From ABC, this is the 10 percent happier podcast. I'm Dan Harris. Hey, hey, this week on the show, we are going to explore the interrelated themes of grit and resilience, both massively resonant and relevant issues, obviously in the era of covid and BLM and more today. My guest is Angela Duckworth. She's a psychologist who was deemed a genius by the MacArthur Foundation as she is perhaps best known for popularizing the term grit, which she defines as, and I'm quoting here, a combination of passion and perseverance for a singularly important goal.
She's written a bestselling book called Grit and has a new podcast called No Stupid Questions. In this episode, we talk about the secrets of gritty people, about how to cultivate grit when it seems like everything is falling apart and the possible downsides of grit. She's also quite candid about a number of sensitive issues, including the recent passing of her dad and the sharp criticisms of her work on grit have received in light of America's racial reckoning. So here we go, Angela Duckworth.
Well, nice to meet you, virtually nice to meet you, too. Hello. I am so sorry to bring up something somber at the jump here, but I wanted to pass along my condolences to you. I understand you had a parent pass away during the pandemic.
Yeah, I did. My father passed away from covid and actually unrelated to covid. But just in the spirit of remembrances this morning, I was an attendee at the Zoom Service for OGAs Erickson, who is the scientist behind the ten thousand hours of practice name. And yes, there has been a time of pondering what life is all about.
I wonder, as you endure these losses, I would imagine the loss of your dad would be particularly. Difficult. I'll be honest, I'm going to this is going to be totally honest, I say to my daughters. I have a daughter is 18, and I saw her just after the Zoom's service for Anders Ericsson. And I told her how beautiful it was. And I told her I cried from the title slide to the end all the way through this.
She was surprised because she knows I don't cry that much. And then she said, you know, that's a lot more than you cried for your dad, which is an accurate statement. And just to say, I think that maybe one difference is that my dad was dying for a long time. And I'm not saying it wasn't tragic that he died of covid, but he was sort of dying for 10 or more years, depending on how you count.
And it was a sort of short sentence at the end of a long paragraph, at the end of a long and painful chapter. So I was probably more struck in a way by his son in passing. It was much earlier in his life. I was wondering whether it caused any you mentioned that have made you think about life, and I wonder specifically whether it had caused you to.
In a fresh way about the concept of grit that you've helped popularize, I think these passings must make everyone reflect a little bit about, first of all, how brief it is that we all have. You know, it's so brief. So you could say Onder is in his early 70s, was like Dupere for you to say, oh, my dad lived a long life because he lived to eighty seven.
But it's all brief. I mean, we're really here for such a short time. And in terms of my work on grit and on trying to reverse engineer, I guess I would say the psychology of effort and motivation and achievement. I have been reflecting like I hope this is a good way to spend my brief time on the planet. But my hope has been that figuring out how it is that people do great things and demystifying that process a bit would be one way to spend that time in a worthwhile way.
What's coming up in my mind right now is I spent so much time. Obsessing often unhelpfully or unhealthily about. Doing great things or achieving success. When evaluated in the light of the brevity of a human life. Sometimes I question how much time I've spent thinking about these things. Is it because you feel like you are accomplishing things and making progress, but do you feel like, oh, maybe you have the wrong goals or something else altogether? That and spending so much time working towards something and maybe not enough time actually being alive, being aware that I'm alive, being aware that the people around me are alive and could use some attention and love, et cetera, et cetera.
One of the questions I'm sometimes asked to think about, and I think it is a good one and I have actually been thinking about it, is what's the downside of being so greedy and maybe be helpful if I just specify what I mean by greedy, which is having this kind of really sustained and consistent passion for a long term goal, something that might take years or decades, or you might think in the case of our extend, like something that really motivates you, like your whole life for him, I think it was to demystify excellence.
He was the world expert on world experts. And I I really think he must have woken up every day and thought today I'm going to try to make more progress toward this goal of understanding what a world class expertise comes from. And I think this sustained passion and also perseverance like being incredibly hard worker. It could be that the downside of that is that you're not present in the moment because by definition, a goal is a future state like that is what a goal is, a desired future state.
So if you spend all of your life working toward designing future states, are you not present in the moment? I mean, it was interesting being part of this service for others because it was not part of this family and I wasn't a graduate student. So when all the pictures came up and all the remembrances of him as a brother and an uncle and as a grandfather and as a dad, it was so clear to me maybe for the first time, because I only knew him in a professional context and as a friend, that he was really able to be present in the moment and go on roller coasters and get a lot of fun.
So I think it is possible to be gritty and not be absent in your lived life with your loved ones. But I agree with you. Like, you can imagine how like you have to be intentional about that or at least that you can trip maybe and accidentally ended up entirely living in your future desired states and miss out on everything that's happening right now.
This is such a rich subject. I know I'm ostensibly the interviewer here, but I have a bunch of things to say.
