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How Gritty Are You?

What are the causes of success? My college students in my Math Study Skills class have been researching this topic since each one of them desires to be successful at math. We watched a six minute video by Angela Lee Duckworth: The Key to Success? Grit on You Tube.  She relates how she left a top paying job in consulting, to teach math to seventh graders in a New York public school. She soon realized that IQ wasn't the only thing separating her successful students from those who struggled. In the video, she describes her theory of "grit" as a predictor of success.  Below is a summary of what she says.

At first glance, the answer is easy: success is about talent. It’s about being able to do something – hit a baseball, play chess, write a blog – better than most anyone else. But what is talent? How did that person get so good at hitting a baseball or playing chess? For a long time, talent seemed to be about inheritance, about the blessed set of genes that gave rise to some particular skill. Einstein had the physics gene, Beethoven had the symphony gene, and Tiger Woods (at least until his car crash) had the golf swing gene. The outcome, of course, is that you and I can’t become chess grandmasters or composers or golf pros because we don’t have the necessary anatomy. Endless hours of hard work won’t compensate for our biological limitations.

But think about this - Beethoven wasn’t born Beethoven.  He had to work extremely hard to become Beethoven. Talent is about practice. Talent takes effort. Talent requires a good coach. But these answers only raise more questions. What, for instance, allows someone to practice for so long? Why are some people so much better at deliberate practice? If talent is about hard work, then what factors influence how hard we can work?

It is deliberate (conscious, intentional, planned) practice that spells success. In other words, deliberate practice works. People who spend more time in deliberate practice mode perform much better. The bad news is that deliberate practice isn't fun and is consistently rated as the least enjoyable form of self-improvement. Nevertheless, as golfers, musicians, etc. gain experience, they devote increasing amounts of time to deliberate practice, and consistent, deliberate practice is done by grit. Not surprisingly, those with grit are more single-minded about their goals – they tend to get obsessed with certain activities – and also more likely to persist in the face of struggle and failure. Woody Allen famously declared that "Eighty percent of success is showing up." Grit is what allows you to show up again and again

While grit has little or nothing to do with intelligence (as measured by IQ scores), it often explains why an individual is successful. Thomas Edison was right: "Even genius is mostly just perspiration."

Our most important talent is having a talent for working hard, for practicing even when practice isn't fun. It’s about putting in the hours when we’d much rather be watching TV, or drilling ourselves with note cards filled with obscure words instead of getting quizzed by a friend. Success is never easy. That’s why talent requires grit.

Duckworth, A.L., & Gross, J.J. (2014). Self-control and grit: Related but separable
determinants of success. Current Directions in
Psychological Science, 23(5), 319-325

How does your grit compare with others? I had my students take the 12 point survey developed by Duckworth to see how they rated. Some were surprised while others were well aware of their grit level. I even took it!  Want to give it a try or have your students see how gritty they are?  Just click on the word "survey."  When you have completed the survey, fill in the score grid below to find out just how gritty you truly are.

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