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Grit by Angela Duckworth.
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Many of society’s successful leaders and businesspeople are lauded as “great geniuses,” but psychologist Angela Duckworth argues that talent and intelligence matter less to success than grit, which she defines as a combination of perseverance and passion. In her book Grit, she explores what grit is, where it comes from, how it drives success, and how you can develop it.

Duckworth has a BA in Neurobiology from Harvard University, an MSc in Neuroscience from Oxford University, and a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. She was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship, often called the “genius grant,” in 2013. Today she serves as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and runs the Character Lab, a nonprofit devoted to helping children thrive using scientific research and insights.

Duckworth is primarily interested in how to raise gritty kids, and her insights have inspired parents and educators around the globe since the book’s publication in 2016. However, she firmly believes that adults, too, can develop grit, and she lays out specific, measurable ways to do so.

Her work has sparked heated debates about which matters more to success, innate talent or deliberate effort, and whether or not grit is instinctive or can be developed and taught. Throughout our guide, we’ll address these controversies, and we’ll refer to other psychologists who shed additional insight on Duckworth’s ideas.

What Is Grit?

Duckworth formulated the idea of grit after noticing that talent and luck were incomplete explanations for success in a variety of fields, including the military, sales, business, and sports. In each of these, people who showed early potential sometimes dropped out, and some very successful people didn’t start off showing the most promise.

Duckworth noticed that the one characteristic that the successful people had in common that distinguished them from the non-successful was grit, which she defines as a personality trait combining perseverance and passion.

  • Perseverance means having resilience: It’s the ability to overcome setbacks, work hard, and finish things rather than give up.
  • Passion means having direction: It’s the ability to adhere to a goal over the long term and maintain your interest level, as opposed to changing your goal mercurially.

Is Grit Different From Conscientiousness?

Critics of Duckworth’s book contend that grit is not a new concept, but instead is merely a deep exploration of conscientiousness, a long-known and well-acknowledged personality trait.

Conscientiousness describes the tendency to be responsible, organized, persistent, goal-oriented, and self-controlled. Duckworth has argued that grit differs from conscientiousness in that it also incorporates passionthe adherence to high-level, long-term goals—rather than just short-term commitment to goals. Thus she describes grit as not just resilience—the ability to bounce back from setbacks—but also loyalty to goals over many years.

However, some researchers have had difficulty finding distinctions between grit and conscientiousness even with this explanation, and have concluded that they’re essentially the same thing and have the same influence on a person’s success. These psychologists contend that both grit and conscientiousness describe a tendency to work hard toward goals, and any distinction that accounts for long-term goals is moot because people who work hard naturally accomplish long-term goals.

Natural Talent Versus Purposeful Effort

Duckworth contends that even though people generally acknowledge the importance of hard work and perseverance, we tend to believe talent is more often the cause of a person’s success.

She notes there are several reasons for this. One is that when you see a successful person, you see the end result of long-term practice and perseverance. However, since you haven’t seen that hard work in progress, but instead only see the end result, it’s easy to misattribute the success to innate ability. For example, if you watch a highly skilled athlete in action, you might think to yourself what a “natural” that person is, but in reality, what you’re seeing is the accumulated result of years of hard work.

(Shortform note: Nassim Nicholas Taleb agrees with Duckworth that we often mistakenly credit success to skill, but he comes up with a different alternative explanation—he believes that it’s luck that’s more often the cause of great success, rather than either hard work or talent. He argues that we can assume that many people of similar talents are working similarly hard, and therefore the only explanation for their different successes is that one might have, for example, gotten fortuitous access to early opportunities while the other didn’t.)

Duckworth says another reason we too often credit success to skill is out of a self-protective instinct. We mythologize natural talent because it excuses our failures: If innate talent is the primary contributor to success, we won’t feel as bad about ourselves when we see high achievers. We won’t feel we’re to blame for our failures if those failures are inevitable—if we can say, “No matter how hard I worked, I wouldn’t be able to do what that person does.”

(Shortform note: While Duckworth makes a good case against accepting a fatalistic view of your talents, some thinkers point out that there’s also value in honestly evaluating your innate strengths and weaknesses so that you have a [realistic opinion of your own...

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Grit Summary Shortform Introduction

Duckworth argues that talent and intelligence matter less to success than grit, which she defines as a combination of perseverance and passion that drives a person to consistently pursue goals over many years.

