I have recently finished reading “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth, and I thought it would be interesting to do a book review. On the one hand to share the learnings with you, but on the other hand to also put my thoughts together and in order (I might as well put all those notes and pictures of quotes I took while reading, to good use).
Many of you might have heard about Angela Duckworth: she is a world-renowned psychologist and she’s even given TED talks on the subject of grit, which she defines as the one factor that determines the success of people. The book actually takes “grit” as a concept and deconstructs in several dimensions: interest/passion, practice, purpose and hope. Throughout the book, Angela uses many real life examples of gritty people and she references several psychological studies as well.
If you were to stop reading the review at this point, all you need to know is that what Angela does is to debunk the myth of the intelligence or the talent as the key to success, to instead demonstrate that what determines success is perseverance, hard work and a drive to improve; in one word, grit.
The four assets that one needs to cultivate to become grittier can be bucketed into interest, practice, purpose and hope. And the whole premise of the book is that you can learn to develop your interests, you can acquire discipline, you can build your own purpose and you can also learn hope.
Interest. This part was one of my favourites because it confirms and explains the fact that in order to cultivate your interest, which in turn drives passion, you need to play an active role in it. Very few people (if any at all) have a clear understanding of what their interest is early on. While interests are discovered through interactions with the outside world, you need to get out there, try things and experiment. Once you have started developing an interest you actually need to put effort and time into further deepening it. Not forcing yourself to like something, so staying true to what you like, but dedicating time to it.
Practice. Perseverance and practice are key to building grit. Deliberate practice is one of the concepts used in the book to describe one of the main instruments for becoming grittier, as well as mastering whichever skill you want to become great at. This means practicing pretty much on a daily basis in a high quality way: by setting thoughtful but stretched goals, practicing at full concentration, having immediate and informative feedback, as well as repeating by ways of reflection and refinement.
Purpose. The other source of passion is purpose which touches on how you are contributing to the well-being of others. Same as it applies to interests, you do not need to find your calling, you rather build it. You need to play an active role in developing and deepening it. No matter the age or the state of life you are in, it is never too late to start developing your purpose.
The one super interesting concept mentioned in this part and related to finding purpose is job crafting, which I think is very relevant to all of us. What it basically means is that almost any job can be customised so that it matches your interests and values, by delegating, adding and adapting certain tasks, responsibilities and interactions. Is happiness the consequence of performing well at work or is it also a cause of it? When you keep searching for ways to improve your situation you stand a chance to find them, but if you don’t, you guarantee you will not find them.
Hope. The last dimension of grit is not your regular hope but it rather refers to the expectation that our own efforts can improve our future. It’s about picking something and sticking with it unless there is a natural stopping to it. Muscle through, press on and get to the finish line. You can’t quit on a bad day.
What also makes a difference is having the right mindset. You’ve probably already seen the concept of fixed versus growth mindset, but actually believing that you can get smarter if you have the right opportunities and support will get you further than believing that if you do not have a specific talent then you cannot learn or master a specific skill. With a growth mindset you believe you can do better, with a fixed one you will think you do not have the talent and just are not good enough to do more. People tend to develop theories about themselves and about the world, and this determines what they do.
An important lesson shared in the Hope part of the book is that when we fail at something, we tend to overreact to the setbacks; but actually we need to be able to step back, analyse what happened and learn from it. Nevertheless, you also need to stay optimistic; nothing is impossible nor beyond reach. “Stay positive. Go past those negative beliefs in what’s possible and impossible and just give it a try.”.
Cultivating grit. One of the big parts of the book, focuses on how can you cultivate grit or how can you parent for grit if you have kids. The main lesson here is that it’s an act of self-discipline, working hard again and again and again without giving up. There are also two different ways of being grittier: the self thought way and self-discipline way of being grittier by yourself, or the cultural way – being part of a group of gritty people will help you fall in line and be gritty yourself and work hard as well.
Other learnings. Some other lessons that the book teaches you is that all of the mainstream positive thinking you ahem been hearing about is sort of true. Angela uses research studies, experiments and real life examples which she references throughout the book, in order to exemplify all of her arguments. For example, thinking of yourself as someone who is able to overcome adversity often leads to behaviour that confirms that self conception. You have to learn how to get over bumps in the road and failures and setbacks. How you deal with failures is the most determining factor in whether you succeed.
I definitely recommend reading the book. Make sure to have a pen or a highlighter at hand as you will keep coming across lots of advice or mental exercises that you will want to take note of.