Angela Duckworth (@angeladuckw) is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, founder of the non-profit Character Lab, co-host of the No Stupid Questions podcast, and author of NYT bestseller Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. [Note: This is a previously broadcast episode from the vault that we felt deserved a fresh pass through your earholes!]
What We Discuss with Angela Duckworth:
- What grit is and how it overrides the myth of innate “talent.”
- How to quantify your own level of grit.
- How to grow your grit and achieve what once seemed impossible.
- Why, when you’re a lifelong learner, you’re always going to see in hindsight how you might have done something better in the past — and this is a sign of improvement.
- How to know the difference between a lost cause to abandon and a challenge worthy of pursuit.
- And much more…
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When Angela Duckworth, author of NYT bestseller Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance uses the word talent, she means the relative quickness or ease with which someone can learn something new. If someone is talented at basketball, for instance, it just means they have a seemingly natural ability to learn more quickly and with relative ease compared to someone who’s not talented. (Admittedly, being seven feet tall may give this “talent” a huge boost!)
But effort, on the other hand, “isn’t how quickly or easily you get better at something,” says Angela. “It’s the quality and the quantity of your engagement. In a way, you can think of talent and effort being the two things that, in combination, create skill.”
What Angela refers to as grit is the ability of someone dedicated to learning a skill or chasing a goal to keep at it over the long haul and not give up before realizing its fulfillment. It’s this combination of passion and perseverance for long-term goals that determines the quality and quantity of the effort spent — more so than the ease and quickness of so-called talent.
Listen to this conversation with Angela in its entirety to learn more about making greatness doable, growing our grit, the importance of consistency in effort, the hierarchy of goals, articulating top-level goals, adaptation and prioritizing of goals, the gratification gained from living a life of grit, when to give up on goals and when to dig in, why — depending on your age — you may not be familiar with the word Polaroid, the four psychological assets (interest, practice, purpose, and hope), and more. Listen, learn, and enjoy! [Note: This is a previously broadcast episode from the vault that we felt deserved a fresh pass through your earholes!]
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Miss the conversation we had with Habits Academy’s James Clear? Catch up by listening to episode 108: James Clear | Forming Atomic Habits for Astronomic Results!
Thanks, Angela Duckworth!
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Resources from This Episode:
- Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth | Amazon
- No Stupid Questions
- Character Lab
- Angela Duckworth | Website
- Angela Duckworth | Twitter
- The Grit Scale
- Hester Lacey | Financial Times
- Beast Barracks | The Life and Times of a West Point Cadet
- The Mechanics of Human Achievement by Angela L. Duckworth, Johannes C Eichstaedt, and Lyle H. Ungar | Social and Personality Psychology Compass
752: Angela Duckworth | How to Grow Your Grit
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is sponsored in part by Peloton This year. Peloton is gifting you their best offer of the season. Get up to $300 off accessories when you purchase a Peloton Bike, Bike+, or Tread. Shop from a variety of accessories such as cycling shoes, a heart rate monitor, and more. If you've been waiting for a sign to join Peloton, this offer provides you with everything you need to get started. You're more likely to stick to a fitness routine if it's something you enjoy, which is why Peloton instructors make every workout feel like hanging out with friends. And the music — iconic, whether it's a classic rock or R & B class, you'll find the perfect soundtrack for your workout on a Peloton Bike or Tread. And whether you have 10 minutes to spare for a strength class or 30 minutes for a running or cycling class, there's a workout for you. So don't miss out on Peloton's best offer of the season. Visit onepeloton.com to learn more. All-access membership separate offer starts November 14th and ends November 28th, cannot be combined with other offers. See additional terms at onepeloton.com.
[00:00:51] Coming up next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:55] Angela Duckworth: Almost all of us could be so much more than we might believe we could be. I mean, it's really my conviction that in the right circumstances, with the right support, and with the right mindset and the right, you know, optimism, people can do marvelous things. And we ought not put ceilings on ourselves too early, and we ought not build those ceilings too low.
[00:01:23] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people. We have in-depth conversations with scientists and entrepreneurs, spies and psychologists, even the occasional organized crime figure, former cult member, undercover agent, and neuroscientist. And each episode turns our guest's wisdom into practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world works and become a better thinker.
[00:01:48] If you're new to the show or you want to tell your friends about the show — and I always appreciate it when you do that — I suggest our episodes starter packs as a place to begin. These are collections of our favorite episodes organized by topic to help new listeners get a taste of everything that we do here on this show — topics like persuasion and influence, disinformation and cyber warfare, technology and futurism, crime and cults, and more. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start or search for us in your Spotify app to get started.
[00:02:15] Today, one from the vault with Angela Duckworth, author of Grit. This book is a foundational work and almost required reading these days in the behavioral or behavioral economic spheres. This is why I'm bringing this conversation back into the show feed. After recording this seven-plus years ago, we'll uncover the surprising reason why we shouldn't label other people as talented and why our potential is one thing, while what we do with it is quite another. Also, we'll discover how to focus on high-level goals, when to give up and quit, and when to be stubborn and push on through, as well as how to grow our grit and perseverance.
[00:02:48] Here we go with Angela Duckworth.
[00:02:53] Angela, tell us what you do in one sentence.
[00:02:56] Angela Duckworth: I'm a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and I also run the Character Lab, a non-profit. That advances the science and practice of character development in children.
[00:03:06] Jordan Harbinger: Okay, so there's a little bit of parenting angles going on here. Why did you write this book? Why write Grit?
[00:03:13] Angela Duckworth: I wrote this book because it was ready to be written, and by that, I mean that I felt that in the scientific research that I was doing and that other people than me were doing, we were coming to some insights that were now ready to share that weren't just hand-me-down wisdom, but actually had evidence behind them. And I thought that that would be useful, that if people could understand what grit is and where it comes from, that they might have a head start in developing grit in themselves and people that they care about.
[00:03:44] Jordan Harbinger: Okay, so what is talent as opposed to grit? Or what is grit as opposed to talent?
