Pursue What Matters
Episode 163: Is Grit Backfiring on You?
Please excuse any typos, transcripts are generated by an automated service
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
We’re taught to be nimble, we’re taught to be scrappy, what does all of this mean? And the word it means to be gritty. But is grit always a good thing? Join me.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:13
I am Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. So is grit always a good thing. So in Western society, grit is, is pretty top on the list in terms of rugged independence in terms of success. And of course, Angela Duckworth has a great book and great research on grit. And so I do think it’s a great book to check out, I did a book review of this book. It’s been a while now. But if you want to learn more about the book and the research, definitely check it out. So the thing to pay attention to with grit is it is this combination of passion and perseverance. And that’s a really powerful combination. But I think sometimes what happens is grit can backfire on us. And there are a few reasons for that. And we’re gonna jump into that today. So if you join me last week, we talked about whether you are like Sisyphus, right? Like, are you focusing on trying to overcome weaknesses, instead of working on strengthening your strengths. And the argument that I made is that you are going to be much better off focusing on strengthening your strengths rather than trying to overcome weakness. And the research is pretty powerful on this point, and so as an extension of that conversation, I think it’s important to pay attention to how grit could be backfiring on you. So for sure, I want to make it clear that I’m a fan of grit. I think it is a powerful force. But we just want to make sure that, you know, we’re focusing our efforts in the right directions. And so every week with a podcast, my goal is to help you pursue what matters by strengthening your confidence to lead. So leading with clarity, which helps to connect you with purpose, leading with curious curiosity, which helps you toreally increase self awareness and self leadership. And then of course, leading and building a community. So thinking about communication, psychological safety, accountability, all those good things that are so important when it comes to working with others. And so first, let’s start with defining grit.
Dr. Melissa Smith 2:58
Okay, so grit is the tendency to sustain perseverance, and passion for challenging long term goals. So right you see that combination of perseverance, and passion. And grit is applied when, when whatever it is we’re pursuing is challenging, right? So we’re not talking like it doesn’t take grit, to brush your teeth, it doesn’t take grit to, you know, sit through a two hour class. Now you might feel like sometimes that’s true, because the material is so boring. But when we think about grit, I really want you to pay attention to these challenging long term goals. So we think about getting through a graduate program, we think about coping with a significant illness, we think about a big business goal, right? Like whether that is to go go public, or some other big transition. So that’s really the key when it comes to when it comes to grip. And so Angela Duckworth is the psychologist and researcher most closely associated with the concept. And what she has taught is that grit is a better predictor of success than intelligence or talent. And I think that’s really good news to a lot of us. I think there’s a there has been a misperception about the role of intelligence and talent that you had to have these native traits inborn right, in order to be successful and what her research has shown is that grit, right your determination, your perseverance, your passion, is much more important, right is a much stronger predictor of success than is intelligence or talent. And I think, you know, we can see a lot of examples of that in the world around us and so really important to pay attention to that. So that is great. Define great the tendency to sustain perseverance and passion for challenging long term chat long term goals, right? The second point that I want to make is that when it comes to grit direction really matters. Okay?
Dr. Melissa Smith 5:14
So grit is a beautiful thing and is foundational for success, right? We just learned that from Duckworth research, but what you apply your grit to really, really matters. So grit focused on weaknesses will likely only undermine you. Okay, so when you climb the wrong Hill, you are in danger of grit backfiring on you, because you’re putting in all of this effort and perseverance in an endeavor that is not likely to be successful. Okay. And that’s kind of what we talked about last week, when we think about really spending your energy, strengthening your strengths, leveraging your strengths, not trying to overcome weaknesses. So grit focused on worthy goals tied to purpose will likely strengthen you. And I think it’s really important to, to connect that to purpose, you might have a big goal, but it might not be a worthy goal. It might be a goal that actually undermines your values, or roads purpose. And so we really do want to pay attention to the kinds of goals we are setting for ourselves. So when we think about worthy goals, these are goals that are intrinsically motivated. So it’s not about impressing the Joneses, right? It’s not about being better than anyone else. But it’s this deep, intrinsic motivation. And so this is where we think about, you know, from her research, the role from Duckworth research, the role of passion, but I would say, you know, just as important, if not more, is a goal tied to purpose. Who are you in the world? And why does it matter to accomplish this goal, right? If it’s just about money in the bank account, that’s not a good enough reason, that’s not a worthy goal.
