Positive Leadership

The Power of Grit (with Angela Duckworth)

March 13, 2024 Jean-Philippe Courtois Season 8 Episode 7
Positive Leadership
The Power of Grit (with Angela Duckworth)
Show Notes Transcript

We all face challenges and setbacks at different times. One thing that helps us bounce back from these setbacks and adversities is grit.

This week, JP talks to Angela Duckworth, New York Times bestselling author and professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, to get a better understanding of grit, motivation and how we can help ourselves and others stay focused on our goals to reach our potential.

Listen now.

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JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Hello and welcome to another edition of Positive Leadership, the podcast that helps you grow as an individual, as a leader, and ultimately, as a global citizen. I am Jean-Philippe Courtois. 


All of us, at various times, face challenges and setbacks. What helps us bounce back is grit. Gritty leaders are focused on long-term goals and are willing to put in the effort over time to achieve them.


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: I want to put the emphasis there on "long-term," because it's really the stamina with which you are loyal to this direction that you've decided to follow. And then, also, of course, very hard working and resilient on bad days. So, it's really a kind of marathon-like stamina. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: My guest today, Angela Duckworth, is the Rosa Lee and Egbert Chang Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Her book, "Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance," was a Number 1 New York Times Best Seller, and stayed on the bestseller list for 21 weeks. I was super excited to have Angela on the show to get a better standing of grit and motivation, and how we can help ourselves and others stay focused on our goals and reach our potential. 


We are going to deep dive into goals and how to set the right goals for yourself. She talks about healthy rules, what it is, and how to use it effectively. She also breaks down the principles and key steps of deliberate practice, which is a highly focused and structured approach to skill development, which result has been shown to be incredibly effective. I also had a chance to ask Angela about her eagerly awaited second book, which she's currently writing, which explores how situations can change us and how we can change our situations. Hope you enjoy this episode. Make sure you stay with us till the very end. 


So, I'd love to start by asking you a few questions about your situation growing up. I think you were born into a Chinese immigrant family. It sounds like your dad was very focused on the idea of genius, and how smart you and your siblings were. He did not think of you as being maybe smart enough, which must have been pretty tough on you, too. Can you paint us a picture of your early life and experiences that shaped you with your family?


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: Yeah. My dad did love me very much. But I will say that there's this expression of having a tiger mom. In a way, I guess you could say I had a tiger dad. So, my parents immigrated from China to where I live now, the Philadelphia area. He really was obsessed with achievement; including his own, by the way. Every year when the Nobel Prizes were announced, especially in Chemistry, because that was his field. He worked for DuPont. He was mildly disappointed that he was not the recipient. And then, growing up, there was this constant refrain about -- I think it was as much implied as it was explicit, that some people really are geniuses, and he really admired them. He talked about Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, and great chemists. I thought to myself, as a little girl, "Well, if my dad is both telling me that I'm no genius," in exactly those words. If I look around in my classroom, it's pretty clear I'm not even the smartest kid among 30 children. I'm like, "What's going to happen? How much am I going to earn my father's attention and love?" So, I grew up with a little bit of a rebellious feel, Jean-Philippe. I just had a sense that he was not entirely correct, that greatness is from innate talent, and that's what led me to become a psychologist in the long run, I think. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: To what extent did that experience with your dad impact your ability to persevere and find interest later in life? 


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: It's such a good question. I can speculate. When I said that my father would talk a lot about achievement, it's true. He talked a lot about genius, and so forth. But also, there's what people do. So, there's his lived example. I certainly had the example of living in my own household of his grit. He really loved his work. He talked about it. He thought about it. He would sort of stroke his nose, or he would cross his arms, and I knew he was thinking. He was, in many ways, in love with the work he did as a chemist. So, I think in a way, I had a model of passion and perseverance for long-term goals, even if there weren't a lot of lectures about that.


I do think that so much of grit does come down to confidence. When you see somebody give up and you ask yourself, "Why don't they work harder? Why did they give up?" Very often, it is from a lack of belief that you can do something. 




ANGELA DUCKWORTH: Somehow, I was able to sustain the belief that I could. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Let me ask a question. Maybe it's not the right question to ask, but did your dad have a chance to read your book actually, Angela?


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: When I was writing the book, my father was already in the late stages of Parkinson's disease, and a few other things that I think we never quite figured out what was going on. So, I was able to read it to him.




ANGELA DUCKWORTH: But I am not 100% sure how much he grasped. But I will say this, he lived and he was still healthy when I became a professor studying this topic of effort and achievement. I know that you and I are both very interested in growth mindset. I don't want to paint a picture of my father like he never changed. I think my dad did learn a lot in the course of his life, and I think he became more open-minded to other accounts of excellence than maybe he was brought up with.


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Different types of geniuses. 


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: Yes, exactly. And different paths to genius. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Yes, I was really moved when I read the prologue for your new book about how situations change us, but more importantly, how we change our situations as well. In your new book, you explore, in particular, your relationship with your mom with what sounds like a deep appreciation, and understanding of her situation. So, what was your mother like, and where did the idea for your new book come from, Angela? 


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: Well, Jean-Philippe, if this conversation leads to a title for this as-yet-untitled book, that would be a great victory for me. Let me tell you about my mom. My mother was born in China, with a Chinese name. When she came to the United States, very appropriately, she took on the English name, "Teresa." Because I do think of my mother, Teresa, as being saint-like and selfless. One thing that was a big motivation for this book is that my life in the early years, and even on into adulthood, was a simple story, which is that my father was obsessed with achievement and very gritty, and my mom was just this altruistic, benevolent woman who fed us all of our meals and was endlessly supportive but wasn't herself ambitious and wasn't herself very gritty. 


Now, when I started thinking about this more critically in the last few years, I sort of woke up to some of the things that I missed when I was a little girl. So, my mom came to this country separate from my father. They had not met until here. She crossed the ocean and came here actually knowing nobody. She had no relatives here. She wanted to be an artist, and she felt she would have a better chance at becoming a great artist if she came to a country like the United States. 


So, when I grew up, the reason I didn't see any of this is that by the time I was born, I was the youngest of three. My mother had become the dutiful housewife that at the time was expected of her. So, I never saw her painting and we never went to art galleries or museums. And so, when I had this mind's eye image of my mother, I thought, "Well, she's lovely, but she's not very gritty. She's lovely, but she doesn't have long-term goals." Now, my mom just turned 89, and I now realize that she had tremendous grit and tremendous ambition, but she didn't have a situation that supported that. I think that's really the theme of this book. To what extent can an extraordinarily gritty person either achieve or not achieve their dreams depending on their situation? 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I think it's actually quite exciting and interesting to hear you, Angela, talking to us about some of the values and the traits as well. We'll talk about the character later on of your dad, and then your mum. It looks like the perfect Yin and Yang coming together with Angela, maybe. Did that influence your, again, not just your work but the way you've been kind of defining your life and the key interests you have in life? Including, of course, grit and what it means fulfilling in one's life, which is not just being a genius, it could take different shapes and forms.


