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The Nitty on Being Gritty: What It Really Takes To Reach Your Goals

Grit is a term made popular by Angela Duckworth from the University of Pennsylvania. She has launched a conversation about the relationship between grit, the tendency to maintain interest and effort in long-term goals, and self-control — what it takes to stay focused in the presence of temptations or diversions.

Her exceptional research has earned her the MacArthur Fellowship in 2013, perhaps one of the most prestigious awards given. In fact, it is commonly nicknamed the ‘Genius Grant.’ Following this honor, her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, was an instant New York Times bestseller.

Duckworth and her colleague devised a measure of grit and self-control that predicted successful outcomes in different situations better than other measures such as standardized testing. Grit scores predicted final ranking in the Scripps National Spelling Bee and graduation from Chicago public schools. Additionally, she found measures of self-control are better predictors than IQ of both report card grades and improvement in these grades.

But grit and self-control aren’t just for children, Duckworth also found grit scores at West Point Military Academy predicted final rankings. These are important findings because much of psychology focused on IQ and other academic scores in the scramble to understand success. The emphasis on non-intellectual factors like grit is a game changer. It puts the spotlight on one’s character as a central feature of developing skills over the long haul. If you would like to get a measure of your grittiness you can go to Angela Duckworth’s site at the University of Pennsylvania here and get a measure of it free.

But there is more to this character trait grit than just pushing through to a goal. “Authentic grit”, a term coined by Caroline Adams Miller in her book Getting Grit: The Evidence-Based Approach to Cultivating Passion, Perseverance and Purpose, adds an important dimensionHer view of authentic grit is that it must be a force for good if it is to be interpreted as something positive. This adds an important distinction. The raw determination elements of passion and perseverance could be applied to someone like Hitler. She argues that this is an important difference if grit is to have a positive connotation.

She focuses on identifying the foundations of using passion to fuel one’s purpose and activation of happier emotions to facilitate success. The passion though, is of a particular type. She argues for harmonious passion as opposed to obsessive passion. These distinctions, between harmonious and obsessive, are drawn from the research of Canadian, Bob Vallerand. He identifies the harmonious type emerging from an activity engaged in because it is fulfilling on its own. In contrast, obsessive passion comes from focusing on an external goal only, such as pleasing someone else or beating the competition.  Concerning happiness and success Caroline Adams Miller  points out that most of us have put the cart before the horse — believing success will lead to happiness. She argues that the research points to something different. We don’t get happy because we succeed — we succeed because we are happy first.

The details of authentic grit draw from many different tributaries including the development of positive relationships, self-confidence, humility, self-regulation habits, and the cultivation of patience. Angela Duckworth has said of Caroline Adams Miller that “…no one knows more about how to apply the scientific research on grit and achievement to our own lives.” If you are looking for practical applications toward goal setting and cultivation of authentic grit you should check out this book.  It is like having a series of powerful coaching sessions with the author.

The Nitty on Being Gritty: What It Really Takes To Reach Your Goals

Daniel Tomasulo, Ph.D.

Dan Tomasulo Ph.D., TEP, MFA, MAPP teaches Positive Psychology in the graduate program of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, Teachers College and works with Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Director of the New York Certification in Positive Psychology for the Open Center in New York City and on faculty at New Jersey City University. Sharecare has honored him as one of the top 10 online influencers on the topic of depression. For more information go to: He also writes for Psych Central's Ask the Therapist column and the Proof Positive blog.

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APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2018). The Nitty on Being Gritty: What It Really Takes To Reach Your Goals. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 23, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 24 Apr 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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