Can We Predict Our Success?

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 |  November 10, 2019
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The answer to this fascinating question, is a resounding, yes! In fact, the latest research indicates that: “both cognitive and non-cognitive factors can predict long-term achievement, with characteristics like intelligence, grit, and physical capacity, each influencing a person’s ability to succeed in different ways”. So let’s take a closer look.

Pioneering Research

Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, together with her associates at the United States Military Academy, and Duke University, is responsible for groundbreaking work into determining whether or not, we can actually predict our success. Although the answer to this could be somewhat complex.

Getting Help From the Cadets

The research involved a prospective, longitudinal study (which is normally observational in nature, and uses continual/repeated measures to follow certain individuals over prolonged periods of time), and comprised 11,000 cadets from West Point. When undertaking her doctorate at Penn, Duckworth began studying West Point attendees. She notes: “I was looking for a context in which people might be quitting too early”.

When it comes to training, after their all encompassing two-year process, during the summertime, every cadet who wants to go to West Point, has to undergo ‘Beast Barracks,’ a full six-week initiation. However, an average of: “three out of every 100 cadets drop out during this training. That they retreat so quickly after such an arduous admissions process drew Duckworth to study this group” [1]. In fact, in 2017, this lead Duckworth to publish a paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology on the topic. And this was first time that ‘grit’ was classed as a vital predictor of people’s success.

True Grit?

In Duckworth’s most recent study, the scientists used a grit score which was measured by the 12-item Grit Scale she initiated, along with grades from military entrance exams, and an extensive range of fitness tests including sit-ups and mile runs. These and other results and achievements enabled Duckworth et al., to conduct a mega study. Duckworth commented: “We accumulated all this data in part so we could answer more definitively the question of whether grit predicted success outcomes. We now have more confidence in our original conclusions. At the same time, we wanted to explore where, perhaps, grit wasn’t the most important factor”.

The Study Results

Of note, this research highlighted: “different personal characteristics predict different outcomes”. For instance: “during Beast Barracks, grit is crucial… But during the four years of combined classroom time and physical training that follow, cognitive ability is the strongest predictor of academic grades. Finally, grit and physical ability play a greater role than cognitive ability in determining who will graduate from West Point in four years versus who might leave before then”.

In summarizing, Duckworth noted: “If you want to lead a happy, healthy, helpful life,” she says, “you want to cultivate many aspects of your character, like honesty, kindness, generosity, curiosity” — and, of course, grit”. – Great advice indeed!

Shirley Amy is a Holistic Health Specialist and professional writer who’s published 4 books. Her  interests include optimum wellness, mental health, fitness, and positive lifestyle change. She holds University and College qualifications in the fields of Health Science, Nutrition, Mental Health, Fitness, Holistic Therapy and Aromatherapy.
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