Grit – by Angela Duckworth

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Grit – by Angela Duckworth

‘Why passion and resilience are the keys to success’


Angela Duckworth studied successful people and found that the mega-successful weren’t the smartest, the fittest or the most talented, but the ones who had the most grit. Grit, this combination of passion and perseverance, turned out to be the strongest indicator and predicator of eventual success.

The good news? Even if you score pretty poorly on the Grit Assessment (like we both did), you can grow your Grit. Through interest, purpose, practice and hope, you can actually improve your grit score and learn to achieve more.


Grab a copy of the book here:


GRIT: ‘Why passion and resilience are the keys to success’

Angela Duckworth’s Grit Assessment

Showing Up

  • Students at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Trainees are faced with a gruelling training schedule, starting at 5am and not finishing until after 10pm, with little rest or repreieve throughout the day. Who made it through this training? Not the smartest nor the fittest, but the ones found to be the most determined and resilient (the ones with the most Grit). Angela Duckworth’s ‘Grit Assessment’ was a great predictor of which types of candidates would persist through the intense training and which were most likely to drop out. Grit predicted who would stay and who would go.
  • Salespeople. At a large company with a large, Angela did her Grit Assessment. She came back to the company a year later and found that there had been a 55% turnover in sales staff. Who stayed and who quit? The ones that quit scored the lowest on the Grit test, the ones who were still there were the ones who scored highest.
  • US Spelling Bee kids. Primary-school-aged students entering in the national spelling bee competitions required dedication and diligent effort in a pretty mundane and boring thing (looking though the dictionary, finding new words, and learning how they were spelt – even though you’d probably never use them in the real world). Again, the winners and the top performers at the end of the competition tended to be the ones that scored the highest on the Grit test.


Duckworth found that Grit turned out to be a good indicator and predictor of success and performance across a wide range of skills and a vast array of people.



What she studied – GRIT

The test is a measure of both passion and perseverance.

It is important to note that your results are a reflection of how you view yourself right now. How gritty you are at this current point in time might  be different to when you were younger, and if you take the test again in the future it will probably be different again. Part 2 of the book is how you can actively change your Grit score over time and ‘grow your grit’, so it’s helpful to know that Grit is like a muscle that you can strengthen with training.

Another important note is that the tests for ‘passion’ didn’t measure the intensity of the passion as much as the frequency or consistency. ‘Passion’ is often associated with ‘infatuation’ or ‘obsession’, that people with a strong passion are intensely committed to what they’re doing. But through her interviews with successful people, she found that the intensity of passion was nowhere near as important as the consistency over time. For example, she found world famous chefs that loved watching cooking shows when they were younger, then took home economics classes in high school, then studied at cooking school or worked in a restaurant overseas or studied under reputable teachers – it wasn’t the intensity of their passion for cooking but more so the consistent time span of their passion. Another example was investors who were as excited walking in to work in their 4th or 5th decade of investing as they were on their first day, or mathematicians who stuck with a single problem for years regardless of how the intensity of their passion waxed and waned.


Distracted by Talent


Angela was a school teacher

some initial tests at the start of the year identified which students were ‘talented’ or ‘gifted’ or were innately better at maths than the others

class tests/exams at the end of the year found which students performed the best and learnt the most during the year

“Apparently, aptitude did NOT guarantee achievement. Talent for math was different from excelling in math class”

The students who were the ‘overachievers’, the ones who finished the year at the top of the class, were the ones who came to class prepared, didn;t play around, were looking at the teacher and not out the window, took notes, asked questions, when they didn;t get something the first time they’d follow up with the teacher and try again, sometimes came in for extra help

Hard work showed more in their grades than ‘talent’

this tends to go against conventional wisdom somewhat

we assume that the people at the top of the class are the ‘naturals’, the people who are more gifted at maths, and that the bottom of the class are the people who are “just not numbers people” or “just not good at maths”

its also assumed that this gap would widen over time – the naturals learn more and learn quicker, then they can continue to accelerate, leaving the non-math people behind (but this wasn’t the case – talents didn’t matter as much as effort)

as a teacher, it is less important to identify who the talented students are and instead focus on trying to find ways that will sustain effort a little bit longer

