Grit: The Real Secret of Success


Grit: The Real Secret to Success

Read the article and answer the questions down below. Also, this is open for discussion down below, so make sure you comment and give your opinion. 

Critical Thinking

1. What evidence could you give to support the idea that today’s society is obsessed with talented individuals?

2. How could more emphasis be given to grit in schools?

What is the secret of success? At first glance, the answer is simple – success is about talent. It’s about being able to do something – hit a tennis ball, play a musical instrument or solve complex mathematical problems far better than almost anyone else. But this answer immediately invites another question: what is talent?

For many years, talent was believed to be about inheritance, about being born with a set of genes that gave rise to a particular skill. Einstein had the physics gene, for example, and Beethoven the symphony gene. The assumption was that not everyone could be a mathematical genius or grand composer, that no amount of hard work would compensate for innate limitations. 

In recent years, however, the pendulum has shifted. Researchers have suggested that the intrinsic nature of talent is overrated and that our genes don’t confer specific gifts. Psychologists such as K. Anders Ericsson argue that talent is really about deliberate practice, about putting in the now popularized 10,000 hours of intense training that are key to achieving world-class expertise in any skill. 

But if talent is about practice, that raises further questions. Why are some people so much better at deliberate practice? And what factors influence how hard we can work?

To answer these questions, Professor Angela Lee Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania has been conducting research into characteristics of high achievers for over 15 years. As a former math teacher in a New York high school, Lee Duckworth became aware that her best students were not necessarily the ones with high IQs, while many of her most intelligent students did not perform well at school. In order to understand this anomaly, she left her job to do postgraduate studies in psychology. Her research has involved studying successful people in a wide range of contexts; she went into high schools to study which students were most likely to graduate; she went to a military academy in order to establish which cadets would stay the course and not drop out; and she evaluated participations in the national Spelling Bee, a competition that requires hours of practice to memorize spelling rules.

What she found was that the single most significant factor in determining an individual’s success was not physical health or social intelligence. It was not even IQ. It was a quality she calls grit. 

Grit, as Lee Duckworth describes it, is ‘the disposition to pursue long-term goals with passion and perseverance’. It is not about self-control, which would be the ability to resist momentary distractions or temptations such as doing homework instead of watching TV. While that is an important indicator of success in students, grit is more about maintaining momentum and stamina in the long term in order to achieve a goal. 

In the Spelling Bee contest, Lee Duckworth discovered that the participants who studied and memorized words when alone performed much better in the competition than those who engaged in more enjoyable practice activities such as quizzes or leisure reading. 

And even though it was not fun, they devoted increasing amounts of time of solitary study as they gained experience. After analyzing the data, she learned that what drove them to succeed was the ability to be single-minded about their objective, to persevere in the face of failure and overcome hurdles and setbacks. 

Lee Duckworth argues that grit is often unrelated or even inversely related to talent. After all, there are many talented individuals who do not follow through on their commitments. Instead, the key to success, she suggests, is for each individual to find something that they truly value, that is meaningful to them, and then cultivate it. The distinction between discovery and cultivation is important, as cultivation requires effort – in order to truly love the piano, for example, you need to find ways to deepen your appreciation of it. And then having found that mission, remain loyal to it over a period of time, no matter what the cost. 

Science can tell us little about grit at the moment – why some people seem to have more grit than others. However, the belief that effort will result in a positive outcome seems to be crucial in driving success. For this reason, Lee Duckworth believes, it is important for students to be aware that deliberate practice is not always easy. Becoming a high achiever certainly requires considerable effort and will involve feelings of boredom and frustration at times. What’s more, confusion is often a necessary stage to go through in order to learn. This knowledge, she says, should help students develop the attitude that ‘I can get better if I try harder’, which is one of the key tenets of grit. 

There are two interesting takeaways from Lee Duckworth’s research. The first is that while today’s society seems to be obsessed with talented individuals, real success depends on sustained performance. It’s about being able to work hard over the long term and our ability to do that depends on grit. The second is that although education systems tend to value IQ, greater emphasis could be given to developing non-cognitive skills like grit and determination. After all, life is a marathon, not a sprint.


1 According to the writer, talent is…

– Difficult to define. 

– Genetic rather than learned. 

– The ability to acquire a certain skill. 

– Closely linked to hard work. 

2 The research carried out by Angela Lee Duckworth…

– Focuses on the characteristics of intelligence.

– Began when she was working in education. 

– Has been to discover the characteristics of high achievers. 

– Is to find out how students can learn effectively. 

3 The most important fact in grit is….

– The physical and mental power to do something

– Extended and continuous effort

– Not being distracted from goals. 

– The ability to overcome hurdles. 

4 The data from the Spelling Bee contest showed that…

– Success was linked to perseverance in the face of boredom. 

– Participants performed better when the practice was fun. 

– With experience, participants enjoyed their practice more. 

– Quizzes and leisure reading were ineffective ways to learn. 

5 The writer’s main point is that…

– Society should not be interested in talented individuals. 

– Students don’t work as hard as they should. 

– Success in education leads to long-term success in life. 

– Grit should be valued more highly in schools. 

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