Two stalwarts of psychology addressed this topic in the September 2017 issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science: Angela Duckworth, known for her work on grit, and Martin Seligman, known for his work on learned helplessness. Their article focused on the importance of self-control but it summarizes concisely three psychological factors affecting success:
- self-control – “the capacity to regulate attention, emotion, and behavior in the presence of temptation.”
- grit – “passion and perseverance for long-term goals.”
- conscientiousness - being careful, being thorough; desiring to do a task well (one of the Big Five personality factors).
- Self-control is important to outcomes in life, including income, finances, health, and “occupational prestige.”
- Conscientiousness includes self-control and is highly related to longevity, wealth, and health.
- In middle school students, self-control equaled intelligence measure in predicting grades and test scores but exceeded intelligence measures on predicting absences, procrastination, and time watching TV.
- Being able to delay gratification of “ill-timed or inappropriate impulses” is a hallmark of self-control and develops early in life, according to Freud.
- Gritty people have a “single-minded, sustained commitment” to “enduring goals of superordinate personal significance.”
- “A gritty person cannot be gritty about everything.”
1. Many factors contribute to success. Your definition of success may be very different from another’s. I knew a local rock band that were truly outstanding, but when given the opportunity for national, even international exposure, they declined. Making music was a joy – not a lifestyle calling. Being a “rock star” was not part of their individual definitions of success. What does success mean to you?
2. I see self-control and grit as important factors for individual success in any part of life. I have written about grit here previously. But grit is not necessarily predictive of organizational success unless the enduring goal is somehow tied to the organization. Given headlines about sexual harassment in the workplace, we can probably agree that self-control should have a greater emphasis in our training and conduct. Just how long can you go without looking at your smartphone?
3. On the other hand, conscientiousness is of great organizational and personal significance. We can measure conscientiousness, correlate with organizational outcomes, and design into selection systems. As I have written previously, it is the most important trait affecting health and success that you may have never considered.
4. Lumped or separated, these three factors offer a good self-assessment as to your success.
- How is your self-control?
- Do you have an enduring goal that you are pursuing with passion?
- Are you thorough in your work, striving for good outcomes in the various parts of your life?
Duckworth, A. L., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2017). The science and practice of self-control. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 12(5), 715-718.
Image by Pfüderi. Obtained from https://pixabay.com/photos/rockclimbing-success-mountain-2040824/
Modified from my blog, 10/31/2023. © John Ballard, PhD, 2023. All rights reserved.
Decoding the Workplace “Is this a must-have for managers and would-be managers? Yes.” Academy of Management Learning & Education, June, 2018. Available as ebook, hardback, paperback, audiobook, and audio CD. The best-selling audiobook, and CD, are narrated by Timothy Andrés Pabon.