♪ We're talking today to Angela Duckworth.
She's a professor at University of Pennsylvania.
She wrote this book, which I have read more than once and highlighted endlessly, and she has something called Character Lab.
Thanks for doing this.
Thanks a lot for saying yes.
I've been wanting to pummel you with questions for many years, so just brace yourself 'cause here we go.
I read in your book that it said 37% of perseverance is sort of hereditary.
Grit is partially influenced by your genes.
You know, if you had a really good luck of the genetic lottery, then you might be inclined to be a little grittier, but that's true for every human trait, literally.
I mean, even liking broccoli or, you know, like, that's partly your genetics.
Um, And I say "partly" because it's also partly nurture, partly your experience, partly your circumstances, partly things that are not your DNA.
I have chosen, as a psychologist, to focus more on the things that are not your DNA only because I can't change your DNA, but I will be the first to admit that obviously my personality, my character is definitely influenced by my genes and every experience I ever had.
It's not nature or nurture.
It's nature and nurture.
The reality of greatness is that there is an enormous amount of struggle, there are many days of disappointment.
Charles Darwin-- Mm-hmm.
who you said in your book was like a plotter.
Like, he was not some-- Duckworth: Self-described plotter.
And so, that's a script to rewrite for everybody.
The genius is really not the whole story and maybe not even the biggest part of the story.
Duckworth: I don't think that Charles Darwin had the words "imposter syndrome," but I can't tell you how many people that I have interviewed who are--you just can't imagine that they would have ever had imposter syndrome, would have doubted themselves, would have felt like, "Ooh, I'm really not the most talented person here."
I don't think a lot of people would imagine that John Irving-- you know, a part of him is dyslexia, but also just that, you know, he really struggled, you know?
It was very hard for him to write every beautiful word that he eventually wrote.
And I sort of wish Charles Darwin did have access to that terminology, 'cause he would have a great tweet about it.
I mean, I do think that, uh, I think there is nobody who doesn't have self-doubt, um, and, you know, like plateaus in progress that you wonder whether you'll ever break through.
Um, but I think we're entering a new era of not only psychological literacy, but also just a lot more honesty and vulnerability.
And you know, when we know these things about Charles Darwin, saying like that he was a plotter, he did it in his diary, you know.
Now I think we're doing it much more publicly, and people can complain about this, but I think this is one part of social media and one part of the way that we're living in our world that I do like, which is, you know, I do think that it's a good thing to share what we're feeling even when those feelings are not, you know, exuberant confidence.
♪ So, we talked to Robin Roberts, and she was, like, you know, as a 12-year-old, she was the Mississippi State Bowling Champion who knew that she wanted to be a broadcaster.
She had that, like, singularity of purpose.
Duckworth: When she was that young?
Her sister saw somebody on TV and said, "Robin, Robin, come here.
That could be you."
And it just like locked in for her.
And she said she would be at ESPN forever.
And then she got the big job behind the desk at "Good Morning America."
And I wondered if you could kind of deconstruct grit for us.
What is in every grit story, including Robin's?
I think the beginning is like "What is grit?"
I define grit as this combination of perseverance and passion for long-term goals.
The perseverance for long-term goals is exactly what the word "grit" sounds like.
"True Grit" the Western-- you know, you just think of somebody like, "Oh, resilience, hard work-- Unstoppable.
But the passion part of grit, I think, is equally important, so when I think of Robin's story, you know, it's loving something.
You know, it's like loving something in your heart and wanting to be loyal.
Um, you know, when people talk about their--their work, when--when they're really gritty, um, I mean, it is--like, they use romantic terms, like, "I love my work," I mean, "passion."
I mean, these are all terms of romantic engagement, and now people are talking about, you know, their vocations that way.
So, grit is perseverance and passion for long-term goals.
And when I look at people who really epitomize grit, I find often that there is a story that goes back years about, you know, how it is that they fell in love, um, with this thing that they think about 24/7, whether or not anyone's paying them to think about it.
You know, people who have grit will say things like, "I hope I do this until my dying breath."
"I don't intend to retire."
"I would do this job if it had no salary."