Duckworth is primarily interested in how to raise gritty kids, and her insights have inspired parents and educators around the globe since the book’s publication in 2016. However, she believes that adults, too, can develop grit, and she lays out specific, measurable ways to do so.

Her work has sparked heated debates about which matters more to success, innate talent or deliberate effort, and whether or not grit is instinctive or can be developed and taught. Throughout our guide, we’ll address these controversies, and we’ll refer to other psychologists who shed additional insight on Duckworth’s ideas.

About the Author

Psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth is the child of Chinese immigrants. Her father was a chemist and research fellow at Dupont who valued intelligence highly and was obsessed with how smart he and his family were, which helped fuel Duckworth’s research interest in what drives accomplishment.

Later in life, Duckworth won a 2013 MacArthur...

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Grit Summary Part 1.1: Introduction to Grit

Duckworth argues that talent and intelligence matter less to success than grit, which she defines as a combination of perseverance and passion that drives a person to consistently pursue goals over many years. In Part 1, she explores how effort enhances talent and what lies behind passion. She discusses why people tend to be biased against grit in favor of natural talent, and why effort very often has an advantage. She also includes the grit test she developed that underpins her research.

In Part 2, she explores more deeply the elements that make up grit, which she identifies as interest, practice, purpose, and hope. Then, in Part 3, she discusses both how a person can develop grit and how grit can be taught to others. Her primary focus is on how to raise gritty kids, but her insights apply to adults as well, and many of her discussions involve people who developed grit later in life.

What Is Grit?

Duckworth formulated the idea of grit after noticing that talent and luck were incomplete explanations for success in a variety of fields, including the military, sales, business, and sports. In each of these, people who showed early potential sometimes dropped out and...

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Grit Summary Part 1.2: Grit Is Built on Passion

Duckworth then turns her attention to the second element of grit after perseverance—passion. Passion, she argues, is what differentiates grit from mere conscientiousness. She defines passion not as enthusiasm (as passion is often thought of), but instead as endurance. She argues that passion is less about the intensity of your commitment to your goals and more about the consistency of your commitment to your goals.

(Shortform note: Some critics have noted that while consistency of effort is important to success, when taken to an extreme, it can hinder success rather than help it. If you operate under the unwavering mindset of “I can accomplish anything I set out to,” you might end up pursuing a goal that would be better abandoned. For example, you might spend years developing a product that has fatal flaws that will prevent it from becoming a runaway success. You would be better off honestly assessing your situation and picking a new goal, rather than continuing to try to make your flawed product work.)

Duckworth notes that hard work by...

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Grit Summary Part 1.3: Grit Is Malleable

Duckworth then turns her attention to the plasticity of grit. One of her central arguments is that grit is not static, but rather, a person can develop it.

She acknowledges that genetics influence traits like talent, intelligence, and grit, but she contends that they can also be shaped by the environment. She concludes, then, that they can change as environmental influences change. She further argues that grit can be consciously, purposefully changed, and also that it can be taught.

How Malleable Is Grit?

Ever since Duckworth’s book, psychologists have debated if grit actually is changeable.

Some argue that long-recognized personality traits, like extroversion, openness, and conscientiousness, are fixed—they’re determined by biological factors and resistant to environmental influences. Psychologists on this side of the debate argue that grit can also be considered a personality trait, and that therefore, it’s determined largely by biological factors and isn’t malleable. Many base these conclusions on research that found that adoptive parents seem to have a smaller influence on...

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Grit Summary Part 1.4: Measuring Grit: The Grit Test

How do you measure grit? Duckworth quantifies grit through a self-assessment that she developed. You can take it yourself and see how much grit you have.

(Shortform note: The book covers only 10 items, but the quiz we’re including below is an adaptation of the original 12-item Grit Scale from Duckworth’s landmark 2007 study. You can find this test, and a shorter, 8-question version, on her website.)

For each statement, answer:

  • Not at all like me
  • Not much like me
  • Somewhat like me
  • Mostly like me
  • Very much like me

The 12 statements:

  1. I have achieved a goal that took years of work.
  2. I have overcome setbacks to conquer an important challenge.
  3. I finish whatever I begin.
  4. Setbacks don’t discourage me.
  5. I am a hard worker.
  6. I am diligent.
  7. I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one.
  8. New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones.
  9. I become interested in new pursuits every few months.
  10. My interests change from year to year.
  11. I have been obsessed with a certain idea or project for a short time but later lost interest. 12....

