Home All How I found my Grit (and now pass it on to others)

How I found my Grit (and now pass it on to others)

written by Renee Jain 8 November 2012

Renee Jain, MAPP 2011,is the founder and Chief Storyteller at GoStrengths.com, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of young people by delivering social and emotional learning programs (SEL) to the K-12 education community. A former tech-entrepreneur turned positive psychology practitioner, Renee's passion lies in teaching research-based life skills through digital animations, often drawing from her own life experiences. Full bio pending. Renee's articles are here.

Growing up, I wanted to be just like my older brother. He was a whiz in school, a tennis prodigy, and had oodles of friends. As I saw it, my brother was great at everything. Although I loved him dearly, I grew tired of living in the shadow of his eminence. So at the ripe age of 7, I made a decision. I too was going to achieve greatness. The plan was simple: find one thing at which to beat my brother.

My quest began on a Sunday afternoon. It was family day in the Jain household, and we decided to go miniature golfing. I’d never played before, but when I saw that the equipment consisted of little silver sticks and white dimpled balls I knew it couldn’t be that difficult.


I grabbed my gear and ran out to the first hole. With sweaty palms and a pulsing heart, I wound up and smashed the ball! I watched as it forcefully rolled down the green, past the hole, over the plastic enclosure, and into the parking lot. The ball was lost, and I followed suit. I took my little silver stick and chucked it clear across the course, all the while screaming, “I QUITTTTTTTTTTT!”

Thus began my history of quitting. From piano to soccer to art class… I tried new things and at the slightest hint of adversity, I quit. The desire to outshine my brother and hurl objects in the face of defeat dissipated, yet my treacherous habit of quitting remained steady.

What was wrong with me? Was I just a brat? Not really, I was actually quite a loving and affectionate child. I simply wanted to find something where I could excel, something to call my own. The problem was that I lacked a vital skill. In pursuit of my goals, I lacked the mental fortitude to withstand challenges. I lacked grit.

A really brief history of Grit

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” ~Michael Jordan

Thirty-odd years after the mini-golf debacle, I met renowned researcher and psychologist Angela Duckworth. I was immediately captivated by her work. You see, Duckworth was interested in why some succeeded while others did not. She was interested in the ingredients necessary for achievement. From my point of view, Duckworth was uncovering the difference between my brother and me growing up.

Early in her career, Duckworth taught math to middle and high school students. During that time, she made an obvious, yet profound observation: students who tried hard did better than students who didn’t try as hard. What role did “trying hard” or effort play in one’s success? This wonder led to her groundbreaking work.

After much research, Duckworth theorized that people who achieve great success – those at the top of their fields – have the qualities of dogged perseverance and sustained passion toward long term goals. She coined a term for this quality: grit. Duckworth believed grit could predict success above and beyond traditional metrics of intelligence such as IQ.

     Spelling Bee

To test her theory, she developed a simple assessment called the Grit Scale. The scale requires people to rate themselves on statements such as, “I finish whatever I begin,” or “I have overcome setbacks to conquer an important challenge.” She took scale into the field, and what followed was remarkable.

In one study, low scores on the grit scale was a better predictor of which freshmen cadets at West Point would drop out by their first summer than an internally developed composite score made up of academic grades, physical fitness, and a leadership scores. In another study of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, grit predicted who would move on to the finals above and beyond IQ. In yet another study, grittier students at an elite university achieved higher grade point averages than their less gritty classmates despite having lower SAT scores. Dozens of similar studies made it clear: grit matters.

The revelations from this research are nothing short of astonishing. No longer are you stuck with intellect or raw talent as your core means for success. Perseverance and passion matter at least as much, if not more than other cognitive qualities. As I see it, grit is a tool that levels the playing field – a tool for the underdog. A tool I wish I had as a child.

How I found my Grit
While I didn’t have access to grit research growing up, I did have the good fortune of working with a teacher who taught me some of the same core principles.

Book Club

By age 12, I’d left behind hundreds of activities, clubs, and hobbies in my dusty trail of abandonment. The one thing I hadn’t given up on was starting anew! My latest undertaking was a reading club. As I sat through the first meeting, I realized everyone was older than me, exploring books well above my reading level. I decided I’d stick with it for at least a week.

I came back the second week with my copy of The Count of Monte Cristo marked up with multiple passages I didn’t understand. After the meeting, I approached the group leader, Mrs. Johnson, ready to launch into my standard I-need-to-quit speech.

Before I could speak, Mrs. Johnson said, “I know you’re little younger than everyone here, but you can do this. Stick with it for a few weeks.”

“Well, I just don’t think… I just didn’t really get… I’m busy at school, see…”

“Renee,” she interrupted, “What exactly are you afraid of?” I decided not to answer. But Mrs. Johnson was good, she used a Jedi mind-trick that teachers like to use – silence.

Two minutes later, I squeaked, “Failing. I guess.”

“And what exactly does that mean… failing?”

I stammered for a while and finally said, “It means not being able to keep up and getting really frustrated because it’s too hard and then wanting to quit.” And then I told her my big secret, “Mrs. Johnson, I’m just not that good at anything. I fail… a lot.”

That was when Mrs. Johnson said something I will never forget, “Renee, listen to me very closely. I’m going to tell you something my father taught me growing up. The only way we can ever fail in life – the only way – is by not trying. Everything else can be overcome with a little hard work and some good old-fashioned sweat.”

I worked with Mrs. Johnson each week after reading club. She never minimized my frustrations; instead, she showed me practical techniques to take breaks and then persevere. She helped me plow through what is now one of my all-time favorite books and ignited my life-long passion for reading. But beyond this, Mrs. Johnson tapped into a strength that resides within all of us. Mrs. Johnson helped me find my grit. In this, she changed the trajectory of my life.

