How Gritty are you?

Sep 16, 2016

In 1940, researchers at Harvard decided to test a group of students. Over 100 sophomores performed in a study where they were asked to run on a treadmill for up to five minutes. The angle was steep and the speed was fast – the average of the 130 students was four minutes with some running as little as one minute and thirty seconds.

The test was designed to be exhausting. They were testing not just the physical capacity of the students but also the mental capacity (or “strength of will”).

The goal of the study was to determine if there was a correlation later in life to various “success” factors. They monitored things like marriage status, income, career advancement, self-reported satisfaction with work and marriage, social activities, psychological medical history, etc. The researchers tracked the participants every two years and the study continued into their later years.

Here’s what they found out – The participants who were able to stay on the treadmill the longest had the highest performance on the factors they rated later in life.

Angela Duckworth and “Grit”

Angela Duckworth is the author of the book, “Grit – The Power of Passion and Perseverance”. Duckworth is a psychologist, former Consultant and School Teacher. She’s observed a lot of people – that’s what she does for a living. Her research points to this “Grit” factor as the defining trait of the most successful people. I get that “success” can be defined in many different ways, but I think, overall, any type of performance or result is usually accompanied by many struggles. The best of the best simply have this Grit deep inside them.

It’s interesting in that a study that I conducted last year where I interviewed over 30 high performing sales reps and leaders, the results were very much in line with Duckworth’s work and the Harvard Team’s research.

Sure, many other factors play a part in overall performance, but the best of the best were the most resilient and, ultimately, viewed obstacles as opportunities. In fact, if I had to big one overriding trait of the top performers, it was easily their mindset and their capacity to overcome challenges and still perform.

Back to Duckworth’s research. Although the Harvard test was a good indicator, she talks about the willingness to come back and do it again the next day. This, she says, was an even closer identifier of true Grit. Essentially, are you willing to get back up once you’ve fallen down?

She also outlines a formula which I believe is really profound on right on:

Talent x effort = skill

Skill x effort = achievement

Here’s what this means. Of course, you need some sort of talent to get any type of achievement. Talent, however, only takes you so far. For example, let’s say you have a very talented youth soccer player. By the way, I see this all the time, as I coach my son and his U10 club team. So, you have a talented kid – this is JUST the beginning. Next, comes the Effort. When you combine Talent with the Effort, then you develop skill. I have some very talented kids who are still learning to put in the right amount of effort. It’s been pretty astounding to see some kids with less talent start to surpass the more talented kids, simply because they are outworking them at practice. Once the skill is developed, now you add some more effort onto this and that’s where you get the achievement.

Effort Times Two

Here’s the secret sauce – there’s a reason effort is in both equations. Talent without effort doesn’t get you very far. Furthermore, once you develop a skill, you need to keep working hard to get to any form of achievement. I tell my kids all the time – I’ll take effort over talent all day long. We’re a work in progress still but I definitely beat this drum every time we’re together.

This isn’t easy. Grit takes awareness. Grit takes intention. Grit takes a daily approach and deliberate practice to get really good at it. I don’t think people are born with grit. I think some may be predisposed to it, sure, but I think everyone has the capacity to dig deep and push out of their comfort zone.

If you’re struggling to perform at whatever it is your trying to do, think about these equations. Talent only gets you so far. Once you develop a skill that, too, only gets you so far. It’s the consistent effort over a long period of time that leads to achievement.

We tend to see successful people – whether that be athletes, musicians, business leaders, parents or coaches – and we think they were born to succeed. The truth is, you don’t see what they’re doing when the cameras are off. You don’t see the early morning wake up calls or the countless hours honing their craft.

Take the Grit Test

So, how gritty are you? Well, the good news is, Duckworth created a test that was part of her research. She calls it the Grit Scale. You can take it there – (by the way, I scored a 4.0 which is about 65% – some work to do here for me)

I’m a firm believer that this is one of the most important things we can teach the younger generation. I think, in this day and age, kids want things right away. We live in a 140 character world where things happen fast. Focus is pretty much non-existent. Heck, I’ve read that our avg attention spans have gone from something like 12-13 seconds to 8 seconds in recent years. That’s not good. I think it’s turning many of us to adopt a “want it right now” mindset and we patience and discipline are going out the window. I tell you this from experience – I struggle with this just as much as anyone.

Good & Bad News

Here’s the good and bad news for all of us. The bad news first – we’re going to miss out on many opportunities if we can’t get beyond the constant noise in our heads. Let me ask you this – how often have you found yourself reading an article, a book on your tablet or been on social media – and the next thing you know, you look up 45 minutes later and you’re doing something totally different than what you set out to do? C’mon, be real – I’ve been there many times, haven’t you? We chased the rabbit, so to speak. So, as amazing as social media or the internet may be, it’s designed to grab (no crush) our attention. Now, to the good news – those that can see above the noise and find the awareness to not fall victim to this constant struggle give themselves and opportunity to get some really amazing things done.

It takes awareness first and grit second to do things like put your phone away for a day (or even a couple hours) and spend real time with your family and friends. It takes grit to wake up every day and read one more chapter in the book you’ve been wanting to read. It takes grit to sacrifice the short term gain of eating those french fries for the long-term gain of feeling healthier and living better.

Grit isn’t easy. I think Duckworth is spot on.

How can we all take action?

The first step to any change or any achievement is Awareness. The second step is Action. Here’s something really practical for you as a next step – Take the test, find out if where you land on the Grit scale. If you don’t like your score, be intentional about setting a plan to get better in this area. Put a reminder in your calendar twice a day – 7am and 2pm that just says “Be Gritty” and set it recurring daily for 30 days. When that reminder hits each day, just stop to think for 5-10 seconds and ask yourself two questions “Am I exuding Grit?” and “How can I be more Gritty?”. Feel free to write down your thoughts or just think about. It takes intentional practice to get better at anything.

Here’s the test again –

Good luck and shoot me a note or enter a comment below and let us know how you did.

Until next time…



“Grit – The Power of Passion and Perseverance”Angela Duckworth

Harvard Research Study – The Treadmill Test, 1940 (later expanded on by psychiatrist, George Vaillant) – you can learn more about George here.

Duckworth’s TED talk is worth watching as well – only 6 minutes – watch it here.


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