So I think there is perseverance for long-term goals that we should try to understand about these people, but also, and I think the place to begin, is, like, "Why do they have such passion for--for these goals?"
Um, and I don't want to make it sound like there's a moment in time where somebody discovers a passion and before that they didn't have it, and then after that they do because that's what happens in movies, and I think we-- we want it to happen in that, you know, fairy-tale sense.
It's a little more gradual than that.
And even when a young girl says, like, "Hey, you know, I want to be on television someday, and I want to be a broadcaster," I still think there is a progression, a deepening, um, uh, just like any relationship.
So, passion to me, like, cuts both ways.
And so, would you just tell your own story of how you landed on clarity of passion and about how old you were when you crystallized it?
I was, uh, only, um, able to say, "You know what.
I should really become a psychologist" when I was 32 years old.
I mean, that was the year in my life when I had that clarity that I should go and get a Ph.D. in psychology and then go off on the path of research and being a professor.
And, frankly, that was about 10 years later than I wished it would happen.
In fact, some people maybe know a little earlier, but my journey was pretty long, and my story was that, you know, I grew up knowing that I wanted to help people, and I tried lots of things along the way to being a psychologist.
I, you know, first was a tutor and a Big Sister.
I also visited nursing homes.
You know, it wasn't until I was 32 that I had the cumulative life experience to say, "All right, now I have an understanding of a problem in the world, "which is kids not learning, um, you know, what they need to learn "to be successful in life and in school, like, not doing well in school.
"I have a world problem that I know something about "that--that grabs me.
"And I have an idea of how I, specifically, "can make a difference.
"Um, and it won't be by being a school principal, "and it won't be by making policy, "and it won't even be by being a classroom teacher.
It will be by being someone who studies motivation," something that I've only, you know, become more understanding of, more cognizant of in the last few years because of new research, is that there are periods of life that are for sampling, and there are times in life for specialization.
But first of all, even when you are a mature professional, you know, you're a painter and you've been painting for a while, you're a psychologist and you've been a scientist for a while, there are periods in your life where you are specializing.
You know what you're doing, you've got a game plan, maybe there's a chart on your wall, you've got a to-do list.
And then there are times in your life where you're sampling.
This is actually the term scientists use for, "I don't know, maybe that'll work.
How about this?"
These periods of sampling and specialization, you know, are like a mosaic that you can expect that, you know, well beyond your teenage years or your 20s, you're gonna continue to have periods in your life where you're exploring, you're not exactly sure what your direction is.
And then, when you have some more clarity, then you go.
And then maybe 4 or 5 years later, you have a another period of sampling.
I think the other thing that comes into play is growth mindset/ fixed mindset, which is the great work from Carol Dweck out of Stanford, about people who think they can find their way to it and people who think that it was sort of cast in stone the day they were born.
They're so smart or they work so hard.
And so can you talk a little bit about how those two things work in relationship to one another?
What a lot of people don't know is that what a mindset is and it's like--in strictest scientific terms-- it's a belief, I mean, it's an implicit belief.
In other words, a belief that you carry around with you helps you interpret the world and yourself, and you don't always articulate it consciously, but it's there doing its work.
And what Carol originally found in her research was that there are mindsets about intelligence that you could believe, deep down inside, that human nature was pretty fixed.
Like, you know, you're not gonna make a person smarter.
You're not gonna make them more artistically talented or more athletic, or you could have a totally different belief, a different theory of human nature that says human beings are fundamentally malleable, that you could get smarter, that you could get more talented at anything, that you could become more athletic in terms of your basic ability, not just that you could learn certain skills.
The other thing is, morally you could grow.
Yeah, I mean-- We talked to a lot of amazing people-- Bryan Stevenson, Father Greg Boyle-- who work with these populations, who they themselves judge themselves to be bad people.
And their message is, there is no such thing as a bad person.
And to me, that's the broader definition of--of really having a growth mindset just to assume that we ourselves and each and every person that you meet is truly a work in progress and they are growing and they're not fixed, you know, the way they are.
So, when it comes to passion in particular, right-- so what would it mean to have a growth mindset about passion?