Passing on Grit

If I had one outrageous wish, it would be for all children to have a Mrs. Johnson by their sides. Since I haven’t figured out how to clone her (yet!), I try to pass these skills on myself. One of the skills that kids love to learn about is grit. Below are a few methods I use to help kids embrace the core principles of grit:

  • Grit exists: The simple awareness of the existence of grit excites students. They LOVE to hear that aside from raw intellect, there is something which can catapult them toward their goals. Interestingly, even kids as young as 6 or 7 like to hear about the studies on grit.
  •      Inspired by Michael Jordan

  • Learn grit by example: Kids are engaged by the story of Michael Jordan as an exemplar of grit. Jordan was initially cut from his high school basketball team. Instead of giving up, he decided he would practice longer and harder than any kid who made the team. The next year, he made the cut.
  • Focus on the process: Taking a page out of Carol Dweck’s research, students can learn to enjoy the journey toward their goals. Focusing on the process can increase both the effort students make in working toward goals as well as their resilience in overcoming obstacles.
  • Use mental contrasting: Kids enjoy daydreaming about the future which may be why they like mental contrasting exercises! Students envision a desired future goal as well as possible obstacles which may pop up while pursuing that goal. When a goal is feasible, this type of mental contrasting can boost goal commitment.

What about you?

I’d love to hear how grit has played a role in your life. Do you have a story of finding your grit? Please share!

Footnote: Believe it or not, I recently went miniature golfing with my brother and his 8-year old daughter. After going way over par on the first hole, my niece pouted and stomped her feet in frustration. My brother looked at me and said, “She reminds me so much of you growing up.” I smiled and said, “Nothing a little hard work and good-old fashioned sweat can’t fix.”


Duckworth, A.L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087-1101.

Duckworth, A. L. & Allred, K. M. (2012). Temperament in the classroom. In R. L. Shiner & M. Zentner (Eds.), Handbook of Temperament (pp. 627-644). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

More publications by Angela Duckworth

Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine Books.

Gollwitzer, A., Oettingen, G., Kirby, T. & Duckworth, A. (2011). Mental contrasting facilitates academic performance in school children. Motivation and Emotion. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1007/s11031-011-9222-0

Angela Duckworth’s TED Talk on grit:

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Lisa Sansom (@LVSConsulting) 8 November 2012 - 8:44 pm

Lovely article Renee and congrats on your first one! I also lack grit in several different areas and I can see that stretches back to my childhood. I’m so glad that you found yours and that you keep working on it! May all children have a caring adult who helps them to form their grit!

Jeremy McCarthy 9 November 2012 - 9:53 am

Beautiful article. Thanks for sharing your personal experience which I’m sure will resonate with many. I will share this widely.

Jeanine Broderick 9 November 2012 - 10:47 am

Thank you for this article. I enjoyed reading it and found helpful information that I can use in my program to help others develop more grit. I always love when I find a new nugget that I know will be exactly what at least one person needs for something to click.

I was a Camp Fire Girl and part of our motto was “I shall finish what I have begun.” I have been far from a quitter in my life. I do not know the impact of repeating that but I believe it has been significant.

I had a really awful professor for English in college – he was sexist and I would leave class angry — not so much for myself (I was older then – about 23/24) but for the 18 year old girls in the class. One weekend I was to go to a play Friday that I had to write a paper on and another paper was assigned. My entire weekend was going to be consumed by the class. My husband asked me “Why are you doing this?” and it dawned on me that the idea of quitting (it was still early enough in the semester to drop) had never once entered my mind. I dropped that Monday and my awareness that I refused to quit even when I should was born.

A few year later when I tried to quit smoking none of the methods I tried worked and I finally had the idea that quitting was not something I was good at but that I could “Become” a non-smoker and using my mind that is what I did. I understand the process I developed more now than when I did it and am writing a book about how to use that process to become what you want to be rather than quitting what you do not want to be.

Thanks again for a good & helpful article.

Terri Babers 9 November 2012 - 12:21 pm

Renee, this is a wonderful story! And I wonder whether Grit is composed of the same or different Character Strengths depending upon the individual?

Renee Jain 9 November 2012 - 2:01 pm

@Lisa and @Jeremy – thank you so much for your kind words. I enjoy sharing stories from my childhood; especially if I feel they may help even one other child. I sent this one to my brother and he started laughing. He was like, “Yup, that was you!”

@Jeanine – thanks for sharing your experience which started in Camp Fire Girls and followed you all the way through adulthood. I think you bring up a super important point – there is a shadow side to grittiness and perseverance; a shadow side to holding onto something because we may have been taught “not to quit.” It is certainly a skill to know when to call it a day with certain goals. I’m reminded of Kenny Rogers singing, “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold em.” 🙂 Also, I love how you reframed your experience with smoking as not quitting something, but rather acquiring something else.

Oz 9 November 2012 - 3:00 pm

Renee – how does grit differ from conscientiousness or willpower?

Also what evidence based interventions are there?

Jeanne Kuntz 10 November 2012 - 3:34 pm

Renee really has a way with words. Simple, clever, humorous…and right on. How lucky we ALL are as teachers and coaches to be in a position to pass on these vital tips.

Jeanine Broderick 10 November 2012 - 4:19 pm


I love that you brought up the Kenny Rogers song – I will often hear the words of that song in my mind when I am faced with a situation where I need to decide whether to quit or continue.

Because I now understand that I tend not to quit I am more deliberate — I take time to stop and think when something seems like I am fighting an uphill battle or staying with something I really don’t want any more. I guess you could say I am more mindful of it and that helps me recognize times when auto-pilot responses are not serving me.

I have changed a great deal, due to deliberate work, in the 23 years since I became a non-smoker. When the passion calls me forth I am determined and I see obstacles as things that I can and will overcome. But, if I am doing something that I really do not want to do — I give myself permission to change course.

I understand that my greatest abilities come when I pursue things I am passionate about and which interest me and excite me.