Talent VS Effort

Effort Counts Twice

Swimmers study: Dan Chambliss did a study of competitive swimmers called “The Mundanity of Excellence”. The title encapsulates its major conclusion: the most dazzling human achievements are, in fact, the aggregate of countless individual elements, each of which is, in a sense, ordinary

Dan: “Superlative performance is really a confluence of dozens of small skills or activities, each one learned or stumbled upon, which have been carefully drilled into habit and then are fitted together in a synthesised whole. There is nothing extraordinary or superhuman in any one of those actions; only the fact that they are done consistently and correctly, and all together, produce excellence”


we generally look at amazing successful people and say “they’re a genius” or “they’re so talented” or “they have a special gift”

eg: Ian Thorpe, one of Australia’s most successful swimmers, had liek size 17 or size 18 feet. it’s easy to say that he’s gifted and that’s why he was so good, but that sn;t true of everyone with size 17 feet and it discounts the years and decades of hard work he invested

We like to think in this way because it’s easy to then differentiate highly successful people from us

they have a special gift, we don’t have it, so we could never achieve what they’ve achieved, so there’s no point in even trying

we make out there there is some “thing” inside them that was denied to the rest of us – some physical, genetic, psychological or physiological ‘gift’

it’s as if there’s some invisible, indistinguishable “talent” this differentiates the top performers – some are ‘natural athletes’ while most of us are not,  some ‘have it’ while the rest of us don’t

whenever we someone do something jaw-droppingly amazing, we throw up our arms and say “that’s a gift! nobody can teach you that”

that discounts the effort they invested into honing this ‘gift’

It also let’s us off the hook for not trying as hard

it’s easier to discount it and call something “natural” to other people than it is to admit that they’re better than us and they’ve worked harder than us in order to get beyond a ‘normal’ level of achievement

Dan Chambliss who studied the swimmers found that the best ones were the ones that tended to train the hardest and the longest, those that more readily repeated the boring and mundane training drills focused on getting better

“If you had time-lapse photos of the hours and days and weeks that produced excellence, you could see what he saw: that a high level of performance is, in fact, an accretion of mundane acts”

“The main thing is that greatness is doable. Greatness is many, many individual feats, and each of them is doable”


Angela Duckworth’s theory of achievement


Talent X EFFORT = Skill

Skill X EFFORT = Achievement

Between talent and achievement, effort counts twice


“talent” is how quickly you skills improve when you apply effort

“achievement” is what happens when you take your acquired skills and use them

of course ‘opportunities’ and ‘luck’ can matter enormously, perhaps more than anything else, but this theory doesn;t address these somewhat random outside forces and instead focuses on things that are largely within our control

Risk of spotlight on talent

the biggest reason a preoccupation with talent can be harmful is simple:

by shining a spotlight on talent, we risk leaving everything else in the shadows

we inadvertently send the message that these other factors don’t matter as much

other factors of success include, but certainly not limited to, (effort, commitment, interest, passion, open-mindedness and curiosity, risk appetite, etc




How to get/grow Grit


research shows that people are enormously MORE SATISFIED with their jobs when they do something that fits their personal interests

this was the conclusion of a meta-analysis of over 100 different studies into passion spanning every conceivable occupation

EG: people who enjoy thinking about abstract ideas are NOT happy managing the minutiae of logistics or project, they’re happier solving math or scientific problems

EG: people who enjoy interacting with people are NOT happy when they have to sit at a computer all day analysing data

People who enjoy their jobs are not just happier in their jobs, they’re happier in their life as a whole

People PERFORM better at work when what they do interests them

While it’s naive to think that anyone could love every minute of every day of their work, thousands of data points point to one conclusion that confirms the commonsense intuition: INTEREST MATTERS

Nobody is interested in everything, and everybody is interested in something

So matching your job to what captures your attention and imagination is a good idea

It may not guarantee happiness and success, but it sure helps the odds

This was the conclusion of a meta-analysis of 60+ years worth of research and studies

employees whose intrinsic personal interests fit with their occupations are better at their jobs, are more helpful to their coworkers, and they stay in their jobs longer

college students whose personal interests align with their major earn higher grades and are less likely to drop out

How to find what you’re passionate about: Discovery, Development, Deepening


Firstly, Childhood seems far too early to know what we want to be when we grow up. Most people don’t just KNOW this from a very young age. Longitudinal studies of thousands of people across time have shown that most people only BEGIN to gravitate toward certain vocational interests (and away from others) in their teenage years. In high school you’re just starting to work out your likes and dislikes

Secondly, interests are NOT discovered through introspection. Instead, interests are triggered by interactions with the outside world. The process of interest discovery can be messy, serendipitous, and inefficient. You can’t really predict what will capture your interest and what wont. You can’t simply WILL yourself to like something because it seems like a good idea. Jeff Bezos said: “One of the huge mistakes people make is that they try to FORCE an interest on themselves”. Without experimenting, you can’t figure out which interests will stick, and which won’t.