[00:03:48] Angela Duckworth: Talent is a word that people use differently. So I should say what I mean by talent, when I use the word talent or when I hear the word talent, I primarily think of how quickly or how easily you learn something. If you are really talented at basketball, it means that when you play basketball, when you practice, you get better at basketball fast, and with relative ease. What effort, I think, is different. Effort isn't how quickly or easily you get better at something, it's the quality and the quantity of your engagement. So in a way, you can think of talent and effort being really the two things that in combination create skill.
[00:04:28] Jordan Harbinger: Why is grit so important then? What does grit determine in our lives?
[00:04:32] Angela Duckworth: I think for goals that take a long time to complete, not minutes, not days, not weeks, but for kids months and for grownups, years, decades, even a lifetime for those kinds of goals, it really is a matter of showing up and continuously trying to make progress. And grit, the combination of passion and perseverance for long-term goals is enormously important in determining the quality and the quantity of our effort over the long run. It is therefore essential really to accomplishing those long-term goals that in many ways mean the most to us. It's all about the fact that life really is by design or, you know, by fact it's a marathon and grit really keeps you in the race.
[00:05:25] Jordan Harbinger: So we know from the book that you can actually grow our grit. First, though, I want to dissect grit a little bit. What are the components of grit? And let's disassemble those so that we're all on the same page.
[00:05:37] Angela Duckworth: So I define grit as really essentially two things in combination — passion for long-term goals and perseverance for long-term goals. But I can further deconstruct those or double-click on passion and double-click on perseverance, I think that's actually helpful, and in the book, I do exactly that. I say, you know, if you ask, where does passion come from? Where does loving what you do and feeling every day that it's fascinating and meaningful, that it gives your life meaning? It really comes from two sources. One is interest, having your attention captivated by this thing that you're working on.
[00:06:15] As a psychologist, I am infinitely interested in human nature and the psychology of grit, and the psychology of achievement. Every day I wake up and I'm just as interested in that topic as I was the day before. Interest is one driver of passion. The other is purpose. It's different to say that this is interesting to me than to say this is purposeful. And again, to use myself as an example, I not only find psychology interesting, and not only captures my attention, but I feel like my work is purposeful in the sense that it could benefit other people. When I talk about purpose, I really mean feeling a connection to doing a service to other people. So passion comes from interest and a sense of other-oriented purpose.
[00:06:59] Perseverance comes from one, the capacity to do daily practice to get better. I mean, if you think about what perseverance means, it might sound to you like, well, I don't know what it'll sound like to different people, but when I think about perseverance, one form of it is waking up and trying to get a little bit better at something that you're doing compared to the day before. The other driver of perseverance is resilience or hope. And that is to say that in the face of setbacks, that wouldn't necessarily happen to you every day, but just, you know, the really bad season. You're an athlete and you have an injury. You're in sales and you could catastrophically blow a big client. These kinds of sometimes really emotional setbacks and failures, resilience or hope in the face of those.
[00:07:46] So, to recap, passion to me comes from interest and purpose. Perseverance comes in the form of daily practice and then hope in the face of adversity.
[00:07:57] Jordan Harbinger: We know the most successful people in any field are lucky and talented. That's a commonality, but it seems like the perseverance to keep going after failure and to keep getting up as you fall is what makes a paragon of perseverance. And in the book, you discuss that there's no realistic expectation among super-successful people of ever really catching up to their ambition. So in other words, they're never good enough. They're always non-com complacent, and yet that sense of purpose keeps them driving forward. Can you dissect that a little bit?
[00:08:31] Angela Duckworth: Yeah. I think that you know when you describe somebody never being satisfied with how well they're doing, it sounds pretty grim, right? It sounds like these people go to sleep and they're depressed or something. You know, nothing could be far from the truth, but I do think it's hard to capture what I'm talking about here. I talked to a CEO, a very successful, long-time CEO of a midsize company, he was struggling to put this himself and he said it's really being satisfied, being dissatisfied.
[00:08:57] And I again, can just use myself as a personal example because I know how I think about things. I've never written a paper or conducted a study or given a talk that I thought was perfect. You can always see something that could be better. But it's a real sense of like, I'm a learner. What was great about it, but what do I want to do the next time? It's a very future-oriented kind of outlook. And I think because it's future-oriented, because it's looking forward to learning and growing, never necessarily expecting perfection, but always chasing it because it's not backward-looking, regretful, self-flagellating. Because of that, there is a possibility of being satisfied, being dissatisfied.
[00:09:37] Another person that knows a lot about this is a journalist named Hester Lacey. She's in the United Kingdom. She does a column every week where she interviews a different superachiever in all kinds of fields. And she is trying to describe this. She said, "You know, as a journalist, I'm supposed to be somebody who's able to put things into words, but it's so hard to put into words because it's a forward-looking, optimistic sense of always wanting to do better."
[00:10:00] Jordan Harbinger: So it's the chase as much as the capture that's gratifying for these people.
[00:10:05] Angela Duckworth: I think that's right. I think that there is a kind of a taste for always being challenged that the process matters at least as much as the outcome. If you interview an Olympic athlete, they're not going to tell you that they don't want to win the gold. They do want to win the gold. So it's not that outcomes don't matter at all, but there is like a real taste for the process of getting better. That is at least as important to them.
[00:10:27] Jordan Harbinger: So don't you have to be unusually resilient in order to plow through a process where the outcome is uncertain?
[00:10:34] Angela Duckworth: I think of resilience as being more relevant to like something bad happened, an illness or, you know, an error. It's not trivial to kind of like plow through weeks, months, if not years of practice or struggle to get better at something. Or it's kind of the opposite of immediate gratification. One thing that I think is interesting about high performers is that they're able to, in a way, break down this really long-term goal into tiny parts so that there are these small and more immediate victories.
[00:11:03] So, for example, Bob Mankoff, cartoon editor for the New Yorker, you know, it's not just that he has long-term goals, like his first big long-term goal was to even get into the New Yorker as a cartoonist. And after thousands of rejected cartoons, he got his one cartoon in and it was his foot in the door. But he would tell you that what keeps him going is not just like big victories, but little things. He says like, "You know, if I can make myself smile a little bit like you make myself laugh a little bit to myself, that is a small victory."
[00:11:31] And you'll find the same thing when you interview other world-class performers. It's not just the kind of obvious big victory that they're able to get some satisfaction, like they're able to kind of find ways to see progress in smaller forms.
