Grit: Summary & Review

grit book

Grit is the combination of passion and perseverance and, author Angela Duckworth says, is the biggest predictor of achievement.
Grit explains how you can find your passion and how you can increase your grit.

Bullet Summary

  • Grit is a mix of passion and perseverance
  • Grit matters more than talent in achieving success
  • You can grow your grit
  • Find an interest, develop it into a passion, and stick with it

Grit Summary

About The Author: Angela Duckworth is a psychology researcher, Oxford, and Harvard alumni, and psychology teacher at the University of Pennsylvania.
She became popular because of her research on grit, perseverance, and achievement for which she also won a McArthur award.
The concept of Grit and Duckworth’s research has been controversial.

Part I: What Gris is and Why it Matters

Chapter 1: Showing Up

Angela Duckworth begins Grit with a quick overview of the psychology of the highly successful.

She says that the most successful people:

  • Have huge perseverance
  • Never feel like they’re good enough, but are satisfied being unsatisfied
  • Love the chase as much as the capture
  • Have an enduring passion for carrying them through boring and painful times
  • They know what they want: they have both determination and direction

And it’s that mix of passion and perseverance that Angela Duckworth calls Grit.

Grit is a mix of passion and perseverance

Grit Matters Most

Angela Duckworth studied the challenging Westpoint induction training.

She wanted to see what differentiated those who made it through from those who dropped out.
And she found out that Grit was an astoundingly reliable predictor of who made it and who quit.

She ran the same study with sales representatives, a profession with a notoriously high turnover rate.

And again Grit was a huge predictor of who stayed and who quit. Grit mattered more than any other personal trait.

Grit was of course not the sole predictor of endurance.

In sales, for example, previous experience mattered; in school, a supportive teacher helped students make it through; and for the military, the physical fitness at the start of the training also made a difference.

But Grit was important to all of them and mattered even when the other predictors were absent.

Our potential is one thing. What we do with it is quite another

Chapter 2: Distracted by Talent 

Angela Duckworth says that in spite of the USA being a country where most people appreciate and idolize effort and hard work, often that’s more lip service than reality.

She says that, deep down, we all love “naturals”.

And experiments show that people would rather hire naturals and believe that naturals have higher chances of succeeding than hard workers, even when their skill set is completely the same.

The author says that it’s a bit like people saying they don’t care about physical attractiveness, but then we actually pick the cute partner to date when given the option.

Angela Duckworth says that talent is not a bad thing -of course, it isn’t- and, importantly, that we are not all equally talented.
But the biggest reason why the preoccupation with talent is harmful is that we risk forgetting all the other important traits that matter, like Grit.

Chapter 3: Effort Counts Twice 

The author says that our human tendency when we look at someone highly skilled is to stare in awe and think it’s raw talent. “He’s naturally gifted”, we tell ourselves…

Angela Duckworth quotes Dan Chambliss when he says that, of course, not all of us will become Michael Phelps, but that the talent needed to succeed in swimming is lower than most people think.
And, importantly, that greatness is doable.

As long as you understand that a high-level performance is backed by countless hours of mundane work behind the scenes.

I found it fascinating to read the reason why Angela Duckworth says we all love talent, and we all love talent because it lets us all off the hook.
If the achievements of others are because of something magical, or because of some lucky mixture of genes, then we don’t need to compare ourselves to them.

They are the special ones and freaks of nature, and we are normal.

Angela Duckworth’s Achievement Equation

Talent x Effort = Skill
x Effort = Achievement

Talent is how quickly your skill improves when you invest effort.

Achievement is when you take the required skills and use them.
Notice that effort figures twice.
First by building the skill, and second by deploying those skills until you achieve your goals and objectives.

The author recognizes that this equation is incomplete as it doesn’t include other important variables -ie.: a great coach- but adds that it’s still relevant to understand the importance of effort.

Will You Quit at the First Obstacle?
Angela Duckworth says that many people often start things full of excitement, only to give up too soon when they encounter the real first obstacle.

We quit what we start way too early way too often.

But what really builds skills and leads to achievement is waking up day after day and staying at it.

Chapter 4: How Gritty Are You

Grit is about working on something you love so much that you simply want to keep at it.
Grit is falling in love and staying in love.

The author then proposes a test to assess how gritty you are.

My Note:
We all love tests with neat and defined results, but since it’s based on self-assessment of yourself I would recommend taking it with a pinch of salt (or not taking the test at all).

Grit has two components: passion and perseverance.

Angela Duckworth says that passion often gives us the idea of a quick infatuation, but in high achievers, passion is about consistency over a long period of time.

