By Patricia Bouweraerts —
More wieldy than intelligence and talent — and even mightier than getting along with others — is grit, the powered side of the force moving a person to fly the hurdles of work and career.
Experts say that grit stands before test scores, socio-economic factors and social intelligence. And grit is the trait left standing.
“In our society, we get caught up in the thought that you have it or you don’t,” said Erin Frock, counselor at Truckee Meadows Community College.
But that is not what research has shown — abilities can indeed change — people can always continue to learn and grow, she said.
Grit, or resiliency, is the ability to bounce back after something difficult. It is managing failures, being conscientious, setting long term goals to strive for, trying creative strategies and having an optimistic attitude. It is reaching for excellence, but not perfection.
And it is not something people are born with.
Frock said during a January interview that resiliency involves a person growing an inner belief that a first failure is not the ending, but can be a beginning.
“Grit is when you tell yourself that ‘if I don’t accomplish it this time, I’ll try to accomplish it the next time,’” she said. “It is a learned behavior — it goes back to Carol Dweck’s theory of talent versus hard work,” she said.
Dweck, psychology professor at Stanford University, said during a November 2014 TED Talks presentation that thinking in terms of “yet” gives a person a path into the future.
Studies have proved pushing past the familiar, learning demanding skills, will stimulate new and stronger connections between neurons in the brain. When students were taught they could become smarter — that their intelligence wasn’t fixed — they performed more strongly with improving academic grades than those not taught this lesson.
She calls the belief “growth mindset” — one’s ability to learn is not fixed, but can be changed with hard work.
And it wasn’t social intelligence, it wasn’t good looks, physical health, and it wasn’t IQ. It was grit. Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals.Angela Lee Duckworth
Angela Lee Duckworth, associate professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania agrees. She has also presented some of her research results on TED Talks, during an April 2013 education lecture, “The Key to Success? Grit.”
Her team studied which cadets at West Point Military Academy would persist in training and who would drop out, and which children would advance farthest in the National Spelling Bee competition. They tracked beginning teachers working in difficult neighborhoods — to see who would still be teaching by the end of the year and who will be the most effective at improving students’ performance.
“We partnered with private companies, asking ‘which of these sales people is going to keep their jobs, and who’s going to earn the most money?’” she said. “In all those very different contexts, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. And it wasn’t social intelligence, it wasn’t good looks, physical health, and it wasn’t IQ. It was grit. Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals.”
She said that grit is stamina across years — to work hard and live like goals are not a sprint, but a marathon.
Even after ten job interviews and things aren’t panning out, it doesn’t mean you won’t get one. It just shows you need to adjust.Erin Frock
Grit during job interviews
When going through the job interview process and experiencing setbacks or rejection, Frock recommends that a person’s outlook can be turned around. It presents an opening to think differently or to find new information.
“Keep in mind that every job application and every job interview is a chance to develop your skills,” she said. “Even after ten job interviews and things aren’t panning out, it doesn’t mean you won’t get one. It just shows you need to adjust. ‘Could I be adjusting this or improving that?’”
Many times a job candidate may think they don’t have enough talent to land the dream job they are applying for. Duckworth said during her talk that success in the long run may not be about talent.
“What I do know is that talent doesn’t make you gritty,” she said. “Our data show very clearly that there are many talented individuals who simply do not follow through on their commitments. In fact, in our data, grit is usually unrelated, or even inversely related to measures of talent.”
Having grit will not block changes in direction
Sometimes when reaching toward an academic degree or a new career goal, a person may start to sense that they might change directions. Frock said that grit will not keep the initial goal too firmly locked up or impede a needed change in focus.
“Grit can help you find your better path, not just to fail and quit,” she said.
Resiliency while stressed at work
When thinking about a difficult period of time at work, or an issue that tests patience, Frock said that the more specific a person can think about the problem, the better.
Generalizing the difficulty across more of your personality overall than it needs to apply to can make it harder to troubleshoot strategies. Spreading out the problem to become an all-encompassing issue can make the barrier seem too large or overwhelming, when it is often a more specific challenge.
“The ability to realize that it doesn’t mean in this instance I’m not a good employee, or a better person,” she said. “We can’t get through life without adversity, so we can use it to learn and grow. Make it a specific obstacle. It just means there’s a bump in the road and we have to figure out how to keep going.”
Help others develop grit
It may be harder for children of “helicopter parents” to develop grit, because kids aren’t able to experience recovery from small failures – their parents just don’t let them fail. Instead, young people allowed to fall and then pick themselves up to have another go at a project will learn that failure isn’t the end.
“If I fail, that doesn’t mean it’s over,” she said.
Also, family and friends can help a person in developing resiliency.
“Role modeling, language, or behavior of influential people in your life – we can all be influenced by that,” she said.
Dweck has researched the brain activity of people reacting differently to making mistakes. One study at Michigan State University tested the responses of research participants wearing caps which picked up Electroencephalography (EEG) signals.
“Scientists measured the electrical activity from the brain as students confronted an error,” she said in her TED Talks presentation. “On the left you see the fixed mindset students. There’s hardly any activity. They run from the error. They don’t engage with it. But on the right you have the students with the growth mindset – the idea that abilities can be developed. They engage deeply. Their brain is on fire with ‘yet.’ They engage deeply. They process the error. They learn from it and they correct it.”
She believes that a growth mindset can be developed by engaging in activities that encourage effort, focus, improvement, strategy, progress and process instead of correct answers. Her studies have shown that if process is rewarded, more effort, perseverance, strategies, and engagement over long periods of time have resulted.
A fixed mindset can be changed into a growth mindset, she said.
Difficulty should not be thought of as indicating a failure, or a dumb mistake, or that one should give up – instead, effort and difficulty need to be looked at as meaning things that will make you smarter, she said.
Resiliency will create success in many parts of life
A personal survey to assess your present level of grit is posted by Duckworth as a printable PDF file on www.sas.upenn.edu. Directions are provided for a suggested scoring scale.
Frock said that a person can develop a habit of resiliency by:
- Writing a goal
- Write all the benefits to achieving your goal
- Write all the barriers to achieving your goal
- Write an “if-then” plan for each barrier
She also recommends a book and an app called “WOOP”. WOOP stands for wish, outcome, obstacle, and plan. This process is another way to help build unconscious associations for successfully overcoming obstacles.
Can a person ever have too much grit, or resiliency? Frock says no — it is an important characteristic to develop in many different parts of life — from school to career to personal goals.
“I personally believe that resiliency can help you be successful in all areas of your life, whether it is school, career, hobbies, or relationships,” she said.