It’s the single most  famous story of scientific discovery: in 1666,

Isaac Newton was walking in  his garden outside Cambridge, England.

He saw an apple  fall from a tree. The fruit  fell straight to the earth,

as  if  I pulled by an invisible force.

(Another story is that the apple hit Newton on the head!)  This ordinary observation

led Newton to come up with the concept of universal gravitation,

which explained everything from the falling apple to the orbit of the  moon.

There is something appealing about such stories. They reduce the scientific process

to a moment of sudden inspiration: there is no description of his hard work.

There is just a new idea, produced by a genius. Everybody knew that things  fall—

it took Newton to explain why. Unfortunately,

the story of the apple is almost certainly false.

Even if Newton started thinking about gravity in 1666,

it took  him years of hard work before he understood it.

He  filled entire notebooks with his rough ideas.  The discovery of gravity,

in other words, wasn’t a flash of insight—it required decades of effort,

which is one of the reasons Newton didn’t publish his theory until 1687.

Although many people have long  celebrated Newton’s intelligence,

it’s clear that his achievements were not just a result of his high intelligence.



Newton also had an amazing ability to carry on in the face of obstacles,

to continue working with the same puzzling mystery—why did the apple fall,

but the moon remain in the sky? —until he found the answer. In recent years,

psychologists have come up with a term to describe this mental trait: grit.

Although the idea itself isn’t new—”Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration,”

Thomas Edison famously said—researchers are quick to point out

that grit isn’t simply about the will to work hard.

Instead, it’s about setting a specific long-term goal and doing whatever it takes

until the goal has been reached.

It’s always much easier to give up, but people with grit keep going.

Stories of grit have long been related to self-help manuals and life coaches.

Samuel Smiles, the writer of the  famous Victorian text “Self-Help,” taught

the importance of working hard.

However, new scientific studies rely on new   techniques for reliably measuring grit

in individuals. As a result, they’re able  to compare the related importance of grit,

intelligence, and innate talent when   it comes to determining

achievement in a person’s life. Although this field of   study is only a few years old,

it has already made important progress toward identifying the mental traits that allow

some people to accomplish their goals, while others try hard and quit.

Grit, it turns  out, is an essential (and often  overlooked) part of success.


“I’m sure that there isn’t a single highly successful person

who hasn’t depended on grit,” says Angela  Duckworth, a psychologist

at the University of   Pennsylvania who helped pioneer the study of grit.

“Nobody is talented enough not to have to work hard,

and that’s what grit  allows you  to do. The hope among scientists is

that a better understanding of grit will allow educators to teach the skill in schools

and lead to a generation of more   successful children.   Parents, of course,

have a big role to play as well, since there’s evidence that even simple things

—such as how a child is praised—can   heavily influence the manner

in which kids respond to challenges. And it’s   not just educators and parents

who are interested in grit: the US Army  has  supported much of the research

as it looks for new methods of identifying who is best suited for each field.

The new focus on grit is part of a larger scientific effort to study the personality traits

that best predict achievement in the real world.

While researchers have long focused on measurements of intelligence

such as the IQ   test as deciding markers of future success, these scientists point out

that most of the variation in individual achievement has nothing to do with being

smart. Instead, it largely depends on personality traits such as grit and honesty.

It’s   not that intelligence isn’t really important  —Newton was clearly a genius—

but   that having a high IQ is not nearly enough.