What is Grit?
The concept of ‘grit’ has been popularised by psychologist and author, Angela Duckworth.
As part of her research, Duckworth conducted studies of high-achieving individuals in various fields ranging from business to education and the military. She was looking for common characteristics or personality traits that could be used as a predictor of success.
After extensive research, she concluded that there is one characteristic that they almost all had in common and she has labelled that characteristic as GRIT.
Duckworth defines grit as ‘passion and perseverance for long-term goals’.
It’s essentially the ability to stick at something for a long time, even when the going gets tough.
Personally, I associate grit with resilience and it’s a trait that I deeply admire in other people. It’s something I try to display myself and a characteristic that I hope to cultivate in my children.
I was therefore very interested to see if this was something that can be taught and if so, how.
How do you measure grit?
Duckworth has developed a survey that calculates an individual’s level of grit. She calls it the grit scale.
The questions are designed to measure the two key factors that contribute to grit: Passion and perseverance.
GRIT = Passion + Perseverance
If you are wondering where you sit on the grit scale, you can take the online survey here
Are you born with grit or can it be developed?
It’s generally accepted that most of our personality traits are influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. But to what extent exactly, is often hard to define.
However, in the case of grit, researchers have managed to put a number on it. Which I love. Here’s how they did it.
After studying more than 2,000 pairs of twins and administering the Grit Scale, researchers concluded that the hereditability of the two factors contributing to Grit is as follows:
- Perseverance: 37%
- Passion: 20%
In the simplest terms, this means that some of the variations in grit can be attributed to genetic factors, but the majority of influence can be attributed to experience.
This is great news for us as parents, because we have direct control over the environmental factors that contribute to our family’s experiences.
In short, we have the ability to develop grit in both ourselves and our kids.
How to develop your own grit
There are four psychological assets that contribute to grit and they tend to develop, over time, in a particular order.
Here they are:
1. Interest – Developing passion begins with intrinsically enjoying what you do. It’s good to pursue things you have an interest in as they are more likely to develop into passions over time.
2. Practice – Deliberate and regular practice (ideally every day).
3. Purpose – Paragons of grit all believe their passion has a purpose. They say and believe something akin to: “My work is important both to me and to others.” Importantly this often comes much later in the journey. Most people start with a passion which later develops into a larger purpose. So don’t worry if you haven’t found your higher calling yet. Stick at it anyway.
4. Hope – the ability to keep going even when the going is tough.
All four of these assets can be consciously developed. Hence, we all have the ability to become more gritty.
In the words of Angela Duckworth:
“The four psychological assets of interest, practice, purpose, and hope are not You have it or you don’t commodities. You can learn to discover, develop and deepen your interests. You can acquire the habit of discipline. You can cultivate a sense of purpose and meaning. And you can teach yourself to hope.”
How to cultivate grit in your children
If you only read one chapter of this book, make sure it’s the chapter called ‘parenting for grit’.
In this chapter, Angela Duckworth lays out her recommendations for how parents can help develop children with grit.
There are two key factors that we as parents control which can directly influence the level of grit in our kids. They are
- Our parenting style – we must practise ‘wise’ parenting
- Our example as role models – we must demonstrate grit ourselves
Step 1 – practise ‘wise’ parenting
Below is a figure representing how psychologists categorise parenting styles.
Parents can be grouped into four quadrants based on how ‘warm and supportive’ they are and how ‘demanding’ they are.
In the top right quadrant is what psychologists call ‘authoritative’ parenting (not to be confused with authoritarian parenting). Perhaps because of this confusion, Angela has labelled this quadrant as ‘wise parenting’, which is a much better word for it.
Obviously, this is the quadrant we want to be operating in as parents.
- Wise Parents are both warm AND demanding. (They have high standards AND total support).
- Authoritarian Parents have high standards but low warmth.
- Permissive Parents have high warmth but low standards.
- Neglectful Parents have neither.
One way to think of this is to imagine a parenting scenario.
