Grit: What Does it Have to do With Fitness and Health?

The MacArthur Foundation awards grants to a number of individuals each year. Called “Genius Grants,” they provide recipients with an unrestricted stipend of $625,000 paid over five years. A total of 24 grants were awarded recently for 2013.

One of the winners was Angela Duckworth, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research is on the topic of grit and self-control and the role they play in educational attainment. She’s found that these qualities are as important, if not more so, than IQ or social intelligence. Those who are willing to stick with a project for a long period, even years, are frequently more successful than others who have more raw talent.

During a TED talk she referenced the work of Carol Dweck at Stanford University on the topic of “Growth Mindset,” the belief that our ability to learn is not fixed, rather can change with passion and perseverance. Failure is not permanent.

Over the years I’ve witnessed a number of friends and acquaintances who set goals for achieving improvement in their fitness and health by implementing an exercise program, improving their eating habits or a combination of both. Some achieved them for a short period of time but then returned to their prior habits. Others achieved them and made a permanent change in their lifestyle. I think the difference in the two outcomes can be summarized by one word: grit.

How do we develop more grit? Angela Duckworth acknowledged that she hasn’t yet discovered the answer to that question. The answer may be that we develop grit by tackling problems that require it and succeeding. We then build self-efficacy: the confidence that we can achieve a given task based upon our prior success.

Can you recall a difficult task that you tackled and completed? I suspect most of us can. Can you apply that same determination and self-control – grit – to the task of becoming more fit and eating healthier?

According to an annual survey by the American Psychological Association the biggest reason more of us don’t improve our fitness and health is a lack of willpower, or grit. The good news is that we can improve, just as we can make a muscle stronger by exercising.

Note: This article originally appeared in the News-Press, Fort Myers, Florida on December 24, 2013

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