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Grit Summary Part 2.1: The Four Stages of Grit

In Part 2, Duckworth identifies and explores four psychological assets that lead to grit. She thinks of these four elements as stages in the development of grit, and argues that these stages build upon each other:

  • Interest is the first stage—without an interest in a skill or subject, a person won’t start down the path to mastery.
  • Practice is the next stage—practice takes over once interest has evolved from playful exploration into something more deliberate.
  • Purpose comes next, after a person has achieved a certain level of mastery and can begin to look outward to figure out how their skill can benefit others.
  • Hope, Duckworth argues, is not a final, separate stage, but rather, is a stage that accompanies the other three all the way through, because it fuels the other stages with a feeling of optimism and empowerment.

Additional Elements of Grit

Other psychologists studying grit have suggested additional psychological assets that make up a gritty mindset that Duckworth doesn't explicitly mention. Some have noted that a gritty attitude takes courage—the ability...

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Shortform Exercise: Examine Your Interests

Duckworth notes that interests typically start out as play. Experts start as amateurs, doing something they enjoy rather than something they take seriously.


Think of something you really enjoy doing. This might be something that relates to your professional work or not—it may be just a hobby or a pastime.

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Grit Summary Part 2.2: Stage 2: Practice

Duckworth notes that while hard work is crucial to success, it doesn’t guarantee success. The type of hard work matters. It needs to be deliberate practice: a structured, purposeful, and disciplined way to direct your efforts so that they produce real results.

Instead of just repeatedly doing the same actions, you must strive to get better each time you do it. This, she says, is the hallmark of successful people: a desire to improve on their existing expertise.

Duckworth cites psychologist Anders Ericsson’s development of the theories of deliberate practice. Ericsson popularized the idea that to become an expert, you need to invest roughly 10 years of hard work or 10,000 hours into a pursuit. But his key insight, according to Duckworth, is that the type of practice matters more than the amount.

The Debate on Deliberate Practice

Ericsson outlines his theories in his book Peak, in which he explores how peak performers in any field develop their abilities. He falls squarely into the “effort over talent” camp, arguing that anyone can become an expert in any field they choose through deliberate...

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Shortform Exercise: Make Practice a Habit

To get the most benefit from deliberate practice, Duckworth advises that you make deliberate practice a regular habit. To make developing the habit easier, find an environment in which you most enjoy deliberate practice.


Think of a skill that you are either currently mastering or have considered taking up. This might be something in your professional life (a software program, for example) or it might be something in your personal life (like learning the piano).

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Grit Summary Part 2.3: Stage 3: Purpose

The next element of grit Duckworth examines is purpose, which she defines as a desire to increase the well-being of others. Along with interest, purpose is essential to passion because purpose enables interests to survive over long periods. Passion may start with interest, but it survives with purpose.

Purpose corresponds to the “high-level goals” Duckworth discusses in her exploration of passion in the first part of the book. These are the goals at the very top, for which you can’t provide an answer to the question “Why?” What makes these high-level goals special—what makes them a purpose—is that they have a focus other than self-interest. When Duckworth questions a gritty person about their high-level goals, they inevitably mention other people, either in specifics (like their children or customers) or through an abstract concept (like society, country, or science).

She notes that some people might object that grit and purpose conflict with each other—grit means working toward your own goals while purpose means working for the good of others. However, Duckworth counters that purpose is crucial to grit because it sustains both passion (when you feel you’re helping...

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Shortform Exercise: Identify Your Purpose

Purpose corresponds to the “high-level goals” Duckworth discusses in her exploration of passion in the first part of the book. These are the goals at the very top, for which you can’t provide an answer to the question “Why?”


Think of an everyday, lower-level goal that you have set for yourself. This might be one that improves a daily action (like getting up earlier every morning) or one that addresses a pattern of thought (like responding to criticism less defensively).

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Grit Summary Part 2.4: Stage 4: Hope

The fourth stage of grit that Duckworth identifies is hope. Duckworth defines hope as the belief that you have the power to improve things.

Duckworth notes that this is a different kind of hope than the hope that says “tomorrow will be better.” Hoping for a better tomorrow is hoping for luck. That type of hope doesn’t sustain grit because it depends on external factors.

In contrast, the hope that sustains grit is an optimism that you yourself can make tomorrow better. This hope—an enduring belief that you can eventually achieve your goals—sustains passion over long periods of time.

