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What did it take to pass Prop 12 in California this past November, making it “the strongest law in the world protecting farm animals from extreme confinement”?

Maybe we start back with Peter Singer’s publication of the book Animal Liberation and the launch of the modern animal rights movement in the United States. Or maybe we look a little later, to the formation of organizations like the Humane Society of The United States and Mercy For Animals who led the ballot initiative last year. Or perhaps we look even later, to the passage of Prop 2 in California ten years prior to Prop 12 (in 2008), a bill which looked great at the time but was later discovered to have some ambiguous language that the industry could take advantage of in court to dodge the basic purpose of the proposition.

Wherever we think the success of Prop 12 started, we can see a long chain of hard work and perseverance.

Or we could ask the question, what did it take to create the HappyCow app which has been been awarded various flattering titles such as “Best Vegan Online Resource” and been given the “Favorite Vegetarian Website” award from VegNews almost every year since 2006?

The founder of HappyCow (Eric Brent) started the site back in 1999, before many of today’s younger vegans were even born. He has said that HappyCow doesn’t make much money and has always been a passion project, something that he believed needed to exist in the world. The widespread success of the website definitely didn’t come overnight. It took years of hard work and figuring out how to overcome the difficulties involved.

Or maybe we want to ask how various animal rights organizations were founded and grown, or how documentaries were made, or how laws were passed, or how social media accounts were grown to have so many followers.

In every single one of the answers to these questions, we can find at least one thing in common: Grit.

The organizations and people involved in successful projects stuck to the same thing for an extended period of time, and they didn’t give up.

I want to help as many animals as possible, and I’m sure you do too. That’s why this concept of grit is so important for us—especially since we currently live in an era of instant gratification, clickbait, and endless distraction constantly available at our fingertips.

Without grit, you will mostly likely spend your life jumping from one thing to the next. When the going gets tough, you’ll move on to something new. When shiny new things pop up in your life, you’ll put down your current work. And if you continue this way, year after year, distracted and jumping from thing to thing, you’ll build nothing of true, lasting value.

With grit, you will learn what it feels like to commit to something and build it through the years. You will see that progress takes time and that hardship can be overcome.

And in doing so, you will help more animals.

And that’s why we’re all here, isn’t it?

The Main Idea

Author and researcher Angela Duckworth defines “grit” as the combination of:

passion (long-term focus on a singular idea)

+

perseverance (the ability to continue despite difficulties and setbacks).

She found something that’s both surprising and makes perfect sense: When predicting someone’s success, grit outperforms intelligence and many other qualities that we think of when we think of success—in other words, if you want to be successful, be gritty. Turns out the old expression is right: “Hard work will beat talent when talent does not work hard.”

Grit can be cultivated and grown. No matter how gritty you are now, you can be grittier. Here’s how:

  1. Believe you can get better, even if you don’t think you’re “good” at something. This is called having a “growth mindset”, and it’s incredibly important.
  2. Practice optimistic self-talk. The importance of this is expressed in the quote “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.”
  3. When the going gets tough, keep going. Through #1 and #2, you know you can improve at whatever it is, and you know that perseverance is a predictor of success, so keep going.

Key Book Concepts

  1. Grit = Passion + Perseverance
    • Passion = long-term focus on the same big thing (we’re talking years, or decades). It doesn’t mean the same exact specific thing, but the main foundation needs to be the same.
    • Perseverance = the ability to stick with something even when it gets difficult, and even when things don’t go as planned.
    • You can take the Grit Scale quiz to see what your current grit score is.
  2. Growth Mindset = believing that success is not about being “good” or “talented”, it’s about putting in hard work and getting better every day.
  3. Deliberate Practice = identifying the small, individual hard parts about what you do and practicing them until they become easy.
    • Success comes from the ability to break down complex things into a lot of smaller pieces, and then to practice each of the smaller pieces relentlessly until they become habitual. Then, you put all of the smaller pieces back together into one perfectly-executed whole.

Section Summaries

Now we’re going to go through each section and dive into the subject matter a little more closely. There’s a lot to digest here, and you’re not going to absorb it all overnight. Think about these things regularly, and reread this article whenever you need. (Or just get the book; it’s a good read.)

PART I: WHAT GRIT IS AND WHY IT MATTERS

We often say things like “they’re so talented” or “they’re a genius” or “I’m not good at that.” This reinforces a notion that people are fixed in their abilities and success, when in reality we can all grow and develop at anything.

And, in fact, talent is not a great predictor of success in life. We’re all distracted by talent, when in fact long-term focus and perseverance through difficulties (which combine to form grit) are the real predictors of success.

Being naturally talented at something helps, of course, but like the saying goes: “hard work will beat talent when talent does not work hard.” Duckworth phrases it as “effort counts twice.” In other words, the amount of effort you put in is what really pays off in the long run.

How gritty are you currently? You can find out here: https://angeladuckworth.com/grit-scale/

PART II: GROWING GRIT FROM THE INSIDE OUT

This part of the book has some of the most useful information. You might discover that you’re not currently very gritty, or maybe you just want to be grittier. How can you help grow grit?

