Determinants of Success – Grit and Growth Mindset

Two of the most impactful business books that have influenced how I think about work and life are Mindset: New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, and Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. Both base their books on extensive research and fact-based observations around determinants of success. Despite the fact that many think that their intelligence and success in life are determined based on genetics and other factors around their family’s circumstances – the ages-old nature versus nurture argument – these researchers have demonstrated otherwise. The good news for us mere mortals is that intelligence and talent are not fixed traits but can be grown with perseverance and practice. 

Dweck, a professor of psychology and mindset expert, focuses her research on the differences between having a fixed versus a growth mindset. 

  • “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” 
  • “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort.” 

These two mindsets are profoundly different. When people have a fixed mindset, they give up easily, don’t challenge themselves because they are afraid to fail and they look at others as intimidating. The good news is people can learn to evolve and change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, even if you were told, or believed in your early years, that you were not destined for much due to your life circumstances. Having a growth mindset during different stages of your life is critical for success around how we strive and reach our goals. A growth mindset can also apply to various career fields, business, technology, sports, academia, medicine, and beyond. 

Dweck clearly illustrates the impact of each mindset with inspiring, real-life, success and failure stories of some of the greatest sports, education, and business icons of our times. The more reliable factors associated with achieving success are perseverance and practice rather than life circumstances. A growth mindset can help advance you in all areas of your life if you are willing to focus work on and improve. Check out Dweck’s TED Talk with almost three million views because of “this” takeaway. 

Dweck’s research has found that people with growth mindsets consistently approach life with the following qualities: 

  1. They believe that trying hard is the key to success.
  2. They embrace failure and let it teach them how to do better next time.
  3. They are excited by difficult challenges.
  4. They think “not yet” instead of “no.”
  5. They have grit.

For me, numbers 1, 3, and 5 in the list above have been part of who I am. Whether it was working hard at school, pursuing athletic endeavors, or chasing work dreams, I know these we keys to my success from an early age. Areas that I have had to work on throughout my career are number 2 and 4 around embracing failure and looking at it as a learning opportunity and embracing not yet. I remember applying for my first VP of Comms role and I made it to the last round of interviews. After my final interview, I heard from the recruiter they were going to go with the other candidate. I was crushed since it really felt like this was the right job, with a great boss, and a terrific company culture. Three months down the line the recruiter called back and told me the other person did not work out and they wanted to go with me. That was a big “not yet” moment for me that I look back on when I hear no and need to remember that things happen at the pace they are supposed to. 

The growth mindset means not being afraid of new or complex challenges, looking at failures as a way to grow, and knowing that skills can improve even at the most challenging tasks through practice. During the past few years, I’ve seen my son’s school talk more and more about a growth mindset, especially around learning and the COVID pandemic. The language around mindset can be compelling, even for grammar school-aged children. The focus has been on praising students for their efforts and teaching them their abilities can be improved. As Dweck has concluded, children who are “praised for effort were eager to take on a challenging task and learn something new”. I cannot imagine a more impactful life skill to teach children than setting them up with an open-minded view of how they can positively improve their abilities in order to lead a more successful life.

As Dweck mentioned in her five qualities for a growth mindset, one of those is grit. In the aforementioned book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Duckworth dedicates an entire book to the science behind grit, which she defines as a combination of passion and perseverance for a singularly important goal, and is the hallmark of high achievers in every domain. Her evidence-based research also found that people’s grit can grow. 

Similar to a growth mindset, grit can also be applied to all disciplines – academia, science, athletics, business, technology, and beyond. 

Duckworth defines those that are gritty as possessing:

  1. Interest: enjoy what you’re doing.
  2. Practice: conduct deliberate practice to improve on your weaknesses and continuously improve.
  3. Purpose: believe that your work matters and improves the lives of others.
  4. Hope: belief in your capacity for achievement and ability to overcome difficulties.

For me, hope is the most critical to constantly keep top of mind. There have been times in life when I have been looking for a new role, a family member has faced a serious illness, or other financial or emotional difficulties have arisen, when staying positive and knowing tomorrow will be brighter is critical. A career change can be challenging since questions creep in about personal capabilities, or should I go with my first offer, or do I have the skills to take on bigger responsibilities? Reminding yourself you are capable and that this difficult period will pass is the essence of hope.

One of my favorite stories about grit and the focus on getting better step by step is Myron Rolle. He was recently featured in the New York Times about his pivot from a football player in the NFL to his focus today on becoming a pediatric neurosurgeon. Rolle was a standout college football player and was fortunate enough to make it to the NFL, but his time playing professionally did not go as planned. Once that chapter closed he felt deflated. However, his mother reminded him of his second dream to be a neurosurgeon, which he is now very close to accomplishing. This is the power of dreams and putting one foot in front of the other to achieve them. 

Both grit and having a growth mindset can be developed, improved, and deepened. You have the power to set big goals and take the necessary steps each day to achieve them. Commit to an approach where you biome a lifelong learner at each stage of your development. As we know, there will be challenges along the way, but likely more successes than you ever thought possible. When looking back on your life, you will thank yourself to going after what you want and creating the life you have only dreamed of.

3 responses to “Determinants of Success – Grit and Growth Mindset”

  1. That was an incredible article! Absolutely life changing! I’ve been in “fixed” autopilot mode for years now and didn’t even realize it. Your writing style is amazing and if you haven’t already done so PLEASE WRITE A BOOK! This came at a crucial part in my career. Thank you so much for this!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: