really nurtured and developed when we are young. We learn from our parents, teachers, and coaches how we can make tomorrow better through our own work and practice.
Duckworth writes about the very interesting work of Carol Dweck, who has studied why we each carry around private theories about how the world works. Related to grit is whether we have a “fixed mindset” or a “growth mindset.” Gritty people have usually developed “growth mindsets.” People with “fixed mindsets” are not as able to handle bumps in the road.
Duckworth has three tips for improving hope. (1) Update your beliefs and if you find you have a fixed-mindset, explore what it takes to change your mind. (2) Practice optimistic self-talk and explore “resilience training” if you struggle with pessimism. (3) Ask for a helping hand, find yourself a healthy mentor.
Tips for Developing Grit in Others. Duckworth has many interesting tips for developing grit in others, especially children. Here are four you might find helpful.
- A personal quality parents should teach and model themselves is “follow-through.” Many studies including the Personal Qualities Project conclude that children who develop a follow-through capacity are grittier and become successful team members and workers.
- As a family practice the “hard thing” rules. This means everybody in the family, including parents, work on one specific hard thing at a time. This could be music lessons, a new sport, language lessons, tougher exercise, or college classes. No one can quit the “hard thing” until a long trial is complete or the course is paid for. And you cannot quit the one hard thing until you have another hard thing to replace it. For teenagers Duckworth recommends that every hard thing last more than a year; this helps build resiliency, follow-through, and grit.
- While you should encourage your children, be careful not to always praise them for doing something well when the child did not. (I would guess Duckworth is not a fan of programs where all the children get trophies.) Teach the child to try something a second or third time to make it better. The sooner you do this with very young children, the more it becomes part of their natural behavior.
- Don’t be an overbearing parent, this erodes intrinsic motivation. Leave space in a child’s schedule for play and exploration. Before hard work comes play.
I will conclude with this final thought from Angela Duckworth, “The bottom line on culture and grit is: If you want to be grittier, find a gritty culture and join it. If you’re a leader, and you want the people in your organization to be grittier, create a gritty culture.”