Grit is working on something you love so much that you simply want to keep at it

Grit & Goals

Grit means keeping the same end goal -which she calls a “life philosophy”- over a prolonged period of time.

Importantly, gritty people have related lower-level and mid-level goals supporting their life philosophy.
Imagine a pyramid, with the lower-level goals all there in support of the top.

On the other hand, people lacking in grit tend to have goals that don’t align. And some other people have a big final goal but without any supporting mid-level and lower-level goals. The author calls it “positive fantasizing”.

You can, and sometimes should, swap or scrap lower-level goals if that makes sense in your circumstances.
You should however strive to stay stubborn about your high-level goal.

Grit is falling in love and STAYING in love

Chapter 5: Grit Grows

Of course, the author had to touch on the all-encompassing question: is Grit a “given” or can we change it?

Grit & Genes

Angela Duckworth says that the short answer is that in part our Grit is genetically determined.
But don’t start cheering or using that as an excuse yet.

All human traits are a mix of genes and experience and you can influence all of them.
Even height, the stereotypical genetic trait, is more malleable by the environment than most people think.

The next paragraph teaches you how you can grow Grit, but I think it’s also interesting to take a look at inter-generational Grit.

Angela Duckworth says that the previous generations show more grit than millennials.
She says this could be because of a different cultural environment, but also because millennials are younger today and Grit grows with age.

How To Grow Grit?

Angela Duckworth says most people quit because they:

  • Get bored
  • Don’t think it’s worthy
  • Can’t see themselves ever making it.

She then says there are four specific psychological assets that the Grittiest people have and that serve to counter the forces that urge us to quit.

They are, in order:

  1. Interest: Passion starts with enjoying what we do. You don’t have to enjoy every single part, but you enjoy it overall
  2. Practice: You must devote yourself to improving in your focus area zeroing in on your weaknesses. “Whatever it takes I want to improve” is a common trait among gritty people
  3. Purpose: The conviction that your work matters, that it’s connected to the well-being of others. Interest without purpose is hard to sustain
  4. Hope: Hope encompasses all three stages and is what will keep you going when things are difficult and doubts arise

And the beautiful thing?

You can learn all four elements.

You can learn to become interested, you can build the habits of practice and discipline, you can develop a purpose and you can become a hopeful person.

Enthusiasm is common, endurance is rare

Part II Growing Grit From the Inside Out

Chapter 6: (How to Find Your) Interest

Angela Duckworth says that you don’t usually find your passion as if a bolt hit you from the sky.

From her interviews, most people found their passion by exploring many different interests they had.

Why It’s Hard to Find Our Passion

Barry Schwartz says that most people don’t stick to anything they are interested in because they have an overblown expectation of what it means to “find your passion”.

It’s a bit like a life partner, Barry says.
Some dream of a knight on a white horse with a book-long list of qualities.

But in real life, nobody has a book-long list of qualities without some deficiencies here and there.
And a related problem is the idea that falling in love should be sudden and swift to be “real”.
But again, life is different, and love often grows.

To Find Your Passion try What You Life

To find your passion, try to go for something you believe you would like.

Don’t be afraid of guessing if you’re not sure, because there is definitely an element of randomness and trial and error.
Sometimes it can also be difficult to predict what you will enjoy, and if you pick the wrong one, don’t be afraid of moving on.

It’s also important that you do what you like because you don’t find your passion through introspection but with first-hand experience.

In the beginning, our interests tend to be feeble and ill-defined, and indeed Angela Duckworth says that often the discovery of a life passion can even go unnoticed.
That’s why it’s important to at least give a fair chance to any new endeavor we start.

Once you start finding a certain topic or activity interesting, it might happen that you want to try something.
That’s because, the author says, our brain loves novelty. Before switching, see if you can deepen your interest instead.

And remember: if you want to stay engaged in anything for the long term, you have to learn to enjoy the nuances and details of your discipline.

Finally, I would also like to add that, as Angela Duckworth herself highlights, the people around us are important in whether we will take a liking to something or not.
And early positive feedback serves to make us feel happy and confident we are indeed pursuing the right choice.

Finding Your Passion Step by Step

  1. Try different things which seem interesting to you;
  2. Pick one which is particularly interesting for you;
  3. Proactively develop that interest;
  4. Further, deepen it over a lifetime.

So, to be clear and for your complete understanding, it’s more about “developing” your passion than it is about “finding” your passion.

You don’t find your passion. You CHOOSE it and DEVELOP it

Chapter 7: Practice

Experts don’t just practice more, but they practice differently.

