“Setbacks don’t discourage me from reaching my goals.”

Persistence

Sometimes called “grit” or “stick-to-it-iveness,” persistence is the capacity to maintain concentration on a task, question, set of directions or interactions, despite distractions and interruptions.

Persistence is the "voluntary continuation of a goal-directed action in spite of obstacles, difficulties, or discouragement" (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). The work of Angela Duckworth has been particularly influential in identifying and measuring what she and her colleagues term “grit,” defined as, "perseverance and passion for long-term goals" (Duckworth et al., 2007).

Children who show persistence have the ability not only to stay focused on a task, but also to overcome setbacks and keep trying. They are able to perform a task or set of tasks with care and effort from start to finish.

The Research on Persistence

Most research has focused on persistence as a desirable outcome, in and of itself, reflecting the high value our culture places on it. These studies have found that persistence is deeply connected to other key skills, including self-control and mastery orientation. There is also an expanding body of literature suggesting that persistence is an important driver of academic achievement and healthy development. Lufi and Cohen (1987), for example, found that children who scored high on measures of persistence were less anxious and did not blame others while trying to find solutions to difficult problems. Duckworth et al. administered an early version of their grit scale to 139 undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania and found that grit was associated with higher GPA but lower SAT scores —suggesting that, at least among a high-achieving population, grit is very important for academic success (Duckworth et al., 2007). In adults, persistence has been linked to happiness and overall satisfaction with life (Singh & Jha, 2008).

There has been only limited research on the effects of persistence over time. In one study of 1,218 freshmen at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the authors found that grit was a better predictor of retention through the first summer of training than were self-control or scores on entrance exams (Duckworth et al., 2007). In another study, Duckworth et al. evaluated 175 participants of the Scripps Spelling Bee ranging in age from 7 to 15. Although the results of this study were mixed, grit was a predictor of advancement into the final round, at least in part because of more (self-reported) time spent studying (2007). A third study of 7th, 8th, 10th, and 11th grade magnet school students, found that grit scores predicted GPA one year later and that "grittier" students watched fewer daily hours of television (Duckworth et al., 2009).

Given the growing interest in “grit” and its correlates, we anticipate that more research will emerge in coming months and years. This will solidify our understanding of the role of persistence in children’s development and academic achievement.

For a detailed bibliography on this research, see our References page.

Strategies for Improving Persistence

Children learn persistence when they are successful at a challenging task. Research demonstrates several strategies that allow children to have this experience:

  • Providing the opportunity to complete tasks that are just challenging enough, but not overwhelming.
  • Encouraging practice.
  • Offering a child a clear verbal strategy to deal with challenges (such as how to talk through a problem or use motivational phrases like “I will keep trying”).
  • Providing “coping models”—that is, role models who cope with failure and continue to persevere.

Learn more about the other three essential Life Skills:

Self-Control

Mastery Orientation

Academic Self Efficacy

Social Competence