[00:11:48] Jordan Harbinger: How do you quantify this? Because it seems like you could just look for a bunch of different examples of successful people and then bang grit into that mold. But do you have some kind of test and have you quantified this? I know in the book you read about West Point.
[00:12:01] Angela Duckworth: Yeah, to study anything you need to have some way of measuring it. And I included the tests that I've been using for research in the book. It's called the Grit Scale. And it's a series of statements that really are taken from interviews that I conducted with super achievers in different fields. And I asked these people first to describe themselves and I found that many of them were like self-effacing and therefore too humble to tell me, you know, really accurately what they do all day and what they think about.
[00:12:29] So then, I had them described people that they most admired. You know, when you ask a hedge fund manager, like who's the hedge fund manager that you most admire? Or you ask an artist, who is the artist that you most admire? Well, then the words flow, and they'll say things like, "You'll never meet a harder worker. You know, when a lot of other people would give up when everyone else is given up, this person finishes what she begins." So those statements come from those interviews. And the Grit Scale is really a compilation of those statements where the person who's answering the Grit Scale just reflects and says, "To what extent would I say this is true of me?"
[00:12:59] It works in research in part because in my research studies there's really no incentive to get a five out of five Grit Scale score. I include it in the book because as a reader you also don't have any incentive really to dishonestly answer the scale. The measure is good for, I think, research and reflection. Don't think that it's useful for college admissions officers trying to recruit people or for companies. But I do think it serves its purpose of being a research instrument. So I can quantify grit among cadets at West Point or among spellers at the National Spelling Bee, for example. And I do think it's helpful to read these statements and say, "Hmm, me personally, how much do I resonate with them?"
[00:13:38] Jordan Harbinger: And how did that turn out for West Point? What did that show?
[00:13:41] Angela Duckworth: At West Point, which is one of the first places that we did research on grit, and it's somewhere that I continue to collect data on grit, we find that the cadets who are grittier at the very start of the summer, day two of the program where they kick off your West Point training, it's your very first summer, you're 18 years old, you came from whatever high school you did from around the country. You show up and you are put through what they call Beast Barracks training. This kind of induction that is almost by design, I think the hardest time of your four years at West Point.
[00:14:11] And during that time, there tends to be attrition. There tends to be dropout, particularly the summer that I was there, for example, I think between six and seven percent, around that percentage of cadets who drop out, we found that the grittier cadets as measured by the Grit Scale were less likely to drop out of these training than others. You know, finding that, you know, it didn't entirely surprise me because that's what grit is supposed to predict. But it ended up being, you know, really a pretty astoundingly reliable predictor. We've collected data at West Point, I think nearly every year since we started that study. And though attrition rates shrink at West Point, year on year, in other words, more cadets are staying and fewer cadets are leaving from Beast Barracks training. Grit tends to reliably predict who will stay.
[00:14:55] Jordan Harbinger: And we also see a correlation through adults who'd earned maybe an MBA, PhD, MD, or JD versus, quote-unquote, "just going to a four-year school." To what do you attribute that, I mean, of course, yes, more grit, but why does more grit lead to higher achievement? It might seem obvious, but I'd love for you to just kind of sum that up for us.
[00:15:14] Angela Duckworth: I think educational degrees are not as straightforward, you know, an endeavor. It's not like you just go get your PhD or you simply finish law school. And it predicts educational attainment over the life course, not just the higher order degrees, but it predicts finishing high school, finishing college. So any of these degrees and not just the higher level graduate degrees, you know, they really do take a kind of stick-to-itiveness. They're not easy things to get for most people. They do require that you have some sustained commitment to the goal of graduating. I think that's why grit predicts completing educational degrees.
[00:15:53] Jordan Harbinger: And what about sports and other achievements? Because it seems like, yes, grit helps us push through hard times, but what's the relationship with say, grit and practice or deliberate practice as we've discussed earlier on the show?
[00:16:05] Angela Duckworth: I think the idea of different from talent, not a substitute for talent in the sense that grit is not everything, but being something that you really want in a player. This resonates, I think with pretty much every athletic coach I've been fortunate enough to talk to on this topic. What I think happens in sports is that there's a tremendous amount of preparation. I mean, oftentimes people talk about mental toughness — during a really hard game, you're way behind your opponent and how do you have the focus and the confidence to keep playing? That is one aspect of grit, I guess, in athletics to an extent.
[00:16:39] But really the most important thing is that any sport requires hours of preparation. The ratio of practice to actual gameplay is far in favor of practice. You spend many more hours drilling and practicing than you do in actual play for competition. And I think the idea that you would want players who would be able to practice their weaknesses, work continuously to make their strength even stronger, be resilient when they're injured, be resilient after a bad season, to have captivated interest in what they do so that when they're not on the court and they're not swimming in the lane, but they're still thinking a little bit because they want to about their game and that they would have a sense of purpose.
[00:17:23] And the other part of grit that I mentioned, you know, part of passion is having a sense of other-oriented purpose. That's part of what makes people passionate about things, knowing that they're not just the only person who's concerned with this, but it's in service to others. Every coach that I have talked to, and this includes coaches of individual sports, like swimming, will tell you that athletes who understand that passion comes in part from being part of something bigger than yourself, that's huge. So I think that grit is of special relevance, I think, to achievement and sports for all those reasons.
[00:17:55] Jordan Harbinger: So it sounds like our potential is one thing and what we do with it is something different.
[00:18:00] Angela Duckworth: Yeah. I mean, I met a poet once, Irving Feldman, who said that, "Talent gets you in the game, but perseverance is the winning hand." And I think it's just this intuition, you know, those are his words, not mine, but it's a nice turn of phrase. Helps that he's a poet, I guess. I think what he was trying to get at there is that, you know, sure it matters if you're talented in something, right? You wouldn't really want to tell every child that they're equally talented in everything compared to all other children, because that's not true. The fact that you are talented in something doesn't mean you're going to do something with that talent, and it's not a substitute for working hard and for sticking with things.
[00:18:37] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Angela Duckworth. We'll be right back.
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[00:22:01] Now back to Angela Duckworth.
