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Cultivating Grit in Your Own Life

Takeaways from Duckworth’s 'Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance'

Since I was little, I had always held a high standard for myself. If I struggled with homework, I would cry if my mom gave me an answer, because I was disappointed that I couldn’t figure it out on my own.

Knowing my own perfectionist tendencies, it’s not remarkable that I was deeply inspired by Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. This book details, both scientifically and anecdotally, what it is that makes people so successful. Throughout my time reading its pages, this book informed many of my decisions and motivated me to push through challenges when I would have stopped.

But I’m not here to simply rave about my experience. I want to share the learnings with others, so that they too can be inspired — even if they don’t want to read all 333 pages.

First, what is grit? We all have a sense that it is the ability to push through, do what needs to be done, be tenacious. But Duckworth narrows it down to its basic elements: grit, the quality that every high achiever has, is the combination of passion and perseverance. Through this definition, Duckworth implies that grit can’t be applied to everything, but for the areas in our life that truly matter to us, it can be.

Even more, grit is what gets success, not just talent. To me, this very short definition was immensely comforting. I truly believe that the reason that most people attribute success to talent is because this thinking serves us on an (often) unconscious level, by allowing us to excuse our own lack of grit, work ethic, perseverance, and dedication flippantly, by chalking such high degrees of success to something outside of ourselves, out of our control. And to this point, philosopher Nietzsche concurs: “Our vanity, our self-love, promotes the cult of the genius... For if we think of genius as something magical, we are not obliged to compare ourselves and find ourselves lacking… To call someone ‘divine’ means: ‘here there is no need to compete.’”

I could go into great detail the studies that Duckworth conducted to define and refine the idea of grit. Instead, I believe it to be more useful to leave my readers with some tangible ways of thinking in order to cultivate grit in their own lives.

Clarify Your Goals

Think in one direction. Find your passion and refine your vision.

I’ve created a version of Duckworth’s goal hierarchy (below) for your inspiration and reference. Although it is an oversimplification, I encourage you to use it as a guide for your goal-setting. For example, I want to become a published writer — this is my top-level goal. This goal is the end in itself. Trickling down from there, goals become more specific and more of a means to the end, the end being my top-level goal. For example, one of my mid-level goals would be to consistently freelance write for an industry within professional environments. Two low-level goals for this would be to seek out work through my professional network and applications, and to continue practicing my writing process by writing every day.

It’s important to note that this writing analogy is likely not going to resonate with everyone — but that’s the point. To me, creating that scenario and thinking through my goals for something that I enjoy and am passionate about was enjoyable. Because of my passion, I will be much more likely to push through — in a word, persevere.

Make Practice a Habit

Although there are countless takeaways from the book that I wish to share (and likely will, at a later date), my final words will be on practice. More specifically, deliberate practice. Through her research and interviews, Duckworth ironed out a necessary component of grit, which is intentional and regimented practice to hone one’s craft. Not only does deliberate practice make the most of your time (one hour of deliberate practice makes more of a difference than three hours of general practice), but it is exactly how the experts approach their vocation.

Here, the steps experts take to practice their craft:

  1. First, set a stretch goal, zeroing in on just one narrow aspect of overall performance (intentionally seeking out challenges).
  2. Next, give undivided attention and great effort to meet the defined stretch goal.
  3. Seek feedback and actively process it.
  4. Repeat. Continue practicing these challenges until mastery.
  5. Mastered it? Set a new stretch goal.

My assumption is, most of those who are reading this piece right now are Type-A people, people who are not one to embrace their own mistakes without judgement. For these people, I can’t reiterate it enough: it takes practice to just develop deliberate practice. Be optimistic, view challenges and mistakes as opportunities. Your optimism will get you to where you need to go, it will keep you on track much longer than self-critical judgements. More often than not, our limits are that which we put on ourselves.

My hope, through this article, was to inspire my readers to take their success into their own hands, and shift their views to ones that are self-determining. We are in control of where we end up and whether we achieve our goals. Through cultivating passion and perseverance and, therefore, grit, we can find satisfaction and success and, ultimately, live the best life we can.

I will leave you with this last quote:

“You can grow your grit ‘from the inside out’: You can cultivate your interest. You can develop a habit of daily challenge-exceeding-skill practice. You can connect your work to a purpose beyond yourself. And you can learn to hope when all seems lost.”

— Angela Duckworth, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

Goal Hierarchy: Using Grit to Realize Your Potential

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