Motivation and emotion/Book/2016/Grit
What is it? How does it help? How can it develop?
Overview[edit | edit source]
|Imagine two children, Tim and Sam, learning to play field hockey. Both boys want to play for Australia one-day.
Let's assume that both are equally talented. They improve in skill at the same rate, proportional to their training intensity.
The only obvious difference between the two boys is in the duration and direction of their effort (Figure 1).
Sam doesn't practice between training sessions. He finds it tedious and he plays two other sports. Tim, on the other hand, is passionate about hockey. He spends most days practising ball skills, having specialised running training or watching the senior teams playing. Tim has made the decision to deepen his understanding of the game and apply long-term effort to playing hockey.
Which one is more likely to be successful?
According to the Oxford Dictionary (2016), the simple meaning of the quality known as ‘Grit’ is, “courage and resolve; strength of character”. This definition focuses on what could be described as positive and even socially desirable virtues which indicate a sense of nobility about a 'gritty' individual. However, this simple definition does not capture the driving force behind Grit, nor the end-state it exerts effort toward.
This chapter explores Grit as a personality trait which is driven by passion for a specific long-term goal (Duckworth, 2007). Differences between Grit and other qualities such as, perseverance, hardiness, resilience and conscientiousness will be considered, as well as psychological theories relevant to achievement: Need for achievement (McClelland, 1961); self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977), Self-Determination Theory (SDT: Deci & Ryan, 2000) and Achievement goals theory (Senko, Hulleman, & Harackiewicz, 2011).
Benefits of being 'gritty' will also be discussed before looking at potential to develop Grit in individuals, through fostering a growth-mindset (Dweck, 2015) and embracing positive psychology principles (Kobau et al., 2011; Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).
Definition[edit | edit source]
What is 'Grit'?
Contemporary Grit researcher, Angela Duckworth, with colleagues Peterson, Matthews and Kelly (2007, p. 1087), define Grit as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals”. These authors note that gritty individuals approach, rather than avoid, challenges and maintain effort and interest in their goals over years, regardless of setbacks, periodic boredom or adversity.
Duckworth et al.(2007) found that Grit accounted for more variance in success outcomes than could be explained by IQ, or by the Big Five personality factor of Conscientiousness. They also found that older individuals tended to have more Grit than their younger counterparts, suggesting that this quality may increase with life experience. Importantly, they stress that Grit is not just about working harder, but about working longer without switching objectives.
In Perkins-Gough (2013), Duckworth explains that gritty individuals believe in the importance of:
- continuing after a failure;
- seeking continual improvement;
- never accepting that they have become good enough;
- being satisfied with being unsatisfied;
- maintaining passion for their goal, even in difficult times; and,
- knowing what they want and pursuing it with purpose.
Grit literature indicates that persistent effort over the long-term is what makes achievement happen. However, this effort is first applied to talent development and then further effort is applied to using that developed talent to do something worthwhile. This is the crucial difference between most successful people and 'everyone else' (Perkins-Gough, 2013).
Deliberate practice[edit | edit source]
In a longitudinal study of children preparing for a National Spelling Bee competition, Duckworth et al. (2011) discussed the concept of ‘deliberate practice’. They found that children identified this approach to practice as the least enjoyable but most effective preparation activity. The authors proposed that the personality trait of Grit enabled persistence with these practice activities, in the absence of intrinsic reward. Moreover, they stressed the benefits of commitment to solitary and effortful deliberate practice, over thousands of hours, to achieve mastery of skills.
Eskreis-Winkler et al. (2016), proposed that this challenging form of practice is evident in world-class performers, across domains, and has four main components:
- A well-defined goal for improving a specific aspect of performance;
- The level of challenge should just exceed the individual’s skill;
- The individual requires immediate feedback; and,
- The individual needs to focus repetitively on the correction of error.
