Learn how to build grit 
November 2022 | The Learning and Wellbeing Team

GRIT is the capacity to keep going even when something becomes boring, hard and or painful.  Research on the nature of perseverance and how we build our capacity to keep going was initiated by Angela Duckworth, while working as a grade 7 and 8 math teacher.  She noticed that some students, not always the most proficient students, would keep working on problems, while others would give up. Students who kept going would finish the math questions, eventually. But it wasn’t quick, and it wasn’t easy. 

We have all had moments of grit. The home stretch of a 5K race is painful. You are tired; your body aches, and you feel like you are going to throw up. But you keep going. You have learned, through all of your training, that you can, in fact, keep going — even when you are tired and in pain. Even when you want to throw up.  School can be the same way. Especially the last few weeks of a semester and the few days before exams, when you need to go over and over what you have learned.  You are tired. Bored out of your mind. How many times would anyone want to review all those terms in a biology course? Even with school, you can reach a point where you are sick and tired of it. You may even feel like throwing up.  

With this very simple, ground-breaking insight, Angela Duckworth quit teaching and applied to grad school for psychology, where she started researching the nature of GRIT.  She identified two components of GRIT — perseverance of effort and consistency of interestConsistency (of interest) is about remaining focused on a task over a long period of time. Perseverance (of effort) is about continuing to keep going even when the task is boring or becomes difficult. Perseverance of effort contributes to achieving goals despite setbacks and failure. Duckworth calls it “sustained devotion.”

Two sides of the same coin?

Perseverance of effort and consistency of interest are not the same thing.  Perseverance is about finishing an activity, such as doing math problems or finishing a race.  Consistency of interest is about sticking with activity over time.  That means continuing to take math courses or continuing with a sport such as running. As it turns out, perseverance of effort is more important for academic success (i.e., your GPA) than consistency of effort. In fact, one study showed that perseverance of effort was related to academic grades, but that consistency of interest wasn’t. This explains why many students can still do well at school but end up changing programs and studying something else. 

Angela Duckworth

The difference between persistence and consistency of interest is exemplified by Angela Duckworth herself.  As an undergraduate student, Angela Duckworth studied neurobiology at Harvard. She wasn’t doing very well at first but wasn’t doing very well and was told she should quit. She refused, buckled down and ultimately did better, completing her degree. After graduating, she wasn’t sure where her true interests were and continued with school, completing a Master’s in Neuroscience at Oxford. Still dissatisfied and searching for the right career path, she worked for a well-respected global management consulting firm and earned a huge salary but eventually became tired of that as well. She then decided at age 27 to pursue a career in education and started teaching math to seventh and eighth graders in public schools in New York and later in San Francisco.

After five years of teaching, Duckworth was again dissatisfied and started her Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. At that time, she was 32 and certain she had finally found a career she was passionate about — understanding what some people persevere, and others don’t. 

Angela Duckworth’s path is a good example of persistence of effort, even while her interests changed. Eventually, she discovered what became her life’s passion.  But she had to put up with a lot of hard work and difficulty along the way. 

How much GRIT do you have? 

The original GRIT questionnaire developed by Angela Duckworth consisted of just ten items. The academic GRIT questionnaire is a modification of the original questionnaire that focusses on your ability to persevere with school work, especially school work that becomes boring or hard. Take the quiz and find out how much GRIT you have. Remember that whatever you score on the GRIT questionnaire, you can start taking steps to increase your GRIT.  

How to build GRIT: 

Keep in mind that you can build GRIT. Studies show that, in general, older adults have more GRIT than younger adults–which means that the amount of GRIT you have can be increased. Building GRIT is a lot like going to the gym to train. If you work out regularly throughout the week and push yourself, you will become more fit and will be able to train longer and eventually do more. Training teaches you that you can push through pain, boredom and difficulty. 

Going to school is just like going to the gym. Studying can be boring and difficult. By the end of the semester, you may get so sick and tired of what you are doing that it may feel like you are going to through up.

Let’s get started on building your GRIT.

#1. Set daily goals that push your limits. You build GRIT by learning that you can do a little bit more than you thought. Start with working on what is hard or boring at school (e.g., math problems). Do 20-minutes of math problems before lunch. It will be hard and boring. But push yourself to do it. Remind yourself it is just 30 minutes. Even if it is boring or hard, you will make it. Then repeat this the following day. Do 30 more minutes. This is just like going to the gym.

#2 Learn to push through the pain. You build GRIT when you push yourself to do a little bit more. Eventually, even the most interesting courses will become tedious and boring. After doing 30 minutes of math every day, you may need to increase this to 60 minutes. This is just like training for a marathon. After the 10th day of training, you may feel like quitting. Take a day off just like if you were training but then get back to it.

#3. Surround yourself with others who have GRIT. One of the best ways to build GRIT and motivate yourself to keep going is to work with someone else who also wants to build GRIT as well. All you have to do is mention to some that you “find this class super boring and you are looking for someone to study with to push through and get it done.”  Remember that most people in most courses will get tired and feel unmotivated, so you will have lots of people to help are feeling just like you are. Most universities will offer a number of group study sessions to help students keep going through to the very end of term. 

#4. Connect to a higher purpose. Angela Duckworth’s research found that people who can tap into a higher purpose or goal are able to stick it out longer. If you remind yourself that your boring class or paper is part of something bigger, such as getting the degree you need for that next step (e.g., a job, another degree, or a new career path) or just about getting the course over with, it will be easier to keep pushing.  

#5. Pursue your interests. Being able to push through even when something gets hard or boring is important because, eventually, there will be part of the job, course or program that will be boring. Pushing through will be easier if you can pursue something that interests you. Sometimes that means taking different courses or a different degree. However, you may also be able to make a course more interesting by choosing a topic for a paper or project that is interesting. 

#6. Change your mindset. The last tip is to change your mindset. If you think about your boring, hard course as pointless, useless or unfair, it will be hard to stay motivated. But if you look at it as an opportunity to build some GRIT, it will be a bit easier.  


Muenks, K., Wigfield, A., Yang, J. S., & O’Neal, C. R. (2017). How true is grit? Assessing its relations to high school and college students’ personality characteristics, self-regulation, engagement, and achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 109(5), 599–620. 

Seligman, Martin E. P. (2012). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. Bargain Books



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