Psychological Grit: Definition, Benefits, and More

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Grit" by Angela Duckworth. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is psychological grit? How can having grit benefit you in your life, and how can you build grit?

Psychological grit is the philosophy posed by Angela Duckworth after conducting psychological research to predict success. Duckworth found that passion and perseverance were better predictors of success.

Read more about the idea of psychological grit below.

What Is Psychological 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 finishing things, rather than giving up.

(Shortform note: there is a similar trait called conscientiousness, one of the Big Five personality traits. Conscientiousness includes self-discipline and self-control. Psychological grit expands on conscientiousness by including the retention of the same high-order goals over long stretches of time.)

Gritty people constantly see themselves as never good enough. They’re never complacent with where they are. Yet they’re not miserable – gritty people are content being discontent. They work on things of great interest to them, and the idea of giving up rarely crosses their mind.

Grit Is Changeable

All behavioral traits have contribution from genetics and from the environment. When a trait changes rapidly in a population over time, this suggests 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 malleable. (Shortform note: Because if grit were purely genetic, the book would be self-defeating – you either have grit or you don’t! Time to go home.)

In unpublished twin studies, the heritability of perseverance is estimated to be 37%, and passion 20%. Supposedly, the rest of the contribution is from the environment.

Psychological Grit: Definition, Benefits, and More

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  • How your grit can predict your success
  • The 4 components that make up grit
  • Why focusing on talent means you overlook true potential

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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