Angela Duckworth, PhD on Grit – Intangibles

Check out the Intangibles Podcast Page

Key Takeaways

  • Grit is the passion and perseverance for long term goals
  • “Relentless challenge seeking is something I’ve noticed about really gritty people”
  • Experts practice differently than other people – what sets them apart is the quality of their practice as much as the quantity
  • Some equations:
    • Skill = talent x effort
    • Achievement = skill x effort = talent x effort ^2
    • (Notice how important effort is)
  • You’re born with talent, but you develop skills from hours and hours of working on your craft


  • Angela (@angeladuckw) is the author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
    • She is also the founder and CEO of Character Lab – a nonprofit organization whose mission it is to advance the science and practice of character development
    • In 2013 she became a MacArthur Fellow 
    • Angela has advised the White House, the World Bank, CEOs of the Fortune 500, as well as teams in the NBA and NFL
    • Check out her TED talk
  • This is an episode a long time in the making – Steve (@sbberg1) (the host) has been trying to get Angela on the podcast for quite some time

What is Angela’s definition of grit? (3:04)

  • “Passion and perseverance for long term goals”
    • That “and” is important – it’s not just work ethic, but being in love with what you do for a long period of time
    • “The passion that I find to be most admirable and predicative of high achievement, is sustained passion
      • AKA passion for something for YEARS

Steve’s Alternate Definition of Grit (4:26)

  • “The rate of change in one’s exertion relative to the rate of change of the challenge posed in the achievement of a long term goal”
    • So as a task gets harder, you’ll try harder – but only up until the limit of your ability (until you hit your optimal efficiency – think of it like an “optimal efficiency curve”)
    • In effect – people who are gritty will rise to the occasion
  • Angela agrees, but adds – “One thing that’s admirable about these people [those with grit] is that when things are going really well, and they’re ‘winning’, they tend to increase the challenge themselves”
    • “Relentless challenge seeking is something I’ve noticed about really gritty people”

“Practice only when there’s a return on that practice” (6:36)

  • This relates to Steve’s point about the optimal efficiency curve
  • For example – there will come a point when it’s more beneficial for you to rest instead of hitting the gym for the 5th day in a row
  • “Experts practice differently than other people. What sets them apart is the quality of their practice as much as the quantity.

The 2 Parts to Effort (7:45)

  • Consistency of effort
  • Quality of effort (aka deliberate practice)
    • Deliberate practice involves practice with a specific goal in mind, and not just practicing for the sake of practicing
    • With deliberate practice – it helps to be getting some form of feedback
      • You’re also focused (not practicing with divided attention)
    • “You shouldn’t expect to improve unless you’re doing the kind of practice that leads to improvement”
      • “Without attention and a specific goal it’s wasted time”

Perseverance (12:24)

  • “I think of perseverance as consistency of effort” – Steve
    • Angela adds to the definition – “You could also use the word resilience – resilience in the face of setbacks and adversity”
      • “What enables someone to get up when they fall down and to rise to the next challenge is a belief that you can change and grow”

Passion (14:10)

  • Steve prefers the word “enthusiasm”
  • “It’s romantic. It’s like having a devotion. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the word ‘passion’, which we’d also use for falling or being in love with someone, is the word that drops out of the mouths of people who love what they do” – Angela
    • “People who feel that their work is both purposeful and fun are the ones who will tell me it’s a passion”
      • Purposeful = being part of something larger than yourself

Does being presented with a challenge spark grit? (17:50)

  • Angela recently ate a fortune cookie saying- “Every adversity carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit”
    • To paraphrase – your adversities strengthen you in other areas of life
    • Steve uses the example of a high profile attorney (David Boies) who was severely dyslexic, and thus was forced to compensate for his hindered reading ability with memorization skills, and the ability to speak in the court room without notes
  • People with grit confront adversity with the mindset of – “What can I benefit from in this experience?”
    • It’s not that these people don’t recognize the fact that adversity is a burden – they’re just looking for the upside

Talent, Skill, and Effort (20:12)

  • Every discipline has a different type of talent
    • “There’s a lot of confusion about what this word means, and people are using the word differently”
  • “I think it [talent] has a lot of baggage with it. This word that we use in different ways has the implication of giftedness and innateness and something you can’t change – you either have it and you’re lucky, or you don’t have it and you’re unlucky.”
    • For those reasons Angela prefers the term “skill” or “mastery”
  • But Angela does have a definition of talent – “The rate at which one increases in skill with effort”
    • “Talent is how quickly you improve in your skill when you try. Skill is actually how well you do something.”
  • So to sum up:
    • Skill = talent x effort
    • Achievement = skill x effort = talent x effort ^2
    • (Notice how important effort is)
  • The actor Will Smith has said – “Talent you’re born with, but skill you earn from hours and hours of beating on your craft”
    • “I think of people who are most admirable and successful as the ones who are always building on their skill; they’re using their skill and doing thing with that developed skill – those are the things that make a difference in the world”

Self-Reflect and Identify ONE Thing to Work On (27:10)

  • Self-Reflect
    • “Reflecting on where you are right now is always the place to start when it comes to behavior change”
    • Check out the Grit Scale Angela has on her website – it’s a self-reflection tool
  • Then identify ONE thing that you could be working on that would help you get closer to where you’d like to be
    • When Angela speaks at events or does talks, she’ll email the event organizers a few days later – of course thanking them, but she’ll also ask for ONE thing that she could have done better

Wrapping Up (30:44)

  • Angela brings up a quote from the great investor Sir John Templeton:
    • “How little we know, how eager to learn”
      • “That is exactly how I feel about grit and character” – Angela

These notes were edited by RoRoPa Editing Services

Intangibles : , ,
Notes By MMiller

More Notes on these topics

Top Insights and Tactics From

31 Best Podcasts of All Time

FREE when you join over 35,000 subscribers to the
Podcast Notes newsletter

No Thanks