Q&A

  • What is grit?

    Grit is passion and perseverance for long-term goals.

    One way to think about grit is to consider what grit isn’t.

    Grit isn’t talent. Grit isn’t luck. Grit isn’t how intensely, for the moment, you want something.

    Instead, grit is about having what some researchers call an”ultimate concern”–a goal you care about so much that it organizes and gives meaning to almost everything you do. And grit is holding steadfast to that goal. Even when you fall down. Even when you screw up. Even when progress toward that goal is halting or slow.

    Talent and luck matter to success. But talent and luck are no guarantee of grit. And in the very long run, I think grit may matter as least as much, if not more.

  • What can I use the Grit Scale for?

    I created the Grit Scale so that I could study grit as a scientist.  Why? Because you cannot study what you cannot measure.

    I also think this questionnaire is useful as a prompt for self-reflection. For example, some of the most effective coaches and teachers I know give this questionnaire to their players and students in order to prompt a conversation about their evolving passion and perseverance.

    However, I hasten to point out that all psychological measures, including the Grit Scale, have limitations. You can fake a higher grit score without much effort, for example. Another very serious but not-so-obvious limitation of questionnaires is called “reference bias.” This distortion of scores comes from people holding different standards by which they judge behavior. So, your score not only reflects how gritty you are but also the standards to which you hold yourself. I talk about this limitation, among others, in this article on measurement which I co-authored with my friend and colleague David Yeager.

    In sum, I think the Grit Scale can be used for research and for self-reflection, but its limitations make it inappropriate for many other uses, including selecting employees, admitting students to college, gauging the performance of teachers, or comparing schools or countries to each other.

  • If I’m gritty about one thing, will I be gritty about other things?

    Not necessarily. To be gritty, in my view, is to have passion and perseverance about something in your life. This doesn’t mean that you necessarily engage in all possible pursuits with equivalent passion and perseverance. And indeed, the limits of time and energy suggest that focusing on one thing means focusing less on others. You can’t pursue becoming a great pianist and at the same time a great mathematician, and a great sprinter and chef and philosopher…But it’s also true, I think, that to be gritty means to pursue something with consistency of interest and effort. Some people choose not to pursue anything in a committed way, and that, to me, is lack of grit.

  • When does grit matter most?

    I study grit because it predicts achieving goals, but I want to point out that grit is more relevant to some goals than others. In particular, grit predicts achievement in really challenging and personally meaningful contexts. Graduating from high school or college rather than dropping out is one example. Returning to the National Spelling Bee with hopes of doing better than you did last year is another.  But there are other goals for which enduring passion and perseverance are less relevant. Getting started on your taxes before April 15 takes self-control more than grit, for instance. Ditto for studying for a history test on Friday when you’d rather be on Instagram.

    Here is an article that describes in more detail how grit and self-control differ, and here is another explaining how grit is really about sticking with what are called “superordinate goals.”

    Finally, here is an article about how standardized test scores are not the only way to assess what a student knows and can do. For the record, I believe grit will for many adolescents be more evident in activities pursued outside of the classroom–in the school play, on the football field, in the school orchestra, in community service, and so on. This is what educational psychologist Warren Willingham found in 1985, and it is also what I find in my more recent research.

  • Is grit the same as self-control or conscientiousness?

    As I and others have suggested, grit is related to two other characteristics: self-control and conscientiousness. Someone demonstrating high self-control or high conscientiousness is also likely to score high in grit. But are they so similar that they actually measure of the same underlying personality trait? I don’t think so. I have found that grit predicts achieving challenging goals even when these other characteristics are held constant. For instance, grit is a more reliable predictor of making it through the first, tough summer of West Point military training than either self-control or conscientiousness.

  • Can you be too gritty?

    I don’t have any data that suggests there are drawbacks to being extremely gritty. Indeed, at the very top of the Grit Scale, I typically find individuals who are tremendously successful and also satisfied with their lives.  However, as I mention in the concluding chapter of the book, this doesn’t mean we should entirely dismiss the possibility of “too much grit.” In particular, I think you can be too stubborn about mid-level and low-level goals. You can throw good money after bad on particular projects that will never make sense. You can be blind to possibilities that you hadn’t originally anticipated. Still, I think these problems are mostly about lower-level goals that are in service of your high-level goals—those abstract and enduring concerns that I discuss in Chapter Four. For me, my very highest-level goal is to use psychological science to help kids thrive. That’s my mission statement, and I can’t think of anything that would make me give up on it.

  • Are women grittier than men? Or are men grittier than women?

