Grit outweighs intelligence and talent in success

Have you ever wondered why some people just keep on going, while others lose steam?
Have you ever wondered why some people just keep on going, while others lose steam?
Image: Sergey Nivens/ 123RF

Have you ever wondered why some people just keep on going, while others lose steam?

Given that businesses that fail mostly do so between year two and five, having a plan and sticking to it can make the difference between disappointment and achievement.

University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Angela Duckworth and author of Grit: The Power of Perseverance and Passion, says talent and intelligence are not the strongest predictors of outstanding achievement.

Rather, as the title of her book says, it is a combination of perseverance and passion.

From Duckworth’s perspective, our potential only becomes meaningful when we apply grit to achieve our goals.

Behavioural psychologist James Clear and author of Atomic Habits describes grit as tough-mindedness and says building our habits through small, incremental changes will see us achieving our goals.  

An experience in my daily life that attuned me to persistence, as a subject for this column, is a woman I often see, mostly walking, sometimes jogging, on my street.

Recently, I commented to her that I see her often, and in response, she told me that twice a day, she goes up and down my street four times.

The same route, repeated over and over again — I call that grit.  

Being gritty, according to Duckworth, is the ability to persevere.

It’s about being unusually resilient and hardworking, so much so that you’re willing to continue on in the face of difficulties, obstacles and even failures.

Passion has an important role in remaining gritty, as it carries you through the boring, frustrating, or even painful parts of any schedule or goal.  

She developed an equation to illustrate how the effort of “keeping on, keeping on” arises in achievement:

  • Talent x effort = skill
  • Skill x effort = achievement

“Talent is how quickly your skills improve when you invest effort.

“Achievement is what happens when you take your acquired skills and use them,” Duckworth explained.

Clear says Duckworth’s research shows 70% of achievement comes from mental toughness or grit.

“That’s good news because you can’t do much about the genes you were born with, but you can do a lot to develop mental toughness,” says Clear.

He offers three strategies that assist in cultivating mental toughness.

Firstly, it is about defining what mental toughness means to you and this could include going one month without missing a workout, delivering your work ahead of schedule for two days in a row, or calling one friend to catch up every Saturday this month.

“Whatever it is, be clear about what you’re going after.

“Mental toughness is an abstract quality, but in the real world, it’s tied to concrete actions.

“You can’t magically think your way to becoming mentally tough, you prove it to yourself by doing something in real life.”

Secondly, he says mental toughness is built through small, physical wins.

“Mental toughness is like a muscle and it is built through small wins.

“It’s the individual choices that we make on a daily basis that build our ‘mental toughness muscle’.

“We all want mental strength, but you can’t think your way to it. It’s your physical actions that prove your mental fortitude.”

Finally, he says mental toughness is about your habits, not your motivation.

It’s about building the daily habits that allow you to stick to a schedule and overcome challenges and distractions over and over and over again

“It’s about building the daily habits that allow you to stick to a schedule and overcome challenges and distractions over and over and over again.

“Mentally tough people don’t have to be more courageous, more talented, or more intelligent — just more consistent.

“Mentally tough people develop systems that help them focus on the important stuff regardless of how many obstacles life puts in front of them.

“It’s their habits that form the foundation of their mental beliefs and ultimately set them apart.

“Mental toughness comes down to your habits.

“It’s about doing the things you know you’re supposed to do on a more consistent basis.

“It’s about your dedication to daily practice and your ability to stick to a schedule,” says Clear.

Just like the woman who walks or runs up and down my street four times, twice a day.


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