ANGELA DUCKWORTH:  Well, first, I don't consider myself a genius. I think I do though feel -- but you're very flattering, so thank you. I do feel like all of us, there is a kind of long shadow of our parents in our lives in one way or another. I know Freud is a little bit out these days. But I think Freud was not entirely wrong to say that we are shaped by our childhood experiences. That relationship we have with our parents, whether good or bad, is going to have a legacy. With my mom and dad, I will say my dad probably did give me a lifelong obsession with excellence. I love excellence. I mean, Jean-Philippe, you could tell me like, "Oh, this person is the best crossword puzzle solver." 


I feel like, "Wow! I want to meet them," or anything. Even if I don't have an inherent interest in that domain. 


My mother is the soul of generosity. I will say that waking up to the fact that I lived with a gritty woman, but neglected that, sort of ignored that, is making me realize that we should all have some humility. I think that humility is part of my motivation to really grapple with the psychology of the situation. As you mentioned, and probably this I do get from maybe both of my parents, whatever is true, I always want to know, where is the agency in this? What could we do? The relentless optimist in me thinks like, "Okay. But can we then change the situation to make our lives better?" 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: We will come back to changing the situation, Angela, for sure. Because I think it's a very important aspect of life. You write right about getting your first real sense of purpose during a summer break at college when you worked at a summer camp with younger children. You also write about having a strong gut feeling about the other occupations and choosing to go back to study. But when did you eventually find your "why," Angela? 


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: It was many years later. For a long time, like so many people, I think -- and again, I think it's the rule, not the exception. I was just wandering around desperately trying to figure out my direction. And now, that I'm a university professor, and Jean-Philippe, you've mentored many scores of young people, I'm sure you too recognize this kind of hard-working person with lots of ambition, but they are desperate. They're ravenous for figuring out what direction to start dedicating them. They would love to have a calling, but they don't. And that was me. That's the hardest thing, right? Not knowing where you're going. 


So, I was 32 when I had the realization. I would like to say, it was more of a dawning realization than a lightning-like epiphany. There was this dawning realization, more gradual than I would have liked, that I should be a psychologist. That summer that you talk about -- and even the very brief time I had McKinsey, and being a classroom teacher, and doing other things. I think they all contributed to this kind of, "Oh, I think if I could become a psychologist who understands motivation, then I will be able to help children realize their potential." But that was 10 years of completely seemingly rudderless indecision between graduating college and starting my Ph.D. And so, I think that is the rule, not the exception. I think many young people feel like, "Oh, by the time you're 22, you should have total insight into where you're going. It's a lot messier, unfortunately, and a lot longer than that, for most people that I study. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I agree with you. Angela, as part of your research into achievement and grit, you studied new recruits at West Point Academy. Your focus was retention; specifically, working out if you could predict who would stay and who would drop out. You've also broadly researched the business world, and interviewed top CEOs to test your hypothesis. From your research, you're able to create and hone your theory on grit. So, let's get into it, this famous grit. To start with, what is your definition of grit? 


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: So, my definition of grit is passion and perseverance for long-term goals. I think a lot of people consider the word "passion," which is the Latin root, it comes from "suffering." So, they have this idea of somebody who just the mental picture, or somebody who's just like furiously working all night. I'm like, "Well, it's really usually not that." Because if you do that, you probably can't do it for 10 years, or 20 or 30. And really, I've never interviewed a paragon of grit who didn't love their work. Yes, they're suffering. You'll never talk to a writer who says it's easy. You'll never talk to a CEO who says it's easy. 




ANGELA DUCKWORTH: But there is a love. There is a kind of intrinsic motivation as opposed to an external obligation that drives this long-term commitment. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Angela is absolutely right. It is something that I see again and again with leaders that I speak to on the podcast. They have intrinsic motivation based on relationships, and mastery, and meaning. They are fired up with a real sense of passion and purpose for what they do. Someone who is really interesting in this is Akhtar Badshah, who left philanthropy for Microsoft for years before authoring "Purpose Mindset." Akhtar says that purpose is within us. It is just like a switch. If you turn it on, it eliminates darkness. 


It's like a smile. You smile, you light up a room. The purpose is that switch. It is there. Just turn it on. If you've not listened to this episode, I really recommend it. 


Many of the top purpose-led CEOs that I have opportunity to have on the podcast have been great at nurturing their own growth mindsets. So, one thing you suggest as a way of enabling a growth mindset and perseverance, and learning about your interests and potential goals is what you call, I think, the "hard thing rule." Can you elaborate on the hard thing rule?


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: Of course. So, Jean-Philippe, when I was in graduate school, as you just asked me, well, when did you figure out what you wanted to do? I was 32 when I started my very first day of my Ph.D. program. I was also pregnant with my second child, who would later be born, and her name was Lucy. I basically was a young mom. I was a young mom and a young Ph.D. student all at the same time. As my children were growing up, I was metabolising all this research on achievement and goals. It became very clear to me that any young person, and really any person of any age, will always struggle to do a hard thing because there's always the easier way out. I thought to myself, how will my children learn grit? How will they learn to stick it out as opposed to give up early? How will they learn to work hard as opposed to loafing? 


And then, my husband and I, Jason and I, we said, "Well, let's make a rule." So, we called it the "hard thing rule," and it had three parts. And so, with our two young daughters, Amanda and Lucy, we said, "Look, the first part is this, you have to do a hard thing." But we gave a very specific definition because of the research on the 10,000 hours of practice, and so forth. So, we said, "You have to do something that requires deliberate practice," which you and I can talk a little bit more about because it's very specific and it's not just working hard. Anyway, they knew all about it. Because Uncle Anders, Anders Erickson, would come over for dinner and he told them what that meant. 


Second part of it was that, "You can't give up in the middle." So, if you sign up for ballet for the spring, and maybe at the fourth lesson, you say, "It's not for me. I don't want to do this." We say, and we have said this to them, "That's totally fine. At the end of the spring, you can choose another hard thing. As long as you're doing something, but you can't quit in the middle." That was the second part. We wanted them to learn very early what it was like to fulfil your commitments to another person. In this case, your coach, or your teacher, or your classmates, or your teammates. They very often requested to quit their hard thing in the middle. Like, "Oh, I decided I don't want to do track." We're like, "Oh, my gosh, what a great realization. You can quit track at the end of track." 


