Up until now all the books I've reviewed have been books by faithful people about faith. This book is a little different in that it's written by a psychologist who's had a lot of press lately as a result of her research into what it really takes to make a difference - in whatever way someone might work to make a difference. The psychologist is Angela Duckworth and the book is called "Grit". The message of this book goes beyond Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers, which launched the 10,000 hours of practice rule - or put differently that 10,000 hours of practice - particularly the right kind of practice can outstrip talent in almost any field. Duckworth's book is focused on that rare quality present in some - that would not only drive them to practice 10,000 hours at some task - but to practice in such a way as to attempt to plumb the depths of their chosen pursuits. Actually - Duckworth's book - and even more so the research that it reveals - looks at what is that hard-to-describe quality that drives one person with no talent, or some might even say, no hope of success in some field to become so entranced, enamoured, and enthralled with some pursuit that they practice longer, more deliberately, more masterfully - than many who were thought to have had a substantial "natural" head-start. Per Duckworth's research - regardless of talent - it's only grit that gets the job done - and the further you might want to go - the more grit you'll need.
My own fascination with Duckworth's research is in the way she teases apart the brain's plasticity - not just in the way - say a figure skater's cerebellum might differ from a non-skater's - but how the brain seems to exhibit extraordinary plasticity even in areas in which many of us were taught the brain isn't plastic at all: such as mathematical aptitude, athletic prowess, and even IQ. Duckworth talks about pro-athletes who were barely allowed to play on their highschool's junior varsity teams, high-school students with little hope in basic math classes - going on to not only studying the most advanced math classes offered in their high schools - but to become professional mathematicians, holding advanced degrees in mathematics and going on to accomplish ground-breaking work. The virtual magic worked by grit doesn't just apply to kids whose brains aren't fully developed yet either - it absolutely also applies to adults - even older adults. The research looked at what makes cadets stick it out at West Point, teachers stay in their jobs, athletes swim in cold pools at 4am, and more. Bottom line - if you want more grit - you can get it.
As a person of faith and someone who's devoted decades of my life to helping others find, and deepen their own faith - the question that keeps coming up in my head over and over as I turn the pages in this book is "How do we as Christians - instill more grit - or a grittier faith in our kids?" For at least the last four decades high school students who self-report as having a meaningful faith - in huge proportions - after just one semester of college - give up their faith. A third or slightly more might eventually find their way back to the fold as they marry and start their raising their own families - but the trend is no less upsetting or disturbing to churches and families all over the US.
Duckworth's research of course doesn't look at Grit and faith - but it does look at some things that might relate: such as interest, practice, purpose and hope, gritty parenting, and cultures of grit. Duckworth makes no bones about not having any answers as to how to raise grittier kids in any context - because the identification of grit as a thing - never mind the study of it - in terms of psychology - is such a new concept. She speaks about what her intuition says and what she as a parent does - but she admits that there is no hard science on this - yet. So I can't even start to speculate what might make church kids, and college students - become grittier in their faiths. As someone who's watched college kids struggle with growing their faiths for close to 30 years - I can't shake the sense that faith in America currently lacks an equivalent to whatever it is that makes teenagers spend long, hard hours fulfilling coach's demands on the basketball court, on the track, on the grid-iron. It's a real challenge in the realm of faith - because - of course - unlike sports - there's no objective measure of speed, distance, and ultimately wins to evaluate the effectiveness of practice. The idea of measuring kids' faith is horrifying on many levels. Yet - what if there were another way to inspire kids to recognize not just the transformational power of their own faith - but the positive and positively community-building-life-changing power of the kingdom of God on earth when a group of Christians commits to walking their talk, defending the defenseless and loving the not-nearly-loved enough. I believe that it's the contact with this dynamic that - for instance - leads to such life-changing experiences for kids on short-term missions trips for instance. Do you want more grit in your faith? What would that even mean to you? I personally not only want more grit in my faith but I want more gritty friends who are growing their faith good and gritty.
I do not know what the answers are - but I'm excited about this book - and I'm praying for a generation or two of Gritty Christians committed to doing good.
If you'd like to learn your own Grit-score - you can take Dr. Duckworth's grit-test here.
If you'd like to watch Dr. Duckworth's TED talk on Grit - please go here - to do so. Squarespace doesn't support embedded links to TED talks at this time. But you can watch it on TED.com
If you'd like to listen to the Freakonomics podcast interview Dr. Duckworth - then go here.