Another specific trait that has become somewhat popular recently in higher education has been called grit by Angela Duckworth and her colleagues (see Duckworth et al., 2007). Grit is defined as the perseverance and passion necessary to accomplish long-term goals. In particular, it refers to the ability to continue striving toward those goals despite temporary failure, adversity, and plateaus in one's progress. Although much of the research on grit has focused on academic goals, grit does not correlate well with intelligence. Rather, it correlates highly with the Big-Five trait of conscientiousness.
We used to believe that individuals who become experts in a particular area (whether it's math, playing a musical instrument, playing chess, or competing in athletic events, etc.) had some innate ability or talent for their skill. However, Anders Ericsson proposed and studied a different theoretical framework. Although an individual may show some early talent in a particular domain, what resulted in their becoming an expert, or a star athlete, was the intensive deliberate practice that followed, often taking many years before the individual truly excelled (Ericsson, 2004; Ericsson et al., 1993). Working together, Duckworth, Ericsson, and a few of their colleagues showed that deliberate practice is the key to success in an academic competition that tends to fascinate many people because of just how difficult it is: the National Spelling Bee (Duckworth et al., 2010).
Whether it's grit, consciousness, or the associated behavior of deliberate practice, those who continue to strive toward their goals tend to succeed not only in school, but also in most aspects of life, including life satisfaction and earning a good income (Duckworth & Carlson, 2013; Duckworth et al., 2012). But what can, perhaps, interfere with one's ability and/or motivation to continue striving toward one's goals? It appears that life stress in early adolescence can significantly impair one's ability to strive toward a positive and fruitful future (Duckworth et al., 2013). It's quite possible that since adolescence is the time of developing one's identity, according to Erik Erikson, and identity associated with negative life events and stress is incompatible with maintaining grit.
As I mentioned above, this is an area only recently becoming well-known (i.e., popular) in the field of higher education. It is likely to become an increasingly significant factor in how we work toward helping students achieve their goals, whether academic or in other aspects of their lives.
Final Note: Moving Toward a New “Big Five”?
In 2006, Dan McAdams and Jennifer Pals argued that personality psychology has failed to provide a comprehensive framework in which we can understand the whole person. Since this was a guiding principle of many of the founders of this field, an effort to combine recent research with early principles would help the field of personality psychology move toward maturity. In a manner similar to Costa and McCrae’s Five-Factor Theory, McAdams and Pals suggest that those who study personality should be guided by five fundamental principles: evolutionary design, dispositional traits, characteristic adaptations, integrative life narrative, and culture. Their examination of these principles led them to the following definition of personality:
Personality is an individual’s unique variation on the general evolutionary design for human nature, expressed as a developing pattern of dispositional traits, characteristic adaptations, and integrative life stories complexly and differentially situated in culture. (pg. 212; McAdams & Pals, 2006)
If personality psychologists use these principles in their ongoing efforts to understand each individual, they should be able to achieve an understanding of an old paradox offered to explain personality: every person is like every other person, like some other persons, and like no other person (see McAdams & Pals, 2006).