What is it that makes some people world-class at what they do?

What is it that makes some people world-class at what they do? What path do these “paragons of grit” follow to become so successful, and how do stars like LeBron James go from kids shooting free throws to record-breaking athletes? Angela Duckworth, author of the New York Times bestseller Grit, recently sat down with Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll to share the four steps to becoming a true master of grit.

  1. Romance. “Think about kids getting into football. That early stage is very playful, it’s fun,” Duckworth explains. This first stage happens whenever someone, kid or adult, begins to fall in love with an activity that will become a passion.
  2. Precision. After watching perhaps hundreds of YouTube videos of their favorite athletes doing slam dunks, this is the period “when kids start to practice,” says Duckworth. The best of the best practice “in a particular way,” Duckworth adds. “They practice with intention. They’re practicing on very specific aspects of their overall performance, like specific moves, specific muscles. They’re doing it with full attention.” This period includes all the afternoons after school or evenings after work spent perfecting a craft, working with mentors to constantly improve.
  3. Integration. This stage is all about combining individual skills with a greater sense of purpose. “It’s a purpose that serves beyond self-motivation,” says Duckworth. This “beyond-the-self” sense of purpose could come from fellow teammates, the sport itself, or even a desire to give back to the community. Of course, there’s still precision practice involved in this stage, “but now there’s a kind of motivation which is much deeper,” according to Duckworth, “that sustains people over the arc of their career, especially as they mature into the later stages of development.”
  4. Resilience. Even with all three of the first steps, what sets true paragons of grit apart is their ability to be resilient. “They have setbacks like anyone else, because the road is not smooth for anyone, but they truly have the mindset that they can improve,” Duckworth explains. This growth mindset is key, providing an ability to bounce back and see each disappointment as a chance for further improvement.

Best of all, both Angela Duckworth and Pete Carroll believe that these steps can be learned. Reflecting, Duckworth says, “the question is: could you get kids or grown-ups to develop their interest, learn how to practice, cultivate a sense of purpose, and learn to have resilience or hope? I answer in the affirmative.” Don’t give up on those dreams, in other words. It’s never too late to learn grit.