(Shortform note: Many psychologists have noted how important hope is in sustaining progress toward goals because it can propel you past the negative feedback that a setback gives you. When a setback signals you to stop by telling you what’s not working, hope can be what encourages you to keep going by promising what might work. Psychologists emphasize that hope is not a denial of reality—it’s not about ignoring or dismissing challenges, but rather, accepting the hard work needed to move past...

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Shortform Exercise: Examine Your Optimism

Duckworth explains that optimists tend to attribute their suffering to temporary and specific causes, while pessimists blame permanent and broad causes. These differing interpretations of the same challenges or setbacks can have significant effects on a person’s motivation.


Think back to a recent setback you endured, either professionally or personally.

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Grit Summary Part 3.1: How to Foster Grit in Others

In Part 1, Duckworth discusses the importance of grit. In Part 2, she explores how you can develop grit by increasing your interest and sense of purpose and by pursuing deliberate practice. In Part 3, she looks at the environmental influences of grit, and how your support network, your opportunities, and the feedback you receive affect how gritty you become. In this section, she looks in particular at parenting methods and organizational practices that can encourage grit.

How to Parent for Grit

Duckworth notes that the word “parent” has Latin roots meaning “to bring forth,” so that when she discusses “parenting for grit,” she is speaking not only of actual parents raising children, but also of coaches, teachers, business leaders, military leaders, and anyone else who seeks to foster the four elements of grit in others—interest, practice, purpose, and hope. For the purposes of our discussion, though, we’ll use the terms as they apply to parents and children.

Four Parenting Styles

Duckworth argues that there are two spectrums, or axes, on which parenting styles can fall:

1. Undemanding versus demanding: This axis is about discipline. This is a measure of the...

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Grit Summary Part 3.2: Extracurriculars and Grit

To foster grit in children, Duckworth highly recommends getting them involved in extracurricular activities. Extracurriculars have been shown to correlate well with student outcomes like better grades, higher self-esteem, and lower delinquency. In particular, studies show that the longer and the more intensely a child engages in an extracurricular, the better the outcomes.

Extracurriculars Predict Success

Duckworth points to numerous studies showing that children who participate in extracurriculars do better on almost every metric: grades, self-esteem, behavior, and so on. Further, these benefits last across many years—committing to an extracurricular has positive correlation with graduation rate, employment, and salary.

Notably, Duckworth observes that these long-term benefits of extracurriculars only exist among kids who commit to them for more than a year, and are more strongly correlated with kids who also achieve some kind of measurable advancement in the activity (for example, making the varsity team or being appointed editor of the school newspaper). She theorizes that this is because grit is a measure of pursuing a goal over the long term, and extracurricular...

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Grit Summary Part 3.3: Grit in Your Organization

Duckworth notes that when you’re in an organization with a strong culture (shared values and norms), it becomes part of your identity. So, for example, you’re not just a ballplayer, you’re a Yankee.

Therefore, Duckworth advises that to develop your grit, you should become part of a gritty group. You’ll conform to the group and adopt their gritty habits.

How Culture Develops

Duckworth argues that the effects of culture go in both directions between a group and its members. Often, a group is made up of naturally gritty people because it selects for them—for example, a successful company only hires highly motivated workers, and a winning sports team has gritty athletes because they’ve successfully passed tryouts. The grit of each individual contributes to the organizational culture.

Then, in reciprocal fashion, the grit of the group encourages even more grit in its members. When everyone around you is acting gritty, you’re more likely to. For example, if your friends arrive at the gym at five every morning to work out, it will normalize that behavior in your mind and you’ll be more likely to do so as well. **This is the corresponsive principle at work: a group adopts...

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Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • Shortform Introduction
  • Part 1.1: Introduction to Grit
  • Part 1.2: Grit Is Built on Passion
  • Part 1.3: Grit Is Malleable
  • Part 1.4: Measuring Grit: The Grit Test
  • Part 2.1: The Four Stages of Grit
  • Exercise: Examine Your Interests
  • Part 2.2: Stage 2: Practice
  • Exercise: Make Practice a Habit
  • Part 2.3: Stage 3: Purpose
  • Exercise: Identify Your Purpose
  • Part 2.4: Stage 4: Hope
  • Exercise: Examine Your Optimism
  • Part 3.1: How to Foster Grit in Others
  • Part 3.2: Extracurriculars and Grit
  • Part 3.3: Grit in Your Organization