Walls for Humans
Human beings are creatures of habit. We look for patterns, routines and shortcuts to maximize our expended energy. The need for speed also leads to increased desire for immediate gratification. In an age of e-mail, on-line shopping and text-messaging it is easy to get sucked into wanting things to happen quickly, and if they don’t, it’s easy to give up.
In his “Last Lecture,” Randy Pausch put a picture of wall on the screen. He said when a wall appears in front of the things you want, the wall is not there to say do not do it. Instead, the wall is asking, “How badly do you want it?” Essentially, he was calling on his audience to develop what researchers such as Dr. Angela Duckworth refer to as grit.
Grit is defined as perseverance and passion toward long-term goals (Duckworth et al. 2006). Gritty people tend to persevere, self-regulate and push themselves toward success. Drs. Angela Duckworth and Martin Seligman (2006) found that the correlation between self-discipline and achievement was twice as large as the correlation between IQ and achievement.
Additional research suggests that people with grit:
- report experiencing more happiness than those who are less gritty, even when controlling for age and education;
- earn higher GPAs than their non-gritty classmates, even with lower SATs scores;
- are more likely to outperform in spelling bee contests, regardless of verbal IQ.
Barriers to Grit
Author Jack Canfield says that if your goal is to chop down a tree (the environmentalist in me urges you not to, of course), and every day you go out and take five swings at it, you will eventually knock it down. It makes sense that putting effort and perseverance towards a goal enables you to achieve it. The question is why do so many people fail to persevere?
Duckworth et al. (2006) discuss grit on the dimension of sustaining effort and interest. In our world, there are a number of barriers to developing grit.
Attention is a hot commodity in an era of the World Wide Web, advertisements and endless choices. It is easy to get swept away into the world of options, which is fabulous for ambition yet a barrier to long-term goal achievement. Getting excited about multiple projects makes it difficult to maintain interest and cultivate grit.
As a coach, I have worked with many people that want to leap from being at step 2 to step 20 in no time because of their enthusiasm to move on to the next project. Again, great for motivation, but a barrier to developing grit towards accomplishing their goals. I recommend that clients keep a list of things they want to accomplish in the future. This list reminds them that they will get to it eventually and enables them to focus on their current project.
Antidotes to Low Grit: Short-Term Tasks and Continued Effort
I recommend cultivating conditions for flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). We have found ways to spice up the project and create more flow by utilizing more of their strengths. Make short term tasks that lead to long-term goals by dissecting them into manageable, achievable tasks and make them more-game like with rules and guidelines.The second dimension for grit is effort. Achievement, according to Duckworth et al. (2004), is a product of talent and time spent on a task.
Fixed Mindset People Do Not Love Effort
This is a difficult message for people to embrace who believe in fixed intelligence or proclivity for success. That belief is what Dr. Carol Dweck refers to as fixed mindset. Those in a fixed mindset tend to believe that effort is a bad thing, if they have what it takes to be smart, gifted or talented by nature than they should not need much effort. This type of belief decreases the motivation to work towards long term goals.
Interestingly, according to Dweck, simply learning about fixed mindset causes changes in people’s belief systems. They are more likely to accept a growth mindset- or the belief that effort, embracing challenges and seeking out learning opportunities is a stronger predictor of success. This encourages developing a grittier perspective, contributing to wanting to put more effort and time in.
A few years ago I completed the NYC half-marathon. This was a stretch goal. I had never ran more than 4 miles in my life. It took grit to get to the race and even more to complete it. Nevertheless, afterward I felt so proud and the positive emotions were self-reinforcing.
The mantra of the Army is, “Be all that you can be.” Grit, perseverance and self-regulation towards long term goals can make that happen.
Editor’s Note: This article is included in the Persistance chapter of the Positive Psychology News book, Character Strengths Matter.
Csiksentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience.. New York: Harper Perennial.
Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews & Kelly (2006). Grit, perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087-101.
Duckworth, A.L., Seligman, M.E.P.S. (2005). Self-Discipline Outdoes IQ in Predicting Academic Performance of Adolescents. Psychological Science, 16, 939-944.
Dweck, C. (2002). Messages that motivate: How praise molds students’ beliefs, motivation, and performance (in surprising ways). In J. Aronson (Ed.), Improving Academic Achievement: Impact of Psychological Factors on Education (Educational Psychology), (pp. 37-60). San Diego, CA, US: Academic Press.
Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine Books.
Pausch, R. (2008). The Last Lecture. Hyperion Press.
Rozin, P. (2006). Lecture for the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology.
- Randy Pausch
- Multitasking image from Do you think trying to do several things at once is an asset or an obstacle in coping with modern life? an article by Carole Mithers in UCLA Magazine.