The Single Most Important Quality for Achieving Success

What is the single most important quality for achieving success? But first, what is success? Here, I refer to success as the attainment of a desirable outcome or achieving one’s goals. Well, for one, setting realistic and achievable goals is important. But in quality I refer to an individual trait.

Of course, there are many qualities that help in achieving your goals. Talent or intelligence is always a good one. But without grit, drive, willpower, and determination this talent is not fully realized. In the 1960’s, Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel performed a famous experiment now called the ‘Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. In these studies, a child was offered a choice between one small reward provided immediately, or two small rewards if they waited for a short period, approximately 15 minutes, during which the tester left the room and then returned. In follow-up studies performed many years later, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index (BMI), and other life measures. This makes some sense when you think about it: self-control and determination allow you to study instead of playing video games. It allows you to finish that report instead of leaving the office early or spending the afternoon on Facebook.

In 1926, a psychologist named Catharine Cox Miles published a study of 300 recognized geniuses and identified a host of qualities, beyond raw intelligence, that predicted “greatness.” By studying these qualities, Harvard researcher Angela Duckworth boiled them down to a single attribute that she defined as ‘grit’, the perseverance and passion for a long-term goal, a “passion for a single mission with an unswerving dedication to achieve [that mission], whatever the obstacles and however long it might take”. Duckworth has shown that the determining factors of success were perseverance, hard work, and a drive to improve. Her ‘grit’ test has proven a strong predictor of success in different settings.

Some questions come to mind. Is determination innate? What fuels it?

My belief has always been that talent is, as Warren Buffet would say, part of the ovarian lottery. Hard work however seems, to me, doable and achievable. Just do it! I’ve always thought that there are people smarter than me, but in work ethics the playing field is open and it is easier to compete with anybody. Talent is a potential. Grit materializes it.

As for what fuels grit besides intrinsic temperament, I believe these can be some possible sources:

Passion and interest

It is pretty obvious that if you love something you will more easily put in the hours and not deviate in your mission to achieve your goals.

Ambition

This is also pretty obvious. Ambition is the desire to achieve your goals. If you do not have that desire then determination is useless.

Pride

Pride can be a source of determination. It does not allow you to give up.

Competitiveness

Competitiveness is related to ambition as it fuels a strong desire to win or be the best at something.

Adversity and lack of alternatives

Adversity and lack of opportunity can be a source of motivation, determination, and increase your appetite for risk. When someone is too comfortable desire and ambition can be lessened. This is probably why immigrants tend to be more entrepreneurial.

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So, do you think that grit and determination is the most important quality for achieving success? Is it as innate as talent?

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