What Makes You Gritty? Nature, or Nurture?

This week’s issue of Mэntal Musings almost didn’t happen. You see, I had a little email snafu and was locked out of Substack for a few days. Thankfully, the Substack distress team finally responded to my pleas, and we’re up and running once again! (Interested in signing up to receive this newsletter in your inbox for free? You may do so at the bottom of any page on our website.)


Pop quiz for my long-time readers: Was that an example of grit? The correct answer is no. As you may recall, grit = passion + perseverance in pursuit of a long-term goal. A weekly issue of MM? To me, that doesn’t quite resonate as long-term.


Now deep into Chapter 5 of our book, Grit, Dr. Duckworth poses the question, what contributes to grit? Is it our genes, or our upbringing? Both, she says. The results of a study conducted by researchers in London of over 2000 pairs of teenage twins administered the Grit Scale showed that perseverance was about 37 percent heritable, while passion was roughly 20%. This means that genetics influences about 37 percent of the the variation in perseverance from person to person. Which genes influence passion and perseverance? Here, Dr. Duckworth is coy, stating “almost all human traits are polygenic, meaning that traits are influenced by more than one gene.” She then states that a person’s height, for example, is influenced by no fewer than 697 different genes!


These numbers suggest that our environment plays a huge role in how gritty we are. But the specifics regarding grit are still murky, as the following graph shows:



As you can see, the grit scores that Dr. Duckworth had of American adults showed, in general, that the older you are, the grittier you’re likely to be. But are these environmental differences generational, or do you become grittier the more life experience you have? In other words, are twenty somethings less gritty due to changes in society brought about by modern technology (Google search engines, etc.), or is it because they lack life experience, such as raising children and caring for elderly parents? What do you think about this? For her part, Dr. Duckworth admits that the science surrounding grit is still too young. To answer this question properly, a longitudinal study conducted over many years would need to be conducted.


Given what we’ve learned thus far on our journey, what would you say is needed in order to grow our own grit and promote it in our children, students, colleagues and classmates? Stay tuned, as this is what we’ll begin diving into next week!