When it comes to the goals you most want to achieve in your career, do you have the passion and perseverance to create the kind of success you’re longing for? Perhaps you’re hoping to land the job of your dreams, be recognized as a leader in your chosen field, or just be able to show up each day in ways that bring you meaning and happiness.
Researchers have found when it comes to successfully achieving our long-term goals, there’s one quality that distinguishes world-class performers. That quality is grit.
“Gritty individuals approach the journey to mastery like a marathon rather than a sprint and this fuels their stamina to practice their talents over and over and over again,” explained Professor Angela Duckworth from the University of Pennsylvania when I recently interviewed her.
Angela defines grit as the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals. It entails working consistently toward challenges and being able to maintain interest and effort over the years despite failures, setbacks and plateaus in progress.
Whereas most of us take disappointment or boredom as signals that it’s time to change our approach and cut our losses, people with grit take these signs as the moment when they need to stick with it and truly show up. Her research has established the predictive power of grit, over and beyond measure of talent, for objectively measured success outcomes.
While much is still being learned about grit, Angela suggests four things you can do to improve your levels of grit:
- Be meaningfully interested – Make sure your long-term goal is set around something that is interesting and meaningful to you. The magic of grit occurs only when you have both. For example, you might be interested in ice-cream but do you really find it meaningful and want to be gritty in your pursuit of it? Professor William Damon at Stanford University has found that when we find something personally interesting and it’s meaningful to the world beyond ourselves, we’re able to connect passion with action that provides a sense of purpose and energy that prevents burnout and promotes resiliency.
- Cultivate growth mindsets – In new research with Professor Carol Dweck from Stanford University, Angela shares their yet to be published results indicate that grit is positively correlated with the belief that we can improve our talents and abilities. “Having a “growth mindset“ is one of the cognitive antecedents that makes you more inclined to be gritty because it cultivates the belief that things can improve, that failure is not permanent and that there is a reason to persist,” Angela explains.
- Invest in deliberate practice – Professor Anders Ericsson’s studies of world-class experts across different fields have found that one of the primary steps that sets them apart is that they practice the development of their strengths in specific ways. The deliberate practice they undertake meets the following requirements when it comes to improving their skills: setting specific goals for micro-improvements; chasing a level of challenge that exceeds their current levels of skills (they focus on doing things they can’t yet do); seeking immediate and informative feedback; and practicing, practicing and practicing until the point of mastery is reached and they can perform on autopilot.
- Ask for support – Rely on other people around you to hold you accountable to your goals and ensure you don’t quit in the face of boredom, frustration or discouragement. A common feature in the stories of top performers is that there were times where they stumbled and there were times when they doubted themselves. It wasn’t all easy for them, and in many cases, they relied on someone else, not themselves.
As Woody Allen once noted: “Eighty percent of success in life is showing up.” And while Angela suggests there is nothing magic about the number 80 percent, she does agree that for many endeavors if you can just persist and keep showing up this overcomes most of the challenges we face on the way to reaching our goals.
You can test your levels of grit in Angela’s research lab at https://sites.sas.upenn.edu/duckworth.