So you’re not a natural runner or a quick study with the knitting needles—who cares! Whether you want to purl your way to a new wardrobe or finish your first marathon, passion and persistence can trump talent, says Angela Duckworth, PhD, author of the book Grit. We asked Duckworth, a MacArthur fellow and professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, how to succeed at anything.
Q: Is grit just another word for resilience?
A: The word grit does suggest resilience, but it’s bigger than that: It’s demonstrating the totally unglamorous, undramatic perseverance you need to reach your target—showing up at the pool at 4:30 A.M. to swim laps or revising your book draft for the 19th time.
Q: How do you measure something so intangible?
A: After years of interviews and research, I developed a grit scale. Scores are based on how you relate to a series of prompts. Half are about perseverance: I am a hard worker. I finish whatever I begin. The other half focus on passion: New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones. My interests change from year to year. Ultimately, the scale measures the extent to which you approach life with a sense of dedication and commitment to goals.
Q: You’ve interviewed high achievers in academia, business, and athletics. Surely natural talent does give some people an advantage, right?
A: I’m not saying talent doesn’t exist, but people vastly overemphasize its importance. West Point, for example, rates how talented each student is, relying on factors like athletic ability and test scores. I conducted a study in which 1,218 new cadets took the grit test at the beginning of their seven-week summer training. By the end of the program, 71 cadets had quit, and grit scores were a more reliable predictor than talent ratings of who stuck it out.
Q: Can we make ourselves grittier?
A: Absolutely. Most people I’ve studied rate slightly higher on perseverance than passion. They know how to work hard but struggle to sustain interest. Now, you can’t will yourself to like something. But you can go out into the world and do things to discover what inspires you. Then you can practice. Gritty people train at the edge of their comfort zone. They zero in on one narrow aspect of their performance and set a stretch goal to improve it.
Q: In your research, what’s surprised you most?
A: That gritty people have a sense of purpose that extends beyond themselves—even wine tasters or high-achieving hedge fund managers. So if thinking about your waistline isn’t reason enough to keep training, you can double your motivation by relating your goal to others: If I exercise, I’ll live longer for the people who care about me and need me.That kind of motivation can make reaching the finish line all the more worthwhile.
Take the ten-question quiz at angeladuckworth.com/grit-scale to find out your grit score.