Do you mind if I hold forth my love for you?
OK, because there are two prior guests whose words are coming to mind as we're having this discussion. One is because I agree with what you just said, that I think you can do both, but it takes work and I think you have to be intentional about it. One is the guy named Alex Pang who wrote a book called Reste. He's written other books. I'm thinking about a book he wrote called Rest. And his argument is that great people are very intentional about getting rest in their life.
And by rest, he defines not just as sitting around and looking at clouds passing, although that would be fine, but very challenging activities. So could be woodworking, could be music, could be taking long walks, could be exercise, et cetera, et cetera, exploration of some sort, hiking. And to him the rest in the work are two sides of the same coin. So that's one thing that's coming to mind and the other is the idea of setting an intention or having a purpose in your life and being actually super explicit about what that is.
And I'm thinking of this guy was not a guest on the show, but we've had many guests talking about the power of intention. And but the person whose quote is coming to mind is the lead singer of a band called The Apples in Stereo. They were a great indie rock band. I was obsessed with indie rock when I was younger and not that young anymore.
Anyway, Robert Schneider and I interviewed him years ago, and I remember him just offhandedly saying, yeah, well, what am I here on the planet to do to make awesome stuff and to be kind while doing it? And that strikes me as. In a way, the answer to the riddle that we're discussing, which is yet can you have the goal to make awesome stuff, do awesome things, but to be really kind and awake while you're doing it?
The idea of having an intention that is explicit, not just implied, but conscious is something that you would say out loud to somebody if someone said, so what would you like your eulogy to be or what do you think your at least your professional life will be all about? What theme? What if companies have issued statements, then individuals might have made statements. What would your advice be? I'm such a big fan of that and I like that one in particular, which is great, awesome stuff.
And because while you're doing it, what a great principle to make your whole life around. And I often talk about a top level goal. That's because psychologists, I think, are in pretty much conceptual agreement about the idea that these desired future states that we have, that I have, that you have you know, they can be really short term trivial. Like I got a bottle of water at a convenience store before we sat down for this conversation.
That was a goal of the desired future state, like a bottle of water. All human goals are kind of hierarchical in the sense that if you ask me, like, why did you want a bottle of water? Why did you have the goal to get a bottle of water? I would say because I have the goal to not be thirsty. And then then you could say, like, why do you have that goal? And I'd say, well, because I want to have energy and I want to be hydrated.
And every time you ask me another question and you go up a level in the hierarchy, and I think for these top level goals, they are the kind of ultimate why they don't have anything that's above them like it is for you, like something that you can only say, well, like well above that is just my core values or something. Right. So I think that's very powerful. In my experience. When I interview people myself, I find that a small fraction of them, maybe 10 or 15 percent, could say out loud in a sentence with a period at the end.
This is what my top level goal is. But I have found it to be very useful.
I had a bit of a brain cramp when I was trying to remember the other podcast guest who's talked about this. And it's come back to me, Thubten children. I'll put a link in the show notes because she's an amazing person and she talked a lot about this. And I've tried to integrate the idea that you've just described, which is spot on with what she was advocating. She's a Buddhist nun. And her argument is that getting it explicitly stating your motivation to yourself first thing in the morning and then trying to come back to it throughout the day is a really powerful thing to do.
And I've been trying to do that. So I'm curious. You said it's important to you. What how would you articulate what your purpose or intention is?
Well, I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours. Sure. OK, so I can go first. So my little girl, which I don't think is going to change, is to use psychological science to help kids thrive. And it took me a couple of weeks to fertilize it with that specificity in those words. And then of course, it took me a couple of decades to figure out what that would be in a more general sense.
But having articulated this, I think I wrote it down to the first time I was writing what I was writing the book.
I was just like, oh, well, since I'm writing this chapter on higher goals in life, how helpful it is to have one. Maybe I should try to put pen to paper and really make sure I could stand by this for all the years of this book might be in print.
And I have to say that even though I had a vague sense of this goal, of course, before writing it down, the sharpness of Lexington, and I don't know that I begin every morning with it as a mantra, but I do know that I pull it out, especially when I have a question like, should I try to be on the 10 percent happier podcast? Should I supervises graduate student or because time is limited and we all have to make choices about what to do and then what not to do.
And I find it really helpful in making those choices in a more intentional way.
I agree. It's really useful as a yardstick. Everything that comes up, you can measure it against this. Go toward what I'm. All about the mine. I think not I haven't nailed the wording, so it's not mellifluous. It is not pithy, but it is an attempt at encompassing both sides of the grit and the butt being awake and attentive to relationships. So it's something like. I'm kind of ripping off Robert Schneider, but I think this cool, he'd be cool with it.
