Ever wonder why certain people become so dang successful?? Sure they’re intelligent and seem to have a decent level of skill– but so do you. “I’m smart, too,” you think to yourself, quieting your inner critic that pits you against others. And yet, it’s perfectly clear that certain people seem to be light years ahead in terms of tangible achievements….
What is it that separates those highly successful individuals from the rest of the herd?
Cutting edge research from Angela Duckworth, a recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant and my fabulously stylish statistics professor at UPenn, suggest that “grit”, a combination of passion and perseverance for very long-term goals, is critical to an individual’s ability to achieve. Duckworth has studied adults, West Point cadets, National Spelling Bee champs, and students at elite universities. In every case, she found that grit, not intelligence, was the most reliable predictor of a positive outcome. The kids who won the spelling bee weren’t necessarily smarter than their peers, they just worked a whole lot harder at studying words.
Most of us know at least one gritty individual– someone who sustains effort and interest in something over many years, despite failure, adversity and plateaus in progress. These people take the “marathon approach” to achievement, calling on their stamina when the going gets tough. While many people are easily thrown off course by disappointment or boredom, the gritty individual stays the course.
One quality in particular seems to capture the very essence of grit: follow-through. The purposeful, continuous commitment to certain types of activities (as opposed to sporadic efforts in diverse areas) is the single best predictor of significant accomplishment in science, art, sports, communications, organization, or some other endeavor (Willingham, 1985, p. 213).
There is an important distinction to be made between grit and self-control, primarily in regards to timeline. Grit facilitates action towards especially challenging goals over years, even decades, while self-control is more applicable toward hourly temptations. Both are important, and certainly the individual who can resist surfing Facebook or playing Candy Crush every 10 minutes is more likely to take ongoing positive action toward their goals. That said, grit is the real key to long-term success and significant goal attainment.
Good news: unlike IQ which is relatively fixed, grit can be cultivated and increased! Here are a few ideas to help you support your child in developing the stick-to-it-iveness that will help her to reach her greatest potential:
Model Perseverance: Your kids are always watching. Period. So when you say you’re going to do something, do it!! Especially if you’re stuck of failing– that’s when your kids will be looking to see how you handle frustration and disappointment. Kids (and perhaps you) must learn that experiencing discomfort is a natural part of of striving, and while the willingness to push through that discomfort doesn’t always come naturally, it is the true key to persevering.
Provide a Challenge: As a parent, instincts tell you to put your child in situations where you know they will thrive. But the truth is that real achievement is the result of pushing personal boundaries and triumphing over something difficult. Encourage your kids to engage in activities that require disciplined practice. Doing so will build self-efficacy beliefs and inspire them to tackle bigger challenges in the future.
Retract the Safety Net: Watching your child struggle or fail can be down right painful. Instead of allowing them to push through failure, many parents throw a safety net under their children that prevents them from feeling the sting. In this way, children never learn to be resilient during times of strife. While it may be uncomfortable for you to talk about your own failures, sharing personal stories of struggle with your kids is a great way to support them through a challenge, highlighting the important truth that failures don’t determine one’s worth.
Wanna know how Gritty YOU are? Take the test here!
Willingham, W. W. (1985). Success in college: The role of personal qualities and academic ability. New York: College Entrance Examination Board.