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What questions do you have about Motivation and Grit?

written by Editor S.M. 3 April 2009

Senia Maymin is the founder and editor-in-chief of PositivePsychologyNews.com. She was the series editor for the Positive Psychology News book series that recently published the first book, Resilience: How to Navigate Life's Curves. (Bio, Articles)

Ups and Downs

Ups and Downs

As we present the latest research findings in Motivation and Grit this month, we would also like to ask you:

  • What questions do you have that are most pressing about Motivation and Grit?

Feel free to post a comment here.

We would love to hear your questions.

Much thanks!


Image: Up and Down courtesy of Mi Pah

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Marie-Josee Salvas 3 April 2009 - 3:36 pm

I love that readers will get to ask their questions online this month! I hope it fosters good interaction in the PP community!


Todd Kashdan 3 April 2009 - 3:36 pm

Great topic. I am interested in the conceptual overlap between grit and constructs with a large existing body of research such as Hope (agency and pathways; see measure by Rick Snyder), harmonious passion (see measure by Vallerand), and curiosity? What is the evidence that there is something distinct with grit? I know that studies found grit to be distinct from the Big Five but what about these other more nuanced personality traits that have been studied for years?

Jimmy Frickey 3 April 2009 - 3:55 pm

What role do self-determined objectives play in motivation and grit?

In education, people talk as if self-determined objectives “obviously” lead to greater displays of motivation and grit. I know of no research sited in support of this claim. That said, I tend to believe it.

What about motivation and grit’s relationship to the now trendy “SMART” goals? Are people really more motivated when the goals are SMART (Specific; Measurable; Attainable; Realistic; and Timely)? What about Herculean demonstrations of motivation and grit by all sorts of people with entirely unrealistic and untimely goals, like say, equality?

That is, what role does altruism play in motivation and grit? I feel I’m actually more motivated and perseverant with big, idealistic, messy goals than I am with timely measurable ones. Any research, or positive psych theory on these things?

Bonnie W 3 April 2009 - 3:59 pm

What part of the brain is associated with motivation? Is it related to the same part of the brain that controls arousal/wake from sleep? How does it manifest or not in ADHD? I have a friend who speaks of motivation as a “gift” with which some are blessed but others not so much. Is it innate does it need to be learned? How do we instill it in one who has not been “gifted” with it? Or can we truly only motivate ourselves?
(This probably counts as more than one question, but I am really motivated to learn more about this!)

Chuck Cobb 3 April 2009 - 5:57 pm

What is the best way to develop core character values — like responsibility, honesty, respect, and fairness — that a person can immediately draw upon when under stress?

Jeff Dustin 3 April 2009 - 8:19 pm

Define motivation. Define grit. Describe practical, intuitive and counterintuitive interventions for both.

What is the current state of the science on these topics particularly in reference to studies that show change from low motivation to high or extremely high motivation sustained over time?

What are variables that enhance or detract from both constructs? SDT seems very holistic and not very precise.
Maybe that makes it more effective in a therapeutic/coaching environment because it is so adaptable. Maybe not.

Are there more precise means for measuring state/trait qualities of motivation/grit and enhancing both than exist under SDT?

Which scientific school of thought has the largest volume of motivational studies and the highest quality studies?

Why does a consequent reinforcer increase a behavior with one organism and not increase a behavior in another?

How, if you control your own reinforcements, does one change the self without cheating and giving up to temptations. Dieters cheat on their diets, but some people don’t. Insert a New Year’s resolution here.

Why do some people have discipline, what exactly is it, where is it in the brain, how do we increase it lastingly?
What are the cognitive, behavioral, social and other markers that tend to point to the gritty.

Must a goal be intrinsically motivating to achieve a high degree of grit? This goes back to my “how do you eat a worm sandwich” question.

What is a difficult goal in terms of Locke’s goal setting theory?

Is motivation as a subject only a concept which must be individualized to make sense? Are we all unique beings with widely divergent motivators/internal motives or in fact is there enough overlap to reliably say, these levers work with most people most of the time?

Can motivation be separated from the context in which it arises? Can we say we are motivated in a vacuum?

Is physical and mental pain a requirement to having grit. Does a personal pain tolerance threshold have a causal relationship with having a high degree of grit?

What are rigorous studies of real world applications of motivational/grit change programs?

Who tend to be gritty? Who tend to sustain their motivations? Why?

Can people change their personal levels of motivation/grit?

What is the least amount of change required to move someone with low levels of grit to high levels? What is the mechanism by which grittiness works?

Which of the 24 VIA Strengths most closely predict and control gritty behavior?

When will the world have a precise science of motivation & grit? What will it look like and how much of an impact would being able to control grittiness benefit/harm society?

Are there or do you think there will be individual grit profiles which allow for tailored & precise interventions to increase grit?

What does too much grit look like and how can you tell if you are approaching that threshold? What would an outside observer see behaviorally?

That’s all I can think of now, but there will be more.

WJ 3 April 2009 - 11:05 pm

Having looked at the research on Grit it seems to be a bit of a “buzz word”. It appears to have a huge correlation with conscientiousness and seems to have minimal incremenatl prdictive validity.

So my question is very simple – how does grit add to the science of thriving?

Editor S.M. 4 April 2009 - 4:31 am

Thank you guys very, very much for these questions!

Scott Asalone 4 April 2009 - 6:29 am

love the topic for this month: two quick questions.
– Is there a genetic predisposition for motivation and/or grit?
– Can grit or motivation be increased and if so, what are the exercises/practices/positive interventions?
Thanks. I look forward to reading all your articles.

Jeff Dustin 4 April 2009 - 2:16 pm


“Duckworth et al. (2007) propose that grit is distinct from traditionally measured facets of Big Five Conscientiousness in its emphasis on stamina. In particular, grit entails the capacity to sustain both effort and interest in projects that take months or even longer to complete. Grit is also related to but distinct from need for achievement (n Achievement: McClelland, 1961). Individuals high in grit do not swerve from their goals, even in the absence of positive feedback…”

Duckworth, A, and Quinn, P. (2009). Development and Validation of the Short Grit Scale (Grit-S). I’m being lazy with APA style but you can find the article on:


I think back to what you have added to PPND about the importance of contentment, mindfulness, and meditation with biofeedback. If a client has grit to persevere in meditation, practicing contentment and working on mindfulness, then they will have a higher life satisfaction. If they give up easily, as I have with meditation, then they will not experience its wonderful benefits. Upon reflection, I think mindfulness is one of the big winners in terms of its utility as an intervention. I think it undergirds most if not all of the PP interventions I have experienced.

If you are not in control of your attentional resources…your mind then you are at the mercy of an oftentimes hostile internal and external environment. Mindfulness is the short circuiting mechanism to help us avoid excessive pain and deal with it.

Yet you have to practice it, so you need grit.

WJ 4 April 2009 - 3:03 pm

Jeff, I did check out the Duckworth studies. The correlation of grit with conscientiousness was approximately 0.8 – this suggests that grit might be spin for conscientiousness.

I agree that you need coscientiousness to practice mindfulness. By the way I don’t meditate – I found it as boring as hell. There are other ways to mindfulness

Jenny Russell 5 April 2009 - 5:42 pm

I have observed that people who ae passionate about something that offers them personal fullfilment and joy or benefit to others are motivated to work at it through thick and thin and can be so focused that they see nothing else in their path.
Is this true motivation? Or does true motivation include a self discipline that balances passion with a selfless grit that considers all factors with a broader view?


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