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Grit by Angela Duckworth.
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1-Page Summary 1-Page Book Summary of Grit

Grit is the combination of passion and perseverance.

  • Passion is the consistency of goals held over long periods of time. It is NOT intensity or enthusiasm held for a brief moment. It is endurance.
  • Perseverance is the ability to overcome setbacks, put in hard work, and finish things you’ve started.

Grit predicts success, even when controlling for talent or IQ. That is, between two people of the same talent level, a grittier person will enjoy more success.

Make no mistake: talent and IQ are still important and still correlate with success. However, they are not sufficient for high achievement. If you are talented, you get the most mileage by combining talent and hard work. And if you are less talented, you can make up for it with grit, exceeding someone with more talent who works less hard.

We tend to fetishize talent because it protects our ego – if...

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Grit Summary Part 1: Why Grit Matters | Chapter 1: What is Grit?

Preface

Angela Lee Duckworth is the child of Chinese immigrants. Her father, Ying Kao Lee, was a chemist and research fellow at Dupont. Growing up, her dad was obsessed with how smart he and his family was, and he often told her when they disagreed, "you’re no genius!"

Later in life, Duckworth wins the MacArthur Fellowship, often called the "genius grant," ironically for the theory that accomplishment may depend more on passion and perseverance than inborn talent.

What is Grit?

Duckworth’s early psychology research tried to predict success in a variety of fields, like the military, sales, business, and sports. She found that talent and luck were incomplete explanations for success. People who showed early potential sometimes dropped out before they showed signs of full potential. And some very successful people didn’t start off showing the most promise.

Instead of talent, Duckworth formulated the idea of grit: the combination of passion and perseverance. Passion means long-term adherence to a goal and consistency of interest, as opposed to being a dilettante and changing your goal mercurially.** Perseverance means overcoming setbacks, hard work, and...

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Grit Summary Chapter 2: Is Talent Overrated?

Even though grit is so important, as a culture, we collectively obsess so much over talent.

When surveyed directly, Americans are more likely to point to hard work as the key to success, rather than talent. But when asked indirectly, we tend to show a "naturalness bias" toward internal talent rather than persistence.

A few illustrative research studies:

  • Professional musicians were given profiles of two pianists. One profile described the pianist as a “natural,” with early signs of talent. The other profile was described as a “striver,” with early signs of high motivation. The musicians then listened to recordings for each pianist (even though the recordings were actually different parts of the same pianist playing the same piece), then rated the two pianists on a few factors.
    • The talent-based pianist received significantly higher ratings for "talent compared to other professionals," "likelihood of success in the future," and "value as an employee." The effort-based pianist won only on one factor: "ability to overcome obstacles to career.”
  • Study participants were given one of two profiles of entrepreneurs. The profile was identical, save for...

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Grit Summary Chapter 3: Why Effort Causes Achievement

How does grit actually lead to achievement?

Here’s the central model on why effort matters so much:

  • talent x effort = skill
  • skill x effort = achievement

Talent equates to how quickly your skills improve when you apply effort.

Achievement is the result of using your skill and applying effort.

In other words, effort factors in twice - it increases talent, and then it increases the application of that talent to achieve,

Here are important implications of this model:

  • Someone of lower talent can catch up in skill level by applying effort
  • Someone of lower talent can reach the same skill level but achieve more over time by applying the skill with more effort
  • Someone of higher talent can achieve less by putting in less effort

Here’s a simplistic model of what total achievement looks like, for a natural vs striver:

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The higher-talent person starts off with a lead. She expends some amount of...

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Grit Summary Chapter 4: Test Your Grit

How do you measure grit? In all the studies we’ve mentioned, grit was quantified through a self-assessed survey. You can take it yourself and see how gritty you are.

You’ll see 10 statements. For each statement, choose a number from 1 to 5, depending on how much you identify with it:

5 = Not at all like me
4 = Not much like me
3 = Somewhat like me
2 = Mostly like me
1 = Very much like me

The 10 statements:

  1. New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones.
  2. Setbacks discourage me. I give up easily.
  3. I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one.
  4. I am not a hard worker.
  5. I have difficulty maintaining my focus on projects that take more than a few months to complete.
  6. I have trouble finishing whatever I begin.
  7. My interests change from year to year.
  8. I don’t consider myself diligent. I give up often.
  9. I have been obsessed with a certain idea or project for a short time but later lost interest.
  10. I don’t often overcome setbacks to conquer an important challenge.