So then, the third part -- and I think this is very important and not obvious, I think, to some parents. Nobody could choose your hard thing but you. So, I did not tell my daughter to do ballet. Jason did not tell them to play violin, or viola, or whatever other thing that they were doing. They had to make that choice themselves because we wanted them to learn at the earliest age about intrinsic motivation. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I love the way you talk about not giving up in the middle of the road. But at some point as well, you also need to understand how far you go. 


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: Yes, exactly. At the appropriate time, you should absolutely ask yourself, "What should I do?" But I don't want them to learn the lesson in life that you're constantly at a crossroads. Again, maybe, Jean-Philippe, as somebody who has mentored many, more young people, especially in the workplace than I have, I think there is sometimes this kind of constant monitoring. Like, "Should I be in this company? Should I be in this job?" It's like an important lesson in life to learn to keep your head down at least for some period that you feel like you've made a decision. Like, I'm going to do this for the next year, and get this. And then, I'll be at a crossroads. But you're not always at a crossroads. That's not very healthy either. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: No, I'm with you. I think you've got to leave an experience fully end to end. And then, you decide, of course, based on your experience, on the excitement, the passion, or lack of what to do next in your life. But don't give up too early, for sure. 




JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: So, I'll have to go back as well to some of your work. You've been writing your research on psychologists. Of course, some that have inspired you. Like me, as well, like Carol Dweck, our growth mindset theory. Your second-year advisor, I think a recent guest on my show, Martin Seligman. He spared my model of positive emotions. So, I'd love to understand actually, how did you land on your unique great form of life, I may say so. What influence did some of the psychologists and researchers have on you and your work, Angela?


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: I think we probably have many of the same influences, Jean-Philippe. 


Carol Dweck among them. Now, Marty Seligman was my Ph.D. advisor. In addition to Carol's work on growth mindset, which I was introduced to actually, probably a little bit later than I should have been. I probably discovered her work maybe even toward the end of my Ph.D. But, of course, Marty was there from the very beginning. Marty Seligman, whose work on optimism you know very well, and his work on PERMA as an approach to happiness that has many features; including A, which is "achievement" or "accomplishment."


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Achievement, yeah. It's a big one.


ANGELA DUCKWORTH:  Yeah. So, I think the influence of Marty was several fold. The one I would like to emphasize is the one that I've been thinking about lately. Because I think if I tried to run a counterfactual of my life, what would Angela Duckworth be doing if she had not crossed paths with Marty Seligman? I feel quite certain that I would not be the psychologist that I am today. I might not even be a psychologist at all. He was a mentor to me. So, apart from the scientific influence, and learning to think like a scientist and think big, which of course he taught me to do and modelled for me, he was a kind of mentor that I could say I would not be half the scientist that I am, if at all, were not for him. I think what Marty did at key moments was to help me see ambition that I didn't permit myself to see. 


The reason I bring that up is that, I have lately come to the belief that nobody who achieves great things does so by grit alone. I think that there is not a single high achiever who can say that they've done everything, like kind of DIY, do-it-yourself. In my case, I now realize how utterly dependent I was on his encouragement. He really did see what I could do before I had any glimmer of that myself. Every time we would submit a paper, he would say, "Well, why don't we go to psych science? Like, why don't we go big?" I would think to myself like, "What? Me?" And so, he constantly was enlarging my horizons. I have to say that he continues to do so. And so, this continual dependence on mentors, I think is something which is hidden from maybe especially young people. They think you should be able -- if you're great and you're gritty, you should be able to do it yourself. That's exactly the opposite of the truth.


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Which is fantastic encouragement for you, I guess, Angela, early on in your trajectory. I love to go back to your definition of grit; when you talked about passion and purpose for the long-term goals.




JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Because I think having goals and connecting goals with our purpose is a big part of positive leadership. That's my belief. But sometimes, people need a way in finding their purpose, number 1, which can seem really daunting, especially for younger listeners, I found. So, recently, I was talking to Stephen M.R. Covey, also in my podcast; author of "Trust and Inspire," about connecting others with a purpose. He says it has to start with you being inspired by a golden purpose. It would start with you, with each one of us. In that way, you can light the fire for others. He says, everyone can inspire and that is a learnable skill, but it has to start with you. So, how would you describe, first of all, your own purpose? 




JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Has it changed over the years in the way you think that all of us can learn the skill as well of becoming more inspirational? This is a daunting word that people use to talk about leadership, "you get to be inspirational," and it's very intimidating for most people. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Yeah, I think it's intimidating on both sides. Both the leader, who is supposed to be the one inspiring. And honestly, also the generally younger follower or the person who does not yet feel like they have their purpose. We're all daunted, but I couldn't agree more with Steven and with you that this is learnable, that there is a way, there is a path. I would define my purpose today is to increase psychological wisdom. It was a path that was not even clear when I was 32. I mean, it wasn't that if you asked me on my first day of graduate school like, "Well, what's your calling? What's your purpose?? I wouldn't have been able to articulate that. So, like many people, I'm guessing you as well, there's been a continual, sort of exploration refinement, if you will. Maybe, at some point, you kind of know, but you're still refining it. That's certainly the case for me.


In terms of then like my advice for somebody on the inspiring side versus the younger side, I'll take that first. So, maybe people who are more in positions of leadership currently as you are, and to some extent, as I am, I think that the thing I've been trying to do is to be very honest about how messy, nonlinear, and unpredictable the path was. Because when I talk to young people, it's a little bit like they have this highlight reel of people like you or like their boss. 


They don't see the dark days. They don't see the moments of indecision, the complete and total stupid decisions you made that cost you a lot of grief and time. So, I tried to try to be honest. 


For example, last year, I was on sabbatical. And so, I didn't have to teach. I had completely protected time to write the book that you very generously brought up. It was a disaster, Jean-Philippe. I mean, honestly, I was a dumpster fire. I like to tell my students. Oh my gosh! I mean, I really lost perspective. The writing went terribly. I tried so hard. I got nowhere. I was digging myself into a hole. It's very important for me to tell young people about that. Because I don't want them to see like, "Oh. She wrote a book, and then she wrote another book." I'm like, "Oh, wait. Did I just tell you about the time that my confidence was -3 on a scale from 0 to 10?"




ANGELA DUCKWORTH: So, I think honesty would be would be the advice there. And then, I tell them about the paramecium. The paramecium is a single-celled organism. One of the most primitive on the planet. It's one cell. It's just one cell. So, it doesn't have a brain. But it has just this hardwired instinct to like, if it's warmer over there, it swims over there. If there's food over there, it swims there. And then, if it's cold or if there's not a lot of food, it swims away. So, it just has this kind of instinct, number 1, to move toward a sustaining environment like, "This feels good." 


And then, the second rule it has -- and these are good rules for young people. This boss makes me feel great. This company makes me feel energised. This team makes me feel good. I feel like I'm making a contribution. Fine, just move toward that. This group of people does not give me energy. I don't feel like I'm -- move away from that. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Move away. Absolutely, yes.