Grit by Angela Duckworth talks at length about the concept of Deep Practice.

Deep practice means zeroing in on your weaknesses, focusing more on what you did wrong than on what you did well.
And then fixing it.

Deliberate practice is exhausting.
Many top performers can only handle one hour before taking a break, and no more than 3-5 hours per day.

To improve more quickly under deliberate practice, follow these steps:

  1. Set a precise stretch goal
  2. Focus 100% on it
  3. Get immediate and accurate feedback
  4. Repeat and refine

Fear of failure and of looking bad are the worst enemies of deliberate practice.
It’s because since the core idea behind deliberate practice is to train based on mistakes outside of your comfort zone you simply can’t allow shame to hold you back.

Also check Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, largely based on beating shame and living fully.

Deliberate Practice VS Flow

Deliberate practice and flow are different.

Deliberate practice is a behavior and it’s more effortful and rarely as enjoyable as flow.
It is planned and happens when you’re beyond your skill level. Your goal is to increase your skill and you are looking for problems to fix.
Finally, deliberate practice is for preparation.

Flow is a state instead and it can be more challenging to accurately plan.
In flow, you’re not analyzing what you’re doing but simply doing it and you’re effortless.
All the feedback you get is often great and not based on mistakes because your skill level is enough for the challenge.
Flow is for performance.

Deliberate Practice for the Gritty

Gritty people do more deliberate practice and experience more flow.

Importantly, gritty people also experience deliberate practice as more enjoyable than less gritty ones.

But some high achievers hate the practice part but still maintain an overall passion for their sport.
Some others go through hard practice for the pleasure of the final result (as Tim Grover explains in Relentless: these people are addicted to winning).

Overall, Angela Duckworth says there is not enough evidence to say whether or not deliberate practice can be perceived as enjoyable and effortless as flow.
Her own experience says that deliberate practice can be gratifying, just in a different way than flow is.

Learning to Work Hard

I think a key nugget of information that might slip by since Angela Duckworth didn’t drill down on it is that the experience of working hard changes when the effort is rewarded. 

Therefore If you’re a parent it’s important that you reward your children for the effort.
And if you’re an adult you reward yourself for your hard work as that will help you link pleasure -or at least a pleasurable follow-up- to hard work.

To get to know more about effective practice, I invite you to check out:

And for “flow”, go straight with the original work:

Chapter 8: Purpose

Angela Duckworth says that often gritty people have difficulty in putting into words what they feel about their purpose.
But the key is that purpose is always connected to other people.

Their action can be driven for the sake of the sport, for the country, or for some specific person. Or, in general, for what we matter to others.

However, an altruistic principle is not a strict requirement for grittiness and it’s well possible to be a gritty villain.

Chapter 9: Hope

The hope of gritty people has nothing to do with luck but has to do with getting up again and again after we fall down.

The author calls “hope” what to me seems “optimism”.
She says that optimists are different in that they find explanations for their failures that are temporary and specific.
Pessimists instead explain their failures with permanent and pervasive causes -ie.: “I’m a loser”, “I always mess things up”-.

She is right, and she is referring to Seligman’s groundbreaking studies of optimistic salespeople who outperformed pessimistic ones.
Also, read:

Duckworth also talks about Growth and Fixed mindset and says that a Growth Mindset is strongly linked to higher levels of Grit (read how to develop a growth mindset).

Duckworth says that many of us often have a pessimist fixed mindset in us alongside the optimist growth mindset we profess.

Angela Duckworth says that a fixed mindset about your capabilities leads to a negative and pessimistic explanation of events, which in turn leads to both avoiding challenges and giving up early.

It makes sense.
If you believe your capabilities are fixed, why would you go through challenges?

On the other hand, the author says, a growth mindset leads to optimistic self-talk and Grit in the face of challenges.

Grit is falling seven times and rising eight

Part III – Growing Grit From Outside In

Chapter 10: Parenting for Grit

Angela Duckworth says there is much research on parenting and some research on Grit, but no research on both of them.

The author says that authoritarian parents are demanding and unsupportive while permissive parents are supportive and undemanding.
She recommends instead a middle way that takes the positives of both of them: demanding and supportive parenting.

And the best way to grow Grit in your children is to show grit yourself and then adopt a parenting style that encourages your children to emulate you.

 Chapter 11: The Playing Fields of Grit

Students who engage in extracurricular activities for longer than a year are more likely to graduate and do better in almost any measured trait from grades to self-esteem to employment after college.

