Setbacks discourage me.

There, I’ve said it. I’ve admitted that I, Angela Duckworth, scholar of grit and admirer of all things excellent, wouldn’t score 5 out of 5 on one of the original Grit Scale items.

But it’s true. I do get discouraged. Doubt is no stranger. The thing is, I eventually get up again. I fall seven and rise eight.

What is the psychology of being “all-in”? Why do some people get discouraged, retreat, and then, as a result, see their prophecy of failure fulfilled? Why do others get discouraged and, eventually, redouble their effort, thereby increasing the odds that they will succeed?

The difference between being all-in versus anything else comes down to whether you’ve crossed the Rubicon.

This is the metaphor that psychologist Peter Gollwitzer uses to explain the difference between deliberating about what to do and resolving that yes, this is exactly what I want to do. On one side of the river, you’ve got options. On the other, you’re committed.

As you may know, the Rubicon is the river Julius Caesar crossed in 49 BC against direct orders from the Roman Senate not to do so. Crossing the river was a decision that, as an unambiguous act of treason, could not be reversed.

Being all-in means you’re fully committed to your goal. You’re no longer weighing the pros and cons of your dreams. Instead, you’re figuring out how to make them a reality. In an all-in frame of mind, setbacks–however painful and discouraging as they may be, particularly in the moment–are reframed as lessons learned.

My guess about paragons of grit is that, like anyone else, they once wondered to themselves, Can I do this? Why should I do this? Why shouldn’t I? Everyone, including Alex Honnold and Roger Bannister and Serena Williams, must have questioned, at some point in their journeys, whether they were aiming too high, or even pointing in the wrong direction altogether.

But one day they crossed the Rubicon. Afterwards, they asked, How can I do this? When and where can I take action? Why isn’t what I’m doing working, and what do I need to do differently?

Last week, a few Characters and I sat down and reviewed new Grit Scale items for the upcoming Grit Playbook. I re-read everything, thought carefully, and changed only one.

Everyone gets discouraged. Everyone cries, sometimes. But some of us cross the Rubicon. When we do, we can admit our mistakes and be honest about our self-doubt. And we can say, without reservation:

Setbacks don’t discourage me for long. I don’t give up easily.

Originally published at Character Lab


  • Angela Duckworth

    CEO and Co-Founder of Character Lab, UPenn Professor of Psychology

    Character Lab

    Angela Duckworth is co-founder and CEO of Character Lab, a nonprofit whose mission is to advance scientific insights that help kids thrive. She is also a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, where she co-directs the Penn-Wharton Behavior Change For Good Initiative and Wharton People Analytics. Prior to her career in research, she was a math and science teacher in the public schools of New York City, San Francisco, and Philadelphia. Angela’s TED Talk is among the most-viewed of all time and her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, was a #1 New York Times best seller. You can sign up to receive her Tip of the Week here.