Everyone gets a little nervous when we start to talk about the role of non-cognitive predictors; things like motivation, well-being, attitude, perseverance, resilience, and passion- as playing a role in academic achievement. This nervousness is understandable. Till date it is difficult to standardize, define, measure, track and attribute the role that these ‘soft skills’, ‘personality traits’, ‘mindsets’, play in one’s long-term success.
But this didn’t stop Angela Duckworth, from studying GRIT in an academically rigorous setting! In fact Angela and her colleagues carried out a mega analysis of prospective and longitudinal data on over 10,000 cadets at the US Military Academy at West Point. West Point is considered to be one of the most difficult institutions to get selected into. If you decide to apply to West Point, you start in the 11th grade, you have to have excellent SAT scores, nominated by a member of Congress, and pass a grueling fitness assessment. Some 14,000 apply, only 1200 are admitted.
But that’s not the big story. After going through this super competitive admissions process, one in five cadets will drop out before graduation and a large number quit during their very first summer which also includes seven-week training/orientation called ‘The Beast’. This is the intense, bone shattering, boot camp style introduction to the military.
So who survives? Duckworth’s research showed some surprising findings. Duckworth ascribed it to GRIT, described as passion and perseverance for long-term and meaningful goals.
First, while cognitive ability (IQ, etc.) predicted academic and military grades, the non-cognitive attributes of physical ability and grit were more prognostic of other achievement outcomes, including successful completion of initiation training and 4-y graduation. This video has a nice summary of GRIT. Even we believe in GRIT and it’s connection to outcomes – how do we build it.
Well, if we listen to the video again, we know that the distinguishing quality that Angela speaks about as necessary to build GRIT is effortful engagement and deliberate practice with a challenge that needs to be accomplished if a goal that is meaningful to you has to be reached. So what does this mean in a real life situation?
For example: It is meaningful for you to learn a piece of music, but this piece is difficult to read and also needs complicated finger movements. Most people see you as “average” and a lot of people play the same piece with ease. Instead of giving up, you practice daily. You are deliberate and conscious in your efforts to figure out the complex finger movements and several weeks later your finger movements improve as you practice. Effortful engagement requires deep attention, awareness, like when we study new material in class, it cannot be unconscious repetition. Next time we have a meaningful goal, and we are struggling towards it, know that we are building more GRIT in ourselves and that GRIT is great for its own sake!
With grit and gratitude,
The Sai Shiko team
P.S. We are big fans of Angela Duckworth’s work and hope to see her soon one day!