HOW – Ask yourself a few simple questions:

        • what do I like to think about?
        • where does my mind wander?
        • what do I really care about?
        • what matters most to me?
        • How do I enjoy spending my time?
        • In contrast – what do I find absolutely unbearable?



What follows the initial discovery of an interest is a much lengthier and increasingly proactive method of interest DEVELOPMENT. Crucially, the initial triggering of a new interest must be followed by subsequent encounters that re-trigger your attention

In the book Grit, we are told the example of NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins. He said he was intrigued by watching space shuttle launches on TV. But it wasn’t just ONE launch that made him instantly realise his passion – it was several launches of a period of years that led him to dig deeper into space, NASA, exploration, and so on – each new piece of information leading to intrigue and a deeper interest.



What follows is then month, years, decades of deepening your interest and your passion. To the novice: anything that hasn’t been encountered before is novelty to the beginner. To the expert: NUANCE becomes the new novelty – looking for ways to constantly learn new things, to learn bigger and better things, to dig deeper and make connections.


In sum – ‘follow your passion’ is not bad advice. But what may be even more useful is to understand how passions are fostered in the first place.




Japanese term that is all about resisting that plateau and pushing past ‘arrested development’

It’s all about “Constant Improvement”. Colloquially spoken about as getting 1% better every day. All of the mega successful people we’ve spoken about so far have had elements of Kaizen: they’re never satisfied with where they are, they’re constantly and continuously looking to get better. “It’s a persistent desire to do better”. It’s the opposite of being complacent. It’s a positive mindset, not a negative one – it’s not about looking back with dissatisfaction, it’s about looking forward and wanting to grow.

It’s not just about MORe time on task – it’s also about BETTER time on task


Anderss Ericsson study (or Jonesy would say Gladwell discovered it)

The ‘10,000 hour’ rule

it’s not about spending exactly 10,000 hours and then you become successful – it’s more about the order of magnitude: it’s not 10s to 100s of hours, its many thousands or hours of focus, deliberate practice

How experts practice:

They set a stretch goal

this zeroes in on one specific area of their overall performance

rather than focusing on what they already d well, experts strive to improve specific weaknesses

EG: swimmer might dedicate a training block to just working on turns, or just working on dives

EG: violinist or pianist will drill specific actions to improve, like strengthening their wrists for octaves or increasing their finger speed with scales

With undivided attention and great effort, experts strive to reach their street goal

A big part of this is getting FEEDBACK

as soon as possible, experts hungrily seek feedback on how they did

Experts are willing to get negative feedback and look at the things they did wrong more than what they did right, so that they can focus on improving not just praising themselves

The aim of this is to get from ‘conscious incompetence’ to ‘unconscious competence’ (can dive deeper if required – e.g.: driving a car or riding a bike)

EG: NBA basketballer Kevin Durant says the time training with the team is only 30% of his training the other 70% is him working alone by himself on specific elements of his game

Once they achieve their stretch goal… they set ANOTHER stretch goal, a more difficult one that extends them even further


    • Peter Drucker said after a lifetime of studying successful CEOs: “effective management demands doing certain – and fairly simple – things, it consists of a number of small practices”
    • Atul Gawande, surgeon and author of A Checklist Manifesto: “people often assume you have to have great hands to become a surgeon but that’s not true – what’s most important is practicing this one difficult thing day and night for years on end”
    • David Blaine, magician, said in his TED talk: “As a magician, I try to show things to people that seem impossible… but it’s all pretty simple – it’s practice. It’s training, experimenting, and pushing through the pain to be the best”

Change the way your experience practice

  • rather than bemoaning the mundanity and laboriousness of practice, look for ways to enjoy the practice itself
  • rather than trying to push through the pain of practice, hoping it will pay off in eventual performance gains, find a way to enjoy doing the practice each and every day


One by one, these subtle refinement add up to dazzling mastery


Interest is one source of passion. Purpose is another. The mature passions of gritty people depend on both.