For instance, what you would say if your child wakes up and tells you they don’t want to go to football practice today?
The authoritarian parent might say – “stop your winging, I’ve paid for the fees already. Get yourself out of bed and go to practice”
The permissive parent might say: “That’s okay sweet pea. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. You can stay in bed today or do something else you enjoy more.”
The neglectful parent probably never encouraged their child to join the football team in the first place. They certainly wouldn’t be getting out of bed to take their kid to practice They probably let their child stay up late and play video games instead. Clearly, if you are reading this article you are not in this quadrant!
As wise parents, what we want to be doing is showing warmth and empathy, but also maintaining high standards. So we may first discuss why they don’t want to go to training and ensure there is nothing seriously wrong. Then explain why it’s good to stick at things, even when they are hard. Explain why it’s important not to let themselves or their team down. Then we’d help get them changed and walk with them down to football practice and also be there to say well done when they finish.
Do you get the idea?
Wise parenting is both compassionate AND disciplined. Wise parents communicate warmth, respect AND high expectations.
The important point here is that it’s actually very important to be demanding and to maintain high standards with our kids. But you have to do it with warmth and respect.
Step 2 – Practise what you preach and be a good role model
I believe that more than half the influence we have on our children comes through the example we set for them. Therefore, if you can’t be a good parent, you can at least be a good role model.
Here’s a great quote that sums it up.
“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”James Baldwin
It seems obvious really, but according to Angela Duckworth, if you want to teach your children grit, the first thing you must do is to practise wise parenting, but the second thing is to display grit yourself.
By finding your own passions and showing your children how to stick at something and not give up, you are directly helping to develop this characteristic in them as well.
So, have a think about the example you are setting. You may already be well on the way to building gritty kids.
“If you want to bring forth grit in your child, first ask how much passion and perseverance you have for your own life goals. Then ask yourself how likely it is that your approach to parenting encourages your child to emulate you. If the answer to the first question is “a great deal, and the answer to the second is “very likely”, you’re already parenting for grit.”
– Angela Duckworth
The ‘hard thing’ rule
There is one other piece of very practical advice that Angela Duckworth offers parents. It’s a technique she has implemented with her family and recommends for others. She calls it the hard thing rule.
The rule has three parts:
- Everyone (including mum and dad) has to do a hard thing. Something that requires daily deliberate practice.
- You can quit, but you can’t quit until the season is over, the tuition fee is up, or some other “natural” stopping point has arrived. (i.e. you can’t stop halfway).
- Everyone gets to pick their own hard thing. Because it should be something you are interested in, which will possibly develop into a passion.
This rule is designed to help develop grit in both the parents (as role models) and the kids.
It’s normal and healthy for kids to change their interests regularly when they are growing up. But the aim is to stick at something long enough to see if it can develop into a life-long passion. And more importantly, to learn the trait of not quitting.
I’ll be implementing this idea with my family and I’d recommend you consider doing the same, particularly if you’ve already got kids who are showing a lack of determination and resilience.
Why focus on GRIT? What’s the real aim here?
I believe this is a great area for us to focus on as parents because it’s easy to see how we can have a direct impact by practising wise parenting and demonstrating grit ourselves.
However, the ultimate goal is not about having gritty children or even successful children, it’s actually about long term happiness.
The studies conducted by researchers have shown that people with grit not only experience more success, they also tend to be happier. You can understand why, as they are doing something they love and contributing to a higher purpose.
That sounds like a pretty good outcome to me. And definitely one that I would wish for my kids.
The other benefit of focussing on grit is that it develops over time, so it’s never too late to start working on it.
No matter where you are in your parenting journey, this is one area where you can still have an impact because grit is developed through experience.
Think about your parenting style. Are you in the top right quadrant?
Are you showing warmth and support BUT still maintaining high standards?
And are you demonstrating grit yourself?
If so, you are already on the right path. And if not, then it’s easy to make some tweaks and get back on the right path.