“How to Get More Grit in Your Life”

Freakonomics podcast | Grit

Why we love it: Host Stephen Dubner asks Angela Duckworth how to develop grit. Together, Stephen and Angela take the grit scale and share stories about their own gritty pursuits.

ANGELA DUCKWORTH: I want to redefine genius, if you will. I think most people use the word “genius” the way my dad means the word “genius,”—you know, somebody who has an intellectual gift which is far greater than what most people have in a given area, in music or in mathematics, in running or in dancing. And by that natural ability, they’re going to far excel the rest of us, almost by destiny. I think that is what most people use the word genius for. And then they all have their handy list of geniuses that they think of, like Mozart or Einstein. I want to define genius as greatness that isn’t necessarily effortless, but, in fact, greatness that is earned however you do earn it. And so I want to define genius as something that you accomplish yourself as opposed to something that’s given to you.

STEPHEN J. DUBNER: And that brings us, I assume, therefore, to grit. So, talk about grit. First of all, let’s start with how you define it.

DUCKWORTH: I define grit as passion and perseverance for especially long-term goals.

DUBNER: OK, so that sounds kind of like a no-brainer—that everybody in their right mind would want to have more grit rather than less of that. So surely your argument isn’t simply that grit is a good thing to have; it’s that grit is … what?

DUCKWORTH: So, the message of the book [Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance] is not that grit is a good thing in particular. The message of the book is that like so many other things about us that are good, we can do something to intentionally cultivate grit in ourselves and in others that we care about.

DUBNER: Well, can you start teaching me, right now, or anyone listening to this, how to be grittier? I mean, I want specifics. I want to know what to do; I want to know what not to do; I want to know how long I should expect these changes to take; I want to know if there are going to be relapses that I should be prepared for, and so on. How do we start?

DUCKWORTH: When you talk about changing character, or changing grit, it feels like, well, “You can’t change that. People are who they are.” But when you actually get to the specifics, you know, what specifically are gritty people like? What do they do when they wake up in the morning? What beliefs do gritty people walk around with in their heads? When you get to that level of specifics, you realize, “Gosh, there’s no reason why these things couldn’t be taught, practiced, or learned.”