TED Talks: ‘Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance’

January 4, 2017

In this TED Talk, psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth champions grit, a success trait with little scientific backing. But after working as a teacher, she saw firsthand how students who were willing to persevere through the school year came out on top. These hard-working students were the most likely to become graduates, proving that anyone could outwork their perceived talent level or IQ by getting gritty.

Duckworth’s discovery came in the form of grit questionnaires. She asked high school students to answer a series of questions and compared the results. Surprisingly, things like family income or test scores were not the strongest indicators of who would graduate at the end of the year.

“In all those very different contexts, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success,” Duckworth says. “And it wasn't social intelligence. It wasn't good looks, physical health, and it wasn't IQ. It was grit.”

Related: Top of Mind: 6 Ways Having Grit Improves Your Life

Most people are in a rush to succeed, but Duckworth says living a gritty life is more like a marathon. It fuels the passion for sticking with goals that can’t be achieved in one day—and while building grit is important, when it comes to figuring out exactly how to do it, Duckworth admits the answer isn’t clear.

“What I do know is that talent doesn't make you gritty,” she says. “Our data shows very clearly that there are many talented individuals who simply do not follow through on their commitments. In fact, in our data, grit is usually unrelated or even inversely related to measures of talent.”

Duckworth says having a growth mindset, an idea developed by professor Carol Dweck at Stanford University, is one of the closest things to grit-building. It implies that a person’s ability to learn is not permanent or incapable of change, which according to Dweck’s findings, encourages children to persevere after experiencing failure. It’s a start, but Duckworth says there’s more work to be done.

“We need to take our best ideas, our strongest intuitions, and we need to test them,” she says. “We need to measure whether we’ve been successful, and we have to be willing to fail, to be wrong, to start over again with lessons learned.”

Related: 4 Stages for Building Grit in Your Children