If you’re like the majority of people, then you probably weren’t born a child prodigy. Most of us had to learn skills through practice, repetition, and determination. We had to learn how to ride a bike by falling down, scraping our knees, and getting back up. We had to learn to cook by burning food and messing up recipes as simple as grilled cheese. Learning a new skill is hard work, but the good news is that eventually we get better at it.
Practicing helps us improve skills, but have you ever wondered what makes certain people better at a skill than others? Psychologists studied successful people and they found the answer, so we’ll let you in on the secret: grit.
Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, is the psychologist who coined the term grit. She’s held an array of jobs from consulting to teaching and eventually she began to wonder what made certain people more successful than others. She noticed during her time teaching in New York City public schools that it wasn’t her most intelligent students that were the most successful and she decided she was going to find the answer. She went back to school to become a research psychologist and began to investigate what made people successful.
Dr. Duckworth was fascinated by Dr. Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford University, and her idea of growth mindset. Growth mindset is the idea that the brain can grow and adapt to learn and solve problems. Dr. Dweck’s research has found that children who understand growth mindset are more likely to persevere because they understand that their brain is adapting and although they may not start of being good at something, failure is simply part of the journey of improvement.
As a psychologist, Dr. Duckworth expanded on Dr. Dweck’s idea of growth mindset. Dr. Duckworth studied people ranging from West Point cadets to National Spelling Bee finalists, but unlike most research done in her field, Dr. Duckworth didn’t focus on intelligence. Instead, she kept an open mind and studied IQ in addition to other variables such as level of attractiveness, social intelligence, and grit. Dr. Duckworth found that in all the different groups of people that she studied, grit was overwhelmingly the best predictor of success. Grit can be defined as perseverance and the unwillingness to give up on a long-term goal. A gritty person is someone who won’t accept “no” as an answer.
How to be Successful
Change your mindset. Just because someone tells you that something is not possible, you can tell him or her that they are wrong. Listening to the stories of some of the most successful people, we often hear that at some point in their lives they’ve been told that what they wanted to do was impossible. Instead of accepting what others said, they replied with the attitude of “watch me.”
Michael Phelps, a gold medalist swimmer and the most decorated athlete in the history of the Olympics, was a child who struggled with ADHD. Like most people, and especially people diagnosed with a mental illness, he was put in a box and told by others what he could and couldn’t do. Phelps didn’t allow the people around him to define who he would become. Instead, he used other people’s doubts as motivation and ultimately became incredibly successful.
As research progresses, it is becoming increasingly clear that we should take advantage of the brain’s natural ability to adapt. Having grit and believing in growth mindset allows all people to be successful. Want to be successful? Then go forth, and be gritty.
Need more inspiration? Check out Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth’s TED talk:
Do you think changing your mindset can help you improve a skill? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.