How to build grit and achieve your goals

How to build grit
unsplash-logoAlora Griffiths

I recently read a very interesting book about grit – “The Power and Passion of Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth. She researched the relation between grit and achievement in the field of Psychology. And guess what? Grit was a better predictor of success and achievement than IQ and talent. For example, she tested students on grit and waited for one year to see who graduated: Grittier students graduated more often than the students who scored lower on the grit scale. How is grit defined and what research is available? And is grit determined on birth or can you become better at it? Moreover, if you can become better at grit, how can you train it?

What is grit and how is that different from perseverance and resilience?

How to define grit? Grit can be defined as the ability to put in a consistent level of effort to attain long term goals for which you are passionate about. Perseverance and resilience are narrower defined than grit:

  • Perseverance means that you are committed to mastering skills or tasks
  • Resilience is the ability to bounce back from setbacks and get back on your feet

Both perseverance and resilience are part of grit. Visit this webpage for some more background.


What do goals and passion have to do with grit?

Grit is not only about developing strength of willpower. This is because willpower alone is not sufficient as people tend to be lazy – this is just basic nature. Willpower tends to diminish during the course of the day because of tiredness. If you’re on a diet, it will be much harder to decline a little snack in the evening. Therefore, willpower alone is not a very reliable goal to achieve your target. We cannot will ourselves into anything, so we need a deliberate strategy on how to achieve certain goals.

As you need to develop strategies to achieve your goals (which could also be another definition of grit), there needs to be sufficient motivation to do so. This means that it is important for us to find something we are passionate about and for which we have a sufficient amount of competency. The latter can also be developed, if you are really passionate about this.

How can you discover what you are passionate about?

If you are like me, it is sometimes difficult to find out what you are really passionate about. This is not something that immediately pops up in your head like some grand revelation. Rather, this tends to develop gradually. Therefore it is important to try stuff out to find out what you would actually like to do. Once you found something that could be a contender, then it is important to develop grit with respect to that topic.

Do I have to be gritty in all  of my endeavors?

The simple answer is: no. At least not in my opinion. There are a lot of aspects in your life, such as work, family, friends, hobbies etcetera. All of these are important. So it would not be worth it to sacrifice everything for one single goal. However, it can be rewarding to develop grit with respect to your work:

  • Not giving up when our performance is lagging
  • Constantly develop new ways to tackle problems that will inevitably come our way
  • Not switching careers, but focusing on one career track.

On the other hand, why would it matter if you goof around a little bit with what your favorite hobby should be. In my case, the most important part of my hobbies is to relax, so I can focus better on work. There’s also a risk that if you overcommit on some higher level goal, you sacrifice your health to achieve it. In those cases, I doubt if more grit is the answer.

What does the research state about building grit?

In her Ted-talk Angela Duckworth mentions how surprised she is on how little research has been done on how to develop grit. However, it is important to have a “growth mindset”. This means that we believe we can get better, more intelligent and more competent. Moreover, we need to believe we can get grittier if we’re not yet at that stage. Because that is possible! It’s not easy though, as your brain structure will actually change when you deal with difficult challenges in your life and overcome them. This means not giving up in the face of first difficulty!

So, where does that leave us? It’s not really been researched what works, however, we can link this to other bodies of research and I will add some of my own experience in the section with useful tips on being successful in grit below. Other qualities are more important in those circumstances.

Tips to build grit

Although research does not have a final answer at how to build grit, there are tips available on how to build grit based on intuition. This also shows the importance of research still to be done in this domain.

So here’s an overview of tips to build grit which I find helpful:

  1. Have a growth mindset: know that you can become better, smarter and grittier.
  2. Start by building tiny habits – and build on those habits:  this is not directly mentioned in the literature on grit. However, I found the research I did for an earlier article about habit creation highly relevant for building grit.  Habit formation has its specific mechanics. As people are lazy by default, we need to find a way to trick ourselves to show the wanted behavior. Developing grit is also developing your habits in a smart way. That way, execution and perseverance becomes “easy”. Also refer to my article on habits.
  3. Practice: Make sure you practice. To really become good at something, we need to put in 10,000 hours of practice (refer to this source).This practice also has to be deliberate – with focus what you are doing and how you are doing this. Feedback loops in this training are very important.
  4. Purpose: purpose is very important in developing grit. We need to know our work matters and is important to other people. Fortunately we do not need to switch jobs if we do not find enough meaning: we find ways to help others to make our job more meaningful.
  5. Surround yourself with gritty people: when we see people that are really gritty, this also inspires us to do the same.

Get started – Test how gritty you are!

During the writing of the article I actually got really excited and found that Angela Duckworth actually has a webpage where you can test your grit. You can follow this link if you’re interested to take this test yourself. Remember: grit is not fixed. You can improve this, so we can get better if the grit score is not that good right now! Make sure to don’t have a fixed mindset.

I also completed the grit scale to see what score came up for me. I let my wife check the scores to make sure the score is “objective” – she’s always very nice to me but I feel she did help me with honest answers 😉 . The score returned is 3.8, which means I’m about average in grit. I’m grittier than 50% of the Americans – I’m Dutch though, but that probably will not change the outcome all that much.

Grit score
Personally I got a grit score of 3.8. Not too bad, but I definitely want to improve.

For me this is mainly because I sometimes develop personal interests in a short time, to also quickly drop those interests when it doesn’t really fit. When it comes to work my grit is pretty high (although I can still improve), which then compensates to score a little. Still, there’s room for improvement which is good to know! Also, I probably shouldn’t be gaming as much as I do know 😉 – I’m completely addicted to Starwars Battlefront.

How will you improve and build your grit?

Enough about me: you can take the score yourself to see how gritty you are and identify improvements for yourself. I will pick up one goal in my work to see where I can improve even further. And I will make it a goal for myself to at least have one goal in the personal domain in which I will at least persist one year: to write one blogpost for this website every week of this year.

What is your grit score? And what actions will you take to improve? I’d really like to know, so share your findings in the comments below. Maybe you’ll inspire us to take action!

Thank you for reading this article. If you liked it, please don’t forget to subscribe to this blog and see you next week for a new article!

Source and inspiration:

Ted Talk of Angela Duckworth:

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