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: So, that's rule number 1. Just like a paramecium. It's not that deep. You only need one cell to figure this out. The second thing a paramecium has -- and I actually talked to a world expert on paramecia just to get this right. He was like, "Yeah. This is basically how it survives and why it's still on the planet." These two things are all it needs to survive. The second thing is that a paramecium kind of moves in, actually, very primitive randomness kind of way. Like those vacuums that are Roombas. So, it'll swim; moving towards nutrients, towards warmth. But then, if it hits an obstacle, say it runs into a rock, it has this very primitive survival mechanism. It backs up, and then it just tries a random direction, and then it goes forward. If it hits the rock again, it backs up. Just like one of these stupid Roomba vacuums. 


I say to young people, I'm like, "Look. When you hit an obstacle, back up, try something else. Okay, still not moving? Back up and try again." So, that period of life -- I wouldn't go back to my 20s for anything, it was so hard. But I think if you're in that young part of your life where you're not yet convinced of your purpose, you don't have it all figured out, move towards warmth and nutrients. And when you hit a real obstacle back up, try something else. Back up, try it again. Like the paramecium, you will survive. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Love the analogy. It's wonderful. I'm sure we can ask Matthew Capala of ChatGPT to deliver a video just based on your recording.






ANGELA DUCKWORTH: Yes. Using your great technologies. Yeah, bring it to life. I would love that.


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Just to visualize that Angela, one of the things that I've been fascinated by and what inspired me actually to start making the podcast, is the idea of the three circles of positive leadership that you know so well; me, me and others, me and the world. And, within each circle, of course, doing some work, with my own foundation, my own country in France, we're exploring what we call the nine positive leadership powers, which are very specific skills, behaviours, attitudes to drive a positive impact in the world. So, we'd work on building self-confidence, managing a positive energy, or building the change with others to drive positive change in the world. Just love to ask you, your thoughts about the way you would build on grit to drive a positive change in the world. 


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: I think the word that you used there, "skills," is so important. Also, the fact that there is not just one of them, nine. I know other people may have to -- I've been reading a lot about John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach, who I never met, unfortunately. I didn't have the wherewithal to introduce myself while he was still alive. As you know, he was the winningest coach arguably in NCAA history. Depends on which statistic you choose. I think one of the things that he left the world was this "Pyramid of Success." And so, I think probably the modern person might know this through "Ted Lasso." 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Yes. I love that series.


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: Because "Ted Lasso," the TV series, was modelled on John Wooden, very explicitly. So, Jason Sudeikis has said this. Anyway, so whether it's John Wooden's pyramid of success, there's like multiple building blocks in a pyramid, more than nine, or your schema, one thing we could agree on is one, there are skills. 


Like, John Wooden and you, I really believe these are not innate. It's not. It's also not something where you can look at this and say, "Well, this one, I don't have. Self-confidence, that's not me." It's like, "Well, how do I get more self-confidence?" 




ANGELA DUCKWORTH: This is a skill I can develop. The other thing is just that the plurality. It's not one thing.




ANGELA DUCKWORTH: I don't know that there's a magic number. But like everybody I know agrees that it's more than one thing. So, these skills are plural, not singular. So, in terms of grit, I think one of the things that I would like to share that I think was maybe a revelation to me, I started off studying achievement. I found these high achievers had something, in addition to talent, that I would call grit. Then, as I got more into it, I realized that grit was in some ways the output or the outcome of having multiple skills, a growth mindset, orientation toward failure and setbacks. Also, practice. Maybe I'll just double-click on this one as an example. And then, I'll conclude my answer to that one. 


So, we mentioned this "hard thing rule." I told you that my daughters, when they were growing up, got to meet Anders Erickson because we were collaborating. He would sometimes travel to Philadelphia. He's the cognitive psychologist who gave the world this idea of deliberate practice. So, here's a skill that I believe anybody could learn. So, what Anders found is that world-class experts, they don't just work hard -- and it's not just that they put in 10,000 hours. By the way, to his dying day, Andres was so frustrated that the world got the wrong message from his research. There's nothing magic about 10,000. In fact, almost anybody puts in more than 10,000 hours. Like, just having a job for 40 hours a week. Just start adding up the thing. You're like 2,000 hours a year. Like, "Oh, wait. How come I'm not an expert after five years?" 


Well, what Andres found is that the quality of practice may be more important in some ways than the quantity. The quality of practice depends on three things. All of them, you can learn. So, this way of practicing like an expert is a skill in itself. And so, the first learnable thing -- anybody could do this, starting right now. He found that experts practice with a very particular goal, so they know what they're trying to do better. If it's a Monday at work, you can ask yourself, "Do I know what my goal is this week? What am I trying to do better? Am I trying to be more patient at the beginning of meetings? Am I trying to have better agendas? Am I trying to maybe align what I'm doing better with the strategy for my team?" Whatever. "Am I trying to be a little less procrastinating?" So, you have a goal. 


The second element of deliver practice out of three, was that you really had to concentrate with full attention on what you're doing. So, if you're an Olympic skier and you're practicing a downhill run, like Lindsey Vonn, you are only concentrating on that goal during that run. You're not multitasking. You're not checking your text messages, and so forth. That's also learnable. The third element, which is a lifelong journey for all of us, is that you have to learn how to take feedback. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: There's a lot there to unpack. So, let me just back up and summarise the points Angela's made, because it's really worth getting this right. Deliberate practice is one of the most effective methods for skill improvement. By focusing on specific aspects of performance and engaging in target practice sessions, you can make serious progress in developing your own abilities. 


So, remember, practice with a clear goal. Concentrate fully on what you're doing, and learn how to take feedback. Three key principles to always keep in mind. 


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: Those are three facets of what deliberate practice is. Of course, you have to repeat this over and over. It's a skill, one of many. I think, in terms of your nine positive leadership, powers like to me, you can break down all of them and say, "How do I learn that? How do I improve that?" And the answer will be, there is a way.


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Yes. I'd love to go back and quote a sentence from your prologue, which really resonates with this idea. You'll see your situations can spark vicious cycles, amplifying tiny changes over time, and creating a rising tide of confidence if fought in success. I'm so excited to read your book soon when it comes out. You talk about an approach you call the three --


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: One I haven't finished. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Yes, I know. So, keep my warm congratulations to you, Angela.


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: But let's assume it gets finished. Let's assume that, yeah. That's good. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Would you mind actually maybe covering a little bit, some of it, is what you call the "three boxes model," what it is. 


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: Yeah. So, one of the major inspirations for me as a psychologist was this psychologist that I met about 12 years ago at a conference at Yale. It was a conference on behaviour change and self-control. It was a little bit like the Academy Awards for this area of research. And so, no, we didn't have Matt Damon, but we had -- my universe was like the equivalent. The superstars.


