“Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth – Book Summary - NJlifehacks
grit book summary

“Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth – Book Summary

Angela Duckworth is the world’s leading authority on the science of grit, and she’s the author of the New York Times bestseller with the same title: Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals,” she explains in her 2013 TED Talk. “Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it's a marathon, not a sprint.”

The book is essentially a complete guide on grit: What is it? Why should you care? And how do you get more of it?

Grit, as you’re about to learn, is strongly correlated with both success and happiness. Therefore, if you wish to become happier and more successful, this is a useful topic to get familiar with.

1. Grit Predicts Success.

“I started studying kids and adults in all kinds of super challenging settings, and in every study my question was, who is successful here and why?” 
“My research team and I went to West Point Military Academy. We tried to predict which cadets would stay in military training and which would drop out. We went to the National Spelling Bee and tried to predict which children would advance farthest in competition. We studied rookie teachers working in really tough neighborhoods, asking which teachers are still going to be here in teaching by the end of the school year, and of those, who will be the most effective at improving learning outcomes for their students? We partnered with private companies, asking, which of these salespeople is going to keep their jobs? And who's going to earn the most money?”
“In all those very different contexts, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. And it wasn't social intelligence. It wasn't good looks, physical health, and it wasn't IQ. It was grit.”

(Quote is from her TED talk, not from her book.)

The reason this book and Angela Duckworth’s research is relevant and important is that the personality trait of grit is an excellent predictor of success. People who score high on grit are more successful than those who score low.

Gritty people are, among other things, more likely to win Spelling Bee competitions, make it through grueling military training, lead their company’s division in annual sales, or earn an MBA, PhD, MD, or other graduate degrees.

In short, gritty people are successful. So what exactly is grit? Why does it help people succeed? And how can you become grittier? Read on to find the answers.

2. Grit = Passion and Perseverance

“Grit has two components: passion and perseverance.”

Grit is the combination of passion and perseverance and is typically measured via the Grit Scale – a simple 10-item questionnaire to measure both components of grit.

Five questions measure passion, asking you whether your “interests change from year to year” and the extent to which you “have been obsessed with a certain idea or project for a short time but later lost interest.” The other five questions measure perseverance, asking you how much you agree with statements like “I have overcome setbacks to conquer an important challenge” and “I finish whatever I begin.”

You can take the test on Angela Duckworth’s website here if you’re interested in how gritty you are. You’ll get three scores between 0 and 5: your passion score, your perseverance score, and your overall grit score, which is the average of the other two.

Next, let’s have a closer look at Duckworth’s definitions of passion and perseverance. They slightly differ from how we use the terms in everyday parlance.

3. Passion

“While taking the Grit Scale, you might have noticed that none of the passion questions asked how intensely you’re committed to your goals. This may seem odd, because the word passion is often used to describe intense emotions. For a lot of people, passion is synonymous with infatuation or obsession. But in interviews about what it takes to succeed, high achievers often talk about commitment of a different kind. Rather than intensity, what comes up again and again in their remarks is the idea of consistency over time.”
“…the questions that generate your passion score ask you to reflect on how steadily you hold to goals over time. Is passion the right word to describe sustained, enduring devotion? Some might say I should find a better word. Maybe so. But the important thing is the idea itself: Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.”

As far as grit is concerned, passion is about staying focused on consistent goals over the long run. It’s about pursuing one and the same long-term interest, about going after one ultimate concern for an extended period.

Duckworth uses the metaphor of passion as a compass: “that thing that takes you some time to build, tinker with, and finally get right, and that then guides you on your long and winding road to where, ultimately, you want to be.” This is different from passion as fireworks, which “erupt in a blaze of glory but quickly fizzle, leaving just wisps of smoke and a memory of what was once spectacular.” Gritty passion is about the compass, not the fireworks.

To clarify her point, Duckworth uses the image of a goal hierarchy.

goal hierarchy

“At the bottom of this hierarchy are our most concrete and specific goals—the tasks we have on our short-term to-do list: I want to get out the door today by eight a.m. I want to call my business partner back. I want to finish writing the email I started yesterday. These low-level goals exist merely as means to ends. We want to accomplish them only because they get us something else we want. In contrast, the higher the goal in this hierarchy, the more abstract, general, and important it is. The higher the goal, the more it’s an end in itself, and the less it’s merely a means to an end.”

