IQ does not determine success, grit does

Grit is a concept that was developed and researched by the American researcher Duckworth. According to her, it consists of passion, perseverance and the pursuit of long-term goals. Based on her research, she states that grit determines success and not IQ. To develop grit, according to Duckworth, having insight into your mindset offers an opportunity. The American psychologist and researcher Dweck has further elaborated on what mindset means and how developing it contributes to success. Applications are already taking place. Critics make some comments on this. Mandela, the famous South African freedom fighter against apartheid, was in prison for 27 years. He continued to believe in and strive for a peaceful society of blacks and whites. As a lawyer, he helped his guards and fellow prisoners with problems. For him, this was a realistic goal to achieve that could contribute to the great goal he had in mind: the ending of apartheid.
Mandela had a character trait characterized by passion, perseverance and a long-term goal. These are three aspects that Duckworth, an American researcher, summarizes under the concept of grit, which she also describes as determination

What is grit?

Duckworth further describes the concept of grit as a stable character trait that consists of the following aspects:

  • passion: strong inner drive to want to achieve what motivates you (2) (motivation is focusing on what sets you in motion) (3).
  • perseverance: determinedly sticking to what you have started, even in the face of setbacks and resistance (4).
  • focus on long-term goals: these must be realistic, they can be divided into short-term goals.

The three aspects mentioned above require self-discipline . This means:
Making decisions to plan your behavior in a certain direction towards success and to maintain this. (5) You know how to keep emotions and impulse actions under control.

How do the grit elements relate to each other?

Skater Sven Kramer missed gold in the 10 km at the 2010 Olympic Games due to an incorrect substitution. His goal then became: to correct this at the 2014 Olympic Games and win gold at this distance. He focused on this for 4 years. Due to enormous self-discipline, he trains year after year. Unfortunately it failed, he came second. Despite this huge setback, he continues and is now focusing on the next Olympic Games.

Sven’s example shows that he has long-term goals in mind, which he works on day in, day out. He is very motivated to persevere even in the face of resistance and setbacks. It characterizes his perseverance and the feeling and thought that it is possible. Through great self-discipline, he decides and plans his training schedules to achieve his goal.

To what extent does grit determine success?

Duckworth investigated the extent to which grit determines success. To this end, she created a list of questions that she presented to different groups (students, military cadets, teachers and salespeople). The answers showed how high the grit level was. She then investigated to what extent the people studied were successful at school and in their work. It turned out that it was not IQ (as is often thought) that determined success, but the degree of grit .

Individuals with a limited IQ but an enormous level of grit appeared to progress further than those who had a high IQ but less grit (6). Young people with a high grit level were successful, this was not dependent on the family’s income, standard test results and how safe young people felt at school. A study among novice teachers shows that an optimistic lifestyle is associated with higher grit levels. Grit and optimism demonstrate greater teacher effectiveness. They then radiate this onto their students. (7)

“Grit is passion and perseverance for long-term goals. It’s endurance. It is standing for the future, day in and day out, not a week, not a month, but for years. And work very hard to make the future a reality. Grit is approaching life like a marathon, not a sprint . ” (Duckworth)

How do you start developing Grit?

Duckworth has shown through research that grit leads to success. This can be in all kinds of areas: school, profession, sports, politics or in personal life. However, she indicates that she does not know exactly how to teach grit. However, according to her, to develop grit you need to understand how the aspects of grit work in your brain. You examine your own mindset and look for opportunities to make changes if necessary. Duckworth calls Carol Dweck’s view on mindset a suitable way to start developing grit (8).

What is meant by mindset?

Carol Dweck defines mindset as: the set of beliefs, conscious or unconscious, that determine a person’s behavior.
Dweck believes that everyone can learn to persevere in achieving realistic goals if they know how mindset works. She distinguishes two types of mindset: growth and fixed mindset (9). The growth mindset provides opportunities for growth, allowing you to develop grit within yourself. The fixed mindset is standing still.

Characteristics of the growth mindset are:

  • I can do it if I put my mind to it
  • If I go for it I will achieve what I want
  • I am a go-getter, especially when things get difficult
  • You learn from your mistakes
  • Intelligence can be developed

Characteristics of the fixed mindset are:

  • I can not do it
  • You can do it or you can’t
  • That’s just the way I am and I can’t change
  • I gave up
  • Intelligence is innate


What shows that the growth mindset is successful?

Dweck conducted research on a hundred 12-14 year old students in secondary education in New York. The mindset was established at the beginning of the school year. Their progress was monitored for two years. Despite different mindsets, the students started at the same mathematical level. After two years, it turned out that students with a growth mindset performed better than with a fixed mindset. She also trained students with a fixed mindset to believe more in themselves. They gained insight into how they could change their brain from a fixed to a growth mindset. It turned out that the performance of these students improved more than that of a control group that had not been trained (10).

The American psychologist Aronson conducted research on students to determine whether they developed more passion for their studies after a workshop on the growth mindset . That turned out to be true. They also got higher grades (11).

How does the brain work with a growth mindset?

Gaining insight into how the brain works is a prerequisite for achieving a growth mindset. This mindset can then be worked on in a targeted manner. Insight into the brain to work on a growth mindset is called Brainology . A program for students (12) can be found here on the internet.

