Grit: The Factor That Distinguishes the World's Top Performers

“Who is successful here and why?”

That’s the question that Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, has been asking for over 10 years. Her goal was to determine what factors most impacted success in the great performers of our world. She looked at education, sales teams, the national spelling bee and even West Point Military Academy to see which factors impacted the success of the high performers in each field. [1,2]

We tend to believe that factors outside of ourselves play the key role in our success. Factors like IQ, household incomes, the prestige of school we’ve attended, etc. But what Duckworth found was the only factor that correlated with success across all domains was a concept she called “Grit”. [3]


To use Duckworth’s own terminology, grit is passion and perseverance toward a very long-term goal. It’s determination to continue working despite what obstacles you face along the way. This is J.K. Rowling getting denied by 12 publishers, but having the determination to go to the 13th. This is Howard Schultz spending an entire year getting rejected by 217 investors until he was finally able to raise the capital needed to get Starbucks off the ground.


When I first learned the concept of grit, I felt empowered. After all, work ethic and perseverance sure sounded a lot like willpower and self-discipline to me! But then as I continued to research the concept, I came across a study that actually separated those who were “gritty” from those who were “self-disciplined”! [4]

To me, they seemed the same, but there is a very key difference between the two – where you put your focus. Self-discipline focuses on sticking to the plan that you laid out in order to meet your goal. It doesn’t matter if you have one goal or nine it’s just about sticking to the plan. Grit, on the other hand, is about having so much passion for one thing that you’re willing to overcome all obstacles in order to achieve it.

To use J.K. Rowling as an example, self-discipline is what she used to write all 320 pages of The Philosopher’s Stone. But it was grit that gave her the willingness to write the pages while also being a single mother, in poverty, and being constantly rejected by publishers. Self-discipline does indeed correlate with success, but grit is what correlates with greatness.


When I found out about grit, I had to take a life assessment. Was I gritty? Or was I simply disciplined? I was doing work as a marketing consultant at the time. On the side, I was reading up on willpower science while also doing obstacle course racing at an elite, but far from world-class, level.

I then looked at those who were the truly gritty people in each field. I saw those who were achieving greatness because they were so focused and dedicated to becoming the best. In the marketing world, I saw Seth Godin writing books and setting the bar on how to market in the new economy. In obstacle-course racing, I saw Hunter McIntyre who was training from sun up to sun down. And in psychology, I saw people like Duckworth making life-changing findings like this one.

I realized that if I continued down the path that I was on, then I would become good at marketing, good at performance psychology (willpower science) and good at obstacle-course racing – but not great at any of them. So I made a choice. I decided that I was going to dedicate myself to the thing that I had spent my free time studying and implementing over the past 3 and a half years. So I quit my job and dedicated myself to learning the science behind winning the mental battle. Then sharing it with as many people as I can.


We tend to believe that success and failure are largely due to innate talents or circumstances outside of our control. Through her studies, Angela Duckworth has proven that this is simply not the case. Great successes ultimately rest upon the “grit” of an individual and their ability to combine their passion with perseverance. It is the desire to do a great thing and to overcome all obstacles along the way. But this is not the same thing as self-discipline. Self-discipline will get you to go through the motions, but grit will get you to work relentlessly until your goal is complete.

So the question becomes, what are you willing to be gritty for?


  1. Duckworth, Angela Lee, Heidi Grant, Benjamin Loew, Gabriele Oettingen, and Peter M. Gollwitzer. "Self‐regulation Strategies Improve Self‐discipline in Adolescents: Benefits of Mental Contrasting and Implementation Intentions." Educational Psychology 31.1 (2011): 17-26
  2. Duckworth, A. L., T. A. Kirby, E. Tsukayama, H. Berstein, and K. A. Ericsson. "Deliberate Practice Spells Success: Why Grittier Competitors Triumph at the National Spelling Bee." Social Psychological and Personality Science 2.2 (2011): 174-81.
  3. Duckworth, Angela L. "The Key To Success? Grit." Ted Talks. New York. Apr. 2013. Speech.
  4. Duckworth, Angela L. "True Grit: Can Perseverance Be Taught?" Ted X Blue. 12 Nov. 2009. Speech.