How Determined Are You To Succeed?

I recently noticed a fascinating article on the research carried out by Angela Duckworth in clarifying the role that grit and self-control can play in attaining goals, particularly in the realm of educational achievement. Grit is a term used in psychology and is defined by ‘perseverance and passion for long-term goals’.

It provoked my interest as I’ve written about the topic of ‘determination’ in the context of business success a while ago. This is a different setting of course but some of the insights of the research may still be broadly relevant or at least promote interesting questions.

From my previous posts, here are some typical quotes (see here):

“Starting things is easy – a business; a novel; a war; a baby. Keeping them going is a lot harder. I have a feeling doggedness is quite as important as imagination.” – Pru Leith

“Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” Zig Ziglar

“What I’ve learned from running is that the time to push hard is when you’re hurting like crazy and you want to give up. The moment you should accelerate is the moment you’re the most tired. The beginning of the final lap is the testing point, and so I found that to be in life. Success is often just around the corner. You might make a discovery. You might call it obstinacy or determination.

It almost made me sort of relish that moment. I see it as an opportunity, that point where if you know you can get through that bit, you’re going to make an important discovery that someone else might have made except they gave up, because they couldn’t get through the difficulties. I got that from running.” – James Dyson

In particular, I wrote:

As I mentioned then, often in business there is a focus on the sexy topics of creativity, imagination, knowledge, innovation, strategy and so on but sometimes the key to success can lie in persistence and determination. In other words, an attitude of mind, and oddly something which is rarely discussed in courses and workshops even though it appears it’s something that can be learned and developed (as in Dyson’s running story above).

Going back to the article, Duckworth says (my use of boldface):

The problem, I think, is not only the schools but also the students themselves. Here’s why: learning is hard. True, learning is fun, exhilarating and gratifying — but it is also often daunting, exhausting and sometimes discouraging. . . . To help chronically low-performing but intelligent students, educators and parents must first recognize that character is at least as important as intellect.

From the statement of research that Duckworth is currently carrying out:

The language we use to describe grit and self-control – words like “character” or “personality trait” — may connote to some immutability. However, it is now well-established that traits change across the life course. So, while there is enough stability to traits to sensibly describe one individual as grittier than another, it is also true that children and adults change their habitual patterns of interacting with the world as they accumulate additional life experience.

In terms of intentional change, one promising direction for research is the correction of maladaptive, incorrect beliefs. For instance, individuals who believe that frustration and confusion are signs that they should quit what they are doing may be taught that these emotions are common during the learning process. Likewise, individuals who believe that mistakes are to be avoided at all costs may be taught that the most effective form of practice entails tackling challenges beyond one’s current skill level.

There’s more info on The Duckworth Lab website here. It’s geared to education but it would be fascinating if, in time, some of the ideas can be applied to other areas, such as business, by providing strategies for better personal success. Here’s a video summary:

The original motivation is interesting as well:

Duckworth began her graduate work by studying self-discipline. But when she completed her first-year thesis, based on a group of 164 eighth-graders from a Philadelphia middle school, she arrived at a startling discovery that would shape the course of her career: She found that the students’ self-discipline scores were far better predictors of their academic performance than their IQ scores. So she became intensely interested in what strategies and tricks we might develop to maximize our self-control, and whether those strategies can be taught.


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