[00:22:04] You do take down talent quite a bit in the book, and you say, "By shining our spotlight on talent, we risk leaving everything else in the shadows. We inadvertently send the message that these other factors, including grit, don't matter as much as they really do." Why is it such a problem to focus on talent? Because as I asked you earlier, it seems like a very common statement. This person is talented, this person is extremely talented. You hear it with athletes, you hear about it with businessmen. It's something that we've discussed almost as an excuse because it lets everybody else off the hook. You outline a really interesting relationship between effort and talent in the book. Would you explain that?
[00:22:40] Angela Duckworth: You know, yes, I believe that differences in our ability to learn or to improve in a skill, like yes, it matters. That's my definition of talent. So yes, talent counts because if I have a lot of talent in math and I apply myself, I'm going to get farther than you if you apply yourself equally, but you have less talent in math than I do. So yes, talent counts, but I believe that effort counts twice in the following very specific sense.
[00:23:06] If you need both talent and effort to become skilled in something. So I have a talent for math, and I really apply myself. I'm engaged, got a great teacher. So there's a lot of high quality, high quantity effort going in. Okay, I over time acquired math skill. I become good at math, but I still have to do something with that math skill. What if I'm great at math, but I just don't do anything with it? I don't actually solve theorems and solve mathematical problems. You need effort, in a sense, a second time in the sense that whatever skill you have, you have to apply that skill in order to create tangible achievements.
[00:23:41] And for many things like doing math or writing or playing music, it's the same effort that you're applying that increases your skill and is producing achievements along the way. If you are a musician and you are practicing your music and giving recitals and concerts, over time your skill is improving. But also that effort is making that skill productive. It's producing valuable, you know, in the case of a musician, you know, concerts, recordings, and so forth. So talent counts because it helps us develop skill, but effort because it helps us develop skill and helps that skill be productive, in that sense, I would say effort counts twice.
[00:24:17] Jordan Harbinger: Right. So in the same effort, you need in order to build this skill, you also need in order to apply the skill. Is it fair to say that if we start off with talent, if one person starts off with talent and the other not the person who exerts the most effort over time, will eventually outshine that person, generally?
[00:24:34] Angela Duckworth: In their accomplishments, yeah. You know, one way to think about it is like if I increased my effort over time and consistently was trying harder, working harder, more focused than another person in the very long run, I think that your achievement would be greater than someone who comparably was just like a little more talented. I think the skill would be equal, but the achievements would be different. I do think that effort matters enormously to the tangible achievements that we're able to make our own lives better, certainly the lives of other people as well.
[00:25:07] Jordan Harbinger: So it sounds like talent is how quickly your skills improve when you invest effort. And achievement, as defined in the book, is what happens when you take those acquired skills and you actually use them. And so if we're out there and we're pointing to other people and saying, "Well, this person is more talented than me," we have to be careful because that lets us relax into the status quo. It lets us off the hook because, well, I can't compete with that talent, so we stop working hard and so we stop achieving you.
[00:25:34] Angela Duckworth: You know, the first person that I know of who articulated this eloquently as he did was Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th-century German philosopher who was debating the idea of genius with his then-friend Wagner. And Nietzsche's point was that, you know, when we see truly extraordinary excellence, a magical performance by a musician or like a just perfectly turned phrase and a novel that we love, we often will just marvel at it and say like, "Oh, that person's a natural. You know, you can't teach that. They're a genius." Nietzsche's point is exactly right, which is that when we say things like, "I'll never be Usain Bolt or nobody could be because that's God-given talent." We do let ourselves off the hook. If we say that, we say, you know, this is a kind different creature than I am. I don't have any of the same wirings, so I'm just going to relax on this couch and watch it and appreciate it, maybe, but never wonder whether I should be out there trying to compete, trying to do something almost as wonderful, maybe equally as wonderful.
[00:26:42] So I do think there is a kind of magical, romantic view of high achievement that allows us to appreciate it without feeling like we ought to do something. And that isn't necessarily a terrible thing in of itself, except for I think that it inadvertently creates false limits on what we can do. I don't think any of us need to believe that we could be the fastest person on the planet, Usain Bolt, or that we could be Einstein. I don't necessarily want to send that message that anybody, could be anyone, but almost all of us could be so much more than we might believe we could be. I mean, it's really my conviction that in the right circumstances with the right support, and with the right mindset and the right optimism, people can do marvelous things and we ought not put ceilings on ourselves too early and we ought not build those ceilings too low.
[00:27:38] Jordan Harbinger: When we can't see how experienced training and effort got someone to a level of excellence that is just clearly above the norm, we can default to labeling that person a natural as you stated. And you wrote in the book, and I love this, I don't know if you made this up or if you got this from somewhere else, but you said, "Greatness is doable. Greatness is many, many individual feats and each of them is doable." I think that's such a powerful idea because when we look at something from the outside, when we look at the finished product, if you look at a car, you think, "Gosh, this is so complex. Or a computer, this is so complex. But each of the pieces, each of the components is obviously something that man can create as long as you know how and you've got the practice and experience to do it. We look at things, especially in the physical realm or the artistic realm, and we just think, "Oh, this is impossible," because we can't see the components. We only see the finished product. And I think that when we start to dissect these things and we start to realize that we can build grit, which we'll talk about in a second, that achievement starts to look a little bit more realistic no matter who we are.
[00:28:37] Angela Duckworth: You know, that is very well said, and I'll tell you where I got the lines that you read from the book. I was quoting Dan Chambliss, a sociologist who spent about half a dozen years living with swim teams from the local club team all the way up to Olympic hopefuls. And after spending must have been thousands of hours, you know, just watching swimmers in the pool and talking to coaches and living that life with them, he himself a former swimmer, so if you added up all the hours, it would be many more than that, he said, "The major insight is that excellence in the aggregate, when you just see it all at once, you know, in its final form, does seem inaccessible, magical, kind from heaven. But if you're there in the pool, on the pool deck and you're watching, you know that swimmer refine the left elbow, you know, on this one stroke like again and again and again for hours and hour, day after day with coaching and feedback, you realize that this marvelous final product took many, many iterations to come about. And there were these tiny little components, which all are doable, practicable, learnable. But the key is to be able to do them all at once and all at a level of reliable excellence. And I do think it makes things accessible.