I use Michael Jordan in my program and love his example. I use others as well. There are many examples of those who did not quit and became very successful. Milton Hershey is a real good one in business environments – he failed repeatedly before he was successful and then left such a wonderful legacy (and delicious chocolate).

Quitting can mean failure but it can also be re-framed to mean experience/learning. We can put our own interpretation on it.

There are no great successes that did not have failures that increased their desire for success and their knowledge.

I would love it if we changed how we teach history – instead of giving the highlight and memorizing dates — if we spoke of how they felt – how they had the tenacity and faith to do some of the amazing things that were done.

Teaching it that way would provide touchstones the children could use to find within themselves the fortitude to move forward.

Sometimes we celebrate the person who came out on top so much but there is another who came so much further and their story is far more remarkable and inspiring.

Jeanine Broderick 10 November 2012 - 4:25 pm

There is a book I sometimes recommend to women who have suffered a loss. It is called Ho for California and it is a documentary of quilts that came to California (before 1949 if I recall correctly) – by wagon train, around the horn, etc.

It speaks of the women who made these beautiful works of art and their lives. I found it very inspiring and it helped me find greater courage inside — the first time I read it I was facing divorce with two young children. It helped me find greater fortitude. Some of those women lived through unspeakable tragedies and yet carried on. What most of us face today is nothing compared to what they faced and continued.

I can remember thinking that my situation was not so bad in comparison and if they could live through that then I would be just fine. And I was, I have thrived.

Ian 10 November 2012 - 6:56 pm

Reading this article was such a breath of fresh air. I so resonated with abandoning things as soon as I felt the fear that I might feel humiliated for failing. My Mrs Johnson was my ballet teacher, Pat Gillespie. She never gave up on me when so many people had come to expect me to fail by not showing up. I can’t count how many times I quit, but she would always talk me into coming back. Many years later when I was taking the lead role on stage in professionally choreographed performances, I found this pocket of myself that I felt could do anything and began to apply it. And then I still abandoned a lot of ambitions, but over time I left things behind which true, I faced the fear of failing, but I chose things to apply grit to which I really wanted. The contrast between succeeding through blood sweat at something like dance while abandoning something like piano became the means by which I figured out what goals I really wanted to go after (even if despite myself).

I guess the question is how do we start applying this as parents. I feel like my son Choyen, who is 9 and going through GoStrengths! right now, is mature enough to discuss even an article like this. But then there is my 5 year old. A lot of books and articles talk about eternally praising children and some question if it is actually harmful. But what I am reading into this is that it doesn’t matter if the child succeeds, what matters is that they can approach the goal in a way which reaps rewards regardless of the outcome or skill level achieved.

Renee Jain 11 November 2012 - 8:56 am

@Jeanne Kuntz, thank you so much for the warm words and your amazing coaching work and workshops!

Renee Jain 11 November 2012 - 8:57 am

@Jeanne Kuntz, thank you for the warm words and your amazing coaching work and workshops!

Renee Jain 11 November 2012 - 9:23 am

@Jeanine, you mentioned using Michael Jordan and Milton Hershey as examples of grit. I would love to hear other examples that you use in your work.

I often use the story of Jack Canfield (co-founder of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series) as an exemplar of grit. I heard him tell his tale once at a seminar and was forever moved. Apparently, he wanted to compile an anthology of true stories from people who have overcome obstacles. He put together the first Chicken Soup book and sent out his pitch to several potential publishers. He was rejected. He continued to send them out. He continued to receive rejections. And so remained this trend… in fact, in total, he had accumulated 123 rejections!

Jack said that a general malaise began to set in (and his wife wasn’t too happy either with the debt piling up)! He said publishers were telling him that the title was stupid and that no one wanted a collection of short stories devoid of sex or violence. Yet, he still believed deeply in the project and decided to make another go of it. Jack sent the manuscript to a tiny, no-name publishing company in Florida that was on their way out of business. This company read what Jack had and LOVED it. They decided to publish it.

The first book sold 135,000 copies. The series in total is now in print in over 40 languages with over 200 titles and has sold over 112 million copies worldwide – the best selling series of its type in history.

I remember after telling the story, Jack said, “I owe it all to one thing – I’m a believer in perseverance. In fact, it’s why I am standing here today. It’s why any of us can stand anywhere with hard work.” I LOVE LOVE LOVE this story of grit. I’d love to hear more if you, Jeanine, or anyone else has one to share!!

Renee Jain 11 November 2012 - 9:33 am

@Terri, you asked about which character strengths are correlated to grit. I think it’s a great question and one I’ve thought about quite a bit myself. I do know per Duckworth’s work that grit is correlated to the strength of perseverance. However, I don’t think there is a wealth of research out there mapping which character strengths (as per the VIA or other measures) may be correlated to higher grit.

FYI, in a recent correspondence I had with Angela Duckworth she said, “Grit is most correlated with perseverance but includes, in addition, the aspect of abiding, deepening interests.”

Jeanine Broderick 11 November 2012 - 12:19 pm


You asked about your five year old and questioned whether the common practice – I won’t call it wisdom – of constantly praising a child is unhealthy.

A stance that always (truly) believes the child is good at the core of who they are and that the child has wonderful potential is always good to hold but it must be truly believed. Beyond that – an excerpt from one of my blogs speaks directly to your question about praise:

For many years there has been a push to help children develop self esteem. Many of these programs have not understood the nature of self esteem and how it is really developed.

Not having an opportunity to fail or lose is a grave disservice to children. It is far more important to have those experiences and learn that failure is another name for a learning opportunity. Losing is an opportunity to learn that life does not end because you did not win today. In fact, learning to rise up again after losing can actually prepare you for greater success than you would have ever experienced if you had never lost. Losing (adversity) develops resilience when a positive mindset and optimistic attitude are applied to the situation.

