True grit

by Jeanne Reynolds

 What makes people successful – Talent? High IQ? Money? Luck? Genes?

 No, no, no, no and no. All those things help, but the true driver of success is grit.

At least, that’s the opinion of Angela Duckworth, a psychology professor who’s been studying this stuff for years. And the more I read and think about it, the more I believe she’s exactly right.

225px-True-GritDefinition here: Grit is a combination of unshakeable motivation, persistence and determination. Simply put, it’s sticking with it. Never giving up, even when it gets hard.

I’ve become fascinated with this concept since hearing Duckworth talk about it recently on National Public Radio. She’s done tons of testing with students and teachers, adults and kids. Unfailingly, whether in school, work or life, it turns out high performance is most closely tied to high levels of grit.

I’ve seen this play out in my own life. Take running, for example. I’m slow, and I didn’t T330_189554_Runningbecome active in the sport until later in life. But somehow I’ve managed to run 21 marathons, including five Boston Marathons. I tell people distance running doesn’t require talent – it only requires you to keep moving. That’s grit.

And because I’m pretty gritty (take the Grit Scale Test to get your score) there’s a good chance I’ll get that children’s book that’s been in my head since age 9 down on paper and submitted to a publisher one day.

Can you get grittier if you’re not hard-wired that way (Hey, marathon running isn’t for everyone. I get that.) or help your kids develop more grit? Probably. One way is to develop a growth mindset. It’s a concept developed by Carol Dweck that says our ability to learn isn’t fixed. In fact, our brain grows in response to challenge. The key is believing failure isn’t a permanent condition. We have to be allowed and willing to fail, so we can learn and start over with the lessons learned. (Note to helicopter parents: See that word “allowed”? You might need to back off so your child can develop grit.)

Programs like Girls on the Run that teach girls how to train for a longer-term goal may help. You can also try some online exercises like this this one.

I think the idea of grit as what determines our success is great news for most of us. I enjoy doing many things I don’t necessarily have an innate talent for: running, singing, golf, playing the flute, writing, cooking. But that’s OK, because talent and smarts apparently don’t matter as much as getting back up when I fall down and taking the next step.

As Duckworth says, “Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”