Albert Einstein once said, "It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer." This quote exemplifies the concept of grit.

University of Pennsylvania

Angela Duckworth, PhD

About five years ago, Dr. Angela Duckworth published her book, Grit, which focused on the power of both passion and perseverance in one's success in life. Her argument is that while intelligence and other talents provide a good starting point, the work that is put into it is what makes us successful.

 

Intelligence is considered a talent because it is something we are born with rather than something we develop on our own. Talent gives us a head start but does little else on its own. Imagine a tall person with good hand-eye coordination and a passion for sports. You might think this person is a natural for basketball, right? And you may be right, but being tall and having the ability to walk and dribble at the same time is certainly not enough to play in the big leagues. To make it, you have to add a whole lot of skill to your natural talent.

Anders Ericsson

Anders Ericsson, a performance psychologist the coauthor of Peak Performance, argues that 10,000 hours of practice is required to be considered an expert at something. While this number is debatable, it represents the need to build skill on top of natural talent and to focus a lot of time and energy to this skill development.

 

Ericsson & Pool (2016) agrees with Duckworth, arguing that skill has less to do with natural talents and more to do with what he terms 'deliberate practice.'  Ericsson differentiates between three types of practice. First, Naïve Practice is what we engage in for its intrinsic value - for our own enjoyment. Think of someone shooting hoops with friends. Had this been a game where score was being kept and a winner announced at the end, we would engage in what Ericsson refers to as Static Practice. This is what we do when we perform - we use all of our best skills, try to amplify our strengths and minimize our weaknesses. Static Practice means practicing at our peak.

When a therapist conducts therapy, a surgeon removes your appendix, or your child's teacher talks to their students about the concept of addition and subtraction, they are performing the skills they developed but are not developing new skills or polishing old ones. Static practice means performing at your peak.

The third type of practice, according to Ericsson, is called Purposeful Practice. Purposeful practice means leaving your comfort zone and working to polish old skills or to develop new ones. This is where the 10,000 hour rule comes into play. If you want to be an expert at something, you need to push yourself beyond your comfort zone and continually expand your knowledge and skillset. And you need to do this over and over and over, pushing yourself closer to your goals each time.

This added component of goal achievement, together with the help of a coach, is what Ericsson calls Deliberate Practice. Deliberate Practice is highlighted by:

  1. A focus on goal achievement, often with a very specific goal
  2. Intense focus with great effort on achieving the goal
  3. Immediate feedback and correction by your coach
  4. Frequent discomfort a long with continuous reflection, refinement, and response.

Michael Phelps Winner of 28 Olympic Gold Medals

Deliberate Practice means finding your peak performance and then purposefully pushing yourself to get better. As Michael Phelps once said about his Olympic endeavors, "I think goals should never be easy, they should force you to work, even if they are uncomfortable at the time.

The work that Phelps is referring to, Duckworth calls Effort. She argues that when we add effort to our natural talents, we develop skill and when we add effort to skill development, we achieve. The formulas look like this:

Talent x Effort = Skill

Skill x Effort = Achievement

You'll notice effort is included in both formulas, which is why Duckworth says that effort counts twice.

References

Duckworth, A. (2020). Why ethics matters more than talent. Video. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAK5wMzRXAI.

Duckworth, A. (2016). Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. Scribner/Simon & Schuster

Ericsson, A. & Pool, R. (2016). Peak: Secrets from the new science of expertise. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Learn More in the AllPsych Blog

Read Grit - Passion and Perseverance to learn more about Grit

Read the Brief History of Positive Psychology (Part 1) to learn about how we got from Freud's deficit model to today's strength-based model

Read the Brief History of Positive Psychology (Part 2) to continue the story and learn about how positive psychology is changing the way we look at mental health

Purchase Grit, Peak, or other Modern Psychology Texts

Purchase Grit - The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth through our Amazon Affiliation

Purchase Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Ericsson and Pool though our Amazon Affiliation

Purchase Positive Psychology Books by Martin Seligman and others through our Amazon Affiliation

About Christopher L. Heffner, PsyD, PhD