Stamina, sustained effort and interest over long-term[edit | edit source]
Duckworth et al. (2007) emphasises the importance of stamina, which sets Grit apart from ‘Big Five Conscientiousness’. Further, Duckworth & Quinn (2009) state that Grit involves the capacity to sustain effort and interest over the long term, sometimes years. Kelly, Matthews and Bartone (2014) support that long-term stamina, rather than short-term intensity, is a key element of Grit which allows continued goal striving despite distractions, lack of feedback, plateaus in progress, setbacks or failures.
Duckworth (Perkins-Gough, 2013), surmised that gritty people believe overcoming challenges with steady and passionate effort will result in greater learning and increased personal strength. These people, with Grit, almost never perceive an acceptable reason to give up.
Development of Grit scales (Grit-O & Grit-S)[edit | edit source]
In 2007, Duckworth et al. employed a 12-item self-report measure of Grit, referred to as the ‘Grit-O’. Problems were evident with the predictive validity of this measure. This led to Duckworth and Quinn (2009) developing and testing a shorter, but psychometrically stronger, 8-item version of the scale – the Short Grit Scale (Grit-S). The Grit-S is now accepted as a reliable and valid measure of trait-level perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Results over six varied studies supported a two-factor structure of the self-report Grit-S:
- Consistency of interest; and,
- Perseverance of effort.
These factors were found to be strongly inter-correlated and it is proposed that individuals may need both factors to succeed in high-demand domains (Duckworth & Quinn, 2009).
Abuhassàn and Bates (2015) tested these factors and subsequently proposed that long-term consistency was more strongly related to Conscientiousness than Grit. However, the authors did report that effortful persistence emerged as a higher-order factor which has potential influence on stress and increased consistency.
Perseverance[edit | edit source]
Persistence, or perseverance, on an achievement related task depends largely on motive strength . The dynamics-of-action model suggests that three 'forces' determine the stream of ongoing behaviour in which achievement behaviour occurs (Reeve, 2015; see also Achievement motivation). These forces are: instigation, inhibition and consummation.
Perseverance is often studied as an outcome, or dependent variable, in studies of optimistic attribution style, self-efficacy, goal orientation and self-control resources (Duckworth & Quinn, 2009). Self-efficacy, in particular, is central to facilitating effort and persistence on tasks. This is because self-efficacy enables quick recovery from setbacks with renewed self-assurance, as opposed to the disabling effect of self doubt which can lead individuals to settle on an average solution or quit altogether before a goal is achieved (Reeve, 2015).
Hardiness[edit | edit source]
Hardiness is a dispositional factor and hardiness theory emphasises the assumptions people make about control, commitment and challenge in their worlds (Maddi & Hightower, 1999). Maddi and Hightower (1999) propose that hardiness brings the opportunity to deepen meaning and grow through struggle.
Kelly, Matthews and Bartone (2014) found non-cognitive factors of Grit and hardiness to be important predictors of success in military officer candidates, with Grit effort predicting persistence of effort across the four-year training course.
Resilience[edit | edit source]
Psychological resilience is the ability to 'bounce back', or recover in trying times. Specifically, it relates to adverse event exposure, which is followed by evidence of positive psychological adjustment and sound coping ability (Wingo et al., 2010). Identifying resilience factors in early adolescence is critical as the transition from Primary to Secondary schooling brings an increase of competition and standardised testing (Raftery-Helmer & Grolnick, 2016) which can test resilience reserves.
Conscientiousness[edit | edit source]
Not all research supports the importance of Grit over other personality factors, for both learning and achievement. Dumfart and Neubauer (2016) discuss the super-ordinate Big Five Conscientiousness as a combination of several traits which all contribute toward successful learning. These include: self-discipline; ambition; persistence; diligence; and, dutifulness. These authors describe Grit as an integration of achievement striving aspects, specifically, self-control and consistency of interests (Dumfart & Neubauer, 2016). In their Austrian study of secondary school students, Dumfart and Neubauer did find Grit to be associated with higher GPA scores, but they did not conclude that Grit was the primary non-cognitive predictor for academic success – this they credited to Conscientiousness. These authors also noted that intelligence was a significant predictor at the secondary school level, however, their research suggests that intelligence becomes less important as an achievement predictor at higher levels of education.
