A Summary and Review of Grit by Angela Duckworth
Grit by Angela Duckworth was a fantastic read and I’m excited to share a summary and review of it with you.
Grit is broken down into three parts:
- What Grit Is and Why It Matters
- Growing Grit from the Inside Out
- Growing Grit from the Outside In
Within these three parts, there are thirteen chapters in total that I will dive into in more detail below.
Part 1: What Grit Is and Why It Matters
Chapter 1: Showing Up
In any field, the most successful people are lucky and talented. High achievers keep going after failures, stick things out, are constantly driven to improve, and are “paragons of perseverance.”
In research on high achievers, it’s been found that, for high achievers, there wasn’t a realistic expectation of ever catching up to their ambitions. In their own eyes, high achievers were never good enough. They were the opposite of complacent and were satisfied with being unsatisfied. The highest achievers had a passion for enduring and wouldn’t think of giving up.
The most successful people have a ferocious determination that plays out in two ways. First, they’re unusually resilient and hardworking. Second, they know in a very deep way what it is that they want. They had not only determination, but direction.
The highest achievers have grit. Grit is a combination of passion and perseverance.
Talent says nothing about grit. Our potential is one thing, but what we do with it is another.
Chapter 2: Distracted by Talent
Aptitude doesn’t guarantee achievement. The most talented students don’t always get the best grades. Effort can be more important than talent.
Charles Darwin believed that zeal and hard work are ultimately more important than intellectual ability. For humans, there often exists a gap between potential and actualization.
As a society, we say that we care more about effort than talent, but we actually believe talent to be more valuable. This has been proven in several studies in various fields. A naturalness bias exists.
A naturalness bias is a hidden prejudice against those who have achieved what they have because they worked for it and a hidden preference for those whom we think arrived at their place because they’re naturally talented.
Our preoccupation with talent can be harmful. In shining a spotlight on talent, we risk leaving everything else in the shadows. We inadvertently send the message that these other factors, including grit, don’t matter as much as they really do. Focusing on talent distracts us from effort, which is at least as important as talent.
Chapter 3: Effort Counts Twice
When someone accomplishes a feat worth writing about, we rush to anoint this individual as extraordinarily talented. By overemphasizing talent, we underemphasize everything else.
The most dazzling human achievements are the aggregate of countless individual achievements. Each of these individual achievements is, in a sense, ordinary. When we can’t clearly see how experience and training got someone to a level of excellence that’s so clearly beyond the norm, we default to labelling that person a “natural.”
Achieving greatness is doable. Greatness is many individual feats which are all doable. A high level of performance is a collection of mundane acts.
As a society, we prefer the stories of mystery to those of mundanity. We mythologize natural talent, and in doing so, let ourselves off the hook and allow ourselves to relax into the status quo.
Angela Duckworth presents two basic calculations:
- Skill = talent x effort
- Achievement = skill x effort
As can be seen in these calculations, effort counts twice. Duckworth defines talent as the pace at which your skills improve when you invest effort. Achievement is defined as what happens when you take your acquired skills and use them.
When considering individuals in identical circumstances, what each achieves depends on just two things: talent and effort. Effort makes skills productive.
Doing one thing better and better may be more satisfying than staying an amateur at many different things. Accomplishment is very much about going the distance. Consistency of effort over the long run is essential.
Many of us quit what we start far too early and far too often. While the effort that a gritty person puts in on a single day is important, the ability to wake up the next day and continue expending that effort is what matters more in the long run. Someone twice as talented but half as hardworking might reach the same level of skill as someone else but still produce dramatically less over time.
As strivers are improving in skill, they’re also employing that skill. If the quantity and quality of the products are what count, then the striver who equals the person who’s a natural in skill by working harder will accomplish more in the long run.
Skill is only developed through hours and hours of beating on your craft. Skill isn’t the same thing as achievement.
Without effort, talent is nothing more than unmet potential. Skill without effort is nothing more than what you could’ve done, but didn’t.
With effort, talent becomes skill and, at the same time, effort makes skill productive.
Chapter 4: How Gritty Are You?
Grit is more about stamina than intensity. Working incredibly hard is only part of grit. Grit is about working on something you care about so much that you’re willing to stay loyal to it.
There are two components of grit:
Passion and perseverance aren’t exactly the same thing. The highest achievers talk about the idea of consistency over time rather than intensity. Enthusiasm is common, but endurance is rare.
Passion can act as a compass that takes time to build, tinker with, and finally get right. Once created, this compass guides you on the long and winding road to where you ultimately want to be.
To be passionate means that you care about the same ultimate goal in an abiding, loyal, steady way. Being passionate means you wake up thinking of the questions you fell asleep thinking about. In a sense, you’re pointing in the same direction and eager to take even the smallest step forward.
Grit is about holding the same top-level goal for a very long time. Any successful person is forced to decide what to do in part by deciding what not to do.
Chapter 5: Grit Grows
Grit comes partly from our DNA. Every human trait is influenced by both genes and experience. The rate at which we develop any skill is a function of experience. Some variation in grit can be attributed to genetic factors and the rest can be attributed to experience.