To be gritty means holding the same top-level goal for a very long time. Here’s how Duckworth sums up gritty passion in the book: “What I mean by passion is not just that you have something you care about. What I mean is that you care about that same ultimate goal in an abiding, loyal, steady way. You are not capricious. Each day, you wake up thinking of the questions you fell asleep thinking about. You are, in a sense, pointing in the same direction, ever eager to take even the smallest step forward than to take a step to the side, toward some other destination. At the extreme, one might call your focus obsessive. Most of your actions derive their significance from their allegiance to your ultimate concern, your life philosophy. You have your priorities in order.”

Pursuing such a passion is the first element of grit. The other is perseverance, which is all about putting in the necessary effort to make headway on the long-term passion.

4. Perseverance

Perseverance is the simpler and more common grit component, meaning most people score higher on this score than on the passion score. Perseverance is all about working hard, overcoming obstacles, and bouncing back from setbacks.

It’s about strongly agreeing with the following five statements from the Grit Scale:

  • Setbacks don’t discourage me. I don’t give up easily.
  • I am a hard worker.
  • I finish whatever I begin.
  • I am diligent. I never give up.
  • I have overcome setbacks to conquer an important challenge.

Again, it’s essential to understand that working hard and persevering in the face of difficulties is not enough to make someone an exemplar of grit. To become really gritty, you need to work hard and persist on the same ultimate concern, the same long-term goal, the same enduring passion for a long time.

5. Why Do Gritty People Succeed?

“Here’s what I found: measurements of grit taken months before the final competition predicted how well spellers would eventually perform. Put simply, grittier kids went further in competition. How did they do it? By studying many more hours and, also, by competing in more spelling bees.”

We’ve defined what grit is, and we’ve established that gritty people are successful people. But what exactly makes them successful?

In short, the reason gritty people succeed is not because of innate talent, but because they practice more than their non-gritty peers. They put in more effort. They train harder and longer. And smarter, too.

I’ve written about the myth of talent and the superiority of effort/practice in previous articles. In fact, I’ve published an entire article series on the topic of deliberate practice, explaining in detail why effort is more important in achieving success than talent. Here are two articles of the series if you want to learn more about that:

Duckworth’s simple theory of achievement, which illustrates that effort counts more than talent.

6. Grit Grows

“…you can grow your grit. I see two ways to do so. On your own, you can grow your grit ‘from the inside out’: You can cultivate your interests. You can develop a habit of daily challenge-exceeding-skill practice. You can connect your work to a purpose beyond yourself. And you can learn to hope when all seems lost. You can also grow your grit ‘from the outside in.’ Parents, coaches, teachers, bosses, mentors, friends—developing your personal grit depends critically on other people.”

There are two main ways to become grittier. You can grow grit from the inside out or the outside in.

7. Growing Grit ‘From the Inside Out’

“The four psychological assets of interest, practice, purpose, and hope are not You have it or you don’t commodities. You can learn to discover, develop, and deepen your interests. You can acquire the habit of discipline. You can cultivate a sense of purpose and meaning. And you can teach yourself to hope. You can grow your grit from the inside out.”

Growing your grit from the inside out is all about cultivating the following four psychological assets:

