In every article I have read about the secret to success, it always comes down to this – to truly be successful, we need more than just brainpower. To be more specific, we need some brains – Malcolm Gladwell puts that figure somewhere around an IQ of 120 – and then we need something extra. For Angela Duckworth, the extra is grit. In her research of successful individuals from all walks of life, the common factor they all had was grit.
In study after study over the past dozen years, the research has shown that you can be smart and talented and curious but still not reach your potential (and having things come easily may actually work against you) if you don’t also develop a capacity to work hard and persist through setbacks over time.
In fact, grit can predict grade point averages better than IQ. Unfortunately, Angela hasn’t shed a huge amount of light on how we can get “gritty”. While we hope it will be revealed in her latest book “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance“, some insights can be gleaned from an interview with her.
In Angela’s household, they focus on three things:
The Growth Mindset
The theory of mindsets was developed by Carol Dweck and it follows the idea that how we learn depends on what we believe about our brains. We can have a growth mindset – where we believe everything about us is malleable and changeable over time – or we can have a fixed mindset – where we believe that what we are born with is fixed and cannot be changed.
Self-control is the short-term ability to resist temptations and, say, get your schoolwork done; grit is what takes you the distance. – National Geographic
Self-control is the ability to delay gratification with the promise of greater rewards. Walter Mischel brought the power of self-control to light with his famous marshmallow study. In this landmark study, Mischel found that children with the ability to delay gratification grew up to be more successful than the children with less self-control.
Angela also talks about the effects of stress on children’s self-discipline – when children experience negative life events beyond their control it impairs their self-discipline. This decrease in self-control is measurable in the six-month period following the stress.
In the Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell writes about the 10000 hours rule for anyone seeking to be an expert. Dr. K. Anders Ericsson adds that the quality of practice is more important than the amount of time we spend practicing. It must be “deliberate practice”. In other words, it has to be more than simply repeating the skill over and over – although repetition is also important. It needs to be focussed on improvement, there must be increasing challenge with time, and the goal is overall mastery of the skill. Receiving feedback from experienced mentors/teachers/coaches is also essential.
Deliberate practice requires effort without reward and it is usually not enjoyable in itself. It is the end goal of improving performance that provides the motivation to continue practicing. Martha Graham (dancer and choreographer) said it best:
“…the path to paradise of the achievement is not easier than any other. There is fatigue so great that the body cries, even in its sleep. There are times of complete frustration, there are daily small deaths.”
The Hard Thing Rule
To encourage a growth mindset, self-control, and deliberate practice, Angela Duckworth enforces “the hard thing” rule in her home. Everyone has to choose to learn something difficult with the following requirements:
- daily deliberate practice
- no quitting for a set commitment period of time, e.g. a semester or a year
- the individual must decide what it is – it can be anything as long as a choice is made
Believe in Them
It has been said that Angela has a very strong expectation for excellence and no tolerance for less.
“If I accept you as you are, I will make you worse; however if I treat you as though you are what you are capable of becoming, I help you become that.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The rule of expectations and the impact of suggestions states that children will live up (or down) to the expectations we have of them. Therefore have high expectations for them and they will rise up to the challenge.
Change the Environment
In a Philadelphia study, students were randomly assigned to change their house or bedroom to make studying more conducive. The changes could be as simple as increasing the lighting in the room or keeping their mobile phones out of sight. While this might be an obvious suggestion, it can be surprising how many of us fail to implement it. By improving our environment, we can reduce the number of hurdles that detract us from completing tasks that take us closer to our goals.
Understanding the Fundamentals of Grit
The power of an idea works best when we understand where it comes from. One of the methods for promoting a growth mindset is to teach children about their brains and the concept of the growth mindset. We can also do the same thing with grit – help our children understand suffering is a normal and expected part of working hard on a challenge that exceeds their skill.
They’re supposed to feel confused. Frustration is probably a sign that they’re on the right track and need to gut it out through the natural human aversion to mental effort and feeling overwhelmed so they can evolve. – National Geographic
This is the first step to developing grit – the need to move out of our comfort zone and understanding that growth comes from feeling uncomfortable. Once our children understand why they need sustained and concentrated hard work, they need to identify something they are passionate about, and practice it.
Summing it up
- Find something you are passionate about.
- Surround yourself with supportive people who will provide honest feedback.
- Practice, practice, practice.
- Accept the suffering.