It’s Not IQ or Talent

As a middle school and high school math teacher, years before becoming a psychologist, Angela Duckworth noticed that her most successful students were the ones who tried the hardest—and not necessarily the ones who had a natural aptitude for the subject. Dr. Duckworth wanted to know why this was so and what role effort plays in a person’s success. After years of study, she determined that perseverance and passion for long-term goals—in a word, grit—is a better indicator of success and happiness than IQ or talent.

In her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Dr. Duckworth explains why grit is so important—and how you can develop it. Here are some of her key findings…

What Is Grit?

Grit is about holding steadfast to a goal even when there are bumps in the road and progress toward that goal is slow. While talent and luck matter to success, in the long run, grit may matter more.

Dr. Duckworth developed a scale while studying cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point to predict which men and women would make it through the intensive summer training program for new ­cadets called “Beast Barracks.” Those who scored highest for grit were the least likely to drop out. This score was a more reliable predictor than intelligence, leadership experience or athletic ability.

In the box on page eight, there are three questions from the Grit Scale developed for the West Point study and used in other studies. Your answers to those questions can help you determine how gritty you are.

Good news: You can grow grit “from the inside out.” You can do this by developing a habit of daily practice…connecting your activity to a purpose beyond yourself…and learning not to give up when all seems lost.


To help develop grit, practice the Hard Thing Rule, which has three parts…

Part one: Select at least one hard thing that requires daily and deliberate practice. It could be yoga. It could be playing the piano. It could be writing a book.

Part two: You cannot quit, especially on a bad day. You must choose an amount of time—for example, a season or a semester—and stay committed during that time.

Part three: Only you are allowed to pick your hard thing. Nobody picks it for you because it would make no sense to do a hard thing that you’re not interested in.

Parents who would like to encourage grit in their children can have them follow the Hard Thing Rule, too.


The “grittiest” people tend to have developed their passions from personal interests, but also from one particular kind of broader purpose—the intention to contribute to the well-being of others. It could be their children, their clients, their students or our country or society.

For some, purpose comes first. However, most people become attracted to things they enjoy or that are needed to pay the bills and later realize how these interests benefit others.

It is never too early or too late to begin cultivating a purpose. Three recommendations for developing a purpose…

1. Reflect on how what you’re already doing can make a positive contribution to society. Developmental psychologists David Yeager, MEd, and Dave Paunesku, PhD, asked high school students how the world could become a better place—and told them to draw connections to what they were learning in school. Compared with a placebo control exercise, reflecting on purpose significantly energized students, leading them to double the amount they studied for an upcoming exam…to choose to work harder on tough math ­problems instead of watching a fun video…and to get better grades in math and science.

2. Think about how, in small but meaningful ways, you can enhance your connection to your core values. Amy Wrzesniewski, PhD, professor of organizational behavior at Yale School of Management, calls this “job crafting.” Job crafting is redefining and reimagining a job to make it more personally meaningful. She tested the idea in various workplaces.

Example: She studied a cleaning crew at a university hospital. Some of the workers didn’t find the work especially satisfying and were there mainly for the money. Others found their work meaningful. When they described their jobs, they mentioned activities that weren’t in their job descriptions, such as spending time with patients and walking visitors back to their cars. They had molded their jobs to become more meaningful.

3. Find inspiration in a purposeful role model. Stanford University developmental psychologist Bill Damon, PhD, who has studied purpose for more than 40 years, suggests we ask ourselves, Can I think of someone whose life inspires me to be a better person? Who? Why? It could be a family member, a historical figure or a political figure, as long as it’s someone who demonstrates that it is possible to accomplish something on behalf of others.


Grit depends on the expectation that our own efforts can improve our future. Here’s how to develop this optimistic outlook…

Adopt a growth mind-set. The brain is like a muscle that gets stronger with use—neurons in our brain retain the potential to grow new connections and strengthen existing connections. Intelligence and talent can improve with effort. People who feel that intelligence is fixed tend to have pessimistic views of adversity. They avoid challenges or just give up.

A growth mind-set leads to optimistic views of adversity, leading you to seek out new challenges and become stronger. Gritty people explain setbacks optimistically. They believe that everything that happens can be learned from—and that one should move on from setbacks.

Practice optimistic self-talk. Studies have shown that cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps you identify, understand and change inaccurate or negative thinking, can help you respond more effectively and become more positive. You can try this on your own by being aware of negative self-talk and instead making a conscious effort to interpret events as an optimist would interpret them.

If this doesn’t work and you find that you still are a pessimist, seek out the help of a cognitive behavioral therapist. Gritty people know to ask for help when they need it.

How Gritty Are You?

Below are three statements. Choose the answer that seems most like you. There are no right or wrong answers, so answer each question honestly.

1. New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones.

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

2. Setbacks don’t discourage me. I don’t give up easily.

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

3. I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one.

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

People with high levels of grit typically answer “Not like me at all” for questions 1 and 3, and “Very much like me” for question 2.

To take the entire 10-question Grit Scale questionnaire and get your grit score, visit the website