It would mean to think that passion is something that has developed over time, and it's not just, well, you either have a passion for art or you don't have a passion for art.
And there is empirical research showing that if you think of interest as, you know, and passion as something which is malleable and developed over time, experience, then you are much more likely to do all the adaptive things, you know, that-- that one does to pursue those and to be open-minded.
I think we're in the middle of, you know-- I think it's like a revolution, and I know that sounds hyperbolic, but there was an Agricultural Revolution.
We used to be hunter-gatherers and then somebody figured out how to farm, and that was truly a revolution.
It marked a quantum leap forward in civilization, quality of life, and then there was the Industrial Revolution.
So, machines, labor-saving devices, you know, factories.
OK, that was another revolution, and human life was never the same.
Then there has been and is the Knowledge Revolution.
So, knowledge is free.
You know, everybody carries around the knowledge of their world in the palm of their hand in the form of their phone.
Now I think we're ready for the Psychological Revolution, and that is that we are getting--all of us, you know, not just therapists, right, and not just professors-- all of us are getting smarter about our own emotions, about depression, anxiety, about character, about motivation, about effort.
I think we're in the middle of a revolution where everybody wants to become a little smarter about human nature.
And the good thing is that, over the last hundred years, there's been enormous progress in understanding the brain and--and psychology in ourselves.
So, rather than going on, you know, hand-me-down wisdom and raw intuition, we can go on science, you know, like there's a way to be more grateful, there's a way to be grittier.
We can understand what happens when somebody fails and what happens in their brain, what happens in their mind.
We can then use all that knowledge to say, "If I have a daughter or a son who's failing a test "and really discouraged, you know, there's a way that I can become a psychologically smarter parent by learning all these things.
And then, also, some of the leading psychologists in mindset work, including David Yeager at UT Austin said, "You know what, we have all these things "that we say as teachers "that come right out of our mouths without our thinking.
"Somebody doesn't do well on a math test, and you're like, "'Oh, Kelly, don't worry.
"You're--maybe you're not a math person, 'but, hey, you do really well in art and English, right?'"
You know, things that are supposed to be helpful, like, "Oh, Kelly, you did really well on that quiz.
You're so smart."
And the idea of the thesaurus was, OK, you have an intention, but what would be a way to communicate a growth mindset?
What would be a psychologically wiser way to communicate, either positive or negative feedback to a young person?
And so, I think the thesaurus, which is, you know, instead of saying, "Oh, wow, you're so smart," you could say like, "Hey, I really liked the work that you did on that unit."
You know, like, "I really liked how you solved that problem.
That is a really elegant solution."
And instead of like, "Hey, maybe you're not a math person," maybe like, "Hey, you know what, "maybe you didn't get that concept yet.
Like, let's work on--" I love the word "yet."
It's the best word in the English language.
I know, right?
It's a 3-letter miracle.
I think that the possibility for policymakers to be psychologically wiser is just, like, unimaginably awesome, right?
It's, like, what would it mean if the leader of every country had a real deep and authentic and accurate grasp of, like, how human nature worked?
Imagine if we made it possible for everyone to have the kind of understanding of human nature that a therapist does.
Evolution has kind of wired us to be cooperative and to be caring.
And, you know, I think most scientists would agree that human evolution has, you know, brought forth our current generation to be kind and to be concerned about our, you know, not only our kin but, also, you know, people who just are in the community.
So there's plenty of research, I think, showing that the pro-social motivation and care for others, what are sometimes called self-transcendent motivations, they're universal.
Um, in research, that's done on values around the world.
There's like a list of 10 values where, you know, you can, like with playing cards, um-- And I do this in my class-- put them in rank order, number 1 all the way down to number 10.
And we all assume that we all--we all care about all 10.
But the thing about values is, what do you care about more?
When you look at how people order these cards, around the world, it is benevolence and universalism--the two self-transcendent values.
Benevolence, caring about your friends and family; universalism, caring about-- Corrigan: Mankind?
Yes, mankind, you know, the world-- these are at the top.
And, you know, values that are like, you know, power, like, Hedonism, you know, those ranked closer to the bottom.
♪ I do think that there's a fascination with, um, the idea of raw talent, of a natural, and there is a distaste for the striver.