A meta-analysis of Grit literature, conducted by Credé, Tynan, and Harms (2016), concluded that Grit is highly correlated with Conscientiousness. However, that analysis found that Grit’s independent higher order function remains in doubt.
Associated theories for achievement behaviour?[edit | edit source]
Need for achievement[edit | edit source]
According to implicit motive researcher, David McClelland (1961), an individual’s thoughts feelings and behaviours are affected by unconscious motives and these motives can, in turn, predict behaviour and performance (Reeve, 2015). Our personal experiences, socialisation and development over time teach us to expect more positive emotional reactions in some situations than in others and the anticipation of this positive emotionality shapes our activities and preferences around specific domains and their associated needs of achievement, affiliation or power (Reeve, 2015).
Positive emotional experiences in relation to standards of excellence give rise to the need for achievement, which is essentially the desire to do something well to demonstrate personal competence. Individuals high in this need like to receive regular feedback on their progress and achievements (Reeve, 2015).
Duckworth and Quinn (2009) proposed that Grit is related to this achievement need, but is also distinct from it because gritty people are not deterred from a goal even in the absence of positive feedback.
Self-efficacy[edit | edit source]
Simon et al (2015) describe self-efficacy as being central to Albert Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory. Bandura (1998) defined self-efficacy as “belief in one's capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given levels of attainments” (p. 624). Broadly, self-efficacy is the perception that one is capable and that expectations for success, based on prior achievement, are reasonable.
Overall, efficacy beliefs affect behaviour by influencing:
- courses of action pursued;
- amount of effort applied; and,
- persistence in the face of difficulty or failure.
Gilson, Dix and Lochbaum (2016) used self-efficacy, psychological flexibility and Grit questionnaires in comparison with performance scores among military Reserve Officer cadets. These authors found that self-efficacy alone was significantly related with leadership ability among the cadets. However, Silvia et al. (2013) report that Grit scores have a larger effect on effort mobilisation than on actual performance.
Self-Determination Theory[edit | edit source]
Self-determination theory (SDT) suggests that people have basic needs for relatedness, autonomy and competence (Deci & Ryan, 2000). Academic failure, as an example, will either be seen as a challenge to competence, which in turn is used as information to improve in that domain, or it is considered a threat, which communicates incompetence (Raftery-Helmer & Grolnick, 2016) and feeds self-doubt.
What can influence seeing failure as a challenge or a threat?
- Learned helplessness – relates to the sense of perceived control. A low sense of control sees a threat. A high sense of control sees a challenge. Over time, a low sense of control and exposure to repeated failures can increase feelings of helplessness and subsequently increase avoidant behaviour.
- Perceived competence – or self-efficacy. People high in self-efficacy are more likely to see a challenge. Those low in self-efficacy, with higher self-doubt, are more likely to see a threat (Raftery-Helmer & Grolnick, 2016).
Raftery-Helmer and Grolnick (2016) explored parenting techniques and coping in children, using a SDT framework. Specifically, the researchers looked at the ways in which parental structure, autonomy support and involvement are associated with coping in children. Their findings suggest that parent involvement directly predicts mastery coping.
Simon et al. (2015) applied SDT to an educational perspective, focusing on the role of psychological need satisfaction in predicting academic persistence, well-being, and achievement. These authors explain that motivated actions are considered ‘self-determined’ when an individual engages in them voluntarily and when those actions are driven by personal values, as opposed to being mandated by the social environment. With respect to student persistence and achievement, Simon et al. identified two key elements of SDT to have received significant empirical support. These are the effects of intrinsic motivation and the support for autonomy as provided by instructors. Simon et al. concluded that, when students feel autonomous (rather than controlled), they are more likely to be intrinsically motivated. As a result these students were more likely to set intrinsic goals which, in turn, promoted continued interest and persistence (Simon et al., 2015) - both essential elements for gritty behaviour.
Achievement goals theory[edit | edit source]
Simon et al. (2015) propose that Achievement goals theory provides a complementary perspective on motivation in educational settings. In this view, academic goals refer to the motives and values behind an individual’s learning behaviour and academic decision-making (Senko, Hulleman, & Harackiewicz, 2011).
