This post was based on our reactions to a YouTube Ted Talk by Angela Duckworth on the topic of grit. It is best to take a look at it and then come back to our discussion.
The key idea in Dr. Duckworth’s talk is that grit is more important than IQ in predicting academic success. It is also linked to other benefits such as being happier and more satisfied with your life. Anything that can make people more successful, happier, and more satisfied with their lives deserves attention.
Given the apparent benefits of grit, you may well want to know how much of it you have. You can find out your own level of grit by taking the grit test Dr. Duckworth developed. It is here.
You might also want to increase your grit. So far, there does not seem to be a clear path to developing more grit. We suspect that a major part of the path lies in increasing your resilience.
A core, maybe even the core of grit is perseverance. Dr. Duckworth uses a racing metaphor. People with grit lead life as a marathon, not as a sprint.
One of the most notable characteristics of resilient people is that they are optimistic. And one of the characteristics of optimists is their perseverance. In fact, the perseverance of optimists is a characteristic that can be a problem for them because they may not know when it is time to stop and change direction.
People doing research and developing theories on topics like grit and resilience seem to be inclined to view some characteristics as simply “good for you” and others as simply “bad for you”.
But most things are good or bad, depending on how far you push them.
If you are too much of a butterfly that flits from flower to flower, you are not being gritty. On the other hand, if you push grittiness too far, you are may well harm yourself.
A good example of carrying persistence too far is working too many hours. Many people today think that pushing their bodies to greater and greater limits is healthy but they are wrong to see no limits to the amount of exertion that is healthy. Older research consistently showed that extending physical work too long kills people and contemporary research is showing the same thing.
Can too much grit damage your health? It would seem to be likely, in light of what we pointed out above. Duckworth and Eskreis-Winkler have pointed out that we need research on that topic.
Grit is a pretty new focus of attention, and we see an increase of research on the topic. We need to keep an eye on that research. We are likely to learn more about how to build grit. Hopefully there will be research on the relationship between grit and optimism.