Another problem with using contrived self esteem builders is that children are not stupid. They can tell when someone really means a compliment and when they are saying it just to try to make them feel better. Think about it. They can read the truth. If someone feeds you a line to ‘build you up’ and you know they have made it up could you not think “there must not be anything true that is good enough to say so he/she has to make up something.” While not every child would have this thought process, some would. For those children such actions are especially detrimental. What happened to “Honesty is the best policy”? Where did we loose sight of that?

If I had a magic wand I would stop all the false self esteem building that goes on everywhere, in schools, homes, on the sports field, and in work places. Most of communication is non-verbal and most people know on some level whether the person offering the compliment is being honest. They may not read it clearly but it will feel “off” on some level.

False compliments teach children that the person offering the compliment cannot be trusted.

True self esteem comes from understanding yourself, your own worth, from a platform of understanding that everyone has great value and worth and it is, in fact, their unique perspective that creates that value. No one else in the world perceives the world exactly as they do. It also comes from understanding that bad behavior does not make you bad. Bad behavior is a symptom of being in a negative emotional state. Individuals who are in a generally positive state of mind are not bothersome (from the aspect of their behavior) to society.

In fact, building a child up by comparing to others, teaching them to rely upon a positive comparison to others does an even graver disservice. Our comparison should be “Are we growing?”, “Are we more than we were yesterday, last week, last year, last decade?”, “Am I moving in the direction of that which I want to become?” When we teach children to gain their self-worth by comparing themselves favorably to others we are actually putting some of them in an early grave. Yes, I know this is a very bold statement. I base it upon research that shows that health, well-being, and longevity is lower when the income disparity is greater than when it is closer together combined with research about the health benefits of positivity. This is not an inherent problem with varying incomes. The problem rests with the emotional result of comparing oneself with others and deciding that you are less than another.

Jeanine Broderick 11 November 2012 - 12:39 pm


I have also heard Jack Canfield tell his story and find it inspiring.

I use a great many examples. I like to tailor it to my audience. If I am speaking with children I use different examples than if I am speaking with adults and depending on the composition of the audience I will use different examples. Sometimes I will look for examples specific to that audience. For example, at a specific college I would look for examples of a graduate from that college to make it easier to relate personally.

Off the top of my head I have used Thomas Edison, Garth Brooks and Marilyn Monroe. When you dig into success stories you will often find that great success is preceded by something those with less grit would have turned into failure by quitting.

It is easy to see in sports – the thousands of hours of practice. I can’t remember the name of one baseball player I use right now but he was always practicing – even when he was the best he continued. I write about that as well – about how the bar we should compare ourselves to is our prior self and not others. I found a Hindu proverb that, in my opinion, sums it up perfectly:

There is nothing noble about being superior to some other man. The true nobility is in being superior to your previous self.
– Hindu proverb

I am not Hindi (or religious at all) but this proverb contains so much wisdom I use it in my programs.

Teaching that others opinions of us is really a reflection of them (if they are happy they are probably going to notice something they appreciate about us – if they are unhappy they are more likely to find something to complain about relating to us) and that we should just strive for continuous self-improvement — not in a perfectionist way but in a way that understands that is what humans do. We learn, grow, become more, then we desire new things and learn and grow some more. It is a life long process. Setting a standard of being better than we were is achievable. Setting a standard of being better than we were removes so much of the competition. Setting a standard of being better than we were raises our bar. If we look at others and set our bar by what it will take to do better than them we may be setting our bar far too low. I had a peer ask me to stop working so hard many years ago because he had apparently been compared negatively to me in his performance evaluation. It was shocking to me – I never felt in competition with him – I was just striving to do my best. If I had set my bar by what was required to do better than him I would not have achieved nearly as much.

When you help children understand that others opinions should not matter more than their own the impact of peer pressure is reduced – they look at it a different way. We teach children to look at others to validate their worthiness when they could form their own opinion If we teach them that their own opinion is valid and that they are good we would go a long way to helping generations of people thrive in better ways.

Jeanine Broderick 11 November 2012 - 12:49 pm


I think Angela’s comment about deepening and abiding interests is right on.

Genius is continual attention to a subject of interest – not something that is out of reach to almost everyone.

There is a book, The Genius in All of Us: New Insights into Genetics, Talent, and IQ by David Shenk that I often recommend.

Going deeper, I think that following your bliss can facilitate development of genius. When you follow your bliss you are pursuing something of keen interest to you — whether you want to be a genius on the playing field or in some other area – focusing on things that excite you maintains your interest and allows you to develop genius in that area.

I am considered quite intelligent by my friends but if someone locked me in a room and told me I could not leave until I understood and could explain car engines I might be there forever – I have no interest in them and when people talk about them I find my mind drifting away rapidly. Perhaps the threat would help me focus but I honestly don’t think it could help enough to get me to focus on a subject that I have no interest in. I would be more likely to figure a way to get out which would seem more interesting to me than learning about car engines.

This is one reason I think there should be greater leeway in schools. If the required subjects included car engines I would never have graduated from elementary school. Someone can be an absolute genius at one thing and totally ignorant in another area and how society judges them is based on standard measures applied across the board. This serves no one well because society is deprived of awareness and cultivation of the genius that does not fit the standard mold.

Jeanne Kuntz 11 November 2012 - 4:56 pm

I loved Jeanine’s observation that others opinions of us are really a reflection of them. It reminds me of a visual reminder I often use to keep myself out of the judgment trap. “When you point a finger at someone else, you have three fingers pointing back at you!” Also, how often we find that the issues that we judge in others are usually our own unfinished business. And I must confess that I experience a quiet thrill when someone is perturbed by the behavior of another person, but I feel absolutely nonplussed. I smile to myself and think, “Ooooh, guess you must be doing okay with this issue.”

Renee Jain 12 November 2012 - 8:50 am

Hi Oz,

I think you ask an extremely important question about evidence-based interventions on grit. In my article, I refer to grit as the tool for the “underdog.” I imply that grit is a personality trait which can be increased. However, can it really be increased or is passion and perseverance for long-term goals simply something innate and immutable? If the latter were true, one would possess a certain degree of it (or none at all) and really never be able to influence it.