Almost all human traits are influenced by more than one gene. There’s no single gene for grit or any other psychological trait.
Grit grows as we figure out our life philosophy, learn to recover from rejection and disappointment, and learn to differentiate between low-level goals that we should abandon quickly and higher-level goals that demand more tenacity.
There are four psychological assets that mature “paragons of grit” have in common:
To be gritty is to resist complacency.
Part 2: Growing Grit from the Inside Out
Chapter 6: Interest
People are enormously more satisfied with their jobs when they do something that aligns with their personal interests. People in jobs that align with their personal interests are generally happier with their lives as a whole. These people perform better at work, as they’re genuinely interested in what they’re doing.
There are very real constraints in the choices we can make about how we earn a living. A 2014 Gallup study found that more than 2 out of 3 adults claim they aren’t engaged at work. Globally, only 13% of adults claim to be engaged at work.
Clearly, very few people end up loving what they do for a living. Matching your job to what captures your attention and imagination is a good idea.
Most “paragons of grit” spend years exploring several different interests and eventually realize that the calling that eventually occupies all their waking thoughts wasn’t recognizably their life’s destiny on first acquaintance.
In reality, most people who love what they do for a living took quite some time to figure out exactly what they wanted to do with their lives. Falling in love with a career doesn’t happen overnight. Passion for your work involves a little bit of discovery, followed by a lot of development, and then a lifetime of deepening.
Grit paragons don’t just discover something they enjoy and develop that interest. They learn to deepen it.
Chapter 7: Practice
Grit paragons have a persistent desire to do better. According to research, it seems to take about 10,000 hours over 10 years to reach expert-level status.
Experts practice differently and engage in deliberate practice.
Experts practice by:
- Setting a stretch goal and zeroing in on just one narrow aspect of their overall performance
- Striving to reach their stretch goal with undivided attention and great effort
- Hungrily seeking feedback on how they did as soon as possible
- Repeating this process over and over
Even the most complex and creative of human abilities can be broken down into component skills, each of which can be practiced.
If you judge practice by how much it improves skill, then there is no rival to deliberate practice. Deliberate practice can be significantly more effortful and less enjoyable than other forms of practice. Even world-class performers at the peak of their careers can only handle a maximum of one hour of deliberate practice before needing a break. In total, they can only do about 3–5 hours of deliberate practice per day.
Duckworth also discusses the flow state in which someone is fully immersed in an activity with energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process.
While deliberate practice is carefully planned, flow is spontaneous. Deliberate practice requires working where challenges exceed skill and flow is most commonly experienced when challenge and skill are balanced. While deliberate practice is exceptionally effortful, flow is effortless.
Grittier adults report experiencing more flow. Flow and grit seem to go hand in hand. Gritty people tend to do more deliberate practice and experience more flow.
Deliberate practice is for preparation and flow is for performance.
Nobody wants to show the hours and hours they put into becoming. They’d rather show the highlights of what they’ve become. Attempting to do what you can’t do yet is frustrating, uncomfortable, and even painful.
That said, the experience of deliberate practice can be extremely positive not just in the long-term but in the moment. Mindlessly going through the motions is its own form of suffering.
There are four basic requirements of deliberate practice:
- Clearly defined stretch goal
- Full concentration and effort
- Immediate and informative feedback
- Repetition with reflection and refinement
Most people cruise through life without engaging in deliberate practice on a daily basis.
In contrast, creators have daily rituals that enable them to put in hours of solitary deliberate practice. Deliberate practice can be frustrating. Feelings of frustration aren’t necessarily a sign that you’re on the wrong path.
To get the most out of deliberate practice:
- Know the science
- Make it a habit
- Change the way you experience it
Chapter 8: Purpose
Interest and purpose are two sources of passion. Purpose is the intention to contribute to the well-being of others.
Mature passions of gritty people depend on both interest and purpose. Most people first become attracted to things they enjoy and only later appreciate how these personal interests might benefit others.
A common sequence is to start out with a relatively self-oriented interest, then learn self-disciplined practice, and finally integrate that work with an other-centered purpose. Paragons of grit express that the immense sacrifices are all worth it because their efforts ultimately pay dividends to others.
Purpose is defined by the intention to contribute to the well-being of others. Purpose means that what we do matters to people other than ourselves.
Humans have evolved to seek meaning and purpose. Grittier people are dramatically more motivated than others to seek a meaningful, other-centered life. Most gritty people see their ultimate aims as deeply connected to the world beyond themselves.
Purpose is a tremendously powerful source of motivation. Unfortunately, few workers consider their occupations a calling. Those who consider their occupations a calling are significantly grittier than those who don’t. Callings have very little to do with formal job descriptions. Any occupation can be a job, career, or calling. How you see your work is more important than your job title. It’s possible to go from job to career to calling without changing your occupation.
A calling isn’t a fully formed thing that you find. Rather, it’s very dynamic.
Duckworth offers three recommendations to cultivate a sense of purpose:
- Reflect on how the work you’re doing can make a positive contribution to society
- Think about how you can change your current work to enhance its connection to your core values
- Find inspiration in a purposeful role model
Chapter 9: Hope
One kind of hope is the expectation that tomorrow will be better than today.
