Effort & Grit

“Effort is one of the things that gives meaning to life. Effort means you care about something, that something is important to you and you are willing to work for it”, Carol Dweck.

“Recently some close friends visited, both of whom have worked in education with adolescents for over 40 years”, Margaret M. Perlis. “We were talking about students in general and when I asked what has changed with regards to the character of kids, in unison they said “grit” – or more specifically, lack thereof. There seems to be growing concern among teachers that kids these days are growing soft.

When I took a deeper dive, I found that what my friends have been observing in-the-field, researchers have been measuring in the lab. The role grit plays in success has become a topic du jour, spearheaded by Angela Duckworth, who was catapulted to the forefront of the field after delivering a TED talk which has since been viewed well over a  million times. Additionally, in the last month, Duckworth received a $650,000 MacArthur fellowship, otherwise known as the “Genius Grant,” to continue her work. And, while Duckworth has made tremendous leaps in the field, she stands on the shoulders of giants including William James, K.E Ericson, and Aristotle, who believed tenacity was one of the most valued virtues.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, grit in the context of behavior is defined as “firmness of character; indomitable spirit.” Duckworth, based on her studies, tweaked this definition to be “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” While I recognize that she is the expert, I questioned her modification…in particular the “long-term goals” part. Some of the grittiest people I’ve known lack the luxury to consider the big picture and instead must react to immediate needs. This doesn’t diminish the value of their fortitude, but rather underscores that grit perhaps is more about attitude than an end game.

But Duckworth’s research is conducted in the context of exceptional performance and success in the traditional sense, so requires it be measured by test scores, degrees, and medals over an extended period of time. Specifically, she explores this question, talent and intelligence/ IQ being equal: why do some individuals accomplish more than others?  It is that distinction which allows her the liberty to evolve the definition, but underscores the importance of defining her context.”

The characteristics of grit outlined below include Duckworth’s findings as well as some that defy measurement. Duckworth herself is the first to say that the essence of grit remains elusive. It has hundreds of correlates, with nuances and anomalies, and your level depends on the expression of their interaction at any given point. Sometimes it is stronger, sometimes weaker, but the constancy of your tenacity is based on the degree to which you can access, ignite, and control it. So here are a few of the more salient characteristics to see how you measure up.

Courage

While courage is hard to measure, it is directly proportional to your level of grit. More specifically, your ability to manage fear of failure is imperative and a predicator of success. The supremely gritty are not afraid to tank, but rather embrace it as part of a process.

Conscientiousness: Achievement Oriented vs. Dependable

According to Duckworth, of the five personality traits, conscientiousness is the most closely associated with grit. The achievement-oriented individual is one who works tirelessly, tries to do a good job, and completes the task at hand, whereas the dependable person is more notably self-controlled and conventional.

Long-Term Goals and Endurance: Follow Through

Duckworth writes:“… achievement is the product of talent and effort, the latter a function of the intensity, direction, and duration of one’s exertions towards a long-term goal.” Most of all is the importance of goals and lots, and lots and lots of practice…10,000 hours to be precise.

Resilience: Optimism, Confidence, and Creativity

For Zolli, resilience is a dynamic combination of optimism, creativity, and confidence, which together empower one to reappraise situations and regulate emotion – a behavior many social scientists refer to as “hardiness” or “grit.” Zolli takes it even further and explains that “hardiness” is comprised of three tenents: “ (1) the belief one can find meaningful purpose in life, (2) the belief that one can influence one’s surroundings and the outcome of events, and (3) the belief that positive and negative experiences will lead to learning and growth.”

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