Achievement goals are generally categorised into two main categories;
- Mastery goals - reflecting the desire to develop competence by acquiring new knowledge or skills; and,
- Performance goals – involving a desire to demonstrate personal competence relative to others.
While mastery goals involve challenging oneself intellectually and learning, as an end in itself, performance goals represent a preoccupation with outperforming others and 'appearing intelligent' (Simon et al., 2015)
Achievement goal research further differentiates between students who strive for mastery or performance by approaching academic success or avoiding failure experiences (see approach/avoidance orientation). There is consistent support that approach behaviours are of most benefit to learning and achievement. In particular, ‘mastery-approach goals’ appear to be associated with higher intrinsic motivation and enjoyment, positive affect, engagement, deep learning, and persistence (Senko et al., 2011). Less convincingly, ‘performance-approach goals’ show mixed results in predictions for academic success (Simon et al., 2016).
A good example of how all these facets intertwine can be seen in Simon et al. (2015) – a Canadian study investigating decreasing enrolments and attrition rates in post-secondary studies of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). These authors found, consistent with SDT and Achievement goal theory, that students’ achievement goals, self-efficacy and perceived autonomy support impacted on intrinsic motivation, emotions and overall achievement. In turn, these predicted persistence.
Benefits of 'Grit'[edit | edit source]
Researchers have found Grit to be related to both academic achievement and career stability in adults (Duckworth et al., 2007; Duckworth & Quinn, 2009). Among adolescents, Grit measures longitudinally predicted GPA scores. Among military cadets Grit predicted retention and high-level achievement among spelling bee competitors (Duckworth & Quinn, 2009).
Suzuki, Tamesue, Asahi and Ishikawa (2015), in a Japanese study of working adults, found that there was a stronger correlation between Grit and orientation toward meaning, than there was between Grit and orientation toward engagement. This was inconsistent with previous US findings, however, the Japanese study did support Grit as a strong predictor for work performance and academic performance. Perhaps this is because the high performers, or high achievers, being measured are engaged in something that they find meaningful.
Fitzgerald and Laurian-Fitzgerald (2016), found that when people are interested in their work and believe it may be beneficial to society (Perkins-Gough, 2013) they become more engaged, produce better work, and enjoy what they are doing. Fitzgerald and Laurian-Fitzgerald (2016) also found additional benefits such as:
- higher levels of helpfulness to peers;
- higher grades among tertiary level students where interests and major course of study align; and,
- lower attrition rates.
Overall, Duckworth (Perkins-Gough, 2013) asserts that people who love what they do generally report greater happiness and satisfaction with regard to their quality of life.
How can 'Grit' develop?[edit | edit source]
A great deal of research in the past has focussed on emotional regulation in the face of challenges. However, an emerging body of research (mainly over the past decade) has focussed on exploring the coping strategies and personality traits that can benefit long-term progress, particularly in the face of negative feedback or failure. In terms of academic achievement, there appears to be an important transition point between primary and secondary schooling, while development of Grit during adolescence can aid achievement outcomes in adulthood and throughout life.
Duckworth (Perkins-Gough, 2013) outlines some key elements for educators to help students grow their Grit:
- Create deep interest in a task, topic or goal;
- Encourage an appetite for practice, constantly challenging oneself;
- Find a sense of purpose in what is happening; and,
- Maintain hope and confidence in the ability to persist.
Growth mindset[edit | edit source]
Intelligence is not static, the more we learn the more we can learn. Advances in neuroscience tell us more everyday about the plasticity of the human brain and its ability to remodel itself over the lifespan (Fine & Sung, 2014). In relation to high-achievers, those who end up being the best or the smartest do not always start out that way. Fitzgerald and Laurian-Fitzgerald (2016) discuss the benefits of co-operative work in positive groups as a way to assist individuals to work harder and persevere longer on tasks. Carol Dweck (2015) maintains that students can be taught skills in perseverance and that those who come to believe that their efforts and attitudes have impact tend to work harder and persevere further through difficulty.
