Why Grit Can Predict Success Better Than IQ

June 29th, 2014 by LaRae Quy

My grandmother had grit. She was born on the kitchen table, had a special baseball cap reserved just for wearing into town, and once confused Dom Perignon with a mafia leader. She told me to “suck it up” when I complained about my teachers.


I resented the fact that she didn’t take my part when I came home crying that Mrs. Archie was telling—not asking—me to finish my math homework. It wasn’t that grandma couldn’t be sweet when she wanted, it was more than she did not suffer fools. She knew that learning can be tough and didn’t have time to waste on a cry-baby who couldn’t take a few knocks.

Not everyone may agree with my grandmother’s attitude toward life, but science is actually proving that grit is a far more reliable predictor of success than intelligence. If you have grit, you’re brave and strong enough to do what it takes to succeed in business and life. It’s a powerful force that allows you to stand out from the crowd even though your skills may not be exceptional.

Grit is an important component of mental toughness.

Lets take a close look at what grit really means:


To get the job done on our Wyoming cattle ranch, I had to learn the best way to do it. Often, I had to try several ways to get the job done before I found a way that did work. I didn’t label those attempts as failure. Instead, each iteration took me closer to finding a solution. It wasn’t until I was hit in the face with college entrance exams and job performance appraisals that failure took on such an ominous meaning.

When I was younger, I was told that failure and trying again was simply part of the learning process. Failure presented a “problem” to be worked out and it was often a game of trying something new that might work. 

I grew up believing in the power of Plan B. My grandmother knew how to brush off failure and take the steps necessary to try again. Stupidity, in her eyes, was to go back and repeat the same mistakes. And yes, expect a different result. Her second, third, or fourth attempts were transitions from failure to success.

Grit looks at Plan B as a powerful next step.


University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Angela Duckworth finds that grit—defined as passion and perseverance for long-term goals—is the best predictor of success. In fact, grit is unrelated, or even negatively correlated, with talent. When working with West Point cadets, she found that those who scored higher in grit had the mental toughness to keep going when times got tough.

The high score on grit surpassed other tests such as SAT scores, IQ, class rank, leadership, and physical aptitude when it came to predicting retention rates.

Leaders who score highest in grit and mental toughness are those who are positive thinkers. My grandmother was a positive thinker who looked for solutions and wasn’t afraid to work hard to find them.


Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck has done amazing research on how children praised for getting good grades because they are “smart” are less confident as adults than children who are praised for getting good grades because they are “hard workers.”

The praise that insinuates a child gets good grades because they were born smart also sends the message that “you are what you are.” Hard work will not change their situation.

Praise that implies that you did well because you worked hard at it produces a growth mindset that understands you have the ability to change your situation—if you put your shoulder to it.


My grandmother warned me against avoiding the negative things in life, whether it was Mrs. Archie’s math assignments or sitting on a spool of barbed wire in the back of the pickup truck when there was no room to sit on the front seat. “Suck it up” was her favorite phrase.

Now I realize that because I faced the negative aspects of life, it prepared me to be more resilient. It also equipped me to deal with everyday stressors. Pain, along with drudgery, will most likely be experienced on the way to success.

Eric Kandel, who shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology in 2000, discovered the phenomenon of synaptic plasticity. As we try something new, we have to work at it. The nerve cells involved in that learning process fire a neurotransmitter to get the process started. The more effort we exert, the larger the synapses enlarge and the connections strengthen.

The more we stress our brain, those neural pathways get stronger. That is why practice—the repeated firing of neurons—leads to improved performance. 

We rarely embrace hard work that stresses our brain, but our brain actually get stronger from it. James Loehr, an expert on peak performance, says, “Stress (in moderation) is not the enemy in our life; paradoxically, it’s the key to growth.”

I have not always appreciated my grandmother’s approach to life, but she had the mental toughness to understand that routine stresses make us stronger. She knew that the development of grit was just as important as the development of my math score.

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

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10 Responses to “Why Grit Can Predict Success Better Than IQ”

  1. Kaylene says:

    Fantastic article LaRae (of course and as always) But I especially loved your these two points – “…had less to do with failing than learning the best way to do it,” and “Praise that implies that you did well because you worked hard at it produces a growth mindset that understands you have the ability to change your situation—if you put your shoulder to it.” Absolutely spot on. Especially as a parent I am intentional to drive these points home to my kids. My daughter drove her car into the side of the garage and did a pretty good scrape job all the way along the side of it. She was devastated, fearful of doing it again and feeling like she had destroyed the car. So the first thing I told her was,’ It’s no big deal, I’ve done the same thing. Now get back in the car, back it up and try again.” You can’t learn to do it right – unless you do it right and that takes practice. And grit. Appreciate your perspective and your insights from lessons learned from Grandma. 🙂

    • LaRae Quy says:

      Thanks Kaylene…those grandma lessons stuck with me for life! Sounds like you handled the car situation with your daughter perfectly! You’re encouraging a growth mindset 🙂

  2. Takis says:

    Excellent post LaRae, with very strong insights. One of my basic positions in life is that there are no shortcuts or free meals, and if you aim at something, you need to assemble whatever it needed to achieve it. I totally agree with your approach but I would add and the personal discipline (development?) in the recipe as well as the intention to do this or that or achieve this/that. And off course for long time goals you need the discipline (you should already have developing) in order to furnish you the necessary motivation to keep on doing what it needed!

    Thank you LaRae, for your wonderful post, the inspiration you provide and the continuing motivation. Thank you for sharing.

    • LaRae Quy says:

      Thanks for your kind words, Takis.

      You make a great point about personal discipline…without it, we will go nowhere and break down quickly when we hit tough times.

      Thanks for adding to the conversation!

  3. Failure is part of success and your grandmother was so wise!

    As parents, grandparents and leaders, it is challenging to sometimes give honest feedback like your grandmother did. She realized the importance of building your character by believing in your resilience and ability to handle disappointment.

    Your story is beautiful and really captured the essence of “grit”! Great post, LaRae!

    • LaRae Quy says:

      Thanks, Terri!

      Yes, my grandmother was an expert on giving honest feedback! I didn’t always appreciate it at the time, but she was usually always right. And it certainly did build my character…and for that, I will always be grateful to her 🙂

  4. Karin Hurt says:

    Excellent stories. My whole family has mixed memories and feelings about my grandmother’s hard core expectations. Bottom line… she raised some great kids raising strong grandkids. Tough love has it’s place 😉 Love your lessons here.

  5. Alli Polin says:

    Love the power of Plan B!! Your grandma sounds awesome.

    If I had stayed with the easy path, I’d never be where I am today… and would not trade it for a second despite the challenges.

    • LaRae Quy says:

      I agree, Karin…tough love does have its place.

      Too many parents do not realize this these days…and raise kids with a sense of entitlement. It does no one any good, especially those kids when they become adults and find out that mom and dad cannot always fix their problems.

    • LaRae Quy says:

      I agree Alli! If I’d stuck with the easy path I would not have ended up where I am in life…it’s hard at times to say this with a straight face, but I’m so grateful for those obstacles and roadblocks that forced me to change course in life 🙂

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