Dr. Melissa Smith 7:02
That is, for most people very extrinsically motivated, if it’s about security, right, like I want to have freedom over my time, I want to have security and wellbeing in my finances, right, that becomes a more worthy goal. And so when it comes to worthy goals, right, we want those to be intrinsically motivated, and understand that extrinsically Motivated goals often leads to a gret backfire, because we’re pursuing someone else’s idea of what’s worthy rather than our own, deeply held values and sense of purpose. Okay. So when we think about this point, that direction matters, you need to know when it’s time to climb a different mountain. The truth is, we don’t all have the same potential. It’s a nice thought. But it’s not true. If we all had equal conditions, we would not all achieve at the same level. And I do think that that is a message that gets sent a lot. And, you know, we see that that message, and that the message, that message is wrong is often sent for a good reason. There’s some good intent around that when it comes to fairness and equality and equity. But the truth is, we don’t all have the same potential. We also have very different circumstances, right. And I think that’s part of what we want to respect and, and really pay attention to when it comes to these arguments around fairness and equality. And those are important considerations. But for our sake, right, it’s not true, that if you have enough grit, you can be successful at whatever you choose to do. Again, it’s a really nice thought. But that just is not borne out in, in reality. And so we need to, we need to know when it’s time to climb a different mountain, when it’s time to maybe choose a different goal.
Dr. Melissa Smith 9:06
So we talk a lot about this concept that you can do anything we talk about it as though it is a truism, but it’s not actually true. And I think the sooner we can make peace with reality, we can have a good assessment of our skills and our abilities, then we can start climbing the right mountain, and we can really see the potential or potential fulfilled where we really can contribute at a higher level, much higher than if we were to pursue another course where we don’t have much aptitude. So when we apply grit to weaknesses, or deficits, it is unlikely to help you succeed. At best, she’ll probably just get mediocre or maybe just competent, but you probably won’t be really successful. And right like this is kind of a painful truth that we need to pay attention to. So that’s what we want to think about when we when we pay attention to this idea that direction really matters. And then the third point is that grit alone is not enough. And I would say that, you know, in some, some follow up conversations and writings that I’ve seen from Angela Duckworth, I think she’s certainly acknowledge that so she’s not trying to say that grit is the end all be all, it is an important factor, that if we’re not careful, when we put on, you know, when we have hyper focus on grit, it leads us to overlooking other critical skills. So especially when it comes to parenting, right, we might send the message that grit alone is enough, is enough. But we know of course, that it’s not, you need to have awareness of the critical skills required to be successful. And that’s where leading with curiosity really comes in. You want to develop awareness for yourself, you want to develop awareness for those you lead, so that you can give them responsibilities, and you can put them in roles where they really can shine. So it does not matter how much grit I have, I will never be an award winning ballerina, right? I did ballet when I was a child. And I was like, mediocre, right? Pretty much like most of the other kids in the class. I even if I spent a long time, a lot of effort, I probably was never going to be, you know, an amazing ballerina. And that’s okay, right? Like, we don’t have to be amazing at everything.
Dr. Melissa Smith 11:44
So you know, when it comes to recognizing that grit alone is not enough. The first thing that we really want to pay attention to is we need to develop emotional awareness and intelligence because this emotional awareness and intelligence really helps us to make wiser choices for ourselves. So when psychologists at the Yale Center for emotional intelligence, compare grit with other traits and abilities, they found that grit was less important to success than one’s ability to regulate emotions. So if you remember, at the top of the podcast, I said that grit is a better predictor of success than is intelligence, or talent. That’s true. And what what these yell researchers add to the conversation, is that one’s ability to regulate emotions is even more important to success than is grit. Right? So grits really important, but it’s not the end all be all. So you know, they did this research with kids. And so to put it in another way, kids who have learned the skill of emotional self regulation are more likely to be successful than those who are only gritty. And that comes to us from Erica Reiser was writing for The Washington Post where she talks about this yell, research. And so this ability to self regulate, to engage in distress tolerance skills, is really important when it comes to success. And so that’s what I have for you today. Right?
Dr. Melissa Smith 13:24
So we’re talking about not letting grit backfire on you. So we defined grit. We talked about the fact that direction really matter. So where you apply your grittiness really makes a big difference in terms of your success. And then of course, the last thing we talked about, is the idea that grit alone is not enough. And you know, very important to this conversation is developing emotional awareness and intelligence is the ability to self regulate. And so I hope you will join me next week as we really focus on how you can identify and play to your strengths so that you really can contribute at your highest level. So in the meantime, head on over to my website to check out the show notes. With all the resources for this episode. You can do that at www.drmelissasmith.com/163-gritbackfire. So one more time that’s www.drmelissasmith.com/163-gritbackfire
Dr. Melissa Smith 14:37
There you can find links to Angela Duckworth, great book grit. I’ll also have a link to the book review that I did of grit and I will also link you to the Washington Post article and also the yellow center with their research on emotional intelligence. So in the meantime, I hope you’ll consider Writing on social media. I’m on Instagram at Dr. Dot, Melissa Smith and I’d love to continue the conversation there. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care
Transcribed by https://otter.ai