  • Interest: “Passion begins with intrinsically enjoying what you do. Every gritty person I’ve studied can point to aspects of their work they enjoy less than others, and most have to put up with at least one or two chores they don’t enjoy at all. Nevertheless, they’re captivated by the endeavor as a whole. With enduring fascination and childlike curiosity, they practically shout out, ‘I love what I do!’”
  • Practice: “One form of perseverance is the daily discipline of trying to do things better than we did yesterday. So, after you’ve discovered and developed interest in a particular area, you must devote yourself to the sort of focused, full-hearted, challenge-exceeding-skill practice that leads to mastery. You must zero in on your weaknesses, and you must do so over and over again, for hours a day, week after month after year. To be gritty is to resist complacency. ‘Whatever it takes, I want to improve!’ is a refrain of all paragons of grit, no matter their particular interest, and no matter how excellent they already are.”
  • Purpose: “What ripens passion is the conviction that your work matters. For most people, interest without purpose is nearly impossible to sustain for a lifetime.28 It is therefore imperative that you identify your work as both personally interesting and, at the same time, integrally connected to the well-being of others. For a few, a sense of purpose dawns early, but for many, the motivation to serve others heightens after the development of interest and years of disciplined practice. Regardless, fully mature exemplars of grit invariably tell me, ‘My work is important—both to me and to others.’”
  • Hope: “Hope is a rising-to-the-occasion kind of perseverance. In this book, I discuss it after interest, practice, and purpose—but hope does not define the last stage of grit. It defines every stage. From the very beginning to the very end, it is inestimably important to learn to keep going even when things are difficult, even when we have doubts. At various points, in big ways and small, we get knocked down. If we stay down, grit loses. If we get up, grit prevails.”

To learn specific strategies for discovering, developing, and deepening your interests, acquiring the habit of disciplined practice, cultivating a sense of purpose and meaning, and teaching yourself to hope, check out the book.

8. Growing Grit ‘From the Outside In’

“What can I do to encourage grit in the people I care for? I’m asked this question at least once a day. Sometimes it’s a coach who asks; sometimes it’s an entrepreneur or a CEO. Last week, it was a fourth-grade teacher, and the week before, a math professor at a community college. I’ve had army generals and navy admirals toss me this question, too, but most often it’s a mother or father who worries that their child isn’t close to realizing their potential. All the people quizzing me are thinking as parents would, of course—even if they’re not parents. The word parenting derives from Latin and means ‘to bring forth.’ You’re acting in a parent-like way if you’re asking for guidance on how to best bring forth interest, practice, purpose, and hope in the people you care for.”

You can use the strategy of growing grit from the outside in either for yourself or for people you care about. To do the former, Duckworth recommends joining a gritty culture: “If you want to be grittier, find a gritty culture and join it.” This could mean joining a sports team, signing up for the military, or looking for a new job.

To do the latter, the main strategies are to lead by example, put the person you care about in a gritty culture, and use a parenting/coaching style that Duckworth calls wise parenting, which strikes the right balance between being both demanding and supportive.

wise parenting

9. Grit = Success AND Happiness

“Success— whether measured by who wins the National Spelling Bee, makes it through West Point, or leads the division in annual sales—is not the only thing you care about. Surely, you also want to be happy. And while happiness and success are related, they’re not identical.

You might wonder, If I get grittier and become more successful, will my happiness plummet?

Some years ago, I sought to answer this question by surveying two thousand American adults. The graph below shows how grit relates to life satisfaction, measured on a scale that ranged from 7 to 35 and included items such as, ‘If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing.’ In the same study, I measured positive emotions such as excitement and negative emotions such as shame. I found that the grittier a person is, the more likely they’ll enjoy a healthy emotional life. Even at the top of the Grit Scale, grit went hand in hand with well-being, no matter how I measured it.”

Grit doesn’t just help you achieve more; it also makes you happier along the way. As Duckworth puts it: the grittier a person is, the more likely they’ll enjoy a healthy emotional life.

grit and life satisfaction

10. Summing Up…

“In sum, no matter the domain, the highly successful had a kind of ferocious determination that played out in two ways. First, these exemplars were unusually resilient and hardworking. Second, they knew in a very, very deep way what it was they wanted. They not only had determination, they had direction. It was this combination of passion and perseverance that made high achievers special. In a word, they had grit.”

This quote nicely sums up the book. Grit is about the fact that high achievers are gritty people. They are intensely passionate about a long-term goal and are working incredibly hard and putting in massive amounts of effort to move toward it.

Nils Salzgeber

Nils Salzgeber is the author of two books and co-founder of the popular NJlifehacks blog. He is passionate about anything that helps him become a more peaceful, productive, and loving version of himself. After quitting university twice, he has recently gone back to get a psychology degree. Nils lives in Thun, Switzerland.