[00:29:51] If you read a great book and you think like, I would never be able to write a book like that. I thought that before I wrote a book. I thought, "Who could write a book?" I mean, I see the spine of the book and you see them on a bookshelf. You walk past them to the bookstore. To me, it was just sort of like, I'm not the sort of person who would ever be able to do that. But when I sat down and I broke it down into like, well, first you need a table of contents. Okay, now I break this chapter down into its four part. Okay, now, I'm just going to work on the first part. Now I'm just going to work on the first part of the first part. It's not easy, but yeah, it was doable and I finished the book.
[00:30:21] Jordan Harbinger: It seems like once you start writing, from most author friends that I've heard from, you have to cut things out. It's not, oh, this is too short. Add to it. It's usually, there's way too much here. Let's trim some of this down, which is surprising for most people who create things and didn't think they had enough content for a book in the first place.
[00:30:37] Angela Duckworth: That's true. And again, it's something you only learn once you get into it. And one of the pieces of advice that I give to young adults, I'm a professor, so I get to see lots of kids between the ages of 18 and 22. Most of them struggling to figure out what they're going to do with their life. You don't know things until you do them. You don't know how to write a book until you start writing a book.
[00:30:58] And some very high achievers that I've interviewed will say that they just keep signing themselves up for things that they can't do. And they sort of pre-commit themselves, if you will, to getting better because since they signed up to give that talk, which they can't yet give, they will have to figure out how to do it. And I think the idea that how would you know that part of writing a book, a lot of it is cutting things out. You wouldn't know until you start.
[00:31:19] So my major to the young people is, I think, it's a quote from Goethe, "Whatever it is you can do or dream you can do, do it. Action has power, magic, and beauty to it. Begin now." I mean, it's just like get into it, you can never learn something from the outside. You have to be on the inside.
[00:31:38] Jordan Harbinger: Why do you believe that grit can change or be developed or we can grow our grit?
[00:31:44] Angela Duckworth: Well, one reason I believe that we can grow our grit is that I think that almost any attractive or positive psychological attribute that you wish you had, you could develop. And I'm not saying that we could all be as charismatic as Oprah Winfrey, or that we can all be as, you know, fill in the blank and then fill in the blank of the exemplar that you have in mind. I'm not saying that any of us could be anyone but if you take a quality like grit and you start to break it down and say, "Well, what grit really is is having a passion for something over the long term and perseverance," and then you break down passion. You're like, "Where does passion come from?" Really it's having a developed interest in something and a sense of purpose. And then you break down that and you say, "Okay, well, where does that come from?"
[00:32:24] Just like swimming, you realize that these components are doable, that they are learnable, that in some way you could advance yourself, not that you'll end up necessarily the grittiest person on the planet or not necessarily that you would want to be, but that you can be a little grittier than you are today.
[00:32:40] You know if you ask me like what my theory of human nature is, human beings are designed to grow and to learn and to adapt. We change all across life, and I think we can do that with intention.
[00:32:52] Jordan Harbinger: It seems like grit is more about stamina than intensity, given that grit is perseverance plus passion. Is that fair to say?
[00:33:01] Angela Duckworth: That is exactly what I want to say. And you know, I think that is somewhat surprising to some people when we think about grit or we think about the word passion, in particular, maybe perseverance too, there's a kind of like intensity to it. It's like a fluorescent-colored thing. It's like, "Oh, that person's intensely hardworking. And I'm not saying that gritty people aren't intensely hardworking, but I think the consistency is really what's important. Like any physical trainer will tell you, it's not necessarily that you kill yourself in one workout. It's the question of whether you're going to do your exercises every day as you're supposed to do. How consistent are you over time?
[00:33:36] One of my favorite studies that's ever been published was done by Catharine Cox. She was a psychologist at Stanford in the early 20th century, and when she looked at the biographies and the primary biographical material, I mean diaries, letters, notes of super high achievers, she called them 301 geniuses, people like Isaac Newton. She said that what struck her about these individuals in terms of their personalities was the consistency, not intensity. She used the word consistency of their interest and of their effort over time. And really that's what I mean by passion and perseverance. Consistency of your focus over time, and the consistency of your effort.
[00:34:18] Jordan Harbinger: We see this a lot in business. We know that enthusiasm, especially in the beginning, is really common, but endurance, especially when things get tough, is really rare. We see the people who come out on top always have those dips in the back, those failures that they've overcome, it's really easy to run into one of those walls and quit.
[00:34:37] So you've got this goal pyramid, and I'd love for you to, I don't even know what you call it. It's literally the high-level goals with the lower level goals beneath it. Do you have a name for that? I didn't notice one.
[00:34:45] Angela Duckworth: I don't know. Sometimes I think of it as a pyramid because it looks like a pyramid, also looks like a Christmas tree.
[00:34:50] Jordan Harbinger: Yes.
[00:34:50] Angela Duckworth: But what I have in mind in, and there's obviously a picture in the book, there's a hierarchy of our goals. So all of us have goals, you know, human beings are creatures who have lots of goals, but the goals are of different levels. Abstraction, you know, the to-do list goals that you have. I mean, today I was like, you know, make Lucy's lunch, call Diane at 8:50. I mean, these are really specific concrete goals. They are the lowest level of my goal hierarchy and they only exist cause they serve higher order goals. Like why do I need to call Diane at 8:50? Why do I have that as a goal at all? It's like because I need to actually coordinate my day with this person that I work with. Okay. Why do I want to do that? Because I'm trying to develop an efficient organization, like a lab that you know is going to move forward. Like why? Because our lab works on psychological research for kids.
[00:35:43] And you know, ultimately, you get to my one top-level goal. This is like the star on the top of the Christmas tree or the top of the pyramid. What David Brooks sometimes calls it, your telos. You know the thing that is the why behind everything that you do. And for me, succinctly put, it's to use psychological science to help kids thrive. And that's the very top. And you can actually draw the connections and say, that is why I had the super low-level tactical to-do list goal, calling Diane at 8:50 because ultimately, it serves this higher level telos.