Grit depends on a different kind of hope. This hope rests on the expectation that our own efforts can improve our future. Thinking that tomorrow will be better is different than resolving to make tomorrow better. The hope that gritty people possess has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with getting up again.
Suffering on its own doesn’t lead to hopelessness. Rather, suffering that you think you can’t control leads to hopelessness. Suffering without control reliably produces symptoms of clinical depression including changes in appetite and physical activity, sleep problems, and poor concentration.
There’s a flip side to learned helplessness: learned optimism.
Optimists are just as likely to encounter bad events as pessimists. However, optimists habitually search for temporary and specific causes of their suffering, whereas pessimists assume permanent and pervasive causes are to blame.
Optimists are less likely than pessimists to suffer from depression and anxiety. Optimists get better grades and are less likely to drop out of school. Optimistic young adults stay healthier throughout middle age and ultimately live longer than pessimists. Optimists are also more satisfied with their marriages.
Grit paragons think about setbacks optimistically and possess a growth mindset.
A growth mindset involves a belief that people can change and an assumption that it’s possible to get smarter by trying hard with a belief that you can do it and receiving the right opportunities and support.
With a growth mindset, you experience setbacks and believe that you can learn to do better. With a growth mindset, you’re more likely to do well in school, enjoy better emotional and physical health, and have stronger, more positive social relationships with others.
No matter how much you embrace the idea of a growth mindset, you likely often default to a fixed mindset. Most people have an inner fixed-mindset pessimist in them right alongside their inner growth-mindset optimist.
A growth mindset and grit go together. Adopting a gritty perspective involves recognizing that people can get better at things.
Duckworth offers a few recommendations to teach yourself hope:
- Update your beliefs about intelligence and talent
- Practice optimistic self-talk
- Ask for a helping hand
Part 3: Growing Grit from the Outside In
Chapter 10: Parenting for Grit
There’s no research on parenting and grit yet. For people who want to parent for grit, there’s a helpful blueprint which serves as a guide for making the many decisions that must be grappled with while raising children.
The blueprint has two aspects:
- There’s no either or trade-off between supportive and demanding parenting
- Wise parenting occurs when parents are both depending and supportive
While it’s not always a parent, every grit paragon can point to someone who, at the right time and in the right way, encouraged them to aim high and provided badly needed confidence and support. You don’t have to be a parent to positively impact someone’s life.
Chapter 11: The Playing Fields of Grit
Extracurricular activities can enhance grit, as they have two important features that are hard to replicate in any other setting:
- There’s an adult in charge who isn’t the parent
- These pursuits are designed to cultivate interest, practice, purpose, and hope
Kids who are more involved in extracurriculars fare better on just about every conceivable metric. They earn better grades, have higher self-esteem, and are less likely to get in trouble. Extracurriculars are particularly beneficial when we commit to them for more than a year.
With practice, industriousness can be learned. The association between working hard and reward can be learned.
Chapter 12: A Culture of Grit
The culture in which we live, and with which we identify, powerfully shapes just about every aspect of our being.
A culture is defined by the shared norms and values of a group of people. A distinct culture exists anytime a group of people are in consensus about how they do things and why.
The companies that we work for are important cultural forces in our lives. So much depends on which culture we commit to.
There’s a hard way and an easy way to get grit. The hard way is to do it by yourself. The easy way is to use conformity.
Cultures have the power to shape our identities in the long run. Culture building is a matter of continuous experimentation.
Thinking of yourself as someone who’s able to overcome tremendous adversity often leads to behavior that confirms that self-conception.
Chapter 13: Conclusion
You can grow your grit. There are two ways to do so:
- From the inside out
- From the outside in
Growing your grit from the inside out involves cultivating your interests and developing habits of daily challenge-exceeding-skill practice.
Growing your grit from the outside in involves developing your grit with the help of parents, coaches, teachers, bosses, mentors, or friends.
Success isn’t the only thing that we should care about. Happiness is important. Success and happiness are related, but not identical. Grittier people are more likely to enjoy a healthy emotional life.
Finishing whatever you begin without exception is a good way to miss opportunities to start different, possibly better, things. Most of us would be better off with more grit.
Grit, while important, is far from the only aspect of a person’s character. It’s not everything.
We all face limits not just in talent, but in opportunity. More often than we think, these limits are self-imposed.
- Rating: 91/100
- Grit was a great read. It was informative, interesting, and easy to digest.
- Duckworth did a phenomenal job of weaving in information about her personal experience in a meaningful way. She seemed to include just the right amount of detail from her own life. This made the book engaging and impactful.
- I thought Grit was a page-turner. While these types of non-fiction reads aren’t always so enjoyable to read, this one was. I finished the book in less than five days, which says a lot given that I’m a slow reader. I was so interested in the content that I wanted to return to the book in all of my spare time.
- I would recommend this book to anyone looking to develop their work ethic. There’s so much practical information contained in it and it’s presented in a seamless way.