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The Science of Grit

Coined by Angela Duckworth in her excellent book Grit, the term has become synonymous with a growth mindset, persistence, and a strong work ethic. In short, grit is the shared trait of the successful, the one key element that allows anyone to find their path and crush it. In the sections below, we outline the four ways we can encourage students to cultivate grit by honing in on passion, practice, purpose, and hope.


Students need to be intrinsically drawn to something to develop grit. Like all motivation, internalization is the most crucial step for students. Year after year, parents call us because their student “just isn’t motivated.” Inevitably, I remind them that students (and human beings in general) are motivated by their reasons, not yours. It’s challenging to watch this process unfold. However, the first step to honing a student’s grit is to help them develop a passion for something on their own terms. Very few students will be intrinsically motivated grades alone. Therefore, we must help them develop a more substantial ‘why’ for succeeding in school.

Our unique focus on solving long-term problems allows us to cultivate passion by developing goals WITH students instead of FOR students. Goals are the foundation for success and the foundation for our unique executive functioning skill curriculum. Our goal isn’t what Duckworth calls fireworks passion—the kind that comes and goes. We’re talking about compass passion—the kind that guides a student through the ups and downs of education. Writing goals at the outset is critical to building passion so we can have sustained practice.


The science of grit is the science of action. Helping students find a strong ‘why’ is critical but only effective if it leads to sustainable action. Once students write meaningful goals, we help them design sustainable systems to achieve them. For example, we focus on organizational and planning strategies that help students get ahead and stay ahead. We design learning strategies to take advantage of a student’s unique learning style as we move toward the goal together. Passion is great, but consistent practice is better. The science of grit makes this fact abundantly clear: intrinsic motivation plus consistent practice creates an unbreakable spirit. This works incredibly level on a micro-level (i.e. one school year at a time), but how do we cultivate grit that transcends the grade level or the classroom?


The key to purpose is to make the goal social, enhancing grit as a by-product. Studies demonstrate the importance of making goals social. We encourage students to develop grit by making goals bigger than themselves. For example, an athlete can work harder individually during the off-season, knowing that he works in service to his or her team’s larger goal. Likewise, a student is more likely to show higher, more mature levels of grit if his or her academic goals are aligned with something larger, like a desire to make one’s family proud or a larger mission outside of academics.


Lastly, a key component in the science of grit is sustained hope, a belief that the future will be better than the present. While we have written plenty about and believe fully in gratitude for one’s present circumstances, hope is necessary to develop high levels of grit. How a student responds in moments of adversity or failure is incredibly important as these are the best growth opportunities. Teaching student’s that failure and frustration are part of the process and encouraging them to view setbacks through a lens of hope is the best way to cultivate grit.

We hope the principles and suggested applications above help you cultivate grit in all the students you meet. For information on the science of grit, developing a learning mindset, and all other things related to executive functioning skills, please check out our blog page. For more information on our unique one-on-one academic coaching services, please reach out here.

Evan Weinberger


Staying Ahead of the Game offers unique academic coaching & tutoring services to help good students achieve greatness.

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