GRIT – What It Is and Why You Need It

The final day of the year is a time to take stock of what’s behind us and consider the year to come. Some people will set goals for New Year’s Day by making resolutions about how they’ll change their lives; others will simply try to make the next year a little better than the last. However, for many, these reflections can feel like a real challenge and can provoke questions like, “How can I hold onto my resolve for yet another year?” and “What can I do to make this next year better than my last one?”

Psychologists point to many factors that shape the way we cope with challenges and highlight some as being more important than others. When it comes to holding onto the resolve to achieve long-term goals, especially in the face of battles with substance use disorder and mental health challenges, something referred to in positive psychology as grit could be the key to keeping on track.

What is Grit?

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word grit is defined as, “firmness of mind or spirit: unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.”[1] Having grit means having the drive to do things that are difficult, in spite of the discomforts they present, and being able to see challenging tasks through in full no matter what it takes. This definition is the reason the word grit is used in positive psychology: researchers have shown that this type of determination and drive to be a key factor in determining achievement. 

Dr. Angela Duckworth, who co-runs The Character Lab, defines grit as, “the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals,” and states that, “on average, individuals who are gritty are more self-controlled.”[2] A major research paper published by Duckworth and her colleagues in 2007 puts it this way:

“Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course.”[3, p1088, emphasis added]

What Makes Grit Work

Three key factors in the definition of grit make it an exceptionally important tool for individuals who are struggling with substance use disorders or mental health conditions or who simply want to make their lives and the lives of others better through achievement: effort, stamina, and commitment. 

Effort: Being able to put in the work to make the changes you want to see in yourself and the world. Recovery can be a brutally painful and difficult process that requires a great deal of work on the part of the individual. Support from friends and family is key, as are good therapeutic advice and information, but the hard work of recovery ultimately has to be done through dedicated effort.

Stamina: Having the energy to stick with your recovery journey, or mental health treatment plan, even when it isn’t easy or quick. Duckworth and her colleagues take special care to note that having grit entails continuing to work towards goals even when you experience failures or setbacks. This requires the type of long-term, dedicated effort that we call stamina.

Commitment: Staying true to your goals no matter what happens. Making changes to your life can sometimes take years, and many people who struggle with substance use disorders or mental health conditions consider themselves to be in recovery for the rest of their lives. Being able to continuously do the work, not get distracted or give up because of small setbacks, and single-mindedly pursue a goal is the type of commitment required to make positive change for yourself and those around you.

Cultivating and Keeping Grit

Ultimately, grit is wanting to achieve something that matters so much that you pursue it no matter what, and it isn’t always easy to cultivate this type of dedication, particularly when you have been struggling. So, how can you learn to be gritty enough to succeed in your goals?

According to Duckworth, what distinguishes individuals who display a lot of grit isn’t their innate ability to dedicate themselves to their aims or an inner talent for the particular goal they want to achieve, but instead it entails passion and love for their goals and aims that shapes how they approach each day. Rather than feeling forced to show courage in the face of challenges, grit is about staying passionate about your future goals, being able to picture them in your mind, and smiling when you do so.

So, this New Year’s Eve, consider how you can get gritty in order to achieve your resolutions – whether they’re straightforward aims to get better at a skill or more complicated desires to change careers or run a marathon. By keeping your passion for your future bright and the vision of your goal clear in your mind, you can cultivate the grit you need to see you through 2024 and beyond.

Happy New Year’s Eve from everyone at Heather R. Hayes, Inc.


  1. Cambridge Dictionary. Grit.
  2. Duckworth, A. Research.
  3. Duckworth, A. et al. (2007) Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 92. No. 6. p. 1087-1101.
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