Abraham Lincoln first ran for the Illinois General Assembly in 1832. He lost. Subsequently, he lost a race for the House of Representatives and two races for the Senate. The love of his life died in 1835. He had a nervous breakdown in 1836. He campaigned for a vice-presidential nomination and lost. He persevered and, after a bruising battle for the Republican presidential nomination, was inaugurated as president on March 4, 1861.
Lincoln had grit.
The Importance of Grit
Angela Duckworth, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, led an extensive study featured in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that focused on the role of grit in success: “The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina.”
What is grit? In an American Public Media story, Duckworth defines grit as “sticking with things over the very long term until you master them.”
How important is grit? Duckworth found that it might be every bit as important as intelligence. We all know very intelligent people who are not high achievers and people of lesser intelligence who are high achievers. What accounts for the anomaly? Grit.
Duckworth tested students at an Ivy League school. She found the more intelligent students had less grit than those who had lower scores on standard IQ tests. Yet the less intelligent students had higher GPA scores. Why? Because they worked harder and with more determination than their more intelligent peers.
Calculate Your Grit
There is a way to determine how much grit you have. The University of Pennsylvania has a test you can take online to determine your “grit score.” According to the study, the United States Military Academy at West Point found that a cadet’s grit score was a better predictor of success than intelligence, the ability to lead and fitness.
You Control Your Grit
Once you recognize the importance of grit and have determined your grit score, how can you become more gritty? Duckworth does not believe the amount of grit you have is fixed. It can change over time, just like other personality traits. She also notes that grit is not fixed across all activities. You can be very focused on some tasks but not on others. Children can be determined to improve their sports skills but easily frustrated trying to learn math.
If you are interested in a particular field or activity, you are more likely to persevere. Our goal should be to improve our “grittiness” for tasks we don’t enjoy.
Tips for Improving Your Grit
Featured in a 2013 Advisors Perspectives article, speaker and author Dan Richards offers these suggestions for improving your grit:
Choose how you react to adversity (like the loss of a major customer): You can consider it a disaster or view it as an opportunity to go after new business so you will not be so dependent on any one client.
Temper your optimism: Unrealistic optimism leads to disappointment. You probably won’t triple your profits this year, but you could increase them by 20 percent. The key is to be realistically optimistic.
Pay attention to your body: A healthy diet and regular exercise are critical to your success. You can’t be focused on new business when you are recovering from a major illness. Put yourself first.
Challenge yourself: Confront your fears (like public speaking or approaching new customers). Richards cites studies that show that doing so leads to “stress inoculation,” giving you increased capacity to take on new challenges.
Network: We all have highs and lows. Especially during those low periods, when our grit lags, we need the help and support of people we respect, who care about us.
Have role models: It doesn’t matter if your role model is Lincoln or your neighbor. Having role models who have overcome challenges will give you the strength to confront your obstacles.
Grit Pays Off
Actor and musician Will Smith doesn’t attribute his success to intelligence or talent. He’s credited with saying, “I will not be outworked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me, you might be all of those things — you got it on me in nine categories. But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple.”
The same, intense, single-minded focus and determination is what separates successful people from less successful ones.
Here’s the takeaway: If you want to achieve more success, it might not be your lack of intelligence or talent that’s holding you back. Try increasing your grit.
Dan’s latest book is “The Smartest Sales Book You’ll Ever Read”