First, to technically answer your question, there is research underway to test evidence-based interventions to increase grit, however, nothing has been published as of yet. That said, I believe grit can be increased and eventually the research will support this notion. Here is why… there are many evidence-based interventions which already exist to increase various components which likely influence grit including perseverance, setting and striving toward goals, and motivation to name a few.

What will be fascinating to see is if the interventions can increase perseverance and passion over the long term. Again, I think we will see some success. Oz, I firmly believe grit can be taught as someone was able to teach it to me and now I teach it to others. After seeing the success of hard work over a period of time in my reading club, I knew perseverance paid off. Furthermore, while I may not have started off as a passionate reader, the passion for me developed through the work. My grit also bled into different domains of my life. In sum, I’ve seen both in myself and the parents/kids I coach that grit can be taught. Is this anecdotal? Sure. However, again, I believe there is much to suggest that grit can be increased and evidence-based research will soon support this.

As to your other question on the difference between grit and conscientiousness – much of it has to do with duration. From Duckworth et al. (2007), “Grit overlaps with achievement aspects of conscientiousness but differs in its emphasis on long-term stamina rather than short-term intensity. The gritty individual not only finishes tasks at hand but pursues a given aim over years. Grit is also distinct from dependability aspects of conscientiousness, including self-control, in its specification of consistent goals and interests. An individual high in self-control but moderate in grit may, for example, effectively control his or her temper, stick to his or her diet, and resist the urge to surf the Internet at work—yet switch careers annually.”

Thx, Renee

Renee Jain 12 November 2012 - 9:37 am

Hey Ian,

I wanted to touch back on something you said about praise. Praise is not a “bad” thing. We all love to be praised. 🙂 The way in which we praise, however, is important. The research shows that praising the process provides far greater benefits to your kids than continually praising the person or character. Person praise would be, “You are so kind.” Process praise would be more like, “Picking flowers for your mom was a kind thing to do.” You mentioned your son, Choyen, was going through GoStrengths (yay!)… the subject of praise is covered under mindsets in module 7 – you can also read more about it at mindsetonline.com

Here’s the thing… as an adult, you can read the research and understand the benefits of process praise, but implementation is HARD! Why? It takes practice. There is an accessibility issue. It’s very easy to mentally access praises such as, “You’re so smart,” or “You’re really kind” etc. These often become automated responses. For example, your child shows you an art project from school and without even thinking, you might just say, “You are so creative.” It’s easy, it’s accessible!

In order to praise the process, it takes a little more effort (especially to be specific). One thing that helps is to take a mindful moment before giving out the praise to really thinking about the process your child used to achieve their goal. Without a lot of distraction, it’s much easier to praise the process. With practice, this becomes second nature.

Another thing which can help is to expand your vocabulary of different strengths. I’m providing a resource of strengths/virtues here, but there are many compilations of strength lists online – http://www.viacharacter.org/www/en-us/viainstitute/classification.aspx. If anyone wants to jump in with another strength list, that would be great!

Hope this helps a little, Ian. I think praising the process is a learning process itself. We’re all still learning. 🙂


Jeanine Broderick 12 November 2012 - 10:27 am


Great points on praise.

One of the factors I found fascinating in my research has been that some people actually believe that their intelligence is set; that they are incapable of improving through effort.

I’m blanking right now on the book/researcher who described this so well – it might have been Fredrickson in Positivity but I am not sure. If I think of it later I will come back and post.

But, the point is – that when they think they are something and cannot change they don’t take steps another would take to improve self.

I have always sought to be better than I was so the concept that someone could think so differently was completely foreign to me (but it made a lot of things click into place and make more sense) when I understood that some people had that concept and that changing that concept in their belief structure could lead to marked growth.

Note: When I say “My research,” I am not a scientific researcher but I spend considerable time, on a daily basis, looking at findings on human thriving and weaving the information from many sciences together to form a complete picture of our current understanding.

Praising the process is right in line with that – it is about who the person is becoming and how they are making the changes rather than a snapshot of where they are right this minute. When you think about it, we all change and grow every day – new inputs, new insights, new thoughts — we will only be that exact person one time and a snapshot only represents what we were then – because two minutes later we have had more experiences and have become more than we were – maybe just a little bit (normal) or, if the snapshot was taken moments before an epiphany it could be considerable. I’ve had a few epiphany’s in my life that made significant major shifts in my world view in a matter of moments. But each new insight is like a tiny epiphany, isn’t it?

Oz 12 November 2012 - 4:49 pm

renee- thank you for your honesty

lets hope grit can be learnt – that its more than just a belief

do you think conscientiousness might be a mediator of grit

ie no concientiousness no grit

also seems like grit depends on willpower – like so many other things

Renee Jain 13 November 2012 - 9:35 am


Thank you for such thoughtful comments. I believe the research you were referencing on fixed intelligence is that of Carol Dweck (specifically her theory on mindsets). I also use her work quite a bit in my coaching – great, accessible research that can be practically implemented into one’s life.

I’m also fascinated by this idea of “following your bliss” or uncovering that which is meaningful and exciting to you and pursuing that interest. How do we relay this concept to children who are continually exploring what it is that interests them? While for some, a passion for something may be immediately obvious (sort of a love at first sight type thing), for others, passion may develop well after undertaking an interest/activity/hobby.

I’d love to know how you might advise one on not just how to follow their bliss, but on how to discover it in the first place.

🙂 Renee

Jeanine Broderick 13 November 2012 - 11:36 am


Thank you. You are probably right – I know Fredrickson cited carol Dweck in her book.

I would not look for “purpose in life” or “what is my bliss.” Those are big things and the act of “Looking” for them would tend to create stress. It is, to me, like the pursuit of happiness. You do not have to look outside yourself. It is something that is revealed to you when you get close to it in your inner world.