Four things:

  1. Interest
  2. Practice
  3. Purpose
  4. Hope

The good news is that you can grow each of these—they’re not fixed. (In fact, having a “growth mindset” is an important part of improving at just about anything.) In the following sections we’re going to look at these four areas one by one.

1—INTEREST

The most successful people often say “I love what I do” or “I’m so lucky to get to wake up every morning and do this.” Graduation commencement speakers say to “follow your passion.”

Does passion affect performance? Research shows that yes, it does. People are much more satisfied at work and they perform better when they do something that fits their personal interests.

However, most people simply don’t know what they’re really, truly interested in. This is partially because passion and interest are usually grown and aren’t going to be fully developed right from the beginning. (Author and researcher Cal Newport has written much on how passion and interest are developed, rather than simply discovered.)

Duckworth suggests three steps for finding and developing your interests:

Step 1: Discovery

“Before hard work comes play.” This is where you try a lot of things, discovering what you like and don’t like. You “play” and find your interests.

You can’t think your way into discovery. You have to get out there and do things, be involved in the messy process of real-life discovery. You have to take action, continuously, repeatedly. Your initial discovery of a primary interest later in life might go completely unnoticed; it probably won’t be a “eureka!” moment. Experiment a lot.

Step 2: Development

Duckworth says “the initial triggering of a new interest must be followed by subsequent encounters that retrigger your attention—again and again and again.”

Step 3: Deepening

As you spend a lot of time in a single interest, there’s the potential to get bored or feel like you’re anxious for something else. That’s why successful, gritty people are constantly deepening their interest. They learn to see the nuance and complexity in what they’re doing, and they dive deep into it. Where others might see one thing and get bored, they see a million things and are perpetually interested. They constantly find novelty by going deeper.

2—PRACTICE

Gritty people practice more than non-gritty people, and people who practice more are more successful. But, the quality of practice makes a huge and important difference. “Not just more time on task, but better time on task.”

Deliberate practice is the process of:

  1. Setting a stretch goal in one very specific and well-defined aspect of what you do, striving to improve weaknesses.
  2. Then, focusing completely on achieving that stretch goal, getting as much constant and real-time feedback on how you’re doing, and using that feedback to improve.
  3. Finally, after mastery of that stretch goal, starting all over with a new stretch goal in another area of weakness.

Duckworth lists these four items as the pieces of deliberate practice:

  • A clearly defined stretch goal
  • Full concentration and effort
  • Immediate and informative feedback
  • Repetition with reflection and refinement

You know that experience of getting completely absorbed in an activity to the point where you lose track of time? Researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi studied this phenomenon and called it “flow”.

Flow is the euphoric feeling of performing at something at a very high-level. You lose track of time, and you’re completely focused and locked in on whatever you’re doing. You’re not aiming for a stretch goal here; you’re performing right at your current level of skill.

Deliberate practice is for preparation and training—Flow is for performance.

A couple of Angela’s suggestions for deliberate practice:

  • Make it a habit. Using “if/then” rules can really help with this:
    “if it’s 8am, then I will sit at my desk and do _____.”
  • Change the way you experience deliberate practice. It can be painful and hard (unlike flow, which is rather euphoric), but redefine those things for yourself as positive experiences of growth.

3—PURPOSE

Angela defines purpose as “the intention to contribute to the well-being of others.” People who perform at very high levels say that their work matters to others, that there’s a higher calling for whatever it is they’re doing.

There’s the parable of the bricklayers to show this point:

“Three bricklayers are asked: ‘What are you doing?’

The first says, ‘I am laying bricks.’

The second says, ‘I am building a church.’

The third says, ‘I am building the house of God.’”

Duckworth says: “The first bricklayer has a job. The second has a career. The third has a calling.”

Grittier people have callings, not jobs or careers. The feeling of having a calling leads them to put in more work, harder work, and to stick it out through the tough times. It also leads to higher satisfaction with their work.

As activists in the animal rights movement, we are at an advantage here—ending the exploitation of animals is one of the most profound challenges and missions that humanity has ever embarked on. Don’t lose sight of this fact in your day-to-day work.

4—HOPE

I think my absolute favorite way to summarize grit comes from a Japanese saying that Angela put at the beginning of this section on hope:

“Fall seven, rise eight.”

For some reason, that gives me the chills.

She talks about two types of hope in this section:

  • The first is represented by the quote “tomorrow will be better than today.” This is asking the universe or “fate” to make things better.
  • The second kind is gritty hope: “I resolve to make tomorrow better.” This is us taking charge of our own lives and saying we will make tomorrow better.

OTHER NOTES FROM PART TWO

Learned helplessness: This is when we learn that we can’t control our lives, that our choices don’t affect reality, that we can’t change things. This is incredibly demotivating and leads to less success and more suffering. Alternatively, belief in the ability to change things leads to resilience and less suffering.

Control: In order to learn resiliency (and fight learned helplessness), it’s important to try things and then see change—to believe we have control over what’s happening in our lives.

