This post, by Angela Duckworth, originally appeared on Big Questions Online on 8/5/13. Since perseverance is definitely a requirement for success as an author, whether indie or mainstream, the post raises a question that’s pertinent to most of us.
Can perseverance be taught? As a psychologist who studies achievement, I am asked this question more frequently than any other.
This question is motivated by two everyday intuitions, both of which have been confirmed in empirical research: First, some people are, in general, more persistent and passionate about long-term goals. Compared to their less gritty peers, these individuals are more resilient in the face of adversity, bouncing back after failure and disappointment and otherwise staying the course even when progress is not obvious. Second, grit predicts success. Grit is not the only determinant of success – opportunity and talent matter, too. But on average, grittier individuals are more successful than others, particularly in very challenging situations.
So, can we intentionally cultivate grit in our children, in our employees, in ourselves? Relative to many other scholarly traditions, the science of behavior change is in its infancy. Still, we know enough, I think, to answer that question in the affirmative. Can perseverance be taught? Yes. Do we know how? More and more – though, of course, there is much to be discovered.
As a starting point, we should acknowledge the empirical fact that perseverance, like extraversion, intelligence, and every other trait psychologists measure and study, is a function of both genes (nature) and experience (nurture). So, while science is a very long way from identifying the specific genes that contribute to individual differences in perseverance, we know that each of us comes into the world with proclivities, already different from one another based on the DNA we inherited from our mothers and fathers. Of course, the very same research also tells us that whatever our genetic endowments, our particular life experiences – what we see and hear, how we are treated by others, which of our actions is rewarded or punished – nudge us closer to one end of the perseverance spectrum or the other.