My goal is to make people healthier and happier and to. Be as awake and attentive to relationships in the process, I think anybody would be OK with that, right? I think it's actually, by the way, interesting. A lot of people that I've studied as paragons of great achievement would have missed the first part of what you said. Like, you make people better or maybe they'll specify how right through the built environment. That's my husband. He's a real estate developer, like make lives better than the environment.
I kind of like the comma and then this very important specification of how you're going to do it and what you're going to do. It's kind of like I like the idea of trying to make sure you don't do collateral damage, like just right up front with the goal itself, because it's so common, isn't it? I mean, history abounds with noble figures who apparently let personal lives that were just, I don't know, not so great. So maybe the heroes of the twenty first century will be great and good.
Right. Right. Gritty and awake to whatever's happening right now, and, yeah, I made a lot of mistakes to get to this point, I've achieved a few things but was kind of a jerk at many points along the way.
And so so like random pedestrians on the sidewalk or more not to so much just, you know, stressed out and therefore not attentive to the people around me, but just could be better for sure. I've really tried to do better. And by the way, I find that this is a virtuous cycle. The after the comma stuff helps with the before the comma stuff that when you're.
Doing it all with more mindfulness, with more compassion than your relationships get better. And since we're all interdependent, your work therefore gets better and it becomes an upward spiral in my experience.
So which is not intuitive, right? I mean, first, let me just say, as I make this like Keeping it honest here, I am definitely not like fully president of the time that I should be like with my girls who are now 18 and 17. And we're little. I nobody in my eulogy is going to say it wasn't a great like laying it on the floor with, you know, that mom was actually on our laptop most of the time, you know.
So I have just a lot to learn here and need to practice more than words. But the idea that it could be a virtuous cycle is so non-intuitive, isn't it? I mean, there is this kind of like, well, you're going to be fully focused then. Like I mean, because the one hundred and sixty eight hours that we're all given in a week is a zero sum game. So we'll start that. But I, I suspect that you're right.
I mean, is it because your why do you think that is? In what ways does it become a virtuous cycle for you?
So one of the ways I was talking about is that, you know, most of us, because there's been a sort of revolution in how we work in the modern world. Most of us work in teams. I work a lot in teams. Television news is intensely collaborative. And the other half of my work at 10 percent happier is all in teams. We have a management team. We have a team that produces this podcast. We have even on the book that I'm writing right now, I have other people, including my editor and my wife, who's my closest adviser, and my brother, who's also an incredibly close advisor, my CEO and others.
Everything is team based to one extent or another. And you want the culture of those teams to be healthy because it has such powerful knock on benefits to the end. So the process is part of the end product inextricably. It's right in there, by the way. You will also be happier the better the process is and that to redounds to the benefit of the product. So that's how it's worked for me. And I say this to somebody who's I just turned forty nine.
I just spent forty eight years and 11 months doing it wrong and I'm still doing it wrong all the time.
Hence the need for the explicit motivation or intention, because it's a reminder.
Is that what your new books about your book In Progress it's about.
Love, but defining the term down, I think hopefully, hopefully it's about love for other people like that, love is omni directional, so it has to apply to you, too.
And it encompasses things like kindness, compassion, relationships, attention. My thesis is not fully formed, but it is definitely related to what we're discussing for sure.
You know, when you meet people like I mean, I agree with all those cheesy quotes about how, like, everybody has some good in them and you can. But in addition, there are sometimes people who meet, maybe even once in your life, maybe you don't even have a system. They're so good. They really inspire you to be better. I mean, I have this like and you really feel when you're in their presence that they have a love that, like, just apparently has no end and they don't have to be stingy with it.
And there are so kind. Anyway, I have a sense maybe of your books are written, give your thesis is still evolving, but I, I really resonate with that, which by the way, I don't study as a scientist as sometimes people think. I only care about achievement as a painter right now because I'm a scientist. So I need to measure things. But as a human like. Yeah, I mean I think you're right. Wouldn't that be a good time to steer you back to the two sided coin of rest and work?
Yeah, absolutely. Well, one thing I want to say about the people that I study when you study like a Lindsey Vonn or emailing yesterday morning. So they wrote about Kody Coleman, who's finishing up his PhD in computer science at Stanford. And both of them have had lots of setbacks and their journeys to be great. And what they do are like long ones. Right. And I think that's why I study it. I just don't think that it's easy to do a lot of good in the world or greatness in the world without just taking a while, just like the mechanics of achievement.
So when you ask the question like, what are these people like? Do they are they always on my general observation of these great achievers? Is that, first of all, they are actually unusually energetic. So it sometimes feels to other people like they're always on right. They're like, holy smokes. Like I'm tired just talking to them for ten minutes because they have so much energy. And it's also true that I think they're kind of obsessive. So they are thinking about their work and everything they see is actually related to the work because it's on their mind.
But at the same time, in terms of rest, I mean, any athlete will tell you it's hard for them to do. But like they know like you have to take rest or you'll get injured. Right. You have to at the most basic level, the human body. And it turns out I think also the human mind need rest in order to grow. Right. And to improve. So that lesson is is one that is kind of part and parcel of it.
Right. Because how are you going? And you can sprint without rest, but you can't marathon without rest. So I think that's something to emphasize. I don't want to say like I always get it right or whatever, but I, for example, don't pull all nighters like I don't work when I'm tired. Like, I don't like it's like, oh, I'm tired. It's nine. I'm going to go to bed and read this book on surfing.
And also I don't wake up to an alarm, so it'll be fine. I'm tired. I go to bed when I'm tired and instead of working and I don't wake up to an alarm.
And I do like yoga on Zoome as much as I can, which is nearly every day. And I'm not saying that because, like, I'm perfect. I'm just saying, like, the person who sees fit for living is doing a lot of resting. Me, too, but I've had to learn this, I've really had to get more systematic about it, and I found the benefits of, you know, just I'll notice that I'm getting tired while I'm working.
And instead of doing my old thing of just push, push, push, I will step away for a second.
Often I will literally lie down and just practice mindfulness for a while.
And if I fall asleep, fine, usually don't fall asleep. But I'll do that or I'll go snuggle with a cat or go find my kid somewhere in the house and torture him for a second or or whatever. And I'm wearing a workout shirt because right before this I was working out a little bit. And so I really do try to be systematic about getting the rest in there and rest defined broadly, because I've just found the older I've gotten that I just can't muscle through all the time.
I just can't do it.
So is that like a sudden change for you?
Was there like an epiphany or some kind or was it more like a gradual?
Both, mostly a gradual. But I've had epiphanies along the way of just noticing that I'm just banging my head against the wall. And this is what's making me unpleasant to other people and myself. And it's not helping to work. And also that's just having this podcast where I get to interview incredibly smart people like you, where I just hear about what the research shows on these things. And then I try it for myself and I'm like, oh, man, why was I doing it wrong for so long?
It's probably that youth, roughly the reason why I'm 50, by the way. So I've got a year on you. But the reason why maybe you are like 19 year old selves are operating this way is I think there's two reasons. One is, like you said, I mean, you just were so young, we could have used our bodies. And recently the body's not as forgiving as we get older. But then also I think we just haven't learned yet.
Right. Because if we could go back to our 19 year old selves and say, like, hold on, there is a better way, I think we could have even done it at 19. You know, we didn't have to. And I really do think, like, you know, our 19 year old selves would be better off. And all the people who are around our selves, to your point, would have also been better off.
So I think maybe like you, I feel like there's something about conversation, about investigation that I think the grand plan here is like, yeah, of course, people discover some of these insights on their own, but could we maybe accelerate that a little bit like so that it's not just like decades of life experience that get you to understand that rest is important?
Right. Right. More of my conversation with Angela Duckworth coming up after this. If you like getting the story behind the story, check out start here, the Daily News podcast from ABC News every morning start here will get you ready for your day with insightful, straightforward reporting on a few of the day's biggest headlines. From groundbreaking investigative reports to urgent revelations shaping your world, recently honored with the prestigious Edward R. Murrow Award. Start here. Takes you inside the stories that matter and where they're heading next.
So start smart. We start here, check it out on Apple podcasts or your favorite podcast app. So let's go back to Garrett for a second, you decided early on, but can you redefine it and then restate a little bit? You also made a faint in this direction.
But I want to see if I can get you to say more about it, why you're so interested in it.
I define Garrett as the combination of passion and perseverance for really long term goals. And I got interested in this characteristic or the kind of motivational stance because I was curious about what other than luck and other than talent and particular, really could explain why some people really did just unbelievable, astonishing things. Gold medals and the like Olympics or Academy Awards or Nobel Prizes. And I wondered whether these people were just lucky and talented or were they also something else that I started interviewing high achievers and I kind of discern these themes.
And then I was at the same time reading really old stuff on outliers. And some of the oldest stuff came from the psychologist and Catherine Cox, who was at Stanford University. And she had access through, I guess, the Stanford archives, thousands of pages of of diaries and notes and correspondence from which she called. Three hundred one geniuses write her terminology, not mine, but people like Isaac Newton. And she said in her kind of summary of what she learned from studying their lives, from their own writings, et cetera, and biographical facts, was that in addition to talent, which they had in her view, they had this combination.
She called a consistency of interest and consistency of effort. And to me, that's what I mean by some people would say, like I put some words in, that's what I use passion and perseverance to mean. And I have found in my scientific research that these are not at all related in a positive way, any way to measure the talent like your IQ. And I think this intuition that your ability, your cognitive ability, even your physical ability or other kinds of abilities are not the same as sustaining motivation to do something with that ability.
