One of my favourite movies as a child was an American Western called True Grit. I must confess to being a fan of westerns in those days and John Wayne was my hero. The original was made in 1969 and, while I understand there has been a remake since, I’m a fan of the original.True Grit tells the story of an ageing American Marshal who is hired to capture a murderer and the reason he was hired by the daughter of the murdered man was because she heard he had ‘true grit.’ This movie captured my imagination and, as in all good movies of this time, good won over evil. That was the last I heard of True Grit until fairly recently.
Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at Penn State University, has been doing a lot of work in the area of grit. On reading some of her work I was surprised to learn that there were some similarities between Hollywood grit and the grit that Professor Duckworth writes about. A team of psychologists led by Duckworth were interested in the set of traits that lead to children being identified as having grit.
While Duckworth has made tremendous leaps in the field, she stands on the shoulders of giants including William James, K.E Ericson, and Aristotle, who believed tenacity was one of the most valued virtues.She identifies a number of characteristics that indicate “perseverance and passion” in achieving goals. However, Duckworth is the first to say that the essence of grit remains elusive, however, there are characteristics that can be identified in people recognised as having grit.
While it’s hard to measure courage, it is thought that having the courage to fail and try again is both an indicator of grit and a predictor of success. The supremely gritty are not afraid to fail, but rather embrace it as part of the learning process. While courage is hard to measure, it is directly proportional to your level of grit. More specifically, your ability to manage fear of failure is an important predicator of success.
According to Duckworth, interest is vital in developing passion in a particular subject or area. We are unlikely to pursue something for a long time if we aren’t genuinely interested in it or don’t find it meaningful.
People who conscientiously and deliberately practise will often overshadow those with superior talent and intelligence. Duckworth writes that everyday stamina, consistency and endurance in the face of adversity, are critical qualities in developing grit. Basically, it comes down to working hard, even when it’s uncomfortable or we would rather be doing something else.
Duckworth is a strong believer in having a sense of purpose. That is seeing what you do as work that really matters to you and the world. Duckworth’s research also showed that having a purpose motivated by altruism measured higher than a purpose motivated by pleasure.
Duckworth sees hope as defining every stage of grit and she describes it as “a rising to the occasion kind of perseverance.”I guess hope is really another way of thinking positively and of looking for the best outcomes.
The most important finding of Duckworth’s research is that people aren’t born with grit. Grit is taught and cultivated and it’s up to us to develop it day by day. What is clear is that schools, teachers and parents all share in the responsibility of helping inspire our kids so that they have the opportunity to achieve their best. If they become a little grittier in the process that certainly can’t hurt. For those who are interested in finding out a little more about this topic I have attached a link to Angela Duckworth’s TED Talk titled “Grit: The power and passion of perseverance.”
Have a great weekend.
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