Mind & Body

The Grit Scale Measures Your Passion and Perseverance

In every classroom, there are the "naturals" for whom the subject comes easily, who seem to barely study and breeze by on their inborn ability. Then there are the "grinders": the people who study for hours, ask most of the questions, and fight tooth-and-nail to get a good grade. Those people are high in what researcher and MacArthur Genius Grant winner Angela Duckworth calls grit. It's this quality that experts say is an essential predictor of success.

Hold on Tight and Don't Let Go

"Grit" had been in the general lexicon for centuries before Duckworth came along, but it wasn't until 2007 that she and her colleagues Christopher Peterson at the University of Michigan and Michael Matthews and Dennis Kelly at West Point Academy gave it a scientific definition. That definition? "Perseverance and passion for long-term goals," they wrote in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

"Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress," they continued. "The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course."

Their hypothesis was that this personality trait would be found in high-achieving individuals across the board, but there was no existing scale to measure it with. So they created their own set of 12 questions and set out to validate them scientifically — that is, to ensure they measured what they wanted them to measure. After they tested the Grit Scale on more than 1,500 people and found that it was internally consistent, it was time for the real challenge: seeing how levels of grit correlated with other measures of success, like educational attainment, grade point average, military accomplishment, and performance in a national spelling bee.

No matter the accomplishment, their hunch was confirmed: The ability to persevere over the long term accounted for the differences between mediocre- and high-achievers by about four percent. That might not sound like a lot, but the researchers found that it had a bigger effect on success than even IQ. Grittier people attained higher levels of education, made fewer career changes, earned higher GPAs (despite having lower SAT scores), toughed it out in the military academy for longer, and did better in the Scripps National Spelling Bee than their less gritty counterparts.

"Collectively," Duckworth and her team concluded, "these findings suggest that the achievement of difficult goals entails not only talent but also the sustained and focused application of talent over time."

Do You Measure Up?

So how gritty do you think you are? Do you laugh in the face of adversity? Do you doggedly pursue goals, even when other people would have given up? Do you maintain laser-like focus on anything you set your mind to? You can see how you measure up by filling out the free Grit Scale available on Duckworth's website.

The questions are just like those given to the participants in that first study. You'll read a statement like "My interests change from year to year," and it's up to you to determine whether that's "very much like me," "mostly like me," "somewhat like me," "not much like me," or "not like me at all." Once you've answered all 10 questions, you'll click "get your score," and a window will appear ranking your grit on a scale from 0 to 5. It'll also tell you how you rank among American adults in a recent study.

If you're like most people, you probably aren't a single-minded persistence machine — and that's okay. A score near the middle just means you're about average. But if you score near the bottom, it might be worth it to think about how you approach your goals, and whether that mindset is helping or hurting you.

Want to work on your grittiness? Pick up Duckworth's "Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance" (free with your trial membership to Audible) and start gritting up your brain. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

The Power of Grit — Angela Duckworth

Written by Ashley Hamer July 20, 2018

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