I think that's what I'm interested in and I'm especially interested in where this comes from. And I believe that almost everything about us is malleable. And I want to know if you want it to get ready or how would you do it? Is there an inverse relationship between talent and grit? You know, I have found it sometimes in my data set where like the the higher the IQ score, for example, the lower the score. But it's not consistently negative.
I think the thing I could say that is consistent is that it's not positive. So sometimes I can find a data set and they're going the opposite direction. And sometimes I find that they're not at all related. But I think the most conservative thing to say is that they generally don't go hand in hand in a positive way. And so being smarter is definitely not a guarantee in career.
What relationship does it have to resilience?
My PhD advisor was a great psychologist who's our colleague, and that's Marty Seligman, and he is somebody who discovered some of the most basic findings there are about resilience. And there's a lot of overlap with grit. But I'll say just to recap his work, that what he discovered is that both animals like dogs, but also human beings, they display resilience when they're in a situation where others might give up, lose hope, feel helpless. But the resilient response is to keep fighting, to keep trying to kind of not lose some hope that you could do something about your situation.
And that is part of, I think, perseverance. I think part of perseverance, because when you study somebody like Lindsey Vonn, absolutely. You get a good point of these, like, you know, presumably for other people, career ending injuries and and setbacks. But that's not all. So she has what Marty would have characterized as the kind of response in the face of adversity, which she also is kind of a lower case p perseverance, which is like just getting up every day in the morning and really going to work and really trying hard.
And I think that's a little bit less what Marty was studying, extreme adversity and like how you do, but more like it's Tuesday. Like, are you going to go to Netflix and chill or are you going to like, actually work on your weaknesses? So it's part of perseverance is not all perseverance is absolutely not the same as passion. I think there are a lot of people who are extremely resilient, but they're desperate to find a direction in their life.
And that's why I think Kathryn Cox's early observation that to do something great, you also have to have something which you stay interested in, that you stay guided by. Maybe not this particular maybe one project ends and another begins, but there's a theme of what you're trying to do with your life. How do you think about grit now in this pandemic and all of the other major issues that have either come along with it or come at the same time, like the economic issues, the racial issues, then, of course, the political issues layered on top of all of that?
It is an interesting time, is it not, historically? And I have to say, a colleague of mine said very recently, I have never been a stress, as I am right now, to recognize that she's very privileged in many ways. And I thought to myself, well, I'm also very privileged in many ways. And I have also trust and I have been in recent memory at least. So I will say that it's a historic time. The part of history that I find in a way most relevant to or do you think the most is actually the racial reckoning of this country?
I've spent some time reading blog posts and essays about how great is racist and this notion that the work that I do could actually be bad and also setting back groups of people in this country who do deserve that. I mean, I'll just say I'm human. So I was like defensive and defensive, just like, well, I'm reading things on my computer, but reading things about how the notion of working hard and overcoming setbacks could be racist after a lot of defensiveness, I think actually requires some conversation.
So so I think what this perspective is saying is that we are preaching the gospel of working hard and staying with goals and so forth. You are maybe obfuscating, ignoring, neglecting, undermining attention to structural inequality, racism. And I think I can appreciate that perspective. Like, I understand why there could be frustration. And I think the better angels of my nature would be to stand up and say, first of all, certainly not at all what my intention was.
It's also not it's not something I can say like, well, it's not my problem. Know, if you write a book on grit and I think you have responsibilities to talk about what what you mean and what you don't mean. And if anything, what I would like to say is that when people achieve great things in life, it is because they've had support and opportunity, a fair shake, a helping hand, a benefit of the doubt. And I agree personally, I think there is structural racism in this country, structural inequality, lack of opportunity.
That's unfair. So after that initial defensiveness, I've been really trying to be a better person and not be small. I often think, like, what would Michelle Obama do then? I'm like, OK, definitely something that would be better than what I would do. And maybe I'll just do what she would have done.
And I think, like, Michelle Obama would listen and stand up and say, look, you're right, we certainly don't want to obscure the fact that people are on very uneven ground here and be doing something about it now. It's hard to take criticism. Yeah, right. I have a Twitter feed, so I take criticism. I do what could be critical, I imagine.
I'm sure the people who listen to this show regularly know what I'm about to say, which is that I had a 360 review that I've talked about a lot on this show. It was two years ago and it was devastating. Do you know the 360 review? As do I.
OK. OK, so what happened?
It was just 17 people giving our long, anonymous qualitative interviews to really sensitive coaching firm.
And I got a 41 page report and it would be too long for me to list all of the deficiencies identified. But they included, you know, an impatience, dismissiveness, stubbornness. What else? Emotional guardedness. Those are the biggest, if I recall. And so it's hard to take criticism and the criticism you've received that you're overlooking structural issues, to hear that now, I imagine is really hard to hear.
And so does it require a. A rethinking of your argument, if I'm listening to this and I am somebody I am, I don't think I think the structures of our society all work to my advantage.