But I think that it is very ‘find-able’ if that is not ones mission.

The emotional guidance system that I mentioned earlier and provided the citation to her work (it is not yet published – not because it is not worthy but because she has drawn on multiple branches of science so finding reviewers who are qualified to review it is a challenge. I suggested a review by committee comprised of experts in the various fields she has drawn upon – there are 10 pages of citations in the paper.

But, I already understood how my emotional guidance system worked when I became aware of her work and have been utilizing it in my own life for a long time. It was part of my path from despair/depression to a life of joy. It is part of what I teach in my program. Katherine’s work provided the scientific basis that supports the emotional guidance system as a sensory system.

The first thing I do when I teach it is explain the higher self or ideal self – the you (each of us has one) at our full potential with all our hopes and dreams and desires realized. The emotional guidance system knows the path to this higher or ideal self we have created throughout our lives. As we live we make decisions such as, “I like this – I want more of this please” and “I don’t like that and I would rather have _________”. Our intentions are included – intentions to have good relationships, intentions to be kind – whatever we have intended that would make us our best possible is part of this Ideal or Higher Self.

So, when you think a thought, the emotional guidance system compares that thought with the direction that would take you on the shortest route to actualization of your current Ideal Self (realize we never get there because every day we add to the Ideal). If the thought is leading in the direction of our Ideal Self the thought feels good. If it is leading away it feels bad.

If you are familiar with the children’s game where an object is hidden and the child is given clues “you’re getting warmer” when they are going towards the hidden object and “you’re getting colder” when they are going away from the hidden object – the emotional guidance system is as simple to explain as that. It is as simple to follow as that.

There are nuances and tricks that can really hamper someone who has not developed trust and faith in the guidance system (can you imagine second guessing your eyes?). For example, what we believe impacts what we can see. In other words if someone believes there is no solution to a problem – truly believes this – then even if the solution is right in front of them they can’t see it. The most common situation I see this play out is when a family member has a problem – a significant problem – perhaps an addiction. Other family members can see solutions or ways to improvement — perhaps there is a program the family believes would be beneficial. But the person with the problem cannot even see the solution – even when described they “don’t get it” or may agree (to get the family off their back) but then they don’t act. In ways it is associated with/like learned helplessness – in this example but it can play out in many scenarios. Our brain filters input in a way that “proves” our own beliefs to us.

So, the emotional guidance system (EGS) knows this and is somehow aware of those things so sometimes the path to what a person desires is not straight – they have to make detours so at times it can seem like they are going sideways or even in the wrong direction but if they keep following the thoughts that feel best and acting accordingly – when they come out on the other side they can see – if they are very aware and look back – both how that was the best path for them and what they were doing that hindered a straighter path.

So, for me, as I began using my emotional guidance system and looking at the thoughts I had and feeling for which one felt best, choosing it and then repeating the process as well as feeling in my gut/heart/body how different things felt so that I was more tuned to be aware of emotional responses I found my bliss. As the tools I discovered worked I became passionate about finding more – not just for me but the eradication of pain in my own life was so significant that it made me want to do that for others. My tendency to gain expertise (it was what had propelled me forward in my 33-year career) transferred to this new and more passionate interest until I understood that learning all I could and using it to create a program that would help others feel better and better was all I wanted to do (well, other than enjoy my family & friends and travel.

I still, every time I find a tidbit to add that I believe will help someone feel a thrill. It is so rewarding to me when I am able to help someone else feel better – not just in the moment although that is fun – but with knowledge and tools that I know give them all they need to move to a happier place and be stable there and able to return if life knocks them for a loop.

I have given the finding purpose or bliss question some thought and to me it feels far more stressful to go looking for it than to teach yourself to be happy regardless of circumstances and from that vantage, using the EGS, I believe it becomes obvious. I am not sure that everyone has a huge purpose – I see value in all activities. The men who come and haul my garbage away every week – I so appreciate what they do – so I do not have to do it or live with filth in the streets. The people who provide transportation – whether they are flying a plane, arranging routes, taking reservations or building automobiles – the far flung impact of their work is greatly appreciated by me (and many others, I am sure). Those who serve – our military, fire, police, medical professions and teachers are also greatly appreciated. The researchers whose work provides a firm foundation for my own are so important. I could go on and on all day if I had the time. I think our society does not see the implicit value in so much but when we look it is there. Technology, OMS, technology is so awesome. I literally have friends around the world – Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, France, Switzerland, Bishtek, UK and more and I can reach out and converse or text with them in a moment; not to mention discussions like this between people with common interests who have never met. Isn’t it delicious to live now with all of this?

OK, back on topic. I believe that we can easily teach the little ones to follow their EGS – especially since the best explanation I can come up with to explain it is a children’s game. The really funny thing is that I had been using that explanation for a few years when I met Katherine and read her paper for the first time and she used the same explanation.

The EGS leads to our Ideal Self and that is where our purpose and our bliss must be.

There are a couple of things that I believe, strongly, must go hand in hand with that. The first is teaching them that their own opinion is more valid than others. We (parents) always feel we know what is best but what we really know is “what we would prefer for ourselves” not what they would prefer or what is best for them. Our EGS gives us guidance toward our Ideal Self – it does not give guidance for their Ideal Self. It will guide us to the relationship we want with them. This is so counter to what society does but it works. If you could see how my young adult children are thriving! “Mom, can I or should I “__________.” My answer “How does it feel to you? In your gut?”, “Does it feel better when you think of doing it or not doing it?” and then letting them know that I will do my job – I will love them unconditionally no matter what they choose. I did not create their dreams and desires. I do not want to hold an ideal of a “perfect daughter” and judge my daughters against that ideal of a “perfect” daughter and compliment where they match and complain where there are discrepancies. I want to enjoy watching them make their own decisions with fascination at their choices and appreciation for the awesome people they are becoming as they follow their guidance towards their Ideal Self. You know, I figured out a long time ago, their Ideal Self could be a whole lot more than I would have ever dreamed of if I was trying to set their goals.

