Making it through West Point’s “Beast Barracks” requires the right stuff. Three percent of the cadets who worked for years to get into the academy drop out in the first two months, waylaid by seven intense weeks of physical and academic training. “Grit” predicts who will go and who will stay. Would you like to know how you’d measure up?
Angela Duckworth’s thought-provoking Grit Scale has only 12 simple questions, and it’s available online. High scorers have “the power of passion and perseverance.” Grit weaves together perseverance, stamina and consistency of interests—and people with grit get stuff done.
Go to angeladuckworth.com and click the “Grit Scale” tab. Take the quiz. It may give you insight into why you have or haven’t met your personal goals.
More than Brains
Duckworth felt her Chinese immigrant parents overemphasized being smart. She made her name—and somewhat ironically won a McArthur “genius grant”—by reminding us that success is not all about IQ. Together, skill AND effort lead to achievement.
A classroom teacher-turned-psychologist, Duckworth observed that less talented people with high grit scores tend to achieve more than people with more talent but less grit. People magazine called her work, “inspiration for nongeniuses everywhere.”
The scale is astonishingly powerful. It can predict who will graduate from Chicago public schools, which candidates will survive Army Special Operations Forces training and even who takes home a national spelling bee trophy. West Point has traditionally evaluated cadets using a score pulling together classroom performance, physical training scores and a leadership assessment, but when it comes to the Beast Barracks, the Grit Scale seems to work better.
When I read up on grit, my thoughts inevitably turned to my dad. He scribbled the same never-published manuscript for decades, started three different master’s degrees, and finished none of the above. No grit there, in spite of his high intelligence and love for learning.
I took the quiz, and . . . I’m my father’s daughter, scoring below average on grit. Yup, that explains the extra year I spent on my dissertation. Like so many aspects of our personality, grit is part genetic and part learning. My husband is much higher in grit than I am—so much so that I think his single-minded focus sometimes gets in the way of multitasking.
The Officer’s Grit
Readers are likely to score higher than I did. So many of you started out disadvantaged but achieved a great deal. Some of you are veterans and all of you were trained in a culture shaped by military values, including high regard for grit. John McCain personified grit: “Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history.”
What’s more, police cadets are chosen for, among other traits, a quality called conscientiousness. It’s a pattern of performing effectively in a reasonably careful way. Conscientiousness means you include all the key details in a report even though it’s late. It means you learn and follow endless general orders and maintain equipment properly. Like people with grit, conscientious people get the job done.
Grit and conscientiousness overlap. If you have one, you probably have some of the other. Grit is different from conscientiousness in that it involves working toward something long-term, out of deep interest and commitment, not a sense of obligation.
Grittiness counts in those horrible dark nights when absolutely everything is on the line. I’m talking about marital slumps. Research so far shows a link between grit and staying married for men but not for women.
It’s no secret that hard work and determination foster success, in marriage, football or any other arena. Duckworth interviewed Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll after his 2014 Super Bowl win. She says he built grit in his team with sayings like, “Compete in everything you do. You’re a Seahawk 24-7. Finish strong.” As a reviewer pointed out, what NFL coach doesn’t say those things?
Grit isn’t magic. It can’t guarantee victory and it won’t make an untalented player a champion. Some people face obstacles that overwhelm even those with significant character strength.
The question for us low-grit types, though, is whether grit can grow. Duckworth thinks the answer is yes. Schools, she says, should teach “noncognitive skills,” such as curiosity, cooperation and grit. She has been involved with research showing that grades predict college success better than SAT scores because grades reflect ability plus effort, not just ability.
The 242 KIPP schools have embraced Duckworth’s work and teach grittiness to their students. KIPP’s website encourages us to model grit, celebrate grit, and foster it in those around us. “Don’t let people you love quit on a bad day,” they warn.
To foster grit, first you have to know your objective. You will not accomplish anything astonishing in the absence of a goal, so identify what you really, really want to work toward. Shape your life around the achievement of that ambition. Have a positive, optimistic mindset, and work very, very hard. Those who would boost their grit scores are reminded to be okay with failure: Failure means you are trying hard things.
So yes, we can increase the strength of our determination to succeed. We can have a better shot at being counted in the ranks of life’s finishers and winners instead of never quite fulfilling our potential. It’s a seriously challenging project (yawn). To get started, it would help to have . . . true grit.
To learn more, visit Duckworth’s website or listen to her 2013 TED talk. Did a light bulb go off when you took the quiz? I’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.