The central theme of the book Grit (2016) is that when it comes to achieving success: one’s ability to commit to their goals and persevering in the face of obstacles matters more than their innate talent.

The author, Angela Duckworth is a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

Read this book summary in 5 minutes

angela duckworth grit summary

Angela Duckworth Grit Summary

Key Takeaways

  • “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out… not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” 
  • You can cultivate Grit over time, through conscious effort.
  • There are 4 psychological assets that one can use to grow grit: Interest, Practice, Purpose & Hope.
  • Grit philosophy: “I won’t just have a job; I’ll have a calling. I’ll challenge myself every day. When I get knocked down, I’ll get back up. I may not be the smartest person in the room, but I’ll strive to be the grittiest.”
  • “… as much as talent counts, effort counts twice.”

Angela Duckworth

GRIT: The Power of Passion and Perseverance 

Summary

 

How Gritty Are You?

In her book Grit, the author Angela Duckworth includes a brief 10 part questionnaire (Grit Scale) that readers can use to calculate their Grit score. Duckworth first developed the scale whilst conducting a study at West Point Military Academy.

Read each sentence and check the corresponding box which applies to you on the right. To calculate your Grit Score, add all the points for the boxes you checked, and divide it by 10. The maximum score is a 5 which is ‘extremely gritty’ whereas the lowest possible score is 1 (not at all gritty).

(How you would compare to others: a Grit Score of 4.5 would indicate that you’re grittier than 90% of the population!).

Effort Counts Twice

In the book, Duckworth recounts her experiences as a graduate student. She describes how after being scolded by her advisor due to not producing enough ‘quality work,’ she came up with the following formula…

TALENT × EFFORT = SKILL

SKILL × EFFORT = ACHIEVEMENT

Regarding the formulas, she writes: “What this theory says is that when you consider individuals in identical circumstances, what each achieves depends on just two things, talent and effort. Talent—how fast we improve in skill—absolutely matters. But effort factors into the calculations twice, not once. Effort builds skill. At the very same time, effort makes skill productive.” [ p41; Angela Duckworth, Grit ] 

 

Genes, Environment or Both?

To the question of whether we get grit from our DNA, there is a short answer and a long one. The short answer is “in part.” The long answer is, well, more complicated… 

Science has made huge strides in figuring out how genes, experience, and their interplay make us who we are. From what I can tell, the inherent complexity of these scientific facts has led, unfortunately, to their continually being misunderstood. To begin, I can tell you with complete conviction that every human trait is influenced by both genes and experience.” [p70; Angela Duckworth Grit summary]

Furthermore, she provides the most common reasons as to why people tend to drop out of things and not be as gritty as they would like:

“I’m bored.”
“The effort isn’t worth it.”
“This isn’t important to me.”
“I can’t do this, so I might as well give up.”

She writes: “Whilst there’s nothing inherently wrong about these thoughts… when it comes to the one, singularly important aim that guides almost everything else they do, the very gritty tend not to utter the statements above.”

 

301 High Achievers, One Differentiating Trait…

In 1926, Catharine Cox Miles, then a psychologist at Stanford University conducted a study of 301 high achievers. Cox’s initial goal was to estimate how smart each of these individuals was (1) as compared to the average person and (2) how smart they were relative to one another.

After combing through thousands of pages of diaries and bio-data and analyzing the results, Cox concluded that as a group, high achievers had an IQ which was more than the average person. No surprise there! Also, from the 301 subjects, Cox singled out the top 10 highest achievers versus the 10 who achieved the least and compared the two groups. She noticed that the average IQ difference between the two groups was 146 and 143, which was trivial.

The interesting part: upon further analysis, Cox discovered that there was one trait that only the top 10 achievers possessed which she termed as ‘persistence of motive.’ In her paper, she describes this as “the tendency not to abandon tasks in the face of obstacles. Perseverance, tenacity, doggedness.”

Her conclusion: “High but not the highest intelligence, combined with the greatest degree of persistence, will achieve greater eminence than the highest degree of intelligence with somewhat less persistence.”

angela duckworth grit summary

Growing Grit from the Inside-Out

INTEREST

“Passion for your work is a little bit of discovery, followed by a lot of development, and then a lifetime of deepening.”

Whilst ‘follow your passion’ is a common line of advice in this day and age, an explanation of how exactly it is that you go about discovering your passion is not so common. Regarding this, Duckworth shares some valuable advice… 

“If you’d like to follow your passion but haven’t yet fostered one, you must begin at the beginning: discovery.

Ask yourself a few simple questions: What do I like to think about? Where does my mind wander? What do I really care about? What matters most to me? How do I enjoy spending my time? And, in contrast, what do I find  absolutely unbearable? If you find it hard to answer these questions, try recalling your teen years, the stage of life at which vocational interests commonly sprout.” [p97; Angela Duckworth, Grit]

 

PRACTICE

Duckworth introduces readers to the concept of Deliberate Practice -which is a systematic and purposeful way of practicing with the specific goal of improving performance.

She introduces the reader to the works of K Anders Ericsson, a psychologist who has spent decades researching Olympic athletes, musicians, and world-class athletes.

On deliberate practice, Ericsson provides a framework of the basic requirements:

  • Having a clearly defined stretch goal
  • Full concentration and effort (contrast to mindless repetition of motion)
  • Immediate and informative feedback
  • Reflection and refinement

The author points out how deliberate practice is necessary for a gritty attitude, adding that grit is not just about quantity of time devoted to interests, but also quality of time. Not just more time on task, but also better time on task.”

 

PURPOSE

“Interest is one source of passion. Purpose—the intention to contribute to the well-being of others—is another. The mature passions of gritty people depend on both.”

Duckworth draws on a parable to illustrate the point about how the profundity of one’s occupation depends on the perceptions that the individual holds regarding their line of work.

 The parable involves 3 bricklayers. Each of the bricklayers was asked: “What are you doing??

The first said, “I am laying bricks.”
The second said, “I am building a church.”
And the third said, “I am building the house of God.”

The main takeaway: perspectives matter, they fuel purpose.

 

HOPE

“Grit depends on a different kind of hope,” Duckworth writes, “It rests on the expectation that our own efforts can improve our future. ‘I have a feeling tomorrow will be better’ is different from ‘I resolve to make tomorrow better.’

In this section, Duckworth shares some wisdom to help readers with cultivating hope…

  • Question your beliefs about your intelligence as well as your talents. They can be changed.
  • Practice optimistic self-talk
  • Don’t shy away from asking for help.
  • When you have setbacks or failures –step back, analyze and learn from them. 

She concludes: “The hope that gritty people have has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with getting up again.”

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