Growth mindset: Coined by researcher Carol Dweck, who studied whether or not people believed their abilities were fixed/constant (“fixed mindset”) or whether their abilities could be grown (“growth mindset”). People with a growth mindset practice more, put in the effort, and end up achieving more because of it. The two mindsets are essentially self-fulfilling prophecies. “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.”

Language: The language we use when talking to people (including ourselves) is very important in reinforcing different mindsets. Here are some example phrases that might be used to encourage a fixed mindset (bad): “You’re a natural!” / “You’re so talented!” / “Maybe this just isn’t your strength”. And likewise, some sentences that might encourage a growth mindset (good): “You’re a learner!” / “That didn’t work, so let’s talk about what we can learn from it and how to do better” / “I believe you can do this if you keep trying”.

PART III: GROWING GRIT FROM THE OUTSIDE IN

While Part II was all about ways that you can develop grit at the individual level, Part III is about how our environments influence how gritty we become.

1—PARENTING FOR GRIT

Good parenting can be both supportive and demanding, where you expect children to work hard and keep trying, but you also show them that you care deeply about them and are there for them. This is called “wise parenting”. (This concept is rather analogous to radical candor.) Supportiveness has two components: being both warm and respectful.

Here are other combinations of parenting styles that are formed from varying levels of support and demand:

  • Supportive & Undemanding = Permissive
  • Unsupportive & Demanding = Authoritarian
  • Unsupportive & Undemanding = Neglectful

Children emulate parents, so it’s also important for the parents to be gritty. And it’s not just parents that play this role for children—this job is also filled by teachers, mentors, siblings, and any other people in a child’s life.

2—THE PLAYING FIELDS OF GRIT

Extracurricular activities which are both hard and interesting might have a very positive impact on students, regardless of what the specific activity is, especially when they stick with those activities for more than a year.

It’s especially important for coaches and teachers to give feedback (separate from parental feedback), since their role in the child’s life is to help them grow in a specific pursuit. This is contrasted with the difficulty that parents can have sometimes in giving critical feedback due to their other roles, like being emotionally supportive and a more frequent presence in a child’s life.

Duckworth and her family live by the “Hard Thing Rule”:

The Hard Thing Rule

Everyone has to do a hard thing. This thing probably requires daily deliberate practice.

You can quit, but you can’t quit until a natural stopping point. “You can’t quit on a bad day.”

You get to pick your hard thing.

(When the kids get old enough, another part of the rule is added—you have to commit to your hard thing for at least two years.)

3—A CULTURE OF GRIT

“Culture is defined by the shared norms and values of a group of people.” The people in the group have a consensus about “how we do things around here and why.” They have an in-group, a distinct culture.

Duckworth’s bottom line on culture and grit: “If you want to be grittier, find a gritty culture and join it. If you’re a leader, and you want the people in your organization to be grittier, create a gritty culture.”

One example comes from the early morning practice schedule that swimmers adopt: “When you go to a place where basically everybody you know is getting up at four in the morning to go to practice, that’s just what you do. It’s no big deal. It becomes a habit.” The drive to fit in and conform to a group is very powerful.

A couple models of culture at West Point:

  • Attrition model (old model): only those who fear for their survival succeed.
  • Developmental model (new model): same high standards, but instead of being driven by fear people are led from the front.

Culture at large organizations can be crafted, but it takes relentless communication: what you say, how you say it, and how often you say it. Verbatim memorization of core cultural principles can help instill those values in people, like how the Seattle Seahawks team memorizes quotes and core values and can explain what they mean.

Pete Carroll, the coach of the Seattle Seahawks, talks about how to create a gritty culture: “Personally, I have learned that if you create a vision for yourself and stick with it, you can make amazing things happen in your life. My experience is that once you have done the work to create the clear vision, it’s the discipline and effort to maintain that vision that can make it all come true. The two go hand in hand. The moment you’ve created that vision, you’re on your way, but it’s the diligence with which you stick to that vision that allows you to get there. Getting that across to players is a constant occupation.”

Conclusion

Things of value must be built through trial and error, diligence and learning over the course of many years. Our ability to stick to the same thing over the course of those years will ultimately determine our success at it.

To create the biggest impact we can for animals, we need the passion and perseverance to stick with projects long enough to make it through the plentiful difficulties of creating things.

This idea is especially timely in our current age of endless information and opportunities. If we aren’t careful—and even if we are—we can very easily get distracted by the constant stream of new things to learn, new things to try, new things to read, new things to serve as reasons why we aren’t working on our big project. Focus and time are two of our most precious resources. (For more on this, see Cal Newport’s book Deep Work.)

Luckily, there are ways of growing our grit, no matter where we start. If you need a place to start, go back to the “Growing Grit from the Inside Out” section, pick one of the four areas to work on, and focus on developing one thing in that area.

And together, we can grow a grittier movement.


The Animal Movement Project (AMP) is a platform dedicated to building the movement for animals.

We share thoughts and ideas that can take the movement for animals from x to 10x. Our focus is predominantly on animals exploited for food since they account for more than 99% of the animals exploited by humans. The topics covered are often about ways to tie the pieces of the movement together or to fill in the gaps. We focus on connecting people, ideas, and resources to each other.

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