[00:36:17] So if you think about goals that way, then you can ask the question, are my goals all over the place? Like, do I not really have a Christmas tree, you know, pyramid-like structure? Do I have like goals that are kind of just on their own and they're untethered or is there a real coherence to what I'm doing, particularly professionally, right? We might have a different pyramid for our relationships and our family, but just in terms of our work life, you know, is there a kind of coherence where the way I spend my day makes sense because that's certain, you know, mid-level goals that are kind of all tied into this highest level goal.
[00:36:52] I think that's what I find about really gritty individuals, that there is a coherence to what they do. If you talk to athletes, sometimes it's really clear because they can tell you how like each training thing that they're doing lines up to sort of mid-level goals that like ultimately serve, you know, "I want to win the gold medal in Sculling next Olympics. But I think it's also true for those of us who have different kinds of occupations.
[00:37:15] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I think in our non-denominational holiday bush of goals or our grit-mas tree, whichever you prefer, you have to have that top-level goal, that philosophy that guides you.
[00:37:25] Angela Duckworth: I think that if you want to really be effective, and there's nothing moral about this, by the way, you know, if you don't have like a sort of non-denominational, hierarchical structure like there's nothing wrong with you. I mean, there's nothing bad about it in a kind of ethical or moral sense, but I do think if you want to be an effective individual and you actually like want to actually get somewhere in terms of it's desirable.
[00:37:49] I mean, Pete Carroll, the coach of the Seahawks, would tell you for him, it's what he calls his life philosophy, which he can boil down into two words, "always compete." Of course, he needs to tell you what those two words mean, but they have special meaning for him and everything that he does as a coach, he would say, ultimately, ties into that life philosophy, into that telos.
[00:38:08] Jordan Harbinger: So is grit about holding the same top-level goal for a really long time?
[00:38:13] Angela Duckworth: It is. It is. I want to say that a really long time doesn't necessarily mean your lifetime.
[00:38:18] I'll give you a really specific example. So somebody that I met recently was, you know, I was on book tour and my publisher said, "Well, you need training on how to talk to the media," I guess training me to talk to people like you. And so I met this guy named Bill McGowan and he had been a reporter and a producer for a long time, and then he changed course, and you could argue that he changed his top-level goal because he started a consulting company where he would train people to talk to the media.
[00:38:44] And I asked him the question, "Do you feel like you can articulate to me the top-level goal that would help me understand who you are?" And he said, "Let me think about it." The next day he emailed me back and he said, "My top-level goal is to help people share stories." And when you understand his life in that sense. It actually makes sense both of the time that he spent as a journalist and as a producer, and in this new role. I don't know, that 15 years ago, which is when he was still doing the producing and the reporting, he would've been able to articulate it that way. He might've just said like, "Oh, my top-level goal is to be the best reporter that I can be."
[00:39:23] So what I want to say about these top-level goals is that sometimes they become even more abstract or even higher level as we move forward. When you realize that that top-level goal that you had and that was genuine, that in fact there was an even higher level goal that that itself was serving. I think that often happens with the people that I study.
[00:39:44] Jordan Harbinger: Does that happen as you achieve more or does that just happen as your interests shift?
[00:39:49] Angela Duckworth: That's a very good question, and I don't know. My guess is that it happens as the meaning or the kind of like the why becomes apparent to you, maybe because you've achieved more, I don't know if it's because your interests have shifted, but they've like sort of deepened. It's in a way like becoming more yourself in a way, as opposed to like moving in a different direction.
[00:40:09] Jordan Harbinger: So as we achieve, maybe we gain clarity on what it is we really want.
[00:40:13] Angela Duckworth: Yeah. And you know, I think it's a really wonderful exercise for any of us to do. Like, what am I doing? Why am I doing it? And then, you can ask yourself, okay, why am I doing that? Like you can keep asking yourself why, until you sort of run out of reasons. And when you can't answer anymore, you could say like, okay, well now I'm at the telos. But it might be that a few years later, you know, you would be able to ask your same, the same series of questions and get even a little deeper, a little higher up than you would've been able to get today.
[00:40:41] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Angela Duckworth. We'll be right back.
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[00:44:39] Now for the rest of my conversation with Angela Duckworth.
[00:44:44] So in very gritty people, it seems like the mid-level, low-level goals on the grit-mas tree, our related of course, to the ultimate goal. Does it then follow that a lack of grit would come from having less coherent goal structure?
[00:44:58] Angela Duckworth: I think that's often what happens is that in particular when someone will say, "Yeah, I'm a hard worker and I'm resilient. I've got the perseverance part down, but I can't say that I have a passion." I think often it's because there's lots of things that they're pursuing, but not one that they would say is they're calling or that gives coherence and meaning to all the other things that they're doing with their time. And again, not necessarily a bad thing ethically.
[00:45:20] But you know, for me, for example, when I was 32 and I decided, finally realized, finally came to the decision that I wanted to become a psychologist and therefore would need to start graduate school at the age of 32. I had been pursuing lots of things in sequence, being a teacher, running not one but two different non-profits at different points in my life. I spent time in the White House as a speech writer. One summer I did a degree in neuroscience and studied dyslexia. I mean, these were all different things and I personally just felt a sense of dissatisfaction. I just wanted to have more coherence. More of a centripetal force in my life that would kind of pull it all together, that would be the through line.
[00:46:02] I was fortunate to kind of be able to say, you know what? If I think about it, the through line is that I care about kids. I'm deeply interested in psychology. I can put these things together. I can make a go of this direction. But that 10-year period between college and deciding on graduate school for me was like not a way that I wanted to live the rest of my life.
[00:46:26] Jordan Harbinger: It's kind of a funny image of you working in the White House and running nonprofits and doing consulting and then just telling yourself, "Come on, Angela, get it together," after you've achieved all these really high-level goals that most people spend decades trying to achieve, it still wasn't quite there for you because you kept discovering and kept deepening your interest. Do you think that one top-level professional goal is the ideal number? Does that make sense? Does it make sense to just hone it down to one thing?
