Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth is a great book if you want to do some deep thinking about your goals in life. It links to lots of concepts I am interested in and have blogged about before – drive, intrinsic motivation and flow in particular. What makes Grit different though is that it’s about what makes some people achieve amazing things whilst others don’t. The answer is that it’s not about pure talent, it’s about grit – passion and perseverance for long term goals.
It turns out that experts aren’t experts ‘just’ by doing 10,000 hours of practice. Whilst a lot of practice is important, experts practice differently – they do deliberate practice. This means that they set a stretch goal, zeroing in on one narrow aspect of performance. They strive to improve specific weaknesses and seek out challenges that they can’t yet meet. They are more interested in what they did wrong that they can fix, than what they did right. And after they have mastered a stretch goal they start all over again with a new stretch goal.
Gritty people are those that do more deliberate practice and also experience more ‘flow’. Although they often don’t experience flow when doing their deliberative practice, they practice because they are persevering and striving for that long-term goal. The parable of the bricklayer Duckworth uses is helpful here. If you ask a bricklayer what they are doing if they say I am laying bricks, then they have a job. If they say I am building a church then they have a career, if they say I am building the house of God, they have a calling. Gritty people have a calling – a long-term goal to work towards. It’s that that helps them get a sense of flow.
Gritty people also have hope. They get up again after adversity and resolve to make tomorrow better. They are optimists who search for temporary or specific causes for their setbacks (when pessimists assume permanent and pervasive forces are to blame). This growth mindset leads to gritty people having ‘optimistic self-talk’ and perseverance over adversity. These are not the people who give up on challenges or avoid them in the first place. The grittier a person is, the more likely they are to enjoy a healthy emotional life. Grit and well-being go hand-in-hand.
If you want to know how gritty you are then you just need to take Duckworth’s grittiness quiz, which is a good predictor of who succeeds and who fails when used in classes of students. If after taking it you decide that you want to be grittier, start with self-oriented interest, learn deliberate practice, and then integrate it with a wider sense of purpose. Pick a hard thing to do and stick to it until you reach a natural stopping point and don’t let yourself give up before that. Also make sure to find a gritty culture and join it, or create one if you are the leader. Then you just have to work ceaselessly towards excellence. Easy…