You might think it’s amazing to start out with a purpose-driven project that will help change the world – it doesn’t often work out that way. the more common sequence is to start out with a relatively self-oriented interest, then learn self-disciplined practice, and finally integrate that work with an other-cantered purpose.

Duckworth’s suggestions:

1 – Reflect on how the work you’re already doing can make a positive contribution to society

In your current job, you’re surely creating value in some way. Reflect on what you’re currently doing and identify the ways in which you’re making the world a better place and/or helping improve the lives and experiences of others (no matter how big or small)

2 – think about how (in small but meaningful ways, you can change your current work to enhance its connection to your core values

once you’ve identified what you’re ALREADY doing, next look to how you could do these BETTER or do MORE things. You can certainly improve your current situation. it might be through adding a new responsilbity to your task list, or delegating some work to others, or customising certain elements. this is about “job crafting” – not quitting your job or finding a new one, but manoeuvring within your current job description to add more value and a greater sense of purpose

3 – Find inspiration in a purposeful role model

Think about someone who inspires you to be a better person. What ideas or lessons can you take from them and apply to your own trajectory?



There’s an old Japanese saying: “Fall seven, Rise eight”.

There are two types of hope. One kind of hope is that tomorrow will be better than today. But this type of hope puts the onus on the universe to make things better.GRIT comes from a different type of hope. We must bring the locus of control back to us – this hope comes from the expectation that our own efforts can improve our future. NOT ‘I have a feeling tomorrow will be better’, BUT: “I RESOLVE TO MAKE TOMORROW BETTER”. The hope that gritty people have has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with getting up again when they fall.

One important shift in mindset is to change the way you view setbacks or hurdles. Martin Seligman conducted a study in which a scenario was presented: “IMAGINE – you can’t get all the work done that others expect of you”. The question is: what leaps to mind as the one major cause of this event? A pessimists might say “I always screw everything up” to “I’m a bit of a loser so these kinds of things happen to me”. An optimist would say “I didn’t work efficiently because of distractions” or “I mismanaged my time”

The difference?

  • TEMPORARY (versus permanent)
  • SPECIFIC (versus pervasive)

HENRY FORD: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”. “When you keep searching for ways to change your situation for the better, you stand a chance of finding them”. “When you stop searching, assuming they can’t be found, you guarantee they won’t”.

Angela Duckworth’s suggestions

1 – Growth Mindset -> optimistic self talk -> perseverance over adversity

Update your beliefs about intelligence and talent. Like much of what we’ve discussed in the book, you CAN improve your achievements by applying effort to your talent. Instead of viewing your current levels and abilities as ‘fixed’, view them as things that you can improve at. Starting with the ‘mindset’that you can improve is the first vital step toward making improvements

2 – Practice optimistic self-talk

when you’re talking about problemsW(to other people or in your own head) ship these problems from permanent & pervasive to specific & temporary. You can modify your self talk by pulling yourself up when you say things that are pessimistic – be conscious of the things you’re saying and always shift them toward being optimistic. With practice and guidance, when the going gets tough, you can change the way you think, feel, and most importantly, act.

3 – perseverance over adversity

How often to people start down a path then give up on it entirely? People buy treadmills, exercise bikes and weight sets that are now sitting in the garage or the basement collecting dust. People start on a new diet then give up when it gets a little hard. Same goes for home vegetable gardens and compost bins – starting it is fun and easy, but keeping going is difficult.”Many of us, it seems, quit what we start far too early and far too often”. “Even more than the effort a gritty person puts in on a single day, what matters is that they wake up the next day, and the next, ready to get back on the treadmill and keep going”


The pessimist views setbacks as permanent – ‘I’m not good at managing my time’ is a permanent issue whereas “I managed my time poorly on this project’ is a temporary issue. The pessimist views their drawbacks as pervasive not specific – “I’m not good at sports” compared to “I’m not good at pitching a baseball”. Being an optimist means you can see specific, temporary things holding you back, and you can begin working on them right away to start getting better and making improvements

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