The author recognizes the first doubt I had while reading that: is it sticking longer through extracurricular activities that helps, or are higher achievers simply more likely to stick longer to their chosen activity?

She says that the two aren’t mutually exclusive and that both factors -cultivation and selection- are at play.

Learned Industriousness

The association that working hard leads to reward can be learned.

Because when we don’t make that association, we tend to fall back to laziness.
We human beings have a tendency to preserve energy as much as possible when we don’t see the point of action.
And when we don’t make the association that working hard pays off then, guess what? We will not work hard.

The Hard Thing Rule

Angela Duckworth raises her children with the Hard Thing Rule.

The hard thing rule says that:

  1. Everyone in the family has to engage in an activity that requires deliberate practice
  2. Finish what you start: you can’t quit until the course ends, the season is over or something major happens
  3. You get to pick what you want to do
  4. Once in high school, the kids must commit for at least 2 years

If we don’t associate hard work to rewards, we won’t work hard

Chapter 12: A Culture of Grit

The culture we live in and with which we identify powerfully shape our behavior and, with time, our identity.

This is critical because our identity shapes our character and behavior.

Basically, sometimes we process information logically to reach a conclusion.
But many other times we don’t deeply assess what are the benefits and drawbacks of our daily decisions, but simply revert to “who we are” and what people like us do.

This is important, Angela Duckworth says, because the results of long-lasting effort often take years to materialize.

And when we don’t have an identity to push us through we might simply be tempted to give up when the results are both uncertain and so far away.

Chapter 13: Conclusion

You can grow Grit in two ways:

  • From the inside out, by developing your interests into passion
  • From outside in by immersing yourself in the kind of culture that promotes and foster grit.

The author also says Grit is of course not the only thing that matters in life. And if Duckworth had to choose for her children between goodness and Grit she’d choose goodness.

Angela Duckworth divides the major personality traits into three groups:

  • Intra-personal (will)
  • Interpersonal (heart)
  • Intellectual dimension of character (mind).

Grit is part of the Intra-personal dimension, which also includes for example self-control, and this is the cluster that is most predictive of achievement.

For a healthy social life, though interpersonal traits are most important (check out this website’s course to take your social skills to the next level).

Grit Video Summary

Here is a good video summary of Grit:

Practical Applications of Grit

  • Focus on growing gritty

Grit not only will make you more successful, but it will also make you a happier and prouder person.
Once you rationally understand that, start making it your goal to be grittier. And be proud when you show Grit so that it will start becoming part of your identity.

  • Associate hard words with results

You have to believe that results will come via hard work applied over a long period of time.
This is a kind of mindset you have to develop and make yours. This is also connected to a Growth Mindset, which is the belief that with hard work you can improve yourself.

  • Grit-tify your goals

Divide your goals into short-term, mid-term, and long term and make sure the shorter-term ones support your overarching goals (your life philosophy). That way it’s easier to know what you can change or quit while staying gritty with your overall goal.

  • Choose gritty friends

The culture and the people around you influence you and do so powerfully. Hence, if your goal is to achieve something lofty, escape from the pot-smoking friends and join a group of highly driven men and women.

  • Develop your passions

You don’t “find” your passions, you develop them.

grit book cover

Grit Criticism

“Grit” as a psychological trait might not exist.

That’s a big statement, but it’s the main criticism leveled against Duckworth’s work, and it’s a valid one.

Grit is likely to be simply another definition of consciousness as measured in the Big Five personality traits.

You can read more here:

This does not necessarily change much in what grit, or call it “tenacity” or “staying power” if you prefer, means to your success.
However, it does, in my opinion, take away from the author’s personal reputation.

As Jordan Peterson, author of 12 Rules for Life says in this Quora answer, Duckworth never apologized for her (likely) mistake.
That tells us a lot of what gritty people looking for success would do :).
And here is a video of Peterson throwing a quick comment on that:

And it does cast a shadow of doubt upon Duckworth’s recipes on “how to increase grit”, which now basically rests on… Little science?

Personally, I believe in the validity of this grit and/or conscientiousness. And I also tend to believe in the validity of combining passion with perseverance to “deepen” your passion.


Because that’s precisely what I’ve done to launch

Grit Review

Grit” is a wonderful book.

Duckworth might have made up the concept of “Grit”, but the book still beautifully sums up a lot of great psychology of success to teach readers what works, and what doesn’t.

What I loved the most is how useful it is to “find your passion”.
This is one of the questions people ask the most, and Grit gives a detailed explanation of how to find and develop your passion.

Check out the best psychology books, or Get Grit on Amazon

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