True grit

True grit

About four years ago Dr Angela Duckworth (Distinguished Professor of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania) released research showing that it wasn’t just talent or IQ that predicted success in life but that possessing “grit” was also an important success indicator. She should know something about grit having left a successful career as a management consultant to teach maths at primary school. While teaching she became passionate about understanding why some children achieved and others didn’t. It wasn’t always the naturally gifted that succeeded. So, in order to understand what predicted success, she left teaching and went on to study psychology and gain her PhD (Doctorate of Philosophy). The difference, she concluded, after her study was “grit”.

But what does she mean by grit? She defines grit as a combination of passion and perseverance over an extended period. She sees anything important that we want to achieve as being more like a marathon than a sprint.

Or, in my words, grit is being deeply engaged in something important to us (for example a specific goal, a cause, hobby or work) over a long period of time in order to achieve a result. We are persistent, we do this no matter what obstacles we come across on the way, getting back up after getting knocked back and continuing to head toward the goal. It’s the ability to achieve something no matter what we have to do to achieve it.

 Maybe we can show it like this …. Passion + persistence = grit.

Let’s look at those parts of the equation separately to get a better understanding of how this might show up in our lives.

What’s a passion – I describe it as something that we care deeply about or are enthusiastic about, something that interests us, excites us, captures our imagination. It’s something that would get us out of bed, enthusiastically, on a cold, rainy morning!

What are you passionate about? What would you willingly get out of bed for on a cold rainy morning (besides a full English breakfast!)?. What do you love to read, write or think about? What would you spend hours researching or doing and completely lose track of time while doing it? What have you always dreamed of achieving or being? The answers to these will give you an indication of what you’re really passionate about.

What about persistence? I think of persistence as being the ability to focus, to continue despite difficulty or opposition. It’s to keep an eye on the goal, no matter what. There’s an old Japanese proverb that says “fall down seven times, get up eight”. For me that describes persistence. Are there things that you devote your time and energy to and keep doing so despite setbacks?


In my view there are two types of grit – smart grit and stupid grit!

Used well, smart grit will help us achieve our greatest dreams. When combined with emotional intelligence and aligned with our core values smart grit is an incredible asset. It provides us with motivation, fuel to achieve. Smart grit can be rewarding and satisfying.

However, without the use of emotional intelligence and in the absence of any core values grit tips over into obsession and stubbornness, the “I will achieve this no matter what!” attitude, or stupid grit! Continuing at any cost can come with financial, health, emotional or personal negative consequences. You may well “succeed” but what has it cost you? Stupid grit is not worth cultivating.

There may be a fine line between smart and stupid grit. The position of that line will likely be different for each of us. However, if what you want to achieve aligns with who you really are (core values), would get you up on a cold and rainy morning, while not tearing you or your relationships apart, then tap into the reservoir of smart grit and be prepared to succeed!


Jan Aitken Life Coach

Jan Aitken is a qualified Life Coach based in Dunedin. With over 8 years of experience Jan is the coach to help propel you forward and live the life you imagine.

Jan Aitken is a qualified Life Coach based in Dunedin. With over 8 years of experience Jan is the coach to help propel you forward and live the life you imagine.


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