grit fistIt’s hard for me to talk about grit without getting a nerdy version of Will Smith’s song Gettin’ Jiggy with It, stuck in brain:
Gettin’ gritty with it.
Nah nah nah nah nah nah….
Getting’ gritty with it.

Okay…perhaps you have no idea what I’m talking about. That’s alright. Stick with me. Will Smith is not the point here…Grit is!

If you have set goals, especially long-term goals, AND you’d like to succeed, then grit is very much the point.

Before we get too deeply into what grit is and how to grow grit – let me convince you why you need to care about your grittiness (or the grittiness of your staff, partner, child, etc.). To begin, consider your long-term goals. Here are a few examples to get your brain flowing:
• Become a writer
• Create a resilient organizational culture
• Go to college
• Lose the weight and keep it off
• Give powerful speeches
• Lead groups of people effectively

According to Angela Duckworth, author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (2016), we should care about grit because gritty people succeed in their long-term goals. According to her research, more than IQ, more than social/emotional intelligence, more that talent, more than good looks and great health; Grit is the characteristic that emerged as the predictor of success. Okay…are you convinced?
So, let’s talk about Gettin’ Gritty with It!

Grit is defined as having passion and perseverance for long-term goals. As Angela says in her  2013 TED Talk, “Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Grit is resilience. In grit, werunning understand that failure is an essential step to success. Let’s take this marathon metaphor even further. If I have grit, I understand that I will not run 26.2 miles the first time I try. I know in advance, that it will hurt. I will, more than likely sustain an injury. I understand I may need to invest in a coach or, at the very least, an app to help me. It means I must train through the hot days and cold days. It means I am resilient in the face of this adversity. I am passionate enough to persevere. That is grit. I take one step at a time, one day at a time, day after day, mile after mile. Every mile will not be a glorious moment of crossing the finish line, and I run each and every mile anyway.

Perhaps I really want to run a marathon but I’ve never considered myself a runner. Here’s the magic, people. Talent is trumped by effort. Yes, according to research, grit trumps talent. Duckwork (2016) reports from her research, talent counts once, while effort counts twice. She breaks her findings down like this:
Talent x Effort = Skill
Skill x Effort = Achievement

Note the importance of this. According to research, raw talent does not equal achievement. These breakthrough findings mean that we don’t need to be birthed with a raw artistic talent to be a successful artist. It means really great leaders are created with intention, passion and perseverance, not simply because they are “natural” leaders. It means our college graduates are made more of grit then they are of high SAT scores. Dear reader, it means if you want “it”, whatever “it” is, by all means, get gritty with it and make it happen because efforts counts twice!
When it comes to grit, there is no shortage of good news. Not only is it an indicator of success, grit can be grown. It can be fostered and created.
Here are three ways to begin growing grit (in yourself and in others):

  1. Praise the Process: When we focus on the outcome, rewarding only for an obtained goal, we create an environment where failure is feared, something to be avoided. Instead, praise the effort, strategy, and process. Talent and intellect are great, but alone, they are not indicators of success. When we praise, and even reward, these mico-grit moments we see greater effort, strategy, engagements over longer periods of time, and more perseverance in the face of challenges (Dwek, 2014). In short, when we praise the process, we grow grit.
  2. Foster a Growth Mindset: A growth mindset, coined by Carol Dwek, pioneering researcher in the field of motivation, professor at Stanford, and the author of Mindset, is the concept that we are not fixed beings chained to our current skills and abilities. In fact, we can grow our brain’s capacity to learn and to solve problems. In a growth mindset, we understand that in all phases of our lives we have the ability to grow, to learn, to change, and to succeed. Functioning from a growth mindset, we transform our ideas of effort and difficulty into indicators of learning and confirmation of the need to practice and study. Effort and difficulty are signs that we are moving forward rather than a sign from the universe that we should give up and do something else.  One simple way to stay in a growth mindset is to add the word yet into your vocabulary. Success is not a matter of can or can’t, it’s a matter of yet. I’m not running a marathon, yet! I’m not writing novels, yet! I do not completely understand this concept, yet, but I will. Yet, inspires us. The growth mindset of a person who aspires to be a runner says, “Yes, I’m a runner. I’m just not running marathons, yet!” A fixed mindset says, “I’m just not a runner.”
  3. Have High Standards and High Warmth: Duckworth (2016) introduces readers to a study where teachers offer standard feedback to students on submitted essays. Prior to returning these evaluated essays to the students, researchers randomly assigned one of two post-it notes to the essays. Group A received notes that read something similar to “I’ve evaluated your paper. Here you go.” Group B had notes that read like, “I’m offering this feedback because I have really high expectations of you and I know you can reach them.” Regarding Group A, only 40% submitted their revised essays compared to Group B, where a whopping 80% resubmitted essays. The only difference was the message on the post-it note. High warmth (AKA Compassion) soothes the brain. When we shame, blame, or neglect we engage the lower brain – our fight or flight system. Put simply, we react. Quite opposite, when we use warmth and compassion, we allow the brain to feel a sense of safety. Thus, our executive functions do their job – we think, we engage with challenges, we respond.

It is vitally important to remember that growing grit does not just count in our efforts towards others – from the outside in. Clearly, using these techniques with our families and our staff members is important. More important though, is to build grit from the inside out. These techniques are powerful when they are self-imposed. Start with you.
1. Praise your process.
2. Foster your own growth mindset.
3. Hold yourself to high standards while practicing high levels of self-compassion and warmth.

There is a Nelson Mandela quote that beautifully captures the spirit of grit. He said, “Don’t judge me by my success. Judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up.” That, dear reader, is grit.


Tiffany Grimes, Founder and CEO

Evolutionary Consulting.  Neuroscience for Everyday People

Let us help you grow grit!


Works Cited

  • Duckworth, A. (2016). Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverence. New York: Scribner.
  • Dwek, C. (2014, November). The Power of Believing that You Can Improve. TEDxNorrkoping . Norrkoping, Sweden: TED.