But if I am somebody who does not fit the bill, you know, I just say a female or a trans woman or a black person or a Latin next person. And I aspire to grid and I aspire to greatness. But I do have evidence that the world is not working in my favor. How can I do what you're saying while also not denying the reality?
It's something that I decided that I would do what I know how to do, which is to write something about. And I wrote an essay called Well, First I called it the big picture because I wanted to say that when you zero in with your psychological microscope on what the motivations, the mindsets, the values of a greedy person are, you miss the bigger picture, which is like that person is located in a place, in a society and the culture.
And if you only zone in on the person and what's going on between their ears, then you're missing the bigger picture. Then I titled it both. And because I want to say that a lot of times as human beings, we naturally gravitate to either or explanations like either experience or it's either it's what the person does or it's societal structures. And I wanted to say as a scientist, not that I think what I said before was wrong, but it's incomplete.
It certainly wasn't intended to say like this is everything that I should be more tangible and say both what an individual does in their life and the societal structures which are to some extent beyond their control, like they both matter. It got rejected, rejected from Atlantic, have rejected from your times. I sent it a bunch of other places like I was too long and sometimes I just didn't get any reply and I should try harder and maybe revise it if it wasn't well written.
But I think it is important and I I've been hanging out a little bit more with sociologists, psychologists study. They really do study what happens between the years. Like that's what a psychologist does as a craft. Right. Like that's what I'm trained to do. Sociologists study society as a unit of analysis of social groups. And so I've been trying to learn a little bit more from my sociology friends. And they're they're very patient because it is probably frustrating to them sometimes to have their perspective committed.
Just getting back and putting myself in the in the shoes of. Somebody for whom the structures are at least arguably working in ways that can inhibit your potential grid is still available to you.
But I guess how to operationalize this, how to hold a gritty attitude and a point of view while also not blinding yourself to the societal structures.
But then also, I would imagine, is it possible that if you got too fixated on the unfairness, the society would hold you back from your goal? This seems tough to navigate.
It's really tough. And I'm not going to pretend that I have the answers. But I'll tell you what I've been thinking about right when I said that the mind goes to either war explanations like either exists or it's that. Right. It's a lot harder, frankly, to consider both and it's a lot harder to say to your own children. Right. Like both things that are out there to help people immediately perceive you. Right. Based on what you look like.
Is that both is that is real and consequential. And what you do matters like it's very hard, right. It's a kind of easier to say either or. Right. So now we've got all this complexity and how do they both matter? Do they interact with each other? So I am of the view that if you could try to hold in your mind that both matter, both structural issues and individual actions, then you will both be more accurate, by the way.
And I think you will do what I think I aspire to. But I'm not saying that I do, which is there are people who are really great. They're hardworking and they're compassionate. Right. Which is actually kind of why I like the tactical goals. And it's that you do try to actually understand other people's positions and not pass judgment. Right. So I'd like to be compassionate and really cool both in life. It's very hard because I do it kind of like lapsing into kind of like, well, just try harder.
That's not right. If you can't communicate both and if you can hold both in your own mind, I think you're you're definitely a better person. Let's broaden out just a little bit to talk about so many people, whether you're in a marginalized group or not, are struggling right now because they may be sick. They may know somebody, as you do who's been sick with really difficult outcomes in many cases, may have lost a job and may be worried about losing a job, may have lost their business.
People's dreams are crumbling.
What are your thoughts about the application or development of grit in this context?
Yeah, I, I know that this quote that I love was misattributed to Plato many times. And Plato, scholars say, doesn't sound at all like Plato, but I just love this quote. So whoever said it is kind of all you need for each carries their own heavy burden. It's a great thing to remember, even if Plato didn't say it. And when you walk by like a boarded up storefront or like a restaurant up close, I'd be just, you know, and all the invisible tragedies like you just don't know.
I mean, you don't know. I really, really I was struck by that quote the first time I heard it. And I'm thinking about it like every day pandemic. That's compassion. Right. But in terms of grit, we were talking about our top level goals. And I think they might be helpful if you are that person who has had a really serious setback. I'm kind of a person like I was never a chef and I've never I don't even want to eat that much.
But I just I don't know why I'm, like, super interested in food. I felt like a million food memoirs. I read all those books that chefs write. So of course, I don't like reading the newspaper. And and I'm reading these like first person stories of restaurant owners who, like you, worked so hard. And I can't imagine what it's like to board up your restaurant and then declare bankruptcy. The reason I make this tolerable could be potentially helpful in these times is because if you ask a person who had a restaurant, why did you have a restaurant?
I don't think they would say like, oh, it was just an end in itself. Like it was the whole top level. There's nothing above that. I think above that is probably something like I want to help people like food is love, like I'm going a few people's bodies and their souls or something. And I, I do wonder whether appealing to your higher level goals might help you be flexible and think like. Well, the thing that I've been working on for ten years is not working out, probably not in my own missteps, but because of the coronaviruses and economic circumstances.