I was a junior academic, so I was just thrilled beyond belief that I was there at all. 


But on the first day, there was a talk on what was called the process model of behaviour. That was given by James Gross at Stanford University. He studies emotion, but he said, "Look, this is how your emotions come to be." He's like, "When you feel something like fear, or anxiety, or happiness, joy, interest, anything, it just feels like it's just there." He's like, "But if you ask what happened just before that emotion, there was something that happened just before, it was a thought. A thought like, this might go badly." Well, that's going to lead to anxiety or fear. "Oh my gosh! I can do this." That's going to lead to confidence. Like, "Oh, I wonder if that person thinks worse of me." Well, that's shame. 


So, he said, as an emotion psychologist, you can back into sort of any emotion by this second thing that happens before this third thing. I'm going to say it's in three boxes. That is the thought. But then, he said, "Look, wait. Let's not stop there. Let's ask what led to that thought. What leads to our thoughts? What happens right before we have that thought? And sometimes, the thought is conscious, sometimes not. But what happens before?" He says, "You're in a situation, you're in some objective. So, if someone says something to you, you see something happen. Like, you get a failing grade, you get a positive performance review." 


So, the three boxes are, box number 1 is your objective situation. The physical and social circumstances in which you happen to be at the moment. The second box is your thoughts. Like, how you understand that. These are subjective, of course. The third box is your response. That's the three-box model of human behaviour. You can take any behaviour. You can take grit, you can like giving up, you can take losing your temper, you can take whatever you decide to do on Tuesday morning. Like, you can say what was the thought that led to that? What was the situation that led to the thought? 


That, to me, was very inspiring. Because, Jean-Philippe, what it gave me, the idea, was that most people that I know who are trying to succeed in their goals, and are maybe finding that they're falling short of their goals, they think I need to try harder. I need to work on box number 3. I have to stop procrastinating. I have to stop eating junk food, to stop going on social media late at night. I need to start doing -- So, they're only thinking about box number 3. 


If anything, what I hope this book would enable people to do is say like, let me step back and say, what were the thoughts that led me to do, but why did I procrastinate? Why did I…? Then, let me ask the question, what situation, what company can I work for that will lead me to my best self? What boss could I have that would lead me to my best self? How can I change the settings on my cell phone?" That's also box number 1. That's your objective. What if I put my cell phone in a different room? Would that change? So, that to me, is the inspiration. 


I really do feel like when I grew up, you asked me about my childhood -- I don't want to speak for all Asians, but my parents were Chinese. There's this expression in Chinese that translates to "eat bitterness." There is, to me sometimes a kind of overly simplistic view of achievement that's like, "Oh, you just have to work hard. You just have to use willpower. You just have to have inner strength." That's not what really gritty people do. They're always trying to put themselves in the best possible situation to make that hard work and that high-quality work easier. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: No, I think it's so true, Angela. I mean, it reminds me of this quote I love using all the time; "Watch your thoughts before it becomes your words. Watch your words before it becomes your action. Watch your actions as they become your destiny." I think it was attributed to Mahatma Gandhi; others say Mrs. Thatcher. I don't know who said that really. 


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: I don't know either. But I've seen versions of that quote as well, yeah.


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I love it. Because all about this thought process.




JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: And the core belief we have in ourselves, and the way we process that or not, and the way we are able to step back in our mind to actually reflect on what's coming from this little voice, this interpretation we have. Before we jump, before we even talk, before we drive an action. 


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: Yeah. I think there's a version of that quote, and there are many. I don't know that anybody really knows. There's a version of that which says, "Watch your thoughts because they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become your habits. Watch your habits, they become your character. Watch your character, that becomes your destiny." The only friendly amendment I would make to that quote is, "Watch your situation because that will shape your thoughts." So, that's the part where I think, like, "Okay. Let's go all the way back to the very beginning." Let's go back to box number 1. With my daughters who are now grown up, they're 22 and 21. I think they should be -- you use the word "intention."




ANGELA DUCKWORTH: I think young people should say, "I want to be intentional about what city I live in, what company I work for, the friends that I choose to be with, what I do with my cell phone." Because that is box number 1 for you. You should watch that. Because guess what? It will become your thoughts. Guess what? That will become your actions. Guess what? That will become your character. Guess what? That will become your destiny. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Love it. It's going to be one of my new quotes. I got a new one. With your permission, okay. It's going to be.


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: I don't know who said the original one, but the last thing, I'm pretty sure, I think I could take ownership of that. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Let's shift gears. Let's talk a little bit with you as well about the world of work. It's changing very fast. 




JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Twenty-three percent of jobs are expected to change in the next five years according to World Economic Forum, and millions of people will need to move between declining, growing jobs. What do you think is the best way these days to actually acquire new skills? 


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: Yeah. There are two things. One, very briefly, just a passing comment. Like you, maybe not as much as you, I speak to investors. Sometimes, early investors; like venture capitalists. Sometimes, a little later, even public markets. Everybody that I talked to who's a very successful investor says, the market is everything. Like, yes, you have to pick the right company. Yes, you have to pick the right leader. But if you're in the wrong market, like if you have missed the boat on AI, guess what? You can pick the very best person in the worst market, but you're still going to lose all your money. 


So, the market is obviously everything. But in a way, it's like pick the right macro box number 1. So, you want to be in that. I will say in terms of a young person, or as you pointed out. The brain is always changing. We're always learning. So, we shouldn't think about this as being a young person's game. If you want to acquire skills because, as you point out, the workplace is changing and we're constantly being asked. I mean, I think the irony of AI is that we're being asked actually, and I know it doesn't seem obvious. Actually, to be smarter, and more intentional, and more critical in our thinking than ever. The AI doesn't diminish that responsibility and obligate it increases it. 


So, there's a paper that I was involved in. I don't think it's published yet, but the basic gist of it is this. You look at Department of Labour statistics on jobs, and you look at job changes over the years. These are from surveys of employers. Employers are asked about what jobs they have. But critically, they're asked to indicate on a variety of dimensions what characterises that job. Does it require detail orientation? Does it require punctuality? Does it require teamwork? And, so forth.


Exactly. One thing is clear, and I don't want to say it's the only thing, but it's kind of relevant to what you just asked, is that there is a kind of what we call "intellectual tenacity." There is an increasing need in the marketplace for people who are lifelong learners and who have a kind of persistent curiosity, not a cursory curiosity. Many people will be like, "Gee, I wonder what Cameron Diaz is doing right now. I will look it up on the Internet." That's not what we're talking about. It's more like a, "I can't figure this out. I'm going to ask this person. I still can't figure out. Now, I'm going to look at this video. Wow! I think I understand it, but now I'm going to go deeper." So, that I think is something that the Labour statistics suggest is increasingly in demand. Like, we have been violently agreeing about, I think it's learnable. Sometimes, people think, "Well, yeah. But some people are like that, and I'm not." It's like, "Well, guess what? You can be like that, too. First of all, just start doing it." I think there is a lot of habit to this kind of approach to learning. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: So, building on that, Angela. You talked about the famous law of the 10,000 hours to master a skill.




JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Again, in this new AIH, where hopefully more and more people -- I'm not saying everyone. It's not the case yet, but more and more people everywhere in the world will be able to have this compiler, this AI assistant, support us to learn new things, to grow ourselves hopefully. What do you think about these 10,000 skills and how do you see in your pattern again in learning, experiencing on the job, and the task? What does it mean? Or is it going to change maybe our learning mindset? In a way, we're going to educate, we're going to learn a job, and so on and so forth. 


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: Yeah. Well, I won't pretend to be able to foresee the future, especially now. Anybody who's not aware that this revolution and technology isn't like -- it's not even that we should use the future tense. It is changing everything. 




ANGELA DUCKWORTH: Well, wake up, because guess what? Yes, it's happening. You can close your eyes, but it's going to happen anyway. So, I love this question, Jean-Philippe. I would say this. One of the things that I think was the deepest insight from Anders Erickson, and this work that became popularised as the 10,000-hour rule. By the way, that came from one study of German musicians, violinists, in a certain music academy in Germany. So, we really ought to take Anders's work as showing the importance of the quantity and the quality of practice. 


But one of the things that I think he would himself have said that was less known, but the core insight was, when people develop expertise -- his first research was on chess. Let's take chess players as an example, but it's true of everyone. The thing that really happens, and this is true for physical sports also, is that there are increasingly sophisticated, mental representations, and mental pictures, that are increasingly sophisticated. And that's what's really going on in a grand chess master's head. What happens when you practice with feedback, and with goals, and so forth, is that you have increasingly sophisticated mental models of the chess board, of the game. Same thing if you're a skier. Same thing if you're a product manager. 


Now, what does this mean for AI? To me, it suggests that we now have something that never existed in human history. We have the possibility of upgrading our mental models of what's going on at unprecedented rates. But instead of people thinking like, "Oh, great. Now, I don't need those mental representations. Now, it's going to think for me." No, it's going to think with you. You are going to be, if you choose to, you're going to be smarter than any person has ever been on the planet. Because this is to me, I know I'm preaching to the preacher. You know more about this than I do. This is like the invention of writing. I don't know where this will go, but I think the potential for us to make us wiser, smarter, more creative, more productive, and more critical is there if we choose to take it. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I love it. I know time is passing fast. I hope you get a few more minutes with me, Angela. 




JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I like to ask you about the positive passion as you can predict our success. I know it compares as well to the idea of intrinsic motivation, as Daniel Pink talks about in his book "Drive," that I'm sure you know well. 




JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Just for the listeners. Pink argues that interesting motivators; like autonomy, mastery, and purpose, are what leads to better performance satisfaction, personal fulfilment. So, Pink doesn't focus on passion in the same way. Instead, he places a strong emphasis again on autonomy, suggesting that people are more motivated and perform better when they have control over their work and environment. So, how important to you is this sense of autonomy that he talks about? Does interesting motivation relate to and differ from passion in your framework? 


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: Yeah. First, I'll say Dan Pink is such a great writer, a great thinker, and also just a really nice person. I met him a long time ago. He was so kind to me and had no other reason to be other than that he's kind. So, I will say that. Do I agree with him? Yeah. Let me say exactly why. What Dan Pink did in his book "Drive" was, in a beautiful way, capture a theory in psychology called self-determination theory. Indeed, it posits there are three elemental human drives. One is for autonomy, one is for mastery or competence, and the third is for belonging or connectedness. So, those are the three things. 


What this theory says, and Dan Pink so beautifully wrote about, was that we have this instinct for that. And that is, those conditions set us up to do things that we find to be intrinsically valuable, as opposed to "I have to do it by obligation. It's being forced on me," from without. Let me tell you about the data, about why I agree with him. I mean, I agree with him kind of intuitively, but also the data that I've collected. I have collected data on grit and on intrinsic versus extrinsic motives. It's crystal clear. The data say that people are driven by intrinsic motivation to do things that take a long time, that are very, very hard. Grit is correlated with intrinsic motivation. It is not correlated with extrinsic motivation. Just to double-click on autonomy, in particular.




ANGELA DUCKWORTH: I do think, if I just -- this is not scientific, Jean-Philippe. But just when I think about my friends, I'm in my 50s. If I just think of who's really happy? The people who are really happy actually have a great deal of autonomy over how they spend their time and what they're doing. Those who are not as happy, they could be just as rich, just as materially comfortable. But those people often do not have a sense of autonomy, ownership. "I'm doing this because I want to do it, not because I have to do it." So, I think these are all part of a piece. And so, I do believe that what Dan was writing about is deeply connected to grit, and I have data that suggests exactly that. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Super. I love to mention another quote by Abraham Lincoln on character. Because I know you've been studying characters for many years. He said, "Character is like a tree, and reputation is like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it. The tree is the real thing." So, how would you go by defining the real thing, Angela, about character? What is a character? What have you come to notice, and learn over the years of studying many people's characters? I know you studied that at Lance. 


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: I love that. I've never heard that expression. It's so apt. Character of the tree, and then reputation is the shadow. So, character was appealing to me in part because of Aristotle, who said that the good life. Truly, the good life is a life not of pleasure necessarily. It's a life of character. And then, if you ask like, "Well, how did Aristotle define character?" In so many words and in translation. My interpretation is that it's everything that you do, and that you feel that you think that is good for other people, as well as for yourself. And there are philosophers who study Aristotle who I think would say that that's true. So, it's everything that we do that is good for others, as well as for ourselves. 


The reason I think it's so important is that, often, when you think of character strengths; like honesty or grit. But you could argue, and I would argue, curiosity is also a character strength, even appreciation for beauty, empathy, compassion, generosity, forgiveness, the list goes on. It's plural, as we were alluding to earlier. I think that the reason it's so important, and I think, increasingly important in today's day and age, is that many of these virtues have a singular feature that makes them very hard to do, which is that they are not immediately rewarding. They're only rewarding in the long run. Honesty. I won't name names, but I was talking to somebody I really like, except they told me the story. He said, "I'm going to a restaurant and this restaurant is so stupid. They had this offer." It was a chain restaurant, which I think made him feel like this was okay. "They had this offer that if you enter your email address, you get $5 off." He said, "So, I would just go to the restaurant every time and I would just enter a new email address. I think, over a few months, it was like $400 or $500 that I got." I thought to myself, "Okay. That is not honest." I like this person, but I don't think that was honest. 


