You have a long-term goal—say, writing a dissertation or a book. And the going gets tough. This is one huge project.
It’s a long haul—it may mean months or years of coming back to that same project.
It’s been going on for quite a while. Have you stuck with it? Have you kept coming back to the work, day after day?
What would you say has kept you coming back? What do you think makes the difference in finishing or not finishing?
Feeling engaged by your topic? Possibly.
Sense of community or a good relationship with your advisor? Both would be helpful.
Being motivated by someone or something or finding motivation? Motivation is always a bonus.
How about perseverance? Yes! Or mental toughness? Yes! If you have perseverance or mental toughness, the odds are that you’ll meet your goal.
To capture the crucial role that tenacity and doggedness play in your achieving a tough, very long, long-term goal, University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth uses the word grit.
Duckworth says that grit is related to willpower, self-control, and resilience, but it is a greater predictor of success than any of those other resources.
To some people, the word grit sounds like being chained to a task, maybe being held hostage. But Duckworth describes it as a passion for long-term goals. She says that grit sustains you; it’s a sustaining passion for a long time.
If you have little kids, you’ve seen grit in action—when a toddler is determined to walk or a little kid is focused on skate-boarding or roller-skating or coming in first in a contest.
Duckworth has done research about many aspects of grit, including students who won spelling bees.
She says that grit is not necessarily the number of hours devoted to a project. Rather, she sees it as a person identifying their weakness or what they don’t know and then concentrating on that. She says that grit enables you to be in an uncomfortable place for some part of your day, working extremely hard, and then being able to come back the next day and do it all over again and again.
But wait—don’t pull your hair out or start shrieking. Think again of the child falling off of her skate board or bike or roller skates and getting up and going at it again, only to fall again.
There’s a willingness to fail, knowing that with failure comes–yep, you got it– success.
You probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Duckworth says that grit is a key and necessary ingredient for high achievement in any field.
The word grit has an old-fashioned ring to it. When you say the word grit, do you squint? And maybe feel the urge to look off into the sunset?
In fact, Duckworth says that when she was studying what it was that distinguished successful people, and what it was that kept them going, beyond talent, beyond intellect, she used the word grit because of the movie True Grit, but not after the John- Wayne hero. Instead, she says, the movie is really about a young Arkansas girl who pursues an impossible goal and after an impossibly long time, she eventually succeeds and reaches her goal.
In the most recent version of the film, Hailee Steinfeld plays that girl—the girl that personifies grit for Duckworth.
To see if you are “extremely gritty” or “not at all gritty” or somewhere in the middle, check out Duckworth’s Grit Scale.
The good news is that you can increase the amount of grit that you have. What matters most is not your ability or intelligence. It helps to change the way you look at your work and to look most keenly at what you are bringing to the task. Ramp up your consistency and follow through on what you say you are going to do, each day, each week.
The more you exercise grit, the more grit you will have.
How gritty are you? What ways have you found that help you to increase your grit or perseverance? I’d love to hear from you.
Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
nancy @ nancywhichard.com