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What is Grit, Why Do Gritty People Succeed, and How Can You Develop Your Grit

What is Grit, Why Do Gritty People Succeed, and How Can You Develop Your Grit
Welcome, as always it’s good to see you. In this session, you’ll learn about a characteristic associated with self-motivation, and that’s the power of grit. New cadets at the US Military Academy, West Point go through a staggeringly tough, physically and mentally challenging program during their first seven weeks. This program is called the Beast. It’s well known that many new cadets drop out of West Point before the end of those harsh seven weeks. For years West Point was unable to pinpoint why.
They found no patterns related to high school rank, college entrance exam grades for example, SAT and ACT grades, physical fitness, leadership potential assessments or any other measure that would seem to be relevant to whether a cadet would go the distance or drop out. In 2004 along came psychology doctoral student Angela Duckworth. She got permission to give the cadets a 12 question assessment on their second day at West Point. She found that the higher the cadets scored on the simple assessment, the more likely they were to complete the Beast as well. The lower they scored, the more likely they were to drop out. The assessment was Duckworth’s grit scale. She defines grit as passion and perseverance toward a long-term goal.
The assessment questions included statements such as I finish what I begin, I am diligent, I never give up. And I often choose a goal and later on choose to pursue a different one.
She also explored whether teenagers who performed best in the US Scripps National Spelling Bee competition rated higher on grit, and they did. Not surprisingly, Duckworth found that the grittier teenagers spent more time studying for the spelling bee and this paid off in their higher ranking. In her research, Duckworth found that grit did not relate positively to IQ, but it was highly correlated with conscientiousness. As with conscientious people, gritty people are hardworking, self-directed, self-motivated, persistent and they’re able to bounce back from setbacks and get themselves back on track. But here’s where grit differs from conscientiousness. Gritty people apply their focus to a single long-term goal that’s extremely meaningful to them.
For example, a person can be conscientious in their everyday life and fulfill their everyday work responsibilities to a very high standard. Yet they may not be focused on achieving a particular long-term goal that’s very important to them. Gritty people stay focused on that one important goal, keeping their eyes on the prize, it’s the driving force that compels them to work even harder to be even more persistent and to be even more resilient. Rejection and being told they can’t do something fuels their determination. Steven Spielberg was rejected from film school three times. Oprah was told she was unfit for TV and Beyonce was told she couldn’t sing.
Being gritty takes even more stamina for longer periods of time all in the dogged persistence of achieving a single long-term goal. Grit is like conscientiousness on steroids. Actor Will Smith describes a secret to his success as an actor this way. The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is that I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me. You might be sexier than me. You might be all of those things. But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things, you’re getting off first or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple.
US Supreme Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor demonstrated grittiness ever since she was a child. Born in the Bronx New York to a family from Puerto Rico, she was raised for many years by a single mother after her father died of complications related to alcoholism when she was only nine years old. Her mother was an orphan and her father never completed the third grade. Her mother worked hard to save money to send Sotomayer to Catholic school. Sotomayer learned responsibility at age seven when she was diagnosed with type 1 juvenile diabetes and had to give herself daily insulin shots for the rest of her life.
In her autobiography she said, I probably learned more self-discipline from living with diabetes than I ever did from The Sisters of Charity. She decided that she wanted to become an attorney after watching the TV show Perry Mason, in which actor Raymond Burr played a prosecutor with a flair for public speaking and for winning cases. She was fascinated with the way Mason eloquently presented his cases and serve the law. Sotomayor did not have the resources at home to help her pursue her dream of becoming an attorney, but she had the grit to figure it out. Inspired by the fictional Perry Mason, she practiced public speaking whenever she could.
Which she was ready to become the first person in her family to attend college. Her friend Kenny from her high school debate team encouraged her to get admitted to an Ivy League College. He gave her the names of colleges, and then he helped her adjust to life at Princeton and then Yale Law School. She relied heavily on students with more experience to help her develop the confidence and political skills to not only survive but thrive. Today Sotomayer is quick to advise people to remember that no one succeeds alone. She expresses pride that she was one of the early beneficiaries of affirmative action and she worked hard to live up to expectations.
She was awarded the Pine Prize, the highest academic award given to Princeton undergraduates. And she was an editor for the prestigious Yale Law Journal. She bounced back after not being offered a job after school summer internship with the prestigious Law Firm. Reflecting on that early failure, Sotomayor said I would do what I had always done, break the challenge down into smaller challenges, which I would get on with in my methodical fashion. Now Duckworth notes that grit is like living life as a marathon not as a sprint. And she is convinced that grit can be learned. She works with school systems to help them develop grit in children so that they can have better opportunities for a good life.
Today Duckworth likes to show her doctoral students the letters that she receives from academic journals rejecting her articles. Because she wants to build a resilience by showing them that struggles and failures are normal if not desirable part of an academics life. What can you do to increase your grit? Like a muscle, grit can be developed through focused practice.
Angela Duckworth describes self-made businessman Warren Buffett’s strategy for identifying your most important goal. The one that most deserves grit. First, list up to 25 goals. Second, circle the five that are the highest priority. Those that are most aligned with what’s most important to you in life. Third, look at the goals that you did in circle and don’t pay much time and energy toward those goals. Because they’ll distract you from your top goals. Buffett says it more starkly, avoid the goals on the second list at all costs. Deciding what you’re not going to do is as important as deciding what you will do. Then make a plan for achieving your top five or fewer goals. Then Duckworth adds another step.
She recommends that you ask yourself to what extent do my top five goals serve a common purpose? By aligning your goals, the effort you put into one of your top goals is likely to benefit your other goals as well. Warren Buffett is known to be clear about his priorities. Despite his wealth, he’s worth over 60 billion, Buffett lives frugally in the house he bought in 1958 for $31,000, which today would be around $260,000. He has pledged to donate 99% of his wealth to charitable causes when he dies. With most of it going to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is dedicated to lifting people out of poverty to lead healthy productive lives.
Before we end this session, it’s worth noting that being overly gritty carry some risks. Sometimes it’s healthier to quit, particularly when the goal is unachievable or if the situation has changed to one in which the goal is no longer worth the effort required. Researchers have found that people are able to let go of goals that are for some reason unattainable. C-reactive protein. And that’s a molecule that’s associated with health issues related to inflammation than people who continue to pursue an unattainable goal. In another study, researchers found that people who are able to detach from unattainable goals and invest in new attainable goals reported higher subjective well-being otherwise known as happiness, lower stress and higher self mastery.
Which the researchers defined as a belief that one has control over what happens in their future. Another risk of excess grit that you can become so invested in achieving your goal that you lose interest in other important parts of your life. For example, your health and relationships. As researcher Walter Mischel, the creator of the original marshmallow experience says, a life with too much self-control and delayed gratification can be as unfulfilling as one with too little. So now you know how grit can help you achieve your goals, what steps you can take to increase your own grit, and what risks are associated with grit.
And I must say that you’ve shown quite a bit of grit by staying with this course so far because it can be easy to get sidetracked with everyday distractions. So it looks like you already have some of the grit it takes to succeed. Thanks for taking the time to learn about the power of grit, and I hope you found this session to be useful and enjoyable.
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