When I think about character, it's like well, on that day, it's more rewarding to get $5 off. On the next day, it's still immediately rewarding to get $5. Honesty does not give you immediate pleasure. Kindness doesn't always give you -- and forgiveness, oh my gosh. It's so much more rewarding in the short term to be angry at someone than to forgive them. So, I think character is timeless, and I think it's timely. I really think that when we talk to young people especially, we have to tell them that every virtue you can think of, every single one, has this trade-off between what you're going to feel right now today and what you will be in the long run. And so, this idea of character is a tree. The other reason I like it is that, trees don't grow overnight. They take tending, and feeding, and sunlight, and years.




ANGELA DUCKWORTH: Nurturing. You can't grow a tree overnight. You can't grow character overnight. Honestly, I say this as a mother, Jean-Philippe, nothing is more important than your character. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I love it. So, just building a bit of that. I mean, I know you know, deeply. Martin Seligman 2004 Values in Action Model, where Martin talked about 24-character strengths grouped into 6 broad virtues: wisdom, knowledge, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence. In your opinion, Angela, I know it's a big question. Virtues are the most critical for us these days as individuals, and which matter the most in organisations and teams. So, I'm kind of asking for the most universal virtue to resonate or drive the most positive impact, hopefully, in the world today. 


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: Well, just to be clear, when I say character strengths, I'm using that synonymously interchangeably with virtue. I was a graduate student while that taxonomy was being created. Literally, next door. So, Marty Seligman, and also Chris Peterson, were the two architects of that. I was sitting at the desk next door to the office. So, occasionally, Chris would come. Originally, there were 23. Chris said, "Twenty-three is not a very beautiful number. I have to go back into my office to think of a 24th virtue," and he did. I can't remember which one was the 24th one, but there was originally not quite 24. 


Anyway, the point is that I think that when you ask me like, maybe what would be the cardinal virtue? Arguments have been made. Some people think it's self-control because of this element of delay of gratification to all of them. I think that argument has been. Some people, like Barry Schwartz would say, it's wisdom. Because wisdom is knowing which character, strength, or which virtue to call upon in that moment in that situation. I think you could -- I've thought of it a long time. I'm like, "Well, maybe it's honesty." Some people would say courage. When Novalia died recently, I thought you could make a very good argument that is courage. Because you need to be brave to do any of the things that you would say is like a life of character. 


I don't know whether there's ever going to be a settled debate. But I will tell you this as a scientist, they are all positively correlated. They are all positively correlated. When you find a child who is curious, knowing nothing else about them, you can predict on average that they will also be good at delaying gratification. On average, they will also be generous. 


So, if you ask me why all these virtues are correlated, the answer is probably complicated. But I will say I think there is some interrelatedness. There are certain environments that encourage us to be good people, and that kind of comes out in these things being core. And also, I think any one of these in a way leads to another. What would happen if you started out today and you said, "Today, I'm just going to try to be a little bit kinder than yesterday. Maybe I can do one favour for one person"? 




ANGELA DUCKWORTH: I will guarantee you that there will be a chain reaction. That kindness is going to lead you to gratitude. That gratitude is going to lead you to forgiveness. That forgiveness is going to maybe fill your tank a little bit, and maybe you will be a little more self-controlled. Maybe that would incline you towards just a little bit more courage to say what you really think in a meeting. So, I think the fact that these virtues, these character strengths, are correlated, suggests to me maybe it doesn't matter which one you start with as long as you start. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I love the way you talk about practitioning or virtues. One day at a time and one goal at a time. It's a good maybe segue into my last couple of questions, Angela. I've been really fascinated by the way you talk about goals, which I think is quite important. All my life, I've been setting kind of goals in the business side, of course. I mean, all the way from KPIs to OKRs, blah, blah, blah. But also, to my personal life goals. And so, understanding the difference between low-level/high-level goals, and use I think, a tree analogy, or another way you describe is by the idea of goals. So, what is the best way of understanding, and shaping, and framing your goals? Particularly, I love you to talk about the way we can figure out our highest-level goal, all the way down to the daily goals that you just talked about. 


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: What a goal is, Jean-Philippe, the scientific definition of a goal is, it's a desired future state. It's a desired future. That's what a goal is. You are exactly right that, sometimes, they can be very granular. The granular goals are the things that you have to get done right away. They're very specific. They're very concrete. Oftentimes, they're small. Like, "Oh, I have to make sure I sign on to Teams before the call starts." So then, you have maybe larger goals, a little more distal. Like the things that you're trying to get done this week, this month. Yes, it absolutely, by the way, it has an analogy with OKRs and KPIs. I mean, it's the same idea that there's a hierarchy. And the higher you go up on the hierarchy, the more abstract and long-term, and maybe more even important you could argue, these goals are. 


Here's the practical thing that I would like to emphasize about goals. I think this obsession with goals in the workplace is not misplaced. Without those intentions of desired future states; where are you going. I think maybe the key element to me in this, and the practical advice, is alignment. You have to audit your goals and say, "What are the things I'm trying to get done today?" These lowest level goals. How are they aligned or how are they not aligned with my mid-level, higher level, and even like, I gave you my three-word top-level goal. 


For example, this conversation. How this conversation, which was a low-level goal, is very specific. we're meeting at a certain time. It's going to have a beginning and an end. How is this related to my top-level goal of increasing psychological wisdom? To me, I was able to make those connections quite quickly. It's very aligned. So, there was no ambivalence. It wasn't like, "Oh, gosh. I have to sign on." No, this is absolutely -- If you ask me what happiness is, happiness is not winning the Nobel Prize. Happiness is not making a lot of money. Happiness is living. You could even argue character. It's alignment. What I am doing today is aligned with my deepest purpose and values. There is a consistency. Am I going to win the Nobel Prize? Probably not. But there is a sense in which I have a kind of peace of mind of doing what feels right. 


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: Right. Exactly. It's of a peace. When I have felt least happy in my life, Jean-Philippe, is when there has been misalignment. A kind of a tension, a conflict; "I should do this, but I don't want to," et cetera. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: So true. Last couple of questions. Just finishing on the goals, if I may, if I may push that even further. I'm also a friend of a podcast and executive coach, Michael Bunge Stanier, that you may know, Angela, who's been writing his best seller book on coaching. He's been also writing a book called "How to Begin: Start Doing Something That Matters." 


In his book, he talks about worthy goals, and they give them three characteristics. The goal is to be thrilling, important, and daunting. So, what is your advice for setting challenging audacious goals? 


