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Passion, Grit, and a Can-Do Attitude Keep the Spark Lit

Why staying fired up and hopeful is vital for people over age 50. 

Rene Rauschenberger/Pixabay
Source: Rene Rauschenberger/Pixabay

Passion, grit, and a positive mindset are a winning combination. Unfortunately, new research from Norway suggests that people tend to become less passionate or less willing to persevere towards achieving inspirational goals shortly after passing the 50-year mark.

In addition to becoming less passionate and losing resilience in our golden years, this research pinpoints that around age 54, a mindset shift often occurs that makes older adults, in general, more cynical about the odds of their grit and passion being worth the effort in terms of mastering or maintaining extraordinary skills in a particular area.

This study (Sigmundsson, 2020) from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology was conducted by Hermundur Sigmundsson of NTNU's psychology department. His findings into how passion, grit, and mindset evolve between the ages of 14 to 77 appear in the January 2021 issue of New Ideas in Psychology.

The research question for this study was straightforward: "What is the relationship between passion, grit, and mindset across the lifespan?"

To answer this question, Sigmundsson recruited almost a thousand (N = 917) women and men between the ages of 14 to 77 and divided them into subgroups based on age and gender. Everyone in the female group (n = 502) and the male group (n = 415) was assessed using the Passion Scale, the Grit-S scale, and the Theories of Intelligence Scale (TIS).

Study participants were also divided into five different age groups: 14–19, 20–36, 37–53, 54–69, and 70–77. Of note: This is the first study to investigate the correlation between passion, grit, and mindset from adolescence to an older age.

For Norwegian men and women, the relationship between passion and grit tended to be robust for most study participants between 14 and 53. However, as mentioned, around age 54, people's passion and determination tend to fade in a way that requires sustaining a positive mindset about the worthwhileness of trying hard to excel in a specific area of expertise or mustering a sense of enthusiasm about mastering new skills. (See "Superagers Pursue Challenges with Gusto, Harvard Study Finds.")

"People 50 years and up can be very passionate, but tend to have less grit. Or vice versa," Sigmundsson said in an October 22 news release. "What this means is that it's more difficult to mobilize our grit and willpower, even if we have the passion. Or we may have the grit and willpower but aren't quite as fired up about it."

Passion provides motivational energy that facilitates peak performance in ways that promote self-growth and subjective well-being. "Our passion controls the direction of the arrow, what we're fired up about, and want to achieve. Grit drives our strength, how much effort we are willing to put in to achieve something," Sigmundsson noted.

This study suggests that maintaining a positive mindset about one's ability to achieve goals is especially important after age 53. "Maybe you're still passionate about something, but you've lost faith that you'll actually be able to achieve your goals. Or you think you can handle the activity, but you just don't have that fire in the belly for it anymore," Sigmundsson noted.

What can we do to keep ourselves passionate, perseverant, and optimistic about our ability to master new skills and excel at something challenging as we age? "Igniting the spark is important, regardless of age," Sigmundsson says. "There are no shortcuts. You need to find and develop your interests. 'Use it or lose it' is the mantra, and this aligns with neuropsychology as well."

Regardless of age, do you regularly pour your heart into a chosen activity that requires passion, grit, and a positive mindset? If not, is there something you'd like to master that you've been putting off because you don't have a fire in your belly or feel skeptical about your odds of success?

Anecdotally, as someone born in 1966 who is currently the make-or-break age of 54, I know from first-hand experience that the never-ending challenge of trying to become a better writer is an ongoing process of "mastery" that requires daily practice, perseverance, and a can-do attitude.

"You need to find and develop your interests. In addition, you have to recognize the important connections between passion, grit, and a positive mindset," Sigmundsson concludes. "This applies to getting better at an activity but also to maintaining what we have already achieved. And that is true not only for our physical fitness but also for our mental acuity. Keeping at your chosen activity is the key." The bottom line: No matter your age, keep going and don't ever give up.


Hermundur Sigmundsson. "Passion, Grit and Mindset in the Ages 14 to 77: Exploring Relationship and Gender Differences." New Ideas in Psychology (First available online: August 26, 2020) DOI: 10.1016/j.newideapsych.2020.100815