In Brief

Backbone, chutzpah, fortitude, guts, stick-to-it-iveness: All words that describe what separates brilliant slackers from the simply talented who excel through a passionate yet steady approach.

Grit is the subject of a series of studies conducted by Angela Lee Duckworth, PhD, and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 92, No. 6), which conclude that such perseverance may be as important as intelligence in determining a person's success.

"Grit is essential to high achievement," says Duckworth. As a student at Harvard College and the University of Oxford, and in her current position as an assistant psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Duckworth observed many a bright person. While studying with positive psychologist Martin E.P. Seligman, PhD, she began to wonder what characteristics beyond IQ differentiated the students who went on to be leaders in their fields.

To find out, she developed the Grit Scale, which asks participants to rate how much they agree with statements such as, "I finish whatever I begin," "I have overcome setbacks to conquer an important challenge," and reverse-scored statements such as, "My interests change from year to year."

Duckworth then gave the scale to adults over age 25 who visited www.authentichappiness.org, as well as to Ivy League undergraduates, West Point cadets and Scripps National Spelling Bee finalists.

Across six studies, Duckworth found that grit significantly contributed to successful outcomes: Perhaps unsurprisingly, the more determined undergraduates garnered higher grade point averages than their peers. The West Point cadets with more grit were more likely to stay after the first summer. And among the spelling-bee participants, "grittier" spellers outranked less tenacious competitors. Grittier individuals were generally older, had higher levels of education and made fewer career changes than less gritty peers of the same age.

But Duckworth was surprised by one finding: Grit was not yoked to IQ.

"I don't think anyone's figured out how to make people smarter, but these other qualities of grit may be teachable," she says.

Her advice for those who want to achieve their maximum potential?

"If it's important for you to become one of the best people in your field, you are going to have to stick with it when it's hard," she says. "Grit may be as essential as talent to high accomplishment."