Sunday Scaries

How to boost grit: 3 psychology-based habits to strengthen your resolve

Grit is the combination of passion and perseverance, expressed over a long period of time.

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In 2013, grit had a moment. The concept found a devoted audience via a TED talk by psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth. Today, her talk has over 26 million views. Grit, as Duckworth puts it, is a predictor of success. Grit is the combination of passion and perseverance, expressed over a long period of time.

Research suggests grit helps people overcome challenges, failures, and burnout. But talent alone can’t guarantee success. Instead, you are more likely to achieve your goal through the sustained and focused application of that talent.

Can you develop or hone grit? Scientists are trying to find out. In a recent study published in the journal PLOS One, researchers link grit to specific personality traits and abilities. While these factors may come more naturally to some people, they can be cultivated in others.

For example, the study team highlights a link between grit and low impulsivity, and high mindfulness.

These personality traits are related to self-regulation — the ability to understand and keep a check on your behavior.

The study participants who had grit also treated new information differently. They had greater flexibility when it came to processing information — for one, they more readily revised their opinions given new data.

“Personality is a complex interconnected system.”

This is seemingly related to a “careful or effortful approach to performing tasks,” explains study author Nuria Aguerre. She is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Granada in Spain.

The findings support the idea that mindfulness meditation can enhance your level of grit, Aguerre says. While her study attaches “a cognitive profile” to grit, the elements that underlie it aren’t necessarily fixed.

Aguerre speculates that there may be “some traits that could lead to the expression of grit, although I have the feeling that by cultivating grit other positive traits could become strengthened as well.”

“Personality is a complex interconnected system.”

What it means to have grit

While this study attaches “a cognitive profile” to grit, the elements that underlie it aren’t necessarily fixed.

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Grit is defined as showcasing passion and perseverance in relation to achieving long-term goals. Some studies have found grit to be predictive of wellbeing, educational achievement, and success — but the evidence is inconclusive.

Grit has been criticized as over-hyped, with some arguing that environmental factors — such as your socioeconomic status — are much more critical to success. Some researchers support a more nuanced understanding of grit, where it’s neither the ultimate tool for success nor an exaggerated hack.

One of the problems with defining and quantifying the effect of grit on a person’s life is that there is no accurate measure of grit.

“Everyone has the capacity for grittiness.”

Some scientists believe the studies which do not find a link between grit and success overvalue the element of perseverance and do not capture passion. To really determine the effect of grit, they argue, you need to weigh both equally.

In her team’s study, Aguerre and her colleagues asked 134 study participants to complete various questionnaires designed to evaluate grit, impulsiveness, and mindfulness. They also completed four tasks that measured cognitive flexibility, inhibition, control, and the ability to replace old information with new information.

In turn, they found that people with higher grit scores did not have enhanced cognitive abilities — but they did have different abilities. The researchers described their cognitive profile as one that displays “cautious control.”

Gritty people, Aguerre explains, pay attention to all available information, even when this information is not necessarily helpful to the task at hand. This is connected to a greater willingness to update their understanding of concepts when they are presented with new information and may relate to fluid intelligence — the ability to think flexibly and understand abstract relations.

How to develop grit

Aguerre says the results support the idea that practicing mindfulness meditation can help you cultivate grit. But she notes that “determining the best way to develop grit and the neurocognitive mechanisms that would underlie this development remains unknown and should be investigated.”

That said, Duckworth suggests some techniques to build up grit. She says “everyone has the capacity for grittiness.”

To build grit, she recommends:

  • Develop your passion and interests
  • Cultivate a deliberate practice
  • Develop a sense that what you do is meaningful

This essentially boils down to finding what you love, giving yourself the courtesy of believing what you’re doing is worthwhile, and sticking to it. People can learn grit if they view failures as setbacks. Ultimately, whether or not you find success is in part related to how you interpret your situation — and you may have more control over your future than you realize.

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