Part 2 of a 2 part series covering Angela Duckworth’s Grit – The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Check out part 1 linked here. 

Characteristics of Paragons of Grit

There are four characteristics of paragons of grit.

  1. Interest: Passion begins with intrinsically enjoying what you do.
  2. The capacity to practice: One form of perseverance is the daily discipline of trying to do things better than we did yesterday. Devoting yourself completely in a focused and full-hearted practice is what leads to mastery.
  3. Purpose: What ripens passion is the conviction that your work matters. This is critically important as interest without purpose is nearly impossible to sustain for a lifetime. You must both enjoy your work and believe that it is connected to the well-being of others.
  4. Hope. Hope is a rising-to-the-occasion kind of perseverance. Hope actually defines every stage, and is what keeps you going when things things are difficulty. We all fall down. If we stay down, grit loses. If we get up, grit prevails.

Again, these generally follow an order. You usually start out with a self-oriented interest, then learn self-discipline practice, and finally find purpose as your work becomes other-centered. We have evolved to seek meaning and purpose because we are social creatures. People who cooperate are more likely to survive than loners, so it was evolutionarily selected for. Society depends on stable interpersonal relationships, and so the desire to connect is a basic human need. On average, grittier people are more motivated than others to seek a meaningful, other-centered life.

These four characteristics are not a matter of having it or not. As I’ve gone over in other videos and posts, you can acquire the habit of discipline. You can deepen your interests. You can cultivate a sense of purpose and meaning. And you can teach yourself hope.

How to Love What You Do

If you have not already, check out my video on how to love the process. Angela Duckworth has similar advice, although different in a few subtle ways. She points out that people whose jobs match their personal interests are, in general, happier with their lives overall. People are also perform better when what they do interests them. Nobody is interested in everything, but everyone is interested in something. While matching your interests with your career may not guarantee happiness and success, it sure helps. Angela gave similar advice from my prior video which is that she would NOT encourage young people to follow their passion. She instead advises them to foster a passion.

A common misconception is that you wake up one day and know your passion and have your whole life figured out. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Most grit paragons spent years exploring several different interests, and eventually one grew to occupy all of their waking thoughts. A common mistake that holds people back from loving what they do is the unrealistic expectations. You will never find a career that is 100% perfect and without any downsides, headaches, or annoyances. If you haven’t fostered a passion yet, you must begin with discovery. Ask yourself what do you commonly think about, where does the mind wander, what do you really care about? What matters most to you? How do you enjoy spending your time? In contrast, what do you find absolutely unbearable?

People often look for a calling. A lot of anxiety comes from the assumption that your calling is a magical entity that you need to find. But rather, its much more dynamic. Whatever you do, you continually look at what you do and ask how it connects to other people, the bigger picture, how it can be an expression of your deepest values. Interest is one source of passion. Purpose—the intention to contribute to the well-being of others—is another. The mature passions of gritty people depend on both.

Becoming an Expert

Here’s what set experts apart: deliberate practice. Have you heard of the 10,000 hour rule written about by Malcolm Gladwell? It’s not just the time, but also the quality of the practice.

Experts set a stretch goal, zeroing in on just one narrow aspect of their overall performance. Rather than focusing on what they already do well, they strive to improve specific weaknesses. They intentionally seek out challenges they can’t yet meet. They also quickly seek feedback – much of the feedback is negative. They are more interested in knowing what they did wrong, so they can fix it. Atul Gawande, physician and author, said the following: “People often assume that you have to have great hands to become a surgeon, but it’s not true. What is most important, is practicing this one difficult thing day and night for years on end.”

Deliberate practice isn’t easy. It requires significantly more effort and is often less enjoyable. It’s incredibly taxing. The physical and mental intensity makes deliberate practice incredibly strenuous, so much so that often athletes and musicians take naps after their most intensive training sessions.To make a habit of deliberate practice is key in developing mastery. Make it a routine. Figure out a time and place everyday and spend the allocated time doing deliberate practice. When you do this, you hardly have to think about getting started. You just do.

Grittier individuals not only perform more deliberate practice, but they also rate it as being more enjoyable compared to others. It’s hard to know whether it’s the chicken or the egg in this instance. One possibility is that grittier kids spend more time doing deliberate practice, and over the years, they develop a taste for hard work as they experience the rewards of their labor. This is the “learn to love the burn” story as Angela Duckworth describes it, or “learn to love the process” as I have described it in a prior video.

Most of us do NOT perform deliberate practice So what constitutes deliberate practice?

