Determination – successful – grit : Are they linked ?

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Do you have what it takes to succeed?

While there are a number of factors that determine success, grit may be among the most important, according to Angela Duckworth, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

But grit, an attribute most people think of as positive, is apparently controversial these days:

The argument is playing out in the nation’s schools as educators embrace the concept that teaching children to be gritty isn’t only possible but preferable to worrying about their IQs.

Duckworth, who’s been studying grit for more than a decade, says her research shows grit is actually a better predictor of success than IQ or other measures.

But what is grit and why does it matter?

As Duckworth defines it, “Grit is the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals.

[It] equips individuals to pursue especially challenging aims over years and even decades.”

Sounds like grit, as Martha Stewart would say, is a good thing – especially for entrepreneurs.

As we all well know, launching and growing a successful enterprise isn’t a simple task.

Business owners need to steadfastly focus and persist as they pursue their goals, and being gritty sounds like it would come in handy.

Grit Is Not Enough

So while grit is an essential component in entrepreneurial success, it’s obviously not the only factor.

In addition to having the ability to be singularly focused, you also need to be aware enough to know when it’s time to shift that focus because it’s not working, or it’s not enough.

And that ability to be flexible, to “turn on a dime,” has always been one of the qualities of most successful entrepreneurs.

So do you have grit? 

Take the test from the University of Pennsylvania, and find out. (I scored a 4.25 out of 5, putting me in the 90 to 99th percentile for being gritty.)

If you don’t register on the grit scale, you might be able to learn how to be gritty: Duckworth tells NPR she “hopes” people can be taught to be gritty, though there’s not “enough evidence to know with certainty that we can do so.”

The unrelenting determination often found in successful people appears to be a passion-specific quality and not necessarily an overall personality trait, according to new research from the University of Alberta.

“We wanted to know whether people bring grit to every aspect of their life, or if they are gritty athletes or gritty students, or even a gritty parent or a gritty hobbyist,” said Danielle Cormier, a former U of A master’s student under the supervision of sport psychology researcher John Dunn.

Where the colloquial definition of grit is best characterized by the courtside expression “leaving it all on the floor,” Cormier said the academic understanding refers to the dedicated effort someone puts in over weeks, months, years and even decades to get them to that one final goal.

She had 251 U of A varsity athletes complete three versions of the Grit Scale, first envisioned a decade ago by Angela Duckworth, who Cormier refers to as the “mother of grit.”

The three scales measured general, academic and sport-specific grit.

She found that athletes who reported being more gritty in the academic sense had higher GPAs, and those who recorded higher grit levels in sports also reported having higher perfectionistic strivings in sports.

“It seems grit is best conceptualized as a domain-specific trait, and not in general, which is how the field has been measuring grit since it was conceptualized,” she said.

Cormier’s study also identified a correlation between high grit scores and healthy levels of “adaptive perfectionism,” also known as perfectionistic strivings.

She found student-athletes who had higher levels of grit in sport also tended to have lower maladaptive perfectionism or perfectionistic concerns.

This negative form of perfectionism is where people set unattainable goals, which often leads to a lot of anxiety and even sport dropout,” she said.

Although the field of grit research suggests it will be higher in the area where a person’s passion resides, Cormier believes it’s possible to build grit in other areas.

She noted that student-athletes were a good population to sample because they are heavily involved in both athletics and academics, and “need to be successful in both in order to thrive.

“While their passion may reside in sport, because student-athletes need to maintain certain grades while rostered, they must find some level of success in the classroom to compete,” she said.

Cormier noted that education may also afford them the freedom to pursue other aspects of their sport, whether it be as a coach or a sport administrator.

“If what you’re doing is moving you towards your life goal, you will likely be bringing some level of grit to it,” she said.

Besides having a clear idea of where the new goal fits in with “that abstract thing you are the most gritty and stubborn about,” Cormier suggested adopting a growth mindset.

“Instead of thinking talents are fixed, like believing your intelligence is just the way it is, a growth mindset allows you to believe that intelligence, or other character traits and talents, can be grown,” she said.

“In order to do that you must embrace failures and setbacks, because without any of those learning opportunities, you’re not going to get better.”

She added if you’re going to move into a field you don’t feel particularly strongly about, it is going to be difficult to transfer that consistency of interest and perseverance.

“Everyone has an element of grit in them, it is just finding that passion.”

The study, “Examining the Domain Specificity of Grit,” was published in Personality and Individual Differences.

More information: Danielle L. Cormier et al. Examining the domain specificity of grit, Personality and Individual Differences (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2018.11.026
Journal information: Personality and Individual Differences
Provided by University of Alberta

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