And so--and yet when you ask people what do they value more, they value hard work and then lower on the list is--is innate talent.
But the fact is that if you are listening to a piano piece and you find out that the player has been working 4 hours a day for the past 10 years, it sounds one way to your ear, and if you're told that the player is a natural, it sounds a different way, a more beautiful way.
And I wondered if you have a theory about why we are so drawn to the-- to the fantasy of the natural.
The work on the naturalness bias by Chia-Jung Tsay-- who is a really good friend and co-author and collaborator, so, we're working on this problem--I think is pioneering because of this asymmetry, because people say they like hard work, but then they turn around and they reward the talented person, they pay more for their ideas, they rank them higher.
Um, it's--it's really an asymmetry that I think is--is, you know, that's the problem, right, that-- like, 'cause there's the mismatch between what we all say we care about and then what we seemingly really care about.
I think the reason that we have this preference for people who are naturals is that we assume that in the future, the striver who worked 4 hours a day and was very diligent-- is--is at some point gonna hit their head on a ceiling of ability and they're just not gonna progress.
So we're less optimistic about the future of the striver as opposed to the natural.
We're, like, "The sky's the limit.
They could do-- they could do anything."
Now, the question is, are we right about that?
I think in my own experience, and in my research, really this preference for naturals is--is unwarranted because so much of what you do in life and--and how good you eventually are, especially after you've already kind of passed through the amateur stage, really is about your dedication.
Role models are really important.
Like, that's a piece of the puzzle.
I think the--the power of role models is several fold, but maybe, first and foremost, it gives us the confidence that we can do something.
I think role models do other things, like, they literally show us how.
Like somebody models, you know, how to, you know, put together a certain, like, hard-to-put-together thing, and you're like, "Oh, like that."
I mean, that's why we watch videos on YouTube.
Models actually provide a script so, you know, like, we're like, "Oh, I don't know what to do."
And then you just follow what the--what the model does.
But I think relevant to trying to do something that you didn't think you could do until you saw a role model do it for you, I think the bedrock of that is confidence.
I mean, you see somebody do something and you think, "Oh, I can do that."
An example would be Roger Bannister, who, um, broke the 4-minute mile.
Yeah, so, um, British runner.
And before Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile, it was widely assumed that it was beyond human capacity.
It was-- Impossible.
But very quickly after Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile, several other people, like, even I think within a week, you know, also broke the 4-minute mile.
He showed what was possible, and I think our role models maybe first and most importantly do exactly that.
I want to talk about pessimism and optimism.
So, one of the things you pointed out is that a pessimist will think that the-- whatever wall they just hit is pervasive and permanent Duckworth: Hmm... And the optimist will think that it's temporary and specific.
Is there research around what the split is?
Like, how many of us are pessimists and how many of us are optimists, and does that--do we evolve in that way, also?
Is there a continuum of our lifetimes?
The work on optimism, especially how we explain negative events-- something bad happens.
Do we think of it in an optimistic way?
You know, "Oh, whatever-- whatever caused me to not win "that fellowship is specific and it's temporary.
And, you know, I can do something about it.
That optimistic explanation versus a pessimistic explanation of the same event, that is the pioneering work of my Ph.D. advisor Marty Seligman.
And I don't know that Marty has a count for, you know, how much of humanity falls on one side of the dividing line versus the other, but I do know that in research that he and others have done is the more you are inclined toward optimistic explanations, especially of negative events, especially of, you know, having bad days and, um, and misfortune, the more you have an optimistic, spontaneous explanation, the better things go.
Um, and I think really what Marty would say today, because that pioneering work was really done 50 years ago, he would say really what he was onto was agency, the psychology of agency.
Um, yeah, and there's a deep connection there, because if you think, "Hmm, the cause of my not winning that fellowship "was specifically that I didn't do this essay well, "and, you know, like, it's not like that essay is gonna determine the rest of my life."
So, it's limited to this event, but you could say, "Oh, you know what.
"I need to next time I'm doing the application "really think through what the prompt is "and get some feedback on my essay and do a better job."
