Got Grit?

Talent and intelligence are important but can only take you so far. Psychologists are asking the question: “with talent and intelligence/ IQ being equal: why do some individuals accomplish more than others?” The answer they are finding: GRIT! Research shows that GRIT is a significantly greater indicator of success and achievement than intelligence or IQ. GRIT has been a hot topic for educators and behavioral psychologists in recent years and rightfully so. It is being taught and observed in some cutting edge classrooms and measured in research labs by psychologists.

The profound significance of one’s grit cannot be ignored; but WHAT EXACTLY IS GRIT??? Grit is not a new idea as great minds such as K.E. Ericson and Aristotle believed and taught how tenacity is one of the most valued virtues. Angela Duckworth is a leading researcher of grit and an experience educator. She recently received the “MacArthur Fellowship Grant to continue her work. Duckworth describes grit as “perseverance and passion for long term goals.” The Webster Dictionary says that grit is “firmness of character; an indomitable spirit.”

Good parents have always taught the importance of developing mental toughness and strong character to their kids. This is nothing new. I think that grit is becoming even more relevant today is for two reasons: 1)  kids are overall more “soft” (lacking mental toughness) than in generations past and 2) grit is being more clearly defined and measured (giving us a better understanding to teach and show its importance).

I do not define grit precisely how Duckworth does since I don’t believe grit is always directly correlated with “long term goals.” I like to define grit as “the resilience, passion and courage to overcome a challenge” since it can be applied to short term goals as well. This is a bit vague since it is harder to measure. When measuring grit, Duckworth used the context of exceptional performance and success in the traditional sense which is measured by medals, degrees, test scores and accomplishments over an extended period of time. She is an expert and will readily admit that defining grit can be elusive do to the many variables and variances. For example, an individual’s grit often changes and the constancy of your tenacity is based on the degree to which you can access, ignite, and control it.

As parent, it is important to instill this grit since it plays a significant role in our child’s success and happiness. This leaves us asking the same question: HOW CAN GRIT BE DEVELOPED?

We develop grit by developing the characteristics of it. For example, a major characteristic of grit isCOURAGE. Your measure of courage will be directly proportional to your level of grit. How one manages the fear of failure and the ability to act in the face of adversity will determine their success. I am an athlete and like to look to great athletes for inspiration. I ask myself “where would these athletes be without courage?” and the answer is simple – nowhere near where they are now. The good news is that courage and the other characteristics of grit can be developed and strengthened through understanding and motivation. For example, if you want something very badly (are highly motivatedpassionate) than you are willing to do what it takes (often showing great courage) to attain it. If I really want to get an “A” on my spelling test it is important that Iunderstand that practice and study is how I will reach this goal. The motivation to get the “A” will fuel the effort needed to practice/study.  As parents, we can encourage good goals for our children and help them understand what it will take to reach them. We can introduce good role models for them (role models are a form of ignition to motivate) and be supportive of their interests and help them persevere in them.

Another characteristic of Grit is RESILENCE.  In Andrew Zolli’s book, Resilience, Why Things Bounce Back, he defines resilience as “the ability of people, communities, and systems to maintain their core purpose and integrity among unforeseen shocks and surprises.”

For Zolli, resilience is a dynamic combination of optimism, creativity, and confidence, which together empower one to reappraise situations and regulate emotion – a behavior many social scientists refer to as “hardiness” or “grit.” Zolli takes it even further and explains that “hardiness” is comprised of three tenants: “ (1) the belief one can find meaningful purpose in life, (2) the belief that one can influence one’s surroundings and the outcome of events, and (3) the belief that positive and negative experiences will lead to learning and growth.”

This seems like quite a lot and I will try to break it down. These three tenants that comprise resilience can also be understood as optimism and confidence (“everything will be alright in the end, and if it is not alright, it is not the end”) as well as adapting the “growth mindset.” The Growth Mindset is the mental attitude that we can influence our talents and abilities based on our efforts. Research shows that this is accurate and effective. The Growth Mindset can be learned and developed and is an important ingredient for developing resilience. More good news … Optimism, Confidence and the Growth Mindset can be learned, practiced and improved!

Sports provide challenge, adversity and a great environment for the development of Grit. Parents and quality coaches can use the lessons learned through sports to help children develop strong character.

I plan on elaborating on this subject further with future blogs. Please share your thoughts and comments below.