I am eternally grateful for the benefits my understanding of this have brought to my life and the lives of my daughters and others that I have touched. My life has become far more wonderful than my wildest dreams ever imagined even a decade ago. Best of all, I feel stable and sure.

Hearing about someone living a wonderful life has more context when you know from whence they have come. When I was 35 a psychiatrist said to me, “Jeanine, people like you do not put yourselves through college and graduate with honors, they do not have successful careers and they are not good Moms. They live in boxes under bridges. How have you done it?” Although I had done it I also had a lot of emotional baggage/scars and I dealt with occasional bouts of severe depression often getting through on sheer force of will. I was often quick to anger and sometimes I locked myself in my room (after I became a single Mom almost 20 years ago) to protect my children from my anger. Outwardly I was managing but the inward mindscape was a mess. Anger is foreign to me now. I feel peaceful and am often joyful. Strangers tell me there is a serenity in me that they find comforting and welcoming – I make them feel safe. The only time I had any assistance from drugs was about 5 days in a really sever depression after losing a baby but I did not like how it fogged my mind. I do not drink often and when I do it is a single drink in a social setting. It is all the result of changing my mindscape using tools and techniques and understanding the EGS.

Jeanine Broderick 13 November 2012 - 11:56 am

I got sidetracked.

Besides the importance of forming their own opinion of self the other two things I would do is teach them the correlation between how you feel emotionally and behavior so they understand that when someone says something unkind it is not about them – so they do not take it to heart -it is far more about how the person saying it is feeling emotionally. Our emotional stance in the moment impacts our behavior. I am almost finished with a white paper on this topic.

The last thing I would teach them if only a short program could be done is not to criticize self. That they always do the best they can in every moment – not that they are always at their absolute best but based on many factors including their current emotional stance – that what they do is the best they could at the time. Also, that they can decide to improve self without judging self as wrong or inappropriate.

I think the three things are more important than the things considered the basics and have a blog about it on my site (the real basics).

I believe that because I think many of those whose test scores are not being increased (on the standard tests) is not because they lack potential but that a form of learned helplessness is impacting their abilities.

I want to see more of the potential William James spoke of realized and enjoyed by the people of the world.

“Compared with what we ought to be, we are only
half awake. Our fires are damped, our drafts are
checked. We are making use of only a small part of
our physical and mental resources . . . Stating the
thing broadly, the human individual lives far within
his limits.”
~ William James

“Most people lie, whether physically, intellectually, nor morally, in a very restricted circle of their potential being. They make very small use of their possible consciousness and of their soul’s resources. In general, much like a man who, out of his whole body organism, should get into a habit of using and moving only his little finger”
~ William James

Steven Lurie 13 November 2012 - 2:32 pm

Grit told great. Thanks. Two articles, a youtube video and a quote that reinforce your point:
1. “Self-Discipline May Beat Smarts as Key to Success” in Washington Post (This one citing Dr. Duckworth)
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/16/AR2006011600788.html?nav=rss_print/asection and
2. “What if the Secret to Success Is Failure?” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/18/magazine/what-if-the-secret-to-success-is-failure.html?src=me&ref=general&_r=0
3. If you have never seen youtube video “Why you need to fail?” by Derek Sivers, its worth a look. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhxcFGuKOys
4. This is a good reminder that whatever it takes to achieve our goals pales in comparison to what it took to get here.“Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years – a period of time older than the earth’s mountains and rivers and oceans – every one of your forbearers on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stuck fast, untimely injured, or otherwise deflected from its life’s quest to deliver a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only combination of genetic materials that could result, eventually astoundingly, and all too briefly in you.” (Bill Bryson. A Short History of Nearly Everything. [New York: Broadway Books, 2003]).

Jeanine Broderick 13 November 2012 - 3:43 pm


Thank you. I am only familiar with one of the resources you provided.

I absolutely love the Bryson quote – it is so empowering in so many ways.



Renee Jain 14 November 2012 - 7:44 am

@Steve – The Derek Sivers video is brilliant – I’ve never seen it before. I love how he says , “If you just keep doing what you’re good at, you’re coasting, you’ve plateaued. You need to make a real effort to fail more. Failing is learning and I’ll show you why.” Then goes on to show us *why* and *how* to implement the lessons. Excellent video. I’ll recommend it as well!

Renee Jain 14 November 2012 - 8:04 am

@Jeanine, thank you for sharing the idea of becoming attuned to an emotional guidance system which resides within each of us. I think this is an excellent frame of reference (tool) to help uncover one’s deeper purpose. I also agree it’s something which can/should be taught from a young age. Especially if a parent/teacher is able to roll it up into an engaging medium like a game.

I’m also thinking about your comment regarding teaching kids to value their own opinion… hmmmmm. You said, “The first is teaching them that their own opinion is more valid than others.” I agree this is important. Yet, I work with a lot of kids whose opinion of themselves is either muddled or distorted. Depending on the situation, I may precede that process by getting them to view the world and their own being from a more accurate perspective. For example, from my short story above, Mrs. Johnson was able to see my strengths and potential far more clearly than I could perceive myself.

Jeanine Broderick 14 November 2012 - 12:09 pm


Excellent point of clarification.

If the view of self is already muddled then that needs to be addressed.

I do think that in many cases the muddling comes from taking others views of us as our own. I have witnessed the most dysfunctional comments from parents to children on occasion – certainly things the parent does not want to become a self-fulfilling prophesy – yet that happens. Then there is the comments from other kids that are taken to heart.

When I first began understanding this I could recall some specific comments others had made that I took to heart. I think many people play them over and over again in their own heads and that keeps the memory active. If they invalidate that by learning to refute such comments and find a better-feeling view of self that could go a long way.