A ‘Growth mindset’ sees obstacles in life as a challenge to be overcome and working to overcome it is enjoyable (Dweck, 2015; Fitzgerald & Laurian-Fitzgerald, 2016). Essentially, a person with a growth mindset holds the view that, while they may not know something yet, they are capable of learning new concepts and gaining new skills though effort and practice (Dweck, 2015). Conversely, people with a ‘Fixed mindset’ do not actively seek challenges. Instead, they try to avoid the discomfort of failure and remain in their comfort zone (Dweck, 2015). These fixed mindsets contribute to beliefs that things like IQ, personality, and talent are genetically predetermined. A fixed mindset will entertain the possibility of improving on the talents that they have been gifted (genetically), but will not accept that we can ever become talented where that genetic tendency does not exist.
Fixed mindset versus Growth mindset (Pollock, n.d.)
|Fixed Mindset||Growth MIndset|
|Intelligence...||is static||can be developed|
|Obstacles||give up easily||persist/persevere|
|Effort||fruitless, wasted||path to mastery|
|Criticism||sees negative feedback as...negative:ignore useful feedback||sees negative criticism as constructive; learn from criticism|
|Success of others||feel threatened by success of others||feel inspired by & learn from success of others|
|Overall||may plateau early and fail to reach full potential; deterministic view of the world||continual improvement and ever higher levels of achievement; greater sense of free will|
Positive psychology[edit | edit source]
Positive psychology has seen rapid development in recent years. It focuses on improvement of the human condition and attempts to identify effective interventions to amplify people's strengths (Reeve, 2015), build thriving into individuals, families and communities (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000), and assist individual'sto live their potential.
Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000) outline four personal traits that contribute to the study of positive psychology:
- Subjective well-being - what people think and feel about their lives;
- Optimism - both 'little' and 'big' (e.g. little is about daily tasks - I can get to work on time; big is about larger goals - I will finish this degree and go on to Honours next year);
- Happiness - relationships exist between religious faith (or belief in something bigger than oneself), economic stability and close personal relationships; and,
- Self-determination - as discussed under 'Associated theories for achievement behaviour?'
In 2008, Singh and Jai investigated predictors of happiness and life satisfaction. They found a significant positive correlation between positive affect, Grit, happiness and life satisfaction. These authors consider that there is room for movement on life satisfaction levels. Further, they opined that happiness can benefit from working toward personal goals and engaging in flow activities, as much as from close personal relationships and physical pleasure.
Conclusion[edit | edit source]
Let's go back to our young hockey players, Tim and Sam, for a moment.
Grit research implies that the outcomes for Tim and Sam will be strongly influenced by their individual level of effort. All things being equal - in talent, height, weight, strength, physical fitness and socioeconomic status - Tim is more likely than Sam to satisfy his aspiration of playing for the Australian hockey team because Tim engages in deliberate practice and embraces a 'never say die' attitude. He applies effort to his natural ability, which will improve his skill. If he then applies further effort to develop those skills, he will be more likely to achieve his goals.
Having a growth mindset is a good start. Understanding that ability and development are not pre-determined or fixed. Embracing opportunities to reflect on and improve subjective well-being through fostering positive relationships and being exposed to positive role models who balance engagement with opportunities for individual autonomy . Appreciating that life experience can increase our ability to face adversity and draw meaning from life lessons . Having an approach, rather than avoidance, orientation . Accepting that hard work is required and that using talent/skill for something meaningful to an individual will help to maintain interest, as the motivation to succeed will be fuelled by passion and maintained by stamina . And, above all, effort, effort, effort . The persistency of effort repeatedly emerges as the most relevant of the factors underlying Grit.
See also[edit | edit source]
- Long-term goal achievement (Book chapter, 2016)
- Motivation (Wikipedia)
- Personality and achievement motivation (Book chapter, 2015)
- Self-efficacy and achievement (Book chapter, 2011)
- Self-efficacy and motivation (Book chapter, 2014)
- Theory of goal setting and task performance (Book chapter, 2014)
References[edit | edit source]
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