Now add up your score - there’s a possible total of 50. Then divide that by 10. The higher your score, then the more grit you have.

How do you stack up...

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Shortform Exercise: Test Your Grit

Let’s think about how much grit you have, and how to develop grit with better goals.


Was your grit score higher or lower than you expected? Where do you fit in the population distribution? Are you stronger at passion or perseverance?

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Grit Summary Chapter 5: Grit is Changeable

All behavioral traits have contributions both from genetics and from the environment. When a trait changes rapidly in a population over time, this suggests the environment is the major cause, since genetics hasn’t had the time to change much.

  • The average male height increased from 5 feet 5 inches in 1850 to 5 feet 10 inches today. Since our genetics haven’t changed much since then, environmental influences like nutrition are responsible.
  • The Flynn effect finds that the average IQ today, calibrated to 1900 standards, would be somewhere around 130. Our brains aren’t necessarily biologically smarter - better, faster education may be responsible.

Duckworth tries to apply this logic to show that grit has some portion due to environment and is thus...

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Grit Summary Part 2: Components of Grit | Chapter 6: Interest

If you’re not as gritty as you want to be, ask yourself why. Common reasons people lack either passion or perseverance include the following complaints:

  • What I’m doing is boring.
  • I’m not getting anything from my effort.
  • What I’m doing isn’t important.
  • I’m not capable of doing this, so I should give it.

In contrast, the very gritty tend to give up for the above reasons less. There are four psychological assets that paragons of grit have in common:

  • Interest: enjoy what you’re doing
  • Practice: conduct deliberate practice to improve on your weaknesses and continuously improve
  • Purpose: believe that your work matters and improves the lives of others
  • Hope: believe in your capacity for achievement and ability to overcome difficulties

Each asset directly addresses the corresponding complaints above it.

These four chapters cover these aspects. First, we’ll start with interest.

Grit Component #1: Interest

Being interested by your pursuit is the beginning of developing grit. Paragons of grit say, "I love what I do. I can’t wait to get on with the next project." They’re doing things not because they’re forced...

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Grit Summary Chapter 7: Practice

The next obstacle to developing grit is the feeling that you’re not making any progress. Even if you’re interested in a task, if you put in a lot of time and don’t feel you’re getting a reward, it’s hard to keep persevering.

The way to guarantee progress with your time is to conduct deliberate practice. This is a structured, disciplined way to put in time and get results.

Deliberate practice consists of 4 steps:

  • Set a stretch goal. Focus on a narrow aspect that you want to improve. Set a reach goal that you can’t meet yet.
  • Apply full concentration and effort. Many greats do this in isolation, by themselves.
  • Receive immediate and informative feedback. Focus on what you can improve.
  • Repeat with reflection and refinement. Keep working until you meet that stretch goal. And when you meet it, choose a new stretch goal.

Note how deliberate this is, compared to merely putting in time absent-mindedly and going through the motions. Good practice requires deliberate effort to do every time.

The Evidence behind Deliberate Practice

Much of the deliberate practice concept comes from Anders Ericsson, who popularized the...

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Grit Summary Chapter 8: Purpose

If you have interest in your work and conduct deliberate practice, you’ll make progress. But ultimately, if you don’t believe that your work matters and contributes things of value, you will find it difficult to maintain your work for a long time.

This leads to the third component of grit: purpose. Purpose, as defined here, is "the intention to contribute to the well-being of others."

Grit and Purpose

Duckworth found that universally, grit paragons extend the benefits of their achievement to a level beyond themselves – other people (like their children or clients) or an abstract concept (society, my country, science).

Evolutionarily, we may developed a drive for altruism, because a cooperative species thrives more than the individual. Altruism improves grit by both sustaining passion (because your goals are more important) and perseverance (because you fight harder for goals that you care more about).

There is a possible confound here where grittier people may take on jobs that are generally accepted to have more purpose (like being a doctor), making the purpose questions easier to answer. However, across a range of careers, Amy Wrzesniewski has...

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Shortform Exercise: Build Purpose

Try to see the greater purpose of your work.


In your current work, do you feel it’s more of a job, a career, or a calling? Why? What kinds of personal rewards do you get from your work?

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Grit Summary Chapter 9: Hope

Grit depends on hope that you have the power to improve things. Hope sustains passion by giving optimism that one day you can achieve your goals, and thus they’re worth holding for long periods of time. Hope sustains perseverance by encouraging thinking about how to overcome setbacks, rather than just accepting them as permanent.