Those ones we re-play in our minds make a huge difference. I was so blessed to have one person make some comments that were positive that I took to heart at about age 14 that I still play in my mind. They made a huge difference. Why I held on to them instead of other more negative comments I don’t know. If I did I think I would be able to do so much more. The EGS would guide others to do as I did and hold on to the positive, good-feeling comments.

Elaine O'Brien 14 November 2012 - 11:57 pm

Great article and discussion. Love it. Thank you Renee!

Shann 15 November 2012 - 9:19 am

Hi Renne,

You are a gifted story teller! I look forward to sharing your post with my young daughter. Thank you.

Oz 15 November 2012 - 2:08 pm

Renee – why do you think psychologists keep reinventing the wheel

I suspect grit is willpower 101

Jeremy McCarthy 15 November 2012 - 4:20 pm

Oz, I think willpower is related but different. You could use your self-control to let go of a goal as much as you can use it to stick with it. These are not the same things. I could see your point however that it may be willpower that fuels mindful grit.

Renee Jain 15 November 2012 - 4:36 pm

Hi Oz,

I hope your name indicates you’re enjoying some great weather in the land down under. 🙂

To respond to your comments… Reinventing the wheel is a phenomenon that is not industry agnostic. I worked in technology for many years and I can tell you that HP had a tablet nearly two decades ago that was much like the modern day iPad. Humans the world over reinvent the wheel and this “reinvention” often serves a purpose. People build on ideas from the past to make them better, to suit the needs of a particular culture or time, or to just revive them. Progress is rarely linear.

Let’s take meditation as an example. Meditation practices have been around for thousands of years. If they weren’t beneficial, they probably would have been weeded out by some intelligent design. Meditation contributes to one’s well-being – I could have told you that with confidence prior to putting monks through an fMRI. However, we’re in a scientific age where people rely on statistics and research to lend credibility to ideas – even ones which are evident. Therefore, there is somewhat of a “reinvention” going on with meditation. I believe there is benefit in this reinvention. The science will inform the practice and the practice will in turn inform the science. This is progress. It’s not a linear progression, but it’s definitely progress.

In terms of willpower and grit being one in the same, I’m not sure this is the case. First, willpower has been examined and re-examined over the last half century many times. Most of the willpower studies have to do with short-term impulse control. Even some of the recent research likening willpower to a muscle which gets replenished and depleted is short-term in nature. Additionally, some of the interventions (e.g. gargling sugar water) to increase willpower are short-term solutions. Perhaps this short-term power can be used over and over again for a long-term goal. However, grit specifically is about perseverance and passion which sustains someone toward their goal over the long-term.

Some other thoughts aside from the duration difference… Willpower often seems to be employed to “avoid” something like a temptation. Avoidance may be a component of grit, yet grit is also about “approaching” a goal with interest and passion. In my view, this sets them quite clearly apart. Approaching a goal with interest, I believe, creates a momentum which helps drive one in the long-term.

Oz, I think it’s important the terminology and definitions are made clear. On that note, I think you would be interested in this article on the various ways self-control is operationalized over different research studies: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21643479

Renee Jain 15 November 2012 - 4:39 pm

Shann – I’m so happy you’ll be sharing the article with your daughter. That makes me 🙂 🙂 🙂

Oz 16 November 2012 - 5:14 am


If you can’t manage things in the short term it’s really doubtful you’ll do it in the long term.

Using your example perservering ith reading is the accumulation of a whole seies of small acts of will

Oz 16 November 2012 - 5:38 am

Renee – they are not reinventing the wheel re meditation. They are still calling it meditation – just investigating mechanisms

Whereas grit is taking existing constructs – willpower conscientiousness and rebranding it

I just did some snooping – grit has .63 correlation with self control and .77 with conscientiousness -huge correlations by anyone’s reckoning

Lori Mitchell 18 November 2012 - 6:09 pm

I can relate to this article from two different perspectives. First of all as student I hated English classes, I loved reading but hated reading Shakespeare and what I had deemed “stuff that has nothing to do with real life”. It wasn’t until I had a teacher in high school who started a novel or Shakespeare play unit by explaining what it had to do with her “real life”. Once I could see the comparisons she found then I was able to make those for myself, once I saw a reason to stick it out, I found out that I LOVED reading the classics and more importantly I enjoyed reading Shakespeare, even though it never did “come easy” I learned to work at it.

I can also relate to this as a teacher. Because of that high school teacher, I became an English teacher myself. I taught 8th grade, but I taught the 8th graders that read at a first grade level. I had to work to help them find their “grit”. Although, I didn’t know about this research at the time, and had no idea about “grit” I knew the concept and from experience I knew I had to get those kids to want to work hard, to want to stick to it, and to learn to want to learn. I believe if I had access to this information at the time it would have certainly made my job a little easier.

Thank you for sharing!

Kathryn Britton 19 November 2012 - 10:21 am

You might be interested in a new book by Paul Tough called How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. I just checked with Angela Duckworth, who thinks it is excellent. I hope we run a review soon.


Renee Jain 19 November 2012 - 11:19 am


Thumbs up to that suggestion! I just read Paul’s book and it’s fantastic. Paul really highlights the practical application of many of the concepts/research discussed on this site. I look forward to reading a review!


Laurie Swenson 29 November 2012 - 4:01 pm

Nice story with a lot of heart. I was surprised to see the Count of Monte Cristo reference. I was assigned to do a book report on that same book in eighth grade. I didn’t want to read that giant book, but I ended up loving it. Years later, as an adult, I asked my English teacher why she’d picked that book for my report, and she said, “Because I knew you could do it.” That remains one of the biggest warm fuzzies I have ever received. (Still later, when I was a newspaper reporter, she once sent me a note telling me how proud she was of my grammar, punctuation, etc. What a cool lady.)


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