What else could I do? When I was reading about this Hawaiian restaurant in my hometown of Philadelphia was called for Dog and it closed its doors and the article was so beautifully written. And then as I'm reading this article right by the owner of Jeff, it mentioned that she was now trying to do some organizing around food help. The people who have been working at her restaurant is promoting them. And she was doing food writing, which she, of course, can do.
So I know that sounds a little Pollyanna, but I do think it's right. I think that we should ask ourselves, what are we trying to do and is there another way?
So if I'm hearing you having this top level goal, which is where we began early on in this discussion, is a way to develop grit. Are there other ways to develop grippe, given that you said that you believe that everything about us is malleable? I'm trying I won't say that I've made a lot of progress, but I decided last year, since I have tenure and I had a little liberty to do what I think is really the right thing, not just to crank on, push on with one or two more studies, but to actually do something a little unusual, which is I tried to merge my teaching and teach undergraduates with my my research ideas for building grit.
So I developed this class called Grit Lab, and it's 14 weeks because that's how long a semester is. And then every week there's a topic like goal setting and planning, the psychology of stress and failure interests where your interests come from, values. And I have an assignment every week, which is in a way what I would have done a random assignment experiment on. Right. Except for in this case, there's no control group. So I taught it for the first time in the spring, by the way, pandemic happened in the middle of our class.
So that was an interesting experiment, even love itself. And I'll teach again this fall. And I think the general theme is, is this I mean, I'll let you in on what I think no secret formula.
So I've been thinking as I'm teaching this class and actually, honestly, this is all I think about what does change us? What's the cocktail that is more likely to change us for good? And my hypothesis is that it's got four parts. One is that we change when we've had an emotional experience, not just reading a book, but like really experiencing something like a good thing or a bad thing with something which is like, as Walter Michel, the great psychologist to do along with us, we would say like a hot experience, like something that's not a cold experience.
So I've been trying to give my students actual experiences instead of just reading about failure, which we do, they have to go out and feel something like it's like literally assignment is to go feel something and feel feel what failure is like. So what is an experience? The second one is the reading and the thinking. I actually think that this conversation, which is in a way a cold conversation. Right, because we're talking about life. We're talking about death.
We're not experiencing things that maybe viscerally. But I still think it's helpful because I think this level of like kind of metacognitive sort of reflection is really important. And so I tell them, like, OK, here's the science of failure. Here's what happens when we do random some experiments on failure, etc.. So that's the second element. The third is writing, I think that reflection through writing and also conversation, because that's built into the course, too.
I think that is a way of us processing it. Maybe felt this way about writing your books. I feel that way. I don't feel like I've ever thought about something. I've really written about it. So there's a writing component. So every week the students have to write about the experiment that they did that hopefully create an emotion in them or a real visceral feeling. They reflect also on the readings that they've been doing from scientific articles. And then the fourth element is modeling.
So, you know, it's amazing how much you can learn on YouTube because it's like all you do is like you watch somebody change a gasket or maybe kick in, like it's worth a million pages of text. Right. So I think they need to be my students need to be shown a model like this. Right. So if I say, you know, it's a wonderful thing to write a gratitude letter to somebody who's been a mentor to you and I talk to them about it, they they read about the signs of gratitude.
It's important that they have a model for that. So I will videotape myself doing it or have other ways to model. So that's the cocktail I've come up with. Is there a fifth element? This is one of the things I said, like, I don't know, but I feel like that when I reflect on what I learned the most in my life, it's because I've had all of this.
And you think playing around with those four elements would help us in this deeply suboptimal time to develop our ability to stick with it?
I do. I do. And I'm not saying that it's like a miracle happens. You wake up and you are Lindsey Vonn the next day. But but I do think human beings are remarkable learners. Was never an age in life that you're not learning. And you can't say that for all animals really like, that's maybe something you can almost say about people. So this does seem to me a way to learn in a particularly effective way, especially when it comes to motivation, not just like learning calculus or something.
Right. So I think if people were given a little help in figuring out like what experiences, combined with knowledge, combined with self reflection, combined with having very specific and inspiring role models. Yeah, I think we would learn a lot faster than we would otherwise.
One of the tricky parts here seems to be the passion piece. You know, I feel really lucky that throughout my life I've. Had one or two really overwhelming passions, first journalism and then mindfulness meditation, which I've combined with journalism, but a lot of people I know don't really have that.
And I've had conversations with people where they feel at a loss in terms of finding that. So what do you say to those people?
You know, that is actually half the course and teaching these 18 to 20 year olds, I will tell you that almost all of them maybe. Let me just say all of them, they're already very hard working and they're fairly resilient. They're lacking the passion part of it. I want to just ask you very briefly, like journalism. Tell me about how you became a journalist. I mean, briefly, I guess, like, what did you figure out that would be a passion for you?