And a pessimistic one, like, "Uhh, I didn't get that fellowship--" "I'm never gonna get it."
"I'm an idiot."
"I never should have applied."
Like, "Nobody likes me, I never win anything," you know, does not incline you toward agency at all.
It's just this sort of, like, you know, "I think I'll crawl back into bed.
There's nothing to be done."
You know, psychologists are--you know, our job is to understand everything that happens between the ears, right?
It's like one person.
I wonder what they're thinking and they're feeling But the understanding of how opportunity, which is really outside the person, right, what is society saying to Black women?
What is society saying to Asian women or what is society allowing, you know, students to do who live in a certain ZIP Code?
Um, those are things that a psychologist isn't trained to study, but I more and more want to study, and that's actually the big focus of my research.
is to understand the opportunities that enable people to succeed.
Um, you know, where do these mindsets that are so great come from?
I'm guessing that they come from a succession of circumstances that taught you that, you know, there's a reason to be optimistic about what you can do and how you can change.
♪ Corrigan: So, there was another quote I loved by Nietzsche that said that the people who were truly successful loved doing the small secondary things almost more than the dazzling whole.
Do you see that across the board?
There is a related quote, uh, "Success is a journey, not a destination."
You know, and it's the steps, the many, many, many steps maybe the countless steps, you know, each of them, maybe, you know, undocumented by social media, but just like you're taking one step in front of the other and you're working on this little paragraph and that sentence.
And every high achiever that I've ever asked, multiple choice, "Is success a journey or is success a destination?"
with incredible confidence, they say, like, "Oh, my gosh, it's a journey."
When I was in college, I was a neurobiology major, and the received wisdom circa 1988 was, brain doesn't change all that much, at least, not for the better, after a certain very early stage of life, maybe early childhood, maybe adolescence.
And now we know, the brain, the mind, character, it's--it's a work-in-progress all--all of our lives, you know, from the beginning to the end.
I mean that's the most optimistic thing to come out of science in 50 years, if you ask me.
It's like that you're not done.
You don't have to be done.
A sad thing that I found in your book was that a 2014 Gallup poll said that 13% of Americans feel engaged at work.
It wasn't even like very engaged or deeply engaged-- I know.
It's just sorta.
So there is a lot of disengagement.
I think there's a lot of room to grow.
So, it is sad.
Are we giving in too easily to feelings of boredom and disinterest?
I think that there are structural or societal reasons, but there are always gonna be like the need for individuals to change those things, you know, so--so, it's probably not the blame, you know, to be assigned to the individual, but who's gonna change that life of yours except for you.
I mean, I really do actually lean towards like individuals being agents of their own lives, not because I don't believe that there are structural reasons why we're living the lives we do, but who's gonna change our lives?
Who's gonna change the structural things, if not, you know, committed, optimistic, individuals?
It sort of reminds me of the bricklayers fable.
There are 3 bricklayers.
This is, um, you know, a parable from the Bible.
but I think it's, also, you know, there are analogous fables and different cultural traditions.
You ask one of the 3 bricklayers, like, "What are you doing?"
"I am laying bricks."
You ask a second bricklayer, "What are you doing?"
He says, "I'm building a church."
And you ask the third bricklayer, "What are you doing?"
He says, "I'm building-- I'm building the church of God.
I'm building the house of God."
And they're all doing the same thing, but how they make meaning of it is very different.
I think the third bricklayer, "I am building the house of God," has a sense of the purpose of the work that it's, yes, trying to line up the bracket, making it straight, and, you know, doing the craft right, but also understands how that contribution fits into something much larger than yourself.
And I think that what makes people really feel like their work has lasting value is--is a sense that it's part of something much larger than themselves.
So, um, you know, how do I think about that bigger picture any time I do even the smallest action?
Thank you so much for your time.
I could talk to you for about 5 hours!
Can't believe an hour went by.
It's so great.
Kelly, this is great.
Thank you so much.
♪ If you enjoyed this conversation, you'll love our episodes with Lilly Singh, Steve Kerr, and Kate Bowler.
You can find them all at pbs.org or on my podcast Kelly Corrigan Wonders.
♪ ♪ ♪