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: Yeah. I mean, if I translate that into much more boring language, but it does align with the scientific literature, which I confess is usually written almost deliberately in boring language. When Michael says thrilling, important, and daunting, it aligns perfectly with what 50-plus years of psychological research say about goals, which is on daunting, let's take that. 


So, one of the things about goals that's been studied is that challenging goals, daunting goals, are much more motivating and much more achievement-producing than less challenging goals. So, I will say this though, as somebody who also studies goal setting among people. Often, people set goals that are too daunting. So, the thing is, is that when you ask somebody who's not in shape, "What's your fitness goal?" I mean, they kind of say ridiculous things. Like, "I'm going to run a marathon by the summer." You're like, "Wow! That's daunting." Almost too daunting. So, I think sometimes, you want to be daunting, but feasibly daunting. Realistically daunting, that's another finding from research. Daunting has some grounding there. 


Then when he says thrilling. I think that aligns to what scientists who study goals. It's like it has to be enjoyable or interesting to you. Now, that kind of sounds obvious. But a lot of young people set goals, like they say they want to get fit. But when they think about how they're going to do that, they don't pick an activity that is thrilling to them. 




ANGELA DUCKWORTH: They pick something which is terrible. It's like, "I'm going to go on the Stairmaster for 45 minutes a day." How do you feel about that? "Oh, it's terrible." If it's not thrilling to you to be on the Stairmaster, choose something else. Choose yoga. 




ANGELA DUCKWORTH: Choose, I don't know, choose something that you find enjoyable or thrilling. And then, the last thing you said is important. I think, to me, when I hear that as a psychologist, that is a dimension that's also been studied that is different from enjoyment or thrill, that is an alignment with your personal values. And, that to me, is actually a very good recipe. 


When you say thrilling, important, yeah. It's a terrific recipe, and it aligns with the boring research. But yeah, I think that those are very practical ways of making the research actionable in your life. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Super. I'd like to finish now by asking you just about your daily practices and advice you could share with listeners. I've heard you talking about the importance of positive self-talk, Angela. So, why is it so important? What advice can you give all listeners who want to try this self-talk?


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: So, the self-talk is this kind of a thing that we're all doing already. So, self-talk is this kind of verbal, like the closed captions in your mind. Sometimes, you say it out loud. Most often, you don't. For example, when you're making a decision, you are in your head thinking like, "Well, on one hand, on the other hand." That's self-talk. When I said box number 2, where the thoughts that lead to the actions -- that's box number 3. That self-talk is box number 2. So, it's this kind of private monologue. Sometimes, it's a dialogue because you're kind of ambivalent about two things. 


So, I would say in terms of positive self-talk, one thing to recognize is that optimists do talk to themselves in ways that are focused on what they can change. They tend to pay attention to that element of possibility, of change, of growth, and of control. Pessimists tend to have self-talk which dwells on the negative. Let me put all of my energy into the worst-case scenario. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Nothing is controllable, by the way. I can’t do anything about it. Yes.


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: Nothing is controllable. Yeah. That really also leads to kind of like everybody, it's everyone else's fault. So, I think this positive self-talk is a skill, as you may have guessed. I've been practicing it myself. Usually, I'm pretty good at positive self-talk. But in that very difficult year I mentioned, really, my self-talk was very negative. I said these kinds of things, self-talk. I literally said, "I'm going to retire. I'm a terrible psychologist. I'm a terrible writer. I don't deserve my job." And then, I would write it in my journal, and then I would say it out loud to my husband. Only by practicing more positive self-talk like, "Well, this year's terrible. This book is not going well. This paragraph doesn't work. But it's not that I'm bad." So, I did have to learn how to shift my self-talk. In that case, just to have a little more perspective. But self-talk is happening. You do it. I do it. We're going to do it today. Just to kind of listen for your self-talk is probably the first. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I do it all the time.


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: Yeah, exactly. All the time. Whether we know it or not, whether we're conscious of it or not. Yeah. So, I think that's important. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Wonderful. Very last question beyond the self-positive-talk, by the way. It's all about positive talk, as well. What are the other practices you have day by day, Angela, to grow your positive energy and drive it and carry it to others in your life? 


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: Well, one thing that I've been thinking a lot about right now is just a feeling of solidarity. I think it's appropriate because not only the surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, but a lot of other people have raised concerns about, like an epidemic of being alone. 




ANGELA DUCKWORTH: I see that with young people. It's like, you can get your food Door Dashed to you. You could Zoom into every -- like you could live a life of practically solitary confinement. When you are disconnected from other people, not just physically, but just in a more meaningful sense, I think you lose what I think is a very elemental drive, which is the drive for esprit de corps of solidarity. The reason I've been studying this, I've been looking into Alcoholics Anonymous, as just a kind of extreme example of solidarity. What I think is really important, and what I've tried to do, and where I am happiest, and where I feel most aligned is when I am working on a project, Jean-Philippe, with other people that I really trust, that I enjoy. 


After this conversation, I'm going to go to a two-hour meeting with collaborators. We're planning on what we're going to do. We're signing up to do this work without any payment. In fact, like maybe the [opposite]. But what is more beautiful in life than that feeling of solidarity? That feeling that you know you are together trying to do something challenging with people that you, in some way, love. 




ANGELA DUCKWORTH: And so, I feel like if there is a message for our time, as people are retreating to their bedrooms, and watching Netflix, and not going to even a movie theatre, just take an audit of your time and say, "How much time am I really spending with people that I trust and admire, working toward a common purpose? I think you will find, as many members of Alcoholics Anonymous find, that there is a kind of sucker. There is a kind of satisfaction. We are social animals, as I said. I feel that there is a danger that technologies could be, sometimes, used -- it's our choice. I think that we can use them to bring us together, we can use them to isolate, and I hope we choose to bring us together. Because solidarity is one of the most important sources of satisfaction in life. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: What a wonderful closing, Angela. I couldn't dream of a better one. Thank you so much for this wonderful journey. What you do and really, really waiting for your book to come up. 


ANGELA DUCKWORTH: We'll have another conversation when it does, I hope, Jean-Philippe.




ANGELA DUCKWORTH: To be continued. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: That was such an enjoyable and fascinating conversation. As Angela says, we are all social animals, and working together in solidarity with others is something that's always brought me a deep level of joy. It is important that we set ourselves the right goals. Goals that align with own personal values. Because when there's misalignment or conflict, it can become a source of deep frustration. It's worth auditing or goals on a regular basis, so that we know that we are on the right path. 


You've been listening to the Positive Leadership podcast with me, Jean-Philippe Courtois. If you'd like more great tips to help you grow as an individual leader, and ultimately, as a global citizen, head over to my LinkedIn page to subscribe to my newsletter, "Positive Leadership and You." And if you've enjoyed this episode, then please do leave a comment or write in, and share it with many of your friends. Goodbye.