Grit, part 2 of 3

This is a continuation from last week’s post…..

Positive Psychology is considered to be the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive, and as in any field of scientific study, measurement is an integral part of this area. If we can measure it, then we have basis in which we can draw comparison and see improvement. I have always known that grit was an important piece of success as an athlete. Until recently, I believed that you either had it or you did not have it it. Grit was known by me, and referred to by me as the “it” factor, either you had “it” or you did not have “it”. On top of that, there certainly is no way to measure the level of “it” someone possesses. Oh, how wrong that thinking was! I have learned valuable insight into well-being, with grit being one topic that I would like to continue more research and training. What I have learned is that grit can be multiple things; grit can be defined, grit can be measured, grit can be trained, and grit can be improved.

As mentioned earlier, grit is defined as a non-cognitive trait based on an individual's perseverance of effort combined with passion for a particularly long term goal or end state. How gritty can someone be? And, more importantly, can use measure the level of grittiness? Angela Duckworth in her book Grit goes into great detail on her observations at West Point’s four year cadet program. Each year 14,000 apply, and of these applicants, only 4,000 are nominated, 2,500 meet West Point requirements, and 1,200 of 2,500 enroll. One in five cadets leave West Point before graduation, with the highest percentage dropping out during their first year. For years, scholars were debating what type of cadet makes it through the program. Duckworth’s research showed that cadets who displayed the ability to persevere in the face of obstacles had a higher success rate. Research establishes the predictive power of grit over talent for certain outcomes.

Grit is not just about hard work, it is about sticking with something until you develop the skill and then apply the skill. Truly, you must have passion, but there is a stronger emphasis on the commitment process of passion. Perseverance + Passion = Grit. Duckworth developed the Grit Scale that has been administered to thousands of people. Each individual receives a grit score by answering a series of questions, with half of the questions focusing on passion and the other half focusing on perseverance. Research shows that just as our brains can adapt and grow over time, so can our grit score. Grit can change as age increases--call it the maturation process. As we encounter more trial-and-error experiences we experience more opportunities to bounce back from failures. This allows us to continually reset and re-evaluate goals, becoming more perseverant, and ultimately, more committed to goals.

Knowing that grit can be defined, it can be measured, now the question arises as to how we can improve grit. Anders Ericcson has a top-selling book entitled Peak: Secrets From The New Science of Expertise states that hours of practice do not improve grit, but instead, learning the keys to deliberate practice will improve grit. Deliberate practice is used to assist in the rewiring of one’s neurology. Deliberate practice requires a whole new way of thinking; it requires constant feedback, establishing specific goals, working on both strengths and weaknesses, and expanding your comfort zone. Deliberate practice is more of a process, it is about preparation, it is most effective to growth when it becomes a behavior. Scheduling practice times increases the likelihood of following through, which in turn causes results to happen sooner. When we see results sooner, our confidence and our ability to persevere through obstacles increases.

As a parent, and as a coach of children, I am fascinated by kids and athletes that display grit. As I have taken a deeper dive into the subject of grit I am energized to learn more on this topic. There is so much research and information on the topic with authors like Angela Duckworth, Anders Ericcson, and Paddy Steinfort. If you missed last week’s post and want to get a sample of your grit Score, take this simple assessment. Already I am fascinated by the different levels of grit by age, gender, and background. As I learn more, I have burning questions in my head including, “how do I cultivate grit within my kids and athletes?” and, “how do I create a culture of grittiness?” Is it as easy as encountering enough obstacles early in life so that those that I come in contact with closely associate hard work and deliberate practice with reward? Is the best way to teach grit by modeling grit myself? Regardless, in our quest of the good life, grit has been closely tied to well-being. If I want to cultivate grit, I have to help those that I care about push through obstacles, continually encouraging them to seek purpose in their life, and model grit myself in everyday practice.