Instilling Grit in Your Children (part 1 of 2)

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By Joel Fehsenfeld, LCSW, Courier & Press, October 25, 2016 –

Why are some people more successful than others? Is it talent? Luck? Genetics? Money? Who you know? Street smarts? Book smarts? High IQ? Hard work?

This question has plagued the minds of psychologists for decades with no real clear answer to the secret of success. For example, West Point Military Academy has one of the most rigorous admissions processes. Of the roughly 14,000 applicants who begin the admissions process to West Point every year, only 1,200 are selected; of that number, 1 in every 5 drop out before graduation.

The ability to predict one person’s likelihood of success over another has also evaded psychologists. However, Angela Duckworth, awarded the MacArthur Fellowship for her research on success, figured out the secret characteristic that separated the candidates who would actually graduate from West Point from those who would drop out.

So, what is the secret? Simply put, Duckworth revealed that the key ingredient was grit.

What is grit? In this article I will help provide an explanation and understanding of Duckworth’s notion of grit and why it predicts success. Then, in a following article, I hope to convey what Duckworth shares on ways to develop grit.

Duckworth points out that a West Point graduate, people who earn master’s or doctorate degrees, finalists of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, top-performing salespeople, or even Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos are often no more talented or intelligent than others. Instead, it is their “grittiness” that carries them to a high level of success.

Grit is the balance of an interdependent relationship between passion and perseverance.

To persevere, in Duckworth’s mind, is the ability to endure struggle, be okay with failure, try again and again and continue to work hard. Perseverance is required for an athlete to practice the mundane, day- to-day routines that build up to greater skill and excellence. It is the sustained effort to build mastery with the long-term horizon in view.

Perseverance, however, without Duckworth’s notion of passion, does not equal grit. Without passion, perseverance is just the ability to work hard at something without satisfaction. Passion is key to the sustained persistence required for gaining a refined skill or completing a long-term goal such as graduation from West Point.

Passion is the ability to sustain interest, desire, or energy towards some type of goal or achievement, whether it is a sporting, business, academic, or personal financial achievement. It is easy to muster energy for something that is a fleeting interest, but to manufacture energy towards a sustained goal without passion is nearly impossible.

Passion is the excitement and energy sparked over and over again to love the pursuit and process of building skill for the sake of the long-term achievement. Therefore, passion is crucial to fueling the effort that is required in Duckworth’s success equation:

  1. talent multiplied by effort = skill  and   2)   skill multiplied by effort = achievement.

Interested in figuring out if you have grit? Check out Angela Duckworth’s website and take the grit scale to see where you rate: angeladuckworth.com. If you would like to hear more about grit, check out this TED Talks presentation by Duckworth: youtube.com/watch?v=H14bBuluwB8.

If you would like to know how to build grit in your child or yourself, stay tuned for part 2 of this article next week.