Helplessness vs Optimism

In a classic experiment, scientists Seligman and Maier split dogs into two groups. In one group, the dog is put in a cage and is shocked at random times. If the dog pushes against a panel at the front of the cage, the shock ends early. After 64 shocks, the pain ends. In the other group, there is no panel that ceases the shocks.

The next day, the dog is put into a box with a divider leading to another box partition. The shock is now announced with a warning tone, so the dog has a chance to react. There is not a difference in behavior. Nearly all the dogs who had control over the shocks learn to jump over the wall and escape the shocks. Of the dogs who originally had no control over the shocks, only 1/3 of the dogs who had no control escape – the other 2/3 simply lay down and wait for the shocks to end.

This...

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Grit Summary Part 3: An Environment for Grit | Chapter 10: Parenting

We’ve talked about developing grit internally. You can increase interest and purpose, and build in better deliberate practice helps.

But grit is developed over a long period of time and is affected by the environment you’re in. Grit depends on what kind of feedback you get and what opportunities you’re exposed to.

The last part of the Grit book discusses our environments - childhood, parenting, and organization.

Parenting Styles

Parenting styles are split along two axes:

* Demanding ←→ Undemanding * Supportive ←→ Unsupportive

This forms a 2x2 grid of parenting styles:

Undemanding Demanding
Supportive Permissive Parenting Wise Parenting
Unsupportive Neglectful Parenting
...

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Grit Summary Chapter 11: Extracurriculars and Grit

Outside of the home, extracurriculars have been found to correlate well with student outcomes like better grades, higher self-esteem, and lower delinquency. In particular, the longer and the more intensely you engage in an extracurricular, the better the outcomes.

Data on the Benefits of Extracurriculars

The cited studies:

  • Spending more than a year in extracurriculars increases graduation rate and adult volunteering. Spending more than 2 years in extracurriculars predicts having a job and earning more money.
  • After controlling for grades and SAT scores, follow-through was the best predictor of career accomplishments, graduating from college with honors, holding leadership positions. (Shortform note: but grades and SAT scores were still the best predictors)
  • Extracurricular follow-through correlates with higher grit scores and lowers dropout rates.
  • ...

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Grit Summary Chapter 12: Organizational Culture

A culture exists when a group of people agrees on how to do things and why. The sharper the difference between this group and the rest of the world, the stronger the bonds.

To be grittier, find a gritty culture and join it. You will conform to the group and adopt their gritty habits. When it’s socially expected to wake up at 4 AM to practice, it becomes what you do.

The causation is bidirectional between the people and the culture. People need to be gritty to join a culture that selects for grit (like a top sports team). Then, because gritty people will reinforce each other, the culture gets grittier, which raises the bar for people who join. This is the corresponsive principle at work.

Eventually, the values of the culture we belong to become part of our identity. When values like grit become part of our identity, decisions depending on those values become habit and automatic.

If it’s part of your identity to finish what you complete, you don’t constantly stop and ask, "what is the cost-benefit tradeoff of continuing? What are the risks?" You ask: "Who am I? What is this situation? What does someone like me do in a situation like this?" Often grit will take you...

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Grit Summary Chapter 13: Conclusion

Duckworth ends the book with a series of rebuttals to common counterarguments about grit.

Does grit conflict with happiness?

  • No – actually, life satisfaction and grit correlate strongly. Duckworth hasn’t yet studied the happiness of people around gritty people – partners, children, parents. However, she believes her kids appreciate her grittiness and know achieving their goals is better than complacency.

Can you have too much grit, just like you can have too courageous or too honest?

  • Duckworth admits...

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Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • Part 1: Why Grit Matters | Chapter 1: What is Grit?
  • Chapter 2: Is Talent Overrated?
  • Chapter 3: Why Effort Causes Achievement
  • Chapter 4: Test Your Grit
  • Exercise: Test Your Grit
  • Chapter 5: Grit is Changeable
  • Part 2: Components of Grit | Chapter 6: Interest
  • Chapter 7: Practice
  • Chapter 8: Purpose
  • Exercise: Build Purpose
  • Chapter 9: Hope
  • Part 3: An Environment for Grit | Chapter 10: Parenting
  • Chapter 11: Extracurriculars and Grit
  • Chapter 12: Organizational Culture
  • Chapter 13: Conclusion