The factors that predict success have been a topic of rigorous research and discussion, particularly in education for a number of years. Professor Angela Duckworth, a research psychologist and author at the University of Pennsylvania, has focused on the concept of 'grit’ as one of these primary factors. In Professor Duckworth’s work, grit is based around the idea of passion and perseverance towards (important) long-term personal goals, however her work has been scrutinised and criticised, with many arguing that there are other factors that have significant influence and therefore grit alone cannot guarantee success.
In response, Professor Duckworth has continued to examine grit, quitting and predictors of success, including her research with more than 11,000 cadets over the past 12 years from the United States Military Academy (West Point). The entry process into West Point is difficult and highly sought after and requires an extensive two-year process and the completion of a six-week initiation nicknamed Beast Barracks. The selection requires a high level of both physical and academic endurance. On average, three out of every 100 cadets drop out during this training and this is fascinating for the research, as they retreat so quickly after such an arduous admissions process.
This accumulation of data aims to answer whether grit can predict the success outcomes, or that grit isn’t the most important factor. The research has so far concluded that given the combination of demanding physical and academic performance, ‘the grittier you are, the less likely you are to drop out during that very discouraging time’ and that while it is very important to help people stick with things when they’re hard, it’s not the best predictor of every aspect of success.
What then might be the practical implications, particularly for school students and the requirements for the completion of exams, tests and other assessments? Some degree of academic ability can predict academic success, however, the student that is willing to challenge themselves to work harder, seek feedback and develop a plan for their homework and study will gradually build up their ‘grit muscles’. Grit may be a contributing factor to the development of character – that is, a person that will acknowledge a challenge or difficult problem, and make a decision to try to find solutions or new ways of learning. A person of character develops the wisdom to also know when they face uncertainty about a topic or concept and will actively seek the help of another (for instance, a teacher) to assist their understanding. To some degree they do quit, however, they only quit in one specific way, in order for another to help them find new ways.
Professor Duckworth has noted that other attributes are also the key to long-term achievement and says: “If you want to lead a happy, healthy, helpful life, you want to cultivate many aspects of your character, like honesty, kindness, generosity, curiosity —and, of course, grit.”
Therefore, while grit can help you to persevere, the development of these other qualities will add value to your journey to persevere, and that may ultimately be the true measure of success in life.
*Reference: https://penntoday.upenn.edu/news/Penn-Angela-Duckworth-looks-beyond-grit-predict-success (4/11/2019)