Success: Got Grit?

Fostering grit takes passion, learning from failure and a whole lot of optimism.

By PT Staff, published November 1, 2005 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

No one knows yet for sure whether grit can be nurtured, how best to do it or whether there are specific windows of time (such as early childhood) during which grit is most effectively cultivated. Still, most experts do believe that perseverance can be developed, since related traits like motivation and self-discipline can be instilled. Possible ways to foster grit include:

  • Help People Find Their Passion.

    It's much easier to overcome obstacles if you are passionate about what you are doing. It's not clear how and why a person's passion for a particular topic develops, but exposing adults and children to a variety of academic, artistic and athletic pursuits increases the likelihood that they will feel a spark in a particular area.

  • Don't Worry About Balance.

    It's impossible to be outstanding at everything—there simply aren't enough hours in a day for the requisite practice. "Except for a few renaissance men and women, most people who have made important contributions to art, science and the humanities have worked long and hard in one particular area," notes Joseph Renzulli. "So I often say to parents, 'If your children are doing something that they have a strong interest in and they are excelling, don't worry whether or not they are well balanced.'"

  • Provide Criticism Lessons.

    A few words of criticism, particularly when delivered in a thoughtless manner, can rapidly deflate budding enthusiasm, notes educational psychologist Jonathan Plucker. Teaching kids how to receive and give constructive criticism may allow them to reap the benefits of such comments without loss of motivation. A manager who yells at his new employee, "I asked you to straighten up the stockroom, not reorganize it—how the heck are we going to find anything?" most likely won't see much initiative from his workers in the future. A better approach: "I greatly appreciate your ambition, but I'm afraid that your new organizational system isn't fully compatible with our equipment. Let me explain some of the factors that we need to consider… "

  • Be a Model of Grittiness.

    Because children imitate and learn from parental behavior, parents who demonstrate grit in their own pursuits may foster it in their kids. In addition, parents should praise kids for their effort rather than for their IQ or physical gifts.

  • Offer Challenges.

    Plucker frequently asks highly successful people about the moment that made them decide that they wanted to pursue, and excel in, their chosen field. "Half of them say that someone told them, 'You can never do this. It can never be done.'" Many talented kids simply shut down under such conditions. In general, it's best to provide less extreme challenges—ones that are attainable but require some sustained effort.

  • Teach People to Handle, and Learn From, Failure.

    From Abraham Lincoln to Steve Jobs, nearly every highly accomplished person has failed, lost or been rejected at some point in their lives. Especially for people in competitive fields, such as athletics, it's important "to learn early to emotionally deal with setbacks and to develop appropriate coping strategies," says sports psychologist Cliff Mallett.

  • Encourage Optimism.

    At least one study from Duckworth and Seligman has found a link between grit and optimism. Such a link makes intuitive sense: It's hard to set goals and persevere without a positive sense of the future.