  1. A clearly defined stretch goal
  2. Full concentration and effort
  3. Immediate and informative feedback
  4. Repetition with reflection and refinement

Dr. Duckworth suggests change the way you experience deliberate practice. Watch a baby struggle to sit up, or a toddler learn to walk: you’ll see one error after another, failure after failure, a lot of challenge exceeding skill, a lot of concentration, a lot of feedback, a lot of learning. Emotionally? Well, they’re too young to ask, but very young children don’t seem tortured while they’re trying to do things they can’t yet do. And then . . . something changes. According to Elena and Deborah, around the time children enter kindergarten, they begin to notice that their mistakes inspire certain reactions in grown-ups. What do we do? We frown and our cheeks flush. Overall, shame doesn’t help you fix anything.

Change Your View, Change Your Life

Being an optimist or a pessimist can greatly influence your outcomes. Here’s an example from the test Marty and his students developed to distinguish optimists from pessimists: Imagine: You can’t get all the work done that others expect of you. Now imagine one major cause for this event. What leaps to mind? After you read that hypothetical scenario, you write down your response, and then, after you’re offered more scenarios, your responses are rated for how temporary (versus permanent) and how specific (versus pervasive) they are. If you’re a pessimist, you might say, I screw up everything. Or: I’m a loser. These explanations are all permanent; there’s not much you can do to change them. They’re also pervasive; they’re likely to influence lots of life situations, not just your job performance. Permanent and pervasive explanations for adversity turn minor complications into major catastrophes. They make it seem logical to give up. If, on the other hand, you’re an optimist, you might say, I mismanaged my time. Or: I didn’t work efficiently because of distractions. These explanations are all temporary and specific; their “fixability”

Using this test, Marty confirmed that, compared to optimists, pessimists are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. What’s more, optimists fare better in domains not directly related to mental health. In one study, elite swimmers, many of whom were training for the U.S. Olympic trials, took Marty’s optimism test. Next, coaches asked each swimmer to swim in his or her best event and then deliberately told each swimmer they’d swum just a little slower than was actually the case. Given the opportunity to repeat their event, optimists did at least as well as in their first attempt, but pessimists performed substantially worse. How do grit paragons think about setbacks? Overwhelmingly, I’ve found that they explain events optimistically. Journalist Hester Lacey finds the same striking pattern in her interviews with remarkably creative people. “What has been your greatest disappointment?” she asks each of them. Whether they’re artists or entrepreneurs or community activists, their response is nearly identical. “Well, I don’t really think in terms of disappointment. I tend to think that everything that happens is something I can learn from. I tend to think, ‘Well okay, that didn’t go so well, but I guess I will just carry on.’ ”

This ultimately comes down to the growth mindset. The problem with having a fixed mindset, one in which you believe you’re either smart or you’re not, is that you don’t deal with bumps in the road very well. At one point, you’re going to hit a limit, and at that point a fixed mind-set becomes a tremendous liability. With a growth mindset, you instead believe you can do better.

Concrete Steps to Become Grittier

Failures are going to happen in your life. How you deal with them may be the most important thing in whether or not you succeed. If you want to be grittier, practice your grit. Find a gritty culture and join it. The drive to fit in—to conform to the group—is powerful indeed. Some of the most important psychology experiments in history have demonstrated how quickly, and usually without conscious awareness, the individual falls in line with a group that is acting or thinking a different way.

As Duckworth says, “The easy way is to use conformity—the basic human drive to fit in—because if you’re around a lot of people who are gritty, you’re going to act grittier.”

Despite the importance of Grit, Duckworth emphasizes that grit is far from the only, or even the most important, aspect of a person’s character. She states that greatness and goodness  are different, and if forced to choose, she would put goodness first. Interpersonal character includes gratitude, social intelligence, and self-control over emotions like anger. These virtues help you get along with—and provide assistance to—other people. Sometimes, these virtues are referred to as “moral character.” intellectual character includes virtues like curiosity and zest. These encourage active and open engagement with the world of ideas.

I want to leave you with this final passage from Angela Duckworth:

“We all face limits—not just in talent, but in opportunity. But more often than we think, our limits are self-imposed. We try, fail, and conclude we’ve bumped our heads against the ceiling of possibility. Or maybe after taking just a few steps we change direction. In either case, we never venture as far as we might have. To be gritty is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. To be gritty is to hold fast to an interesting and purposeful goal. To be gritty is to invest, day after week after year, in challenging practice. To be gritty is to fall down seven times, and rise eight.”