As a psychotherapist and researcher, I have long been interested in understanding why some people seem to be successful in achieving their goals in life and others struggle or fail. Why, for example, do some people who seem to be intelligent and talented not accomplish as much as others who appear to be less intelligent and/or minimally talented?
My doctoral dissertation was a research study of social work clinicians who had decided to become administrators in addition to or instead of continuing only as direct service providers of mental health services. In the course of my work I discovered the concept of the “hardy personality” (“hardiness”) which was developed by Suzanne C. Kobasa and Salvadore Maddi. They described this personality as demonstrating three essential components: commitment, control, and challenge.
Commitment refers to one’s ability to believe in the truth, importance, and interest value of who one is and what one is doing which results in a tendency to involve oneself fully in the many aspects of life, including work, family, and interpersonal relationships.
Control refers to the propensity to believe and act as if one can influence the course of events in his/her life. It involves the possession of a coping repertoire that enables such people to act effectively on their own and interpret and incorporate various life experiences, transforming these into something manageable and beneficial.
Challenge is based on the belief that change, rather than sameness or predictability, is the norm. These are people more likely to thrive under the circumstances of a new challenge or opportunity brought about by a new endeavor.
The clinician-turned-administrators in my study who scored high on the hardiness measures tended to have much more successful and less stressful transitions than those who were less “hardy.” My research investigated the various attributes and positive personality characteristics that promoted the more successful transitions. These included a record of high achievement, success, and professional advancement. High self-esteem, enjoying a challenge, being a risk-taker, being entrepreneurial, and being motivated and ambitious were listed as well.
Many successful transition-makers reported that they were not afraid to make mistakes, had good people skills, and tended not to be passive in their personal and professional lives. Hardy people are those who turn stressful life experiences into opportunities for personal and professional growth. The seek and value change, rather than finding ways to avoid it. They believe that change, rather than sameness or predictability, is the norm. The hardy person is also characterized by such qualities as resourcefulness, innovativeness, creativity, and as someone who can emerge victorious under conditions of stress and uncertainty.
In her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, author Angela Duckworth identifies a psychological trait she calls grit. The combination of passion, having an enduring interest in the job one is doing, and perseverance, being persistent and never giving up, are the two components that, in her view, help us better understand the psychology of achievement. She believes we have a tendency to overemphasize talent or natural ability and underemphasize the importance of zeal, determination, and motivation. We also tend to see intelligence as key in explaining success and achievement, which while true to some extent, is far from the only factor involved. She has studied why some individuals accomplish more than others who are of equal intelligence, and discovered that grit, unlike many traditional measures of performance, is not tied to intelligence and may explain why some very intelligent individuals do not consistently perform well over long periods.
Duckworth discussed the four psychological assets that gritty people have in common. These are interest, practice, purpose, and hope.
By interest she means that one must be passionate about something that interests them the most. The grittiest people have something they love to do.
Practice requires them to do things that interest them better than they did yesterday. They must be ready to improve on their skills, regardless of how excellent they currently perform. Challenging themselves to an exercise that exceeds their skill level leads to mastery.
Without purpose, one may not be able to carry on their interest for a long time. Hence it is essential to identify how their work is connected to their own well-being as well as the well-being of others.
Hope helps us see our ultimate concern through to the end. Grit loses when we are unable to get back up after a setback. But when we get back up, it prevails.
In Part II, I discuss whether hardiness and grit are qualities that you either possess or do not, i.e. innate, or whether each of them can be developed – and how – if they do not already exist.