The Guts of True G-R-I-T


This post is the third in a series of six that focuses on the science of GRIT, and how it may be the definitive factor in closing the skills gap in America, by delivering what employers crave. In case you missed it, you can still read my second post here.

There’s good reason that educators and students are clamoring for GRIT. They know, and the research verifies, that GRIT fuels retention, completion, and gainful employment. Or, as my good friends Professor Amy Baldwin and Dr. Brian Tietje coin it, “Get in, Get through, Get out, Get paid!” GRIT is what it takes to “get” whatever you need and want in life.

As GRIT becomes white-hot in the milieu of ideas, our efforts to grasp it, gauge it, and grow it are evolving, dramatically. All together, this upgrade defines the difference between grit and GRIT™. The seismic shift in our understanding of GRIT has two parts. First, when it comes to the GRIT it takes to flourish, we now know that quality often trumps quantity. Second, we now know that the guts of GRIT are about more than pure perseverance. It’s about G-R-I-T.


Professor Carol Dweck’s breakthrough, defining the difference between a “growth” versus a “fixed” mindset has taken root in education and parenting, at all levels. Adjusting the language, approach, and rewards to nurture effort and exploration, versus potentially debilitation labels, like “smart” or “talented,” has become the fad among the more enlightened.

When it comes to this first dimension of GRIT, “Growth” is all that and more. It is one’s propensity to seek fresh insights, ideas, perspectives, and input to accelerate and enhance one’s chances of success on any and all goals. The classic case of “freshmanitis”—blundering cluelessly through the daunting morass of classes and/or campus—can be all–but-be-eliminated by this single dimension of GRIT.

When we assess GRIT holistically with the GRIT Gauge™, students who score higher on Growth are more likely to take advantage of the abundant formal and informal resources available through their institution. Asking successful students, professors, advisors, counselors, and staff how to tackle a given challenge, or best strategize for success, are just a handful of Growth-related behaviors that can make all the difference in whether one stays or drops out, finishes or falters.


Whenever I ask a room of people, “So, if a person is resilient, they… what?” the chorus responds, “Bounce back!” Bouncing back is an amazing feature…for a hair product or chair cushion, but for us humanoids, and for any student, resilience is so much more. I’ve been researching the human relationship with adversity for 35 years, and have arrived at a far more inspiring definition.

Resilience is your capacity to make good use of, to respond constructively to adversity.

The more resilient you are, the more you tend to harness it, using it to propel you to a place you would never have attained without the adversity.

Harnessing adversity. This is the fuel of everyday greatness, and it is the formula for transcending one’s circumstances, and beating the odds. Harnessing adversity is the first generation, poverty-level college student, working two jobs supporting herself and her children, doing whatever it takes to get that degree, because of the horrendous conditions from which she came, and the ticket that degree earns her to a better life.

When we gauge GRIT, those who score higher on Resilience, tend to be unfazed, if not juiced by adversity. Those who score lower tend to let it decelerate, if not deflate, depress, dismantle, and destroy any hope of achieving one’s aspirations. That’s why Resilience is such a powerful component of GRIT.


Some instincts are genetic. Others you can grow. When it comes to GRIT, Instinct is your gut-level propensity to pursue the right goals in the best possible ways.

That’s why this dimension of GRIT is both humbling and inspiring. It’s humbling because you, in fact everyone, can hone their Instinct. We can all ever-improve our ability to fortify our choices on both the quality of goals we pursue, and our strategies for achieving them.

The faculty member who uses power and intimidation instead of creativity and inspiration to engage students is pursuing the right goal (engaging students) in less-than-optimal ways. Likewise the student who stomps into their professor’s office demanding a grade change, or takes the easiest courses just to get through, is likely showing the same lack of Instinct.


To many people, this is the classic essence of basic grit. That sheer relentlessness of spirit and effort, the utter refusal to give up, the “never say die!” quest to completion is what so often separates the best from the rest.

Students who refuse to give up even when their grade is sagging, their group is failing, their comprehension is nil, their health suffers, or their funds fall short, are the ones who forge forward long after most mortals would fold. Done right, the same brand of Tenacity that gets them through, can get them what they want from life. In fact, given how mucky and complex the world’s become, it’d be easy to argue one can’t achieve anything worthwhile without a serious dose of Tenacity.

Yet, while Tenacity is essential, it is also incomplete. The guts of true GRIT is made up of G-R-I-and T.

Stay tuned for future blog posts as we delve deeper into GRIT, the science behind it, and what educators and employers can be doing now to help individuals dramatically fortify their career path and life goals.


About the Author
Dr. Paul G. Stoltz

Dr. Paul G. Stoltz

Paul G. Stoltz, Ph.D., is considered the world’s foremost authority on the science and method of measuring and strengthening GRIT. His methods and teachings are used at Harvard, MIT, Cornell, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and by top organizations in 63 countries.  Selected as “One of the Top Ten Most Influential Global Thinkers” by HR Magazine, “One of the Top 100 Thinkers of Our Time”, by Executive Excellence. He is founding director of the GRIT Institute, and the Global Resilience Institute, conducting research in 29 countries, as well as Founder and CEO of PEAK Learning, Inc., the global research and consulting firm, since 1987. Featured in the world’s top media—Fortune, Forbes, Success, Business Week, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Asia 21, Fox, ABC Nightly News, NBC, CBS, The Today Show, and multiple appearances on The Oprah Show—Dr. Stoltz’s top priority is applying his vast experience and research within higher education, specifically to students in their first year of college. Developing effective strategies toward college completion – and sustainable employment – has never been timelier.