I tried a bunch of stuff. I actually had journalism. And the movie's mixed up in my mind when I was in college. And so I did a bunch of internships at TV news stations. And I also went to NYU film school for a semester. And it was very obvious to me very quickly at NYU that I had no talent for filmmaking, but I loved the documentary course I took and I loved the TV news internships I had done. And so I think I wanted something kind of cool and public or flashy or exciting and but I didn't have any aptitude for writing scripts or being a cinematographer or whatever.
I did have some aptitude for the news. So it was a really taste testing that got me there.
That is exactly the metaphor I use. I gave the students like, how do you view the durian fruit? Right. Which is that like really stinky Asian fruit that actually smells well, it smells like human feces, but very delicious.
But, you know, whether you like the fruit or not, until you really taste it, right. You can read about the and fruit. You can Google that, arrange for you to watch YouTube, but you have to really try things. And so any taste test is exactly right. So you ask, like, what would I say? The paradox of grit is that it is about specialization. Right? I mean, I don't believe people become really great at things when they dabble like, oh, I've done this for five hours.
I'll be a great chef in five hours. Nobody's agreed anything in five hours. But the paradox is that at the beginning of your career and in the beginning of life, you have to sample what you just can't tell in advance what you're going to enjoy. And then and then even once you say like, oh, broadcasting. Right. Like, then there's even more titration, like, am I going to the camera, you know. Right. As you know.
So it isn't very long and messy process. And I think that is something which people get when they go to commencement speeches and they hear that Joseph Campbell quote, like, follow your bliss. It's like kind of a myth that it's just like anything. You discover it all in one moment in time and happily ever after. I think it's a very long, messy process of discovery.
We've got a couple of minutes left here before you need to take one of your daughters to a pediatrician appointment, but you have a new podcast. Can you? It's called No Stupid Questions.
That is correct. It is with, you know, Stephen Dubner. Right. And I know he is co-author of Freakonomics, but I don't know if that I know him, but maybe I do and feel he thinks about you.
Maybe that's why I thought you guys were pals. But yes, Stephen Dubner and I became friends at some point, maybe when he was interviewing me on the set. And honestly, no idea. But we discovered that we like to talk to each other. And so then we decided to put mikes on while we talked to each other, pretty much that.
But you guys do take on very pointed and interesting questions in each episode. That is correct.
We try to have in each episode two questions. One, I ask Stephen, and then one, he asks me. And then oftentimes, you know, just the way my head works, I immediately go think about, like social science findings that are relevant. And he has like a journalism background. So he often takes things in his direction.
Do you know the questions in advance so you can prep or do you ad lib? Yeah, we do a little bit.
Well, so first of all, yes, we we say to each other, like, hey, we're going to report on Thursday. I was going to ask you this question just to get thinking about it. But I will say that the direction of the conversation, like 90 percent of the time is not what I thought it would be.
That's great. So you're leaving room for serendipity? It's not all scripted.
Yeah. I mean, you know, nobody can really have a scripted conversation that you think or maybe they can, and that's terrible.
Yeah, you can follow me. I don't on this podcast is a mess, not this episode. Generally speaking, the podcast we just talk. I mean, we completely it's unscripted.
Entirely so scripted. Right. Yeah. Because I mean, to your point about being present and in the moment. Right. That's kind of being open to like what's going to happen.
That's how I glorify and glamorize my lack of preparation. Yeah, those are. It's such a pleasure to meet you. I really appreciate you taking time to do this. I really, really enjoyed it. I think I know what you mean about being president. I felt like you were very present and I was present. Big thanks again to Angela, as you may have noticed, we didn't talk much about mindfulness in this episode, but we're going to take a deep dive on how meditation can fuel resilience in our Wednesday episode with George Mumford, who's a legendary meditation teacher and who has overcome gigantic obstacles in his own life, including a heroin addiction, and then went on to work with star athletes such as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.
So that is coming up on Wednesday, as mentioned at the top of this episode. We've got a themed week here, grit and resilience.
If you are interested in developing these skills to cope with all of the fear, stress, anxiety and more caused by the pandemic, you can check out some of our free meditations. We've put together something called the Coronavirus Sanity Guide. It's on the 10 percent happier app. I'll put a link in the show notes before I go big thanks to the team who worked so hard on the show. Samuel Johns is our senior producer. Marisa Schneiderman is our producer.
Our sound designers are Matt Boyington. And on your show, Ashik of Ultraviolet Audio. And Maria Wartell is our production coordinator. We get a ton of input from our colleagues such as Jen Point A, Toby and Liz Lemon, Ben Rubin. And last but not least, big salute to my ABC Comrade's Ryan Kessler and Josh Kohat.
We'll see you all on Wednesday with George Munford.