[00:46:53] Angela Duckworth: I think that for most people that I have interviewed, think about people like Jane Golden, who runs the largest public art program that I know of. I think it may be the largest public art program in the world. It's a mural arts program here in Philadelphia. They're on like mural 4,000, I think, you know, here in the city of Philadelphia. If I said to her, "Jane, why are you only doing mural arts? Why aren't you also championing literacy programs or why aren't you also painting yourself? You know, she was an artist herself and realized at some point that she would tell you, "Because I can't do everything, because I'm already working—" I think she probably works like a hundred hours a week or something like that. I think that it's really hard to be a true renaissance person, like a true polymath to truly pursue like multiple professional teloses, like in synchrony because we have to sleep because they're only 24 hours in the day because many of us have families and relationships that we also care about. I'm not saying that it's impossible, but of the people I've studied, it's extraordinarily rare.
[00:47:56] Jordan Harbinger: So how do we prioritize which high-level goal we want to achieve? Because it seems rare for young people or anybody to just have one thing they can say that they want.
[00:48:05] Angela Duckworth: Well, you know, there are choices to make and I think it is hard for young people to close doors. You know, for a lot of your early life, you know, adolescence and early adulthood, everything you do is opening doors, right? Like, oh, that'll open the door of this opportunity. You know, if you do this, you can do anything. But I think at some point you have to start walking through doors and you have to listen to other doors shut. And I think that's very hard. But for me, I think ultimately, as hard as it was for me to hear doors shut, like, okay, if I start walking through this door, the door of medical school, which I thought about for a while in my life, it eventually shut. Like I had to realize at some point that I was going to not ever become a doctor and I was foreclosing a whole life that I could have had that I might actually enjoy. I think that for me personally, though it was hard to hear other doors shut, it is deeply satisfying to do something where I can say, you know, I'm pretty good at it. Like, I can wake up and know that I'm actually a pretty good psychologist.
[00:49:02] A chef that I studied, Marc Vetri, he's my favorite chef here in Philadelphia. I took a cooking class with him actually after I'd written the book, and he was making pesto, and one of the people in the cooking class said, "Pesto? That's it? Like, you know, you are this like celebrated James Beard award-winning chef. Like we're making pesto." And he looked at this person and he said, he's like, "This is going to be really great pesto." And there was a pause and he said, "Do you know why?" And the student in the class said, "No. Why?" He's like, "Because I know how to cook." And I think there is a kind of gratification that comes from being excellent at something that's helpful to other people. There's no substitute for it. There's no amount of money or creature comforts that would substitute for this.
[00:49:45] And I think that is the kind of happiness I think that grit gets you. And it's the life that I've chosen and it's the life that a lot of people, I think would find gratifying. It's certainly not the only way to live your life.
[00:49:56] Jordan Harbinger: When do we give up on lower level goals on our path to achieving the higher level?
[00:50:02] Angela Duckworth: I think that crucially the thing that you want to do is make sure that you are tenacious, and I'll use the word stubborn, about the highest level goals in your hierarchy, the highest level goal, the telos, and sort of decreasingly tenacious and much more flexible, the lower you go.
[00:50:22] So, for example, what would make me give up on the goal of helping children thrive through psychological science? I don't know. I can't think of anything that would, but if I go down the hierarchy and I'm like, okay, what about that 8:50 phone call with Diane? Or what about that grant that I submitted to the Department of Education that's being reviewed? Those lower level things, you know, cause I can find other like substitutes for the same thing. Like, oh, I'm not going to call her at 8:50, I'll call at 9:30. That grant didn't get funded. I'll apply to a different foundation. You know, I think the lower you go in that goal hierarchy, the more flexible you should be, the higher you go, there should be more rigidity.
[00:51:03] Jordan Harbinger: Right. So the higher level of the goal, the more it makes sense to be stubborn and not give up.
[00:51:08] Angela Duckworth: I was just thinking about, you know, for example, Polaroid, right? Now, some of the listeners are like, "What the heck is Polaroid?" Well, the reason you don't know is because they were a film company that made a big bet on instant film and like physical cameras and instant film. They kind of missed the whole like digital camera then eventually cell phone camera revolution. Right? And that's why you don't know the word or the name the brand Polaroid as much as I do since I grew up with it. I think that they were stubborn and tenacious about a kind of mid-level goal, which is, you know, instant film. What they should have been cognizant of is that there was a higher level goal and that higher level goal is to help people share visual memories.
[00:51:45] And once you go up to this higher level goal, you realize like, oh, I can be a little bit flexible on this thing, which isn't really the ultimate end. Now, that's easier said than done, but I do think it's useful advice as we're doing something where you have repeated failures. You know, in my own high school yearbook, which I dug out when I was writing the book, and I read what I wrote as a senior, and I don't know where I got this, but it said, "Go, go, go. Until you can't go anymore. Then turn left," and that's how you should feel about these lower level goals. I mean, really try, try again, try. I mean, it doesn't work out, you know, maybe it's time to reconsider. Go off a level and say, what am I really doing? Maybe there's a different way to get there.
[00:52:20] Jordan Harbinger: You wrote that grit grows as we figure out our life philosophy and learn to dust ourselves off after rejection and disappointment and learn to tell the difference between low-level goals that should be abandoned quickly and higher level goals that demand more tenacity. How else specifically can we grow our grit? You mentioned that first comes interest, then practice, third is purpose, and then finally hope. How do we develop each of these things?
[00:52:45] Angela Duckworth: Well, I want to say first of all, that in research that's been done, for example, by other psychologists, I'm thinking of Ben Bloom in particular. He did studies of world-class achievers in the 1980s where he found a pretty reliable sequence of development.
[00:53:00] First, they got interested in something that often would be a period that would last for years. There was a kind of romance about it. It wasn't necessarily that you were working really hard, you were just like getting into something. Then, came a period of practice. So not only are you interested, but you are dedicating yourself to getting better methodically, systematically, lots of effort invested. And then, in the third phase, you're not only interested, you're not only practicing, but now you're beginning to see a sense of purpose, you know, how this serves other people, how it's really integrated into your identity.
[00:53:30] So that's where really the origins of presenting in that order — interest, practice, purpose. It's not that hope comes forth. You can't really wait until you're 45. It's really that you need it at every stage. So I could have presented it really first, for example, but I think that kind of, I'll get up again. You know, I can see something in this that I can do, not that I am in charge of every aspect of my fate. There's definitely luck for everyone. There's good luck, there's bad luck, there's opportunity. God knows opportunities are not handed out equally anywhere in the world, including this country. If you are wealthy and you are a child of privilege, you'll have opportunities that children from disadvantage don't have. So it's not that I'm saying that hope means you have to ignore, you know, inequality or luck. But I do think that what hope is, is the belief that there's something that you can do, that even though there's a lot that you can't do, there's something you can do and you need that at every stage.