    In some samples, I’ve found that women score slightly higher on the Grit Scale than men. However, it’s not always the case. In sum, the data aren’t solid enough to claim that there is a reliable difference in grit between men and women.

  • Does the message of grit imply that poverty and inequality don’t matter?

    At a recent conference, I sat down next to a sociologist. She knew my work, and it didn’t take long for her to express extreme disdain—even anger—for what she called the grit message. “What’s that,” I asked? “Well, put it this way,” she said. “I happen to think that poverty and inequality matter a heck of a lot more than grit.” I thought for a moment. Then I said, “I see your point.”

    If you pit grit against structural barriers to achievement, you may well decide that grit is less worthy of our attention. But I think that’s the right answer to the wrong question.

    Caring about how to grow grit in our young people—no matter their socioeconomic background—doesn’t preclude concern for things other than grit. For example, I’ve spent a lot of my life in urban classrooms, both as a teacher and as a researcher. I know how much the expertise and care of the adult at the front of the room matter. And I know that a child who comes to school hungry, or scared, or without glasses to see the chalkboard, is not ready to learn. Grit alone is not going to save anyone.

    But the importance of the environment is two-fold. It’s not just that you need opportunity in order to benefit from grit. It’s also that the environments our children grow up in profoundly influence their grit and every other aspect of their character.

    This is the grit message in my words: Grit may not be sufficient for success, but it sure is necessary. If we want our children to have a shot at a productive and satisfying life, we adults should make it our concern to provide them with the two things all children deserve: challenges to exceed what they were able to do yesterday and the support that makes that growth possible.

    So, the question is not whether we should concern ourselves with grit or structural barriers to achievement. In the most profound sense, both are important, and more than that, they are intertwined.

  • I don’t understand what you mean by “talent”?

    I was reading Warren Buffett’s annual shareholder letter the other day. He uses the word “talent” differently than I do, and indeed, I think he uses it in a way that a lot of people do: to mean the sum of a person’s capabilities, including their current skills. When I say “talent,” I mean specifically the rate at which a person improves in skill. So, if you’re a really talented basketball player, you improve very quickly when compared to less talented players with equivalent practice and opportunity. Like the award-winning actor and musician Will Smith, I think it’s useful to distinguish between skill and talent. See Chapter Two and Three in the book for a longer discussion.

  • Is grit more important than honesty and kindness?

    If I had to choose between my daughters growing up honest or gritty, I’d choose honest. If I had to choose between kindness and grit, I’d choose kindness. Grit is only one aspect of character, and for me, personally, it’s not the most important aspect. Fortunately, I don’t see any necessary trade-off between goodness and greatness. I am encouraging my girls to cultivate their interests and a sense of purpose, because I want them to have a passion that guides them for their entire lives. I am also helping them learn perseverance. With guidance, they are learning to practice hard things every day, and to interpret failure and adversity as necessities of learning. My ultimate hope is that they lead honest, kind, and gritty lives.

  • Isn’t grit, like everything else, in your genes? So why write a book about how to grow grit?

    The nature versus nurture question is as old as time. Here’s the answer from contemporary science: Yes, grit and everything else is influenced by genes. But grit and everything else is also influenced by experience. In Chapter 5, I lay out a simple argument for believing that grit can grow.

  • Isn’t it more important to be happy than successful?

    I can’t tell you whether happiness or achievement is more important. That’s a question of values, not science. I can say that when you measure both, you find they tend to go together more than they split apart. In other words, while we can all think of someone we know who is happy but not successful, or successful but unhappy, these are exceptions. The grit paragons I’ve interviewed over the years are on the whole quite happy and successful. While I would not call them “carefree” or “laid back,” I would say that they are tremendously satisfied with their lives—even if that includes never being satisfied with their level of skill or achievement. I myself think, daily, about what I could do better. And yet I’m happy.

  • There is a chapter in “Grit” on parenting. Where is the chapter on teaching grit in schools?

    The entire book is about teaching grit. Before I became a psychologist, I was a classroom teacher. It was as a teacher that I discovered how important psychology was to a child’s achievement. It’s not an exaggeration to say that every chapter in this book has special relevance to teachers. Chapters Two and Three might be especially useful when explaining the importance of effort (versus talent) to students. Chapters Six, Seven, Eight, and Nine on interest, practice, purpose, and hope are where I define the four psychological assets that lead to grit. In Chapter Nine, I talk about parenting for grit—but the same dynamics play out in the classroom. In Chapter Ten, I explain why Harvard and other colleges are eager to see students cultivate their grit in extracurricular activities. Finally, a teacher who wants the classroom culture to support grit will find Chapter Twelve full of examples of how to do that.