The Significance of Grit: A Conversation with Angela Lee Duckworth

Resilience, grit and optimism are important psychological dimensions for any athlete who wants to cultivate his or her talents.

The following are the thoughts of Angela Lee Duckworth a leading expert in this area of study.

It’s all about one specific definition of resilience, which is optimism—appraising situations without distorting them, thinking about changes that are possible to make in your life. But I’ve heard other people use resilience to mean bouncing back from adversity, cognitive or otherwise. And some people use resilient specifically to refer to kids who come from at-risk environments who thrive nevertheless.

What all those definitions of resilience have in common is the idea of a positive response to failure or adversity. Grit is related because part of what it means to be gritty is to be resilient in the face of failure or adversity. But that’s not the only trait you need to be gritty.

In the scale that we developed in research studies to measure grit, only half of the questions are about responding resiliently to situations of failure and adversity or being a hard worker. The other half of the questionnaire is about having consistent interests—focused passions—over a long time. That doesn’t have anything to do with failure and adversity. It means that you choose to do a particular thing in life and choose to give up a lot of other things in order to do it. And you stick with those interests and goals over the long term. So grit is not just having resilience in the face of failure, but also having deep commitments that you remain loyal to over many years.

One of the first studies that we did was at West Point Military Academy, which graduates about 25 percent of the officers in the U.S. Army. Admission to West Point depends heavily on the Whole Candidate Score, which includes SAT scores, class rank, demonstrated leadership ability, and physical aptitude. Even with such a rigorous admissions process, about 1 in 20 cadets drops out during the summer of training before their first academic year. We were interested in how well grit would predict who would stay.

So we had cadets take a very short grit questionnaire in the first two or three days of the summer, along with all the other psychological tests that West Point gives them. And then we waited around until the end of the summer. Of all the variables measured, grit was the best predictor of which cadets would stick around through that first difficult summer. In fact, it was a much better predictor than the Whole Candidate Score, which West Point at that time thought was their best predictor of success. The Whole Candidate Score actually had no predictive relationship with whether you would drop out that summer (although it was the best predictor of later grades, military performance, and physical performance).




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