[00:54:28] Now, for each of these — I don't want to try to recap the entire book in one comment, but I will say this for each of these, there is a science behind it. You know, psychologists have been studying interest. They study practice. They study purpose, and they study hope. And if we can understand what psychology's discovered about the neurobiology of these things, the psychology of these things, the development of these, then I think that to me is a step towards learning, cultivating these in ourselves and in the people that we care about.
[00:54:57] Jordan Harbinger: Do these for psychological assets — interest, practice, purpose, and hope — are these commodities that we have or we don't? Can we develop each of those individually?
[00:55:06] Angela Duckworth: Well, I'll betray my convictions here, which is that I really think of people as being, you know, these like malleable growing creatures. And if you ask me about any of these things, I would say, sure, why wouldn't we be able to cultivate them? You know, when you study personality traits longitudinally, people might say like, well, they shouldn't change, right? Because that's why we call them traits. It's not true. People do change in every aspect of their character, of their personality. You know, we can just even look to ourselves as an example, probably about things that were different about us than we were when we were 16 years old. There are a lot of things that are the same, but there are a lot of things that develop over time. So yeah, I think that grit and its components are absolutely malleable.
[00:55:47] Jordan Harbinger: There's so many pages of notes I took on this book that I highly recommend it. There's a lot more that you dive into with purpose, defining purpose, figuring out how to narrow your purpose down, how to change your thinking in small but meaningful ways. There's a lot here, and I really love the idea of grit because it does fly in the face of the natural misbias, the reliance on talent and other things that let us off the hook, that frankly limit us in what we decide to achieve, not in what we can achieve, but what we decide to pursue and decide to achieve. This book will take that myth and smash it on the floor, and I really appreciate the opportunity to discuss it with you. So thank you so much.
[00:56:26] Angela Duckworth: Thank you. It's really been my pleasure.
[00:56:30] Jordan Harbinger: I've got some thoughts on this one, but of course, before we get into that, most of us have big goals that we'd like to accomplish — anything from getting in better physical shape to quitting a lifelong vice, to learning a new language. Habits Academy creator James Clear shares processes and practicals we can use to incrementally change our own lives for the better. Here's a quick bite.
[00:56:49] James Clear: It's not a single one percent change that's going to transform your life. It's a thousand of them.
[00:56:54] Whenever I feel like giving up, I think about the stone cutter who pounds a stone a hundred times without a crack showing, and then on the hundred and first blow, it splits in two.
[00:57:01] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:57:02] James Clear: And I know that it wasn't the hundred and first that did it. It was all the hundred that came before.
[00:57:06] Newsworthy stories are only about outcomes. When we see outcomes all day long on social and on the news, we tend to overvalue them and overlook the process. Like you're never going to see a news story that is like, "Man eats salad for lunch today." Like that's just not right, it's only a story six months later when man loses a hundred pounds.
[00:57:24] The real reason habits matter is because they provide evidence for the type of beliefs that you have about yourself, and ultimately you can reshape your sense of self, your self-image, the person that you believe that you are if you embody the identity enough.
[00:57:38] A lot of people watch too much TV or don't want to play as many video games as they do or whatever. If you walk into pretty much any living room, where do all the couches and chairs face? They all face the TV. So it's like, what is this room designed to get you to do? You could take a chair and turn it away from the television. You could also increase the friction associated with the task. So you could take batteries out of the remote so that it takes an extra five or 10 seconds to start it up each time. And maybe that's enough time for you to be like, do I really want to watch something, or am I just doing this mindlessly?
[00:58:03] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:58:04] James Clear: The point here is if you want to build a good habit, you've got to make it obvious. If you want to break a bad habit, you just make it invisible.
[00:58:09] Your entire life, you are existing inside some environment, and most of the time you're existing inside environments that you don't think about, right? You're like, and in that sense, you're kind of like the victim of your environment, but you don't have to be the victim of it. You can be the architect of it.
[00:58:24] Jordan Harbinger: For more with James Clear, including what it takes to break bad habits while creating good ones, and how to leverage tiny habits for giant outcomes, check out episode 108 on The Jordan Harbinger Show with James Clear.
[00:58:38] Great episode, great book. Wow. It sounds so different than I did seven to eight years ago up to now. I just hear so many differences in how I'd handle this conversation. I do wonder what you all think. Is it noticeable to anyone else? Great show, great book.
[00:58:50] I love the idea of the naturalness bias where we look at other people who are high performers and we simply say to ourselves, well, that's talent because we can't see the components being assembled. I feel like I often see emails from you telling me somebody you admire or that we see in popular culture is talented. But I think you'll see and hear through this podcast how a lot of the people we all admire are working doggedly to improve themselves and their craft, and they're doing so almost all of the time and sometimes even to a fault. Greatness really is a lot of little things that are very achievable, all sort of put together like Legos. And of course, our potential is one thing, what we do with it is quite another, and we have some control over how that shakes out, which is kind of a nice thing if you think about it. I hope you're able to apply this stuff to your life as I have over the years, and reap some of the benefits. Man, I just can't get over how different I sounded so long ago.
[00:59:39] As always, thank you for listening. I do appreciate you and I appreciate Angela as well. Links to all things Angela Duckworth will be in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com. Transcripts in the show notes, videos up on YouTube. Advertisers, deals, discount codes, all at jordanharbinger.com/deals. Please consider supporting those who support this. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on Twitter and Instagram. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn.
[01:00:03] Our free course, our Six-Minute Networking course is at jordanharbinger.com/course. Dig that well before you get thirsty, folks, build those relationships before you need them. Many of the guests on the show subscribe and contribute to the course. Come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong. I'll see you in there.
[01:00:18] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Millie Ocampo, Ian Baird, Josh Ballard, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. If you know somebody who's into behavioral economics, psychology, the science of grit and success, definitely share this episode with them. The greatest compliment you can give us is to share the show with those you care about. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
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