Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth – Book Summary

The value of consistency and determination

Key takeaways from Grit

  • Grit (determination, resilience and a sense of direction) can be learned and improved
  • Effort counts twice as much as base level talent does
  • The four pillars of building Grit are passion, practice, purpose and hope
  • The “easy” way to build grit is by joining a team or group that is gritty

Consistency and perseverance are my two favourite concepts in self improvement. Starting something new is relatively easy, but sticking to that thing for a number of years to start seeing some results is a different story.

We all have sports, languages, musical instruments and entrepreneurial pursuits we started enthusiastically but later gave up on, even though we liked them. Imagine where you would be now if you just kept working on one of these pursuits for another year or two.

Choosing a path and sticking to it for a number of years isn’t something that has come easy to me in the past. I had never persevered with anything apart from weights training when growing up, so I decided to make a concerted effort to pick something and stick with it for at least a few years.

My test case for this was Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ). I’ve now been training in BJJ for three years. During this time I’ve witnessed a number of highly talented training partners start and then abruptly stop for various reasons. Even though my own level of talent was quite low when I started, I now finally feel less terrible at BJJ and more capable of winning matches. I wonder how I would now fare against these more talented individuals who stopped prematurely. I also wondered what I could do to ensure I stuck with BJJ for the long term and kept my interest levels up.

This is why I picked up Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth in the first place. It confirmed the idea that there’s value in sticking to things and explored the other ingredients present in a determined and resilient high achiever. If you’re still wondering, I think this book is excellent and deserves a spot on your bookshelf or Kindle. Read on for a summary of what the book explores.

What is grit?

The central idea of Grit by Angela Duckworth is that “grit” can help you achieve your goals. Grit is basically determination and resilience combined with a strong sense of direction when achieving something. The other key ideas in this book is that grittiness can be learned and improved, and that effort counts twice as much as natural talent.

The four ways to build grit

The book is a treasure trove of learnings about how you can build and sustain your own grittiness through passion, practice, purpose and hope. It also then includes an insightful section on parenting and mentoring kids and teams to be grittier.

These are some of the major learnings I took from each section:

1. Passion

Passion is one of the major ingredients of grit, so Duckworth includes plenty of tips for finding and growing interests into passions.

The biggest takeaway from this chapter is the fact that passions and interests aren’t the result of childhood epiphanies, but rather the result of experimentation with many different activities. When coupled with encouragement and autonomy these interests can flourish into passions.

A central ingredient of a passion is sustaining interest over the long term. Duckworth gives great suggestions for sustaining interest in an activity, including:

  • Continuing to ask questions as you learn
  • Digging deeper into different facets of your interests
  • Finding a mentor
  • Finding like-minded friends

And if you’re an intermediate or expert in a given activity you can sustain interests by looking into the nuances of your chosen domain and digging into these. I’d say much of this matches my own experience in BJJ. Once the basic techniques are learned, many of the higher level individuals at my gym tend to specialise in specific techniques and hone them. I myself have sustained interest by learning new techniques and guard types and experimenting with them.

2. Practice

According to Duckworth, grittiness is also built through continuous improvement and practice. Not just random practice, but the concept of deliberate practice popularised by Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson.

The concept of deliberate practice is one I want to explore in future articles, but basically refers to intentionally practicing to improve your weaknesses. At its core it involves:

  • Picking a stretch goal / weakness to address in your chosen interest
  • Focusing your practice efforts on reaching these stretch goals
  • Seeking feedback on how to improve
  • Repeating this practice with reflection and refinement

This contrasts with how most of us practice in an unstructured way.

3. Purpose

Some of the grittiest people combine their passions and deliberate practice with a sense of purpose. This makes sense, as we should have a good reason why we’re focusing our time on something. This section was particularly useful as it helped me tie my daily work back to helping others.

Duckworth includes a number of ways to find purpose in what you’re doing. My favourite of these tips is to simply think about how what you’re doing connects to your core values. For me, my pursuit of BJJ connects with my core values of doing difficult activities and self-reliance in self defence situations.

4. Hope

The grittiest people Duckworth observed and researched had a strong resolve that tomorrow will be better than today. Duckworth points out this isn’t just a belief in blind luck, but instead is about having a growth mindset, a concept popularised by Carol Dweck in her book Mindset.

A growth mindset is a belief that your basic level of intelligence and ability is just a starting point which can be improved over time through practice. A fixed mindset on the other hand is the belief that you’re stuck with the level of intelligence and ability that you’re born with, and no amount of practice or new knowledge can change this.

The “easy” way to build grit

Duckworth finally caps off the book by explaining that you don’t necessarily need to build grit on your own. An easier way is to join a group known for its grit and simply learn by example. The book include stories about teams and groups like the Seattle Seahawks or West Point and the culture of grit built within these organisations.

A key learning I took from this section is that parents, coaches and mentors should strive to be both demanding and supportive of their children or pupils to foster grit in them.

The final great piece of advice I took from Duckworth’s information on parenting is what she calls “The Hard Thing Rule”. Basically everyone in the family (parents included) must do a “hard thing” such as a sport, instrument, language etc and can only quit during a natural ending point e.g the end of the season rather than after a particularly difficult day. Finally, everyone must pick their own hard thing, it’s not decided by parents. This is an awesome strategy for those trying to foster grit in their kids.

I would highly recommend Grit by Angela Duckworth. It’s full of science explaining the ingredients of grit and how they can impact success in one’s life.

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