Book Review: GRIT- The Power of Passion and Perseverance

By Angela Duckworth, PhD 

About The Author:

Angela Duckworth is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and the founder/CEO of Character Labs, a non-profit that uses psychological science to help children thrive. In 2013 she was awarded a McArthur Fellowship.  With over 5 million views on YouTube, her TED Talk on GRIT is one of the most viewed talks of all time.

Prior to her career as a university professor and researcher, Angela taught math and science in the public schools of New York City, San Francisco, and Philadelphia.  It was here that she began learning firsthand that it took more than just a high IQ to become a high achiever.

The Big Idea:

        A combination of passion and perseverance is what makes high achievers special and separates them from everyone else.  They have GRIT.

The Details:

Society often gets distracted by talent and forgets that effort is also needed for achievement.  Angela Duckworth calls this the “naturalness bias” and explains that we have a hidden prejudice against those who have achieved because of hard work.  Too often we want to look at a great achievement as the result of God-given talent.  We describe musicians, artists and sport stars as “naturals” for instance and look at their talents without recognizing the tens of thousands of hours they have invested in deliberate practice to get to where they are today.

Dr. Duckworth goes on to explain that effort counts twice when it comes to achievement.  Without effort, simply having a skill won’t get you very far.  But with effort, you can reach your potential.  She gives the following equations to help explain this idea.

Talent x Effort = Skill

Skill x Effort = Achievement

          The book is divided into three sections.  The first section answers the question of what GRIT is and why does it matter.

If GRIT is the culmination of passion and perseverance, then it is important to understand what passion looks like. The word passion is often synonymous with infatuation or obsession.  But in high achievers, the focus is not just on the intensity when describing their passion.  High achievers also explain their consistency of their passion over time.

Enthusiasm is a common occurrence with passion.  But endurance is rare.   “Passion isn’t just something you care about.  It’s something you care about care about in an abiding, steady, and loyal way.”  GRIT is about having the same ultimate goal for a very long period of time.  And this is where perseverance comes into the equation.

The second section looks at how to grow GRIT from the inside out.  Dr. Duckworth examines four stages of developing GRIT: Interest, Practice, Purpose, and Hope.

Developing interest is all about having fun and doing something you love.  Before investing hours and years refining the skills of a passion, one must try new things in an unstructured and low-pressure scenario to discover what they like.  Practice is built upon the interest with the desire to improve and grow.  Therefore those who become experts have done so by focusing their practice on areas of specific weakness, always looking for challenges they can’t yet meet.  Over time these subtle improvements add up to achievement and skill mastery.  Purpose develops with the idea that what we do matters to people other than ourselves.  By developing a sense of purpose, high achievers can persevere more and continue to improve their craft.  And hope is tied to GRIT through the belief that individuals can make tomorrow better then today.  Again, it ties into their perseverance to keep going despite the obstacles and setbacks they face along the way.

The third section examines how to grow GRIT from the outside in.  Dr. Duckworth looks to answer the question of how to inspire and encourage GRIT in others.    She uses the tern “wise parenting” to describe how parents can be both demanding and supportive of their children in an effort to foster GRIT.  This combination of traits separates parents from being permissive, neglectful, or authoritarian.  Teaching GRIT involves encouraging kids to spend at least part of their time doing hard things that interest them.

There is also a connection between culture and GRIT.  A culture is defined by the shared norms and values that define a group of people.  It can be explained in the how and why certain things are done.  A great example is the Marines.  Marines are known for their GRIT.  Every year thousands of teenagers join the Marines after high school and learn a set of values that become part of who they are.  If you want to become grittier, join a gritty culture.

The Bottom Line:

So how should we summarize GRIT?  According to Angela Duckworth, “to be gritty is to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  To be gritty is to hold fast to an interesting and purposeful goal.  To be gritty is to invest, day after week after year, in challenging practice.  To be gritty is to fall down seven times and get up eight.”

And there isn’t a single way to develop GRIT.  It can be grown from the “in side out” when daily habits connect with a purpose that is beyond yourself.  And It can be nurtured from the “outside in” through the support of parents, teachers, friends, and community.

One final thought shared by the author is that success is not the only thing to think about.  You also want to be happy.  And while success and happiness are not the same, they are related.  In another blog I discuss the advantages of happiness and how it is not the result of success, but actually a prerequisite.

My 2 Cents:

While reading this book I stopped frequently to reflect on my own life, the lives of our three children, and the thousands of students I have taught during my 20-year career teaching high school science and physical education.  I also thought a lot about my wife, Danielle.  She is by far the grittiest person I know.

If you don’t know Danielle’s story she was born with severe asthma (she was officially diagnosed at age 2) and told throughout her life what she couldn’t or shouldn’t physically do.  At the age of seven doctors began testing several experimental drugs on her in efforts to control her asthma.  It was at this time she was prescribed prednisone (synthetic cortisol) when she took daily for the following 14 years. One of the unfortunate side effects is weight gain because the hormonal messages it sends in the body as cortisol works in tandem with insulin to tell the body to store fat. At her heaviest Danielle weighed 265 pounds despite trying to eat healthy and exercise.

Through her passion and unwavering perseverance, Danielle has lost nearly 100 pounds and gotten off all the medications she was told that she couldn’t live without.  She exercises daily and can do so without having to stop to use an inhaler or take a preventive medicine before starting.  She has developed her GRIT both from the inside-out and from the outside-in.

It has taken years of consistent effort to get to where she is today.  She began with a desire to lose weight and get healthy which turned into the deliberate practice of learning how to eat and exercise for results.  She then connected it to a purpose and has the hope that she can help others who are also struggling.  She is now a certified nutritionist and mindset coach who helps other women that struggle with obesity and a resulting lack of confidence.

She has also connected with a community of like-minded women for support and accountability.  It is her gritty culture that has helped her develop her GRIT.  They assist each other so no one feels like they must go on their journey of better health and fitness alone.

If you would like to connect with Danielle she can be found on both Instagram and Facebook.