Friday, October 09, 2009

Grit - The Highest Determinant of Success

Good news, endurance athletes. Recent studies are showing that "grit"- the determination to persevere to a goal no matter what the obstacles - is a better predictor of lifetime achievement than IQ, race, socio-economic background, and more. It's spawning a whole new field of psychology in the last 4 years to understand it better. It sorta feels like a "no duh" breakthrough, but read on - it's pretty fascinating.

This article from the Boston Globe summed it up well:
"In recent years, psychologists have come up with a term to describe this mental trait: grit. Although the idea itself isn’t new - “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration,” Thomas Edison famously remarked - the researchers are quick to point out that grit isn’t simply about the willingness to work hard. Instead, it’s about setting a specific long-term goal and doing whatever it takes until the goal has been reached. It’s always much easier to give up, but people with grit can keep going."
The story goes on to find examples in West Point cadets, how measurements of grit can predict who might be a finalist for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, how pre-school is effective in building these traits, and more.

Clearly there is more to the story than just pure "grit". You need to have passion to pursue a problem over an extended period of time. You need some fundamental skills and intelligence. And you need to have cojones - the willingness to try in the face of probable failure. Malcolm Gladwell would probably argue (as part of his book, Outliers) that other macro effects will contribute to the lifetime achievement. Further studies are going to try and determine how this all comes together, and you can be a part of it by filling out this study.

Perhaps these studies can help us answer "why do we do these crazy ultra events?". Somewhere deep inside, we know to develop our grit by practicing the art of setting big goals and persevering to them. We welcome the challenge of being knocked down again and again, only to prove that we can get back up and keep moving. It's a core value that needs to be nourished, practiced, and celebrated.

It might also help explain why all of our fellow athletes are such amazing life achievers. I can't run 5 miles in an ultra without being blown away by the stories from those around me, and impressed with how each of us seeks adventure in all parts of our lives. The smiles tell it all - it's how you live in this world instead of on it.

Now let's just hope the media doesn't get too crazy with this word, "grit". It looks like troubled Italian Prime Minister is on board, saying he will now "govern with grit". Too late! Grit has officially entered the international lexicon. ;-)

- SD


  1. ...And grit combined with a willingness to cheat can lead to REALLY great achievements!

    (As shown in the image you posted, "PERSEVERE" would be an illegal Scrabble word [too many letters].)

  2. Haile Gebrselassie - at 5'5" and just a lil guy from upstate Ethiopia - holding the marathon world record might be a good example of this grit of which you speak.

  3. Although "persevere" could be legal, given the assumption that the word "severe" were laid down first. Grit requires preparedness and often multiple runs at a goal, passing through the severe

  4. I'm not much of a player, but isn't the number of letters the longest word a second play can have is 8, yeah?

  5. ...True grit not only allows for ones individual achievement, but can inspire all those around them to exceed personal boundaries as well.

  6. Hi Scott - completely off topic, but I don't know how else to contact you. I'd like to ask about using a photo (with link back, of course) on a column I write for It would be one of your pix from 2009 Jed Smith. Can you email me using my contact link for this comment? Thanks a bunch. - George

  7. Hey , Wanted to drop you a line about a running app I developed called Cadence.

    It matches music from your iPhone or Touch music library to the speed you are running at. Helps you keep the pace. Its nice to hear music all at the same beat while you run,no speeding up and slowing down.
    I also have a program that works on your Mac with your itunes library and then you can use any ipod device you have.


  8. Dream & grit important
    patience more important


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