Brainology shows that there are millions of neuron pathways in the brain. The neuron pathways connect brain areas with each other. The stronger the neuron pathways, the better the connection between the brain areas. Exercise can activate and strengthen neuron pathways. If nothing is done about it, they will be neglected and may die. Students who had problems with math problems and thought they had no aptitude for them turned out to be able to do more than they thought. The brain chemical dopamine plays an important role in this. It is a substance that runs through the brain via neuron pathways. With sufficient production, the brain area of the nucleus accumbens is activated. This area is also called the reward center or motivation center. When activated, it produces pleasurable feelings and encourages you to take and maintain action (13).

How can you work on a growth mindset yourself?

Dweck mentions, among other things:

Getting to know how the brain works

Neuron pathways develop when they are used frequently. Practice leads to strengthening of neuron pathways, which increases the chance of success. Dopamine is produced and the reward center is activated. This in turn leads to the thought: I can do it if I put my mind to it.

To repeat

The more neuron pathways are used, the stronger they become. Repetition strengthens neuron pathways. Neuronal pathways are both strengthened and expanded if what has been practiced is also applied in a somewhat changed situation.

Break down long-term goals into short-term goals

Dopamine is produced when we are successful. Long term goals are far away. When they are broken down into short-term goals that can bring success, dopamine is produced and we are stimulated to continue. If a short-term goal is not achieved, more practice will be required to achieve it. It is a setback, but they know what needs to be done. Neuronal pathways will need to be strengthened.


Examples of famous people or idols can show how these people persevere to achieve set goals. It can also be seen how they dealt with setbacks and still came back. Examples include sports, film and music idols. People from the immediate environment can also serve as an example. Mirror neurons in the brain ensure that we can reflect on examples.

What applications of grit are there already?

In the US, schools have started experiments to apply the concept of grit in practice. Jason Baehr, professor of philosophy at Loyola Marymount University, has started the Intellectual Virtues Academy in Long Beach, California (14). It is a public secondary school, a kind of breeding ground for perseverance and also for other virtues such as intellectual courage and curiosity. According to Baehr, you can build a culture in the classroom in which struggle and risk-taking are of more value than just giving the right answer. ,
If we want to teach children to persevere, we can show them how that quality has led to success in others and how making mistakes is a normal part of learning and not a reason to give up’ (15).

It is therefore important to work with examples. An example is the study of Steve Jobs in a class. Children’s sign raised their hands to give examples of the concept of grit and specifically perseverance.
“He was wrong on one of the Mac projects he was working on,” said one student, to which another responded, “He used his mistakes to move forward.,

An example of Thomas Edison, the discoverer of the light bulb. He was confronted with a difficult question from a journalist before he made his discovery. Mr. Edison, you have made 5000 attempts without success. Why don’t you stop it?
Edison replied:
“I have had success 5,000 times by showing what doesn’t work. (16)

The attitude of teachers should be to appreciate students’ concentration and perseverance. Here the teacher focuses on the task: ,You have worked really hard, , or , To be able to do this, you must have done your very best, . And don’t focus on the person: “You’re smart” or You’re stupid” .

There are even schools in the US that give grades for working on the growth mindset and perseverance. The principal of a private elementary school in St Louis, Missouri, Tom Hoerr (17):
,Students need to be taken out of their comfort zone: No matter how gifted students are, they have to hit a wall so they can learn to bounce back, hitting a wall again and getting back up again to ultimately persevere and succeed.,

People are also trying to apply grit in the business world . Here too, people look for the starting point for changing the mindset. The researcher Heslin developed a short 90-minute workshop for managers (18). It starts with a scientific article and a video about how the brain changes during learning and what the growth and fixed mindset entail. After this workshop, these managers were open to improvement and were more willing and able to coach employees. The managers discovered that with a growth mindset, people are more open to feedback and criticism from their employees. Second, they discovered a growth mindset also includes believing in the growth of other people. They also coach their employees better. The effects persisted over a 6-week follow-up period.

What comments are made?

From a pedagogical perspective, comments are made on the concept of grit. The American author on upbringing and education Kohn does not believe that children today are less persistent (have grit) than before. According to him, research showing that decisive people are more likely to succeed is not a new insight.(19)
,The benefits of making mistakes are grossly overestimated, and the assumption that children will get back on their feet and try to do better next time is wishful thinking,.

Joan Goodman, professor of education at Pennsylvania University, objects to grit being called a ,good character trait, or a ,virtue., He believes it is incorrect that if you don’t have grit and be a good child, you would be a bad child. if you do have it., He also wonders whether the aspect of perseverance is a character trait, according to him it is a by-product of character traits such as confidence, courage or curiosity. (20)


Grit appears to be decisive for success, more than IQ or academic intelligence. Duckworth distinguishes three elements in the concept of grit. She mentions perseverance, passion and focusing on long-term goals. She mentions Dweck’s mindset idea as a possible way to develop grit. Dweck is based on the growth and fixed mindset. Her research shows that a growth mindset can be achieved. She sets the condition that the person must have insight into the functioning of his brain in order to be able to work meaningfully on a growth mindset. Practice, success and examples are concrete elaborations. Comments on the concept of grit are made from a pedagogical perspective.

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