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How does grit affect your ability to reason, think and ultimately succeed at your goals? Discover the science behind grit and how it can improve your life satisfaction.
Grit is the ability to persevere over long periods of time in the face of significant challenge – the ability to stay interested in the same idea, project, or goal for years and not months, and the ability to overcome the difficulty that comes knocking not once, but dozens of times.
Grit has been found to be mostly uncorrelated with levels of intelligence – explaining why some people who are intelligent and maybe even hard working never seem to get anywhere. Before they generate substantial results, they lose interest and move on to something else, or else the first time they encounter difficulty, they give up.
Too much grit may be a bad thing – it's important to try out different ideas, projects, and goals before fully committing. But I've yet to encounter someone with too much grit – I think we have the opposite problem. People let their interests be defined too much by their biological whims rather than by determined, long-term decisions.
How important is grit, and in which domains?
That is the main question answered by the grit studies of Angela Duckworth, which have been summarized on this page. Wikipedia offers a good summary of how grit compares to other personality traits.
The importance of grit in predicting long-term success has been tested on over ten thousand people across almost a dozen outcomes – grittier spelling bee contestants reach higher rounds, grittier cadets are more likely to make it through Beast Barracks, grittier adults have higher educational attainment, grittier college students have higher GPAs, and the students of grittier teachers learn more.
Scientists use the answers to the following eight questions to determine a person's level of grit. You can get your grit score here.
- New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones.
- Setbacks don't discourage me.
- I have been obsessed with a certain idea or project for a short time but later lost interest.
- I am a hard worker.
- I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one.
- I have difficulty maintaining my focus on projects that take more than a few months to complete.
- I finish whatever I begin.
- I am diligent.
What measures grit? Does it predict anything that the Big Five Personality Traits don't?
Across six studies, this article attempted to answer both questions, the results of which gave birth to the 12-item Grit Scale.
In the first study, grittier adults were more likely to have attained a higher level of education.
In the second study, grit was highly correlated with the personality trait of conscientiousness, was once again predictive of educational attainment, and was inversely correlated with lifetime career changes – that is, grittier individuals were more likely stick it out in the same career.
In the third study, grit was correlated with the GPA of college students, even after controlling for SAT scores.
In the fourth study, higher levels of grit increased the likelihood that a cadet would make it through Beast Barracks – cadets who were a standard deviation higher than average in grit were 60% more likely to complete summer training. However, self-control better predicted GPA than grit.
In the fifth study, higher levels of grit increased the likelihood that a cadet would make it through Beast Barracks, even after controlling for the personality trait of conscientiousness.
In the sixth study, gritty spelling bee national finalists reached higher rounds, in part because they spent more time studying.
Read more here.
Teaching difficult students can be taxing – suggesting that emotional health and perseverance (e.g. grit) may predict teacher performance in poor neighborhoods.
In this study, Teach For America teachers, who are required to teach in mostly poor neighborhoods, were assessed for 4 qualities: grit, life satisfaction, optimism, and performance. Performance was objectively assessed by averaging the academic gains of their students.
Although life satisfaction was the most powerful of the three qualities for predicting teacher performance, teachers one standard deviation higher in grit were 31% more likely to outperform their peers.
Read more here.
Across six studies, the authors of this article create and then attempt to prove the validity of a shorter version of their previous, 12-item Grit Scale.
In study one, using data from an older study, the 12-item grit scale was successfully shortened into the 8-item grit scale (Grit-S).
In study two, using an online sample of 1,554 adults, the 8-item grit scale was found to contain many of the same properties as the longer 12-item grit scale – it was highly correlated with conscientiousness, contained two factors (perseverance of effort and consistency of interest), predicted educational attainment, and was inversely correlated with the number of career changes.
In study three, 161 adults completed an informant version of the Grit-S for a friend and family member, who then completed the self-report Grit-S. The two versions – informat and self-report, were found to be acceptably correlated (that is, they both approximately measure the same factors).
In study four, Grit-S in 2006 was found to predict GPA and Grit-S in 2007, suggesting that the trait is relatively stable over time. Grit was also inversely correlated with hours spent watching TV.
In study five, cadets who scored a standard deviation higher than average on the Grit–S were 99% more likely to complete summer training (known as Beast for its difficulty).
In study six, gritty national spelling bee finalists were found to be more likely to reach higher rounds.
Overall, the Grit-S was shown to have most of the same properties as Grit-O.
Read more here.
In this study, the specific reasons why grittier spelling bee finalists reach higher rounds was assessed. The observation that grit correlates with spelling bee performance had already been made, and confirmed.
Grit was found to predict two behaviors which in turn lead to increased performance – more practice, and better practice.
More practice is self-explanatory – the more a skill is cultivated, the better that skill becomes. However, recent research has shown that there are different types of practice, each with different uses and different effectiveness.
The most useful practice is also the most difficult – deliberate practice (Talent is Overrated is a good book on the subject). Grittier individuals were found to engage in more deliberate practice, which in turn also lead to increased performance.
Read more here.
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