Can We Increase our IQ at 50? The Power of Grit

By Grace Ueng, Savvy Growth


A few years ago, the head of my son’s high school mentioned at a parent breakfast the importance of “grit” and Professor Angela Duckworth’s TED talk. While he was referring to grit as being critical for our children, I tucked this tidbit into the recesses of my brain for myself, too.

Last year, anticipating becoming an empty nester, I plunged into the study of positive psychology for  fear of falling into despondency. While I started this hard work for personal reasons, I soon discovered I could  incorporate this very practical and helpful knowledge into my coaching practice.

Angela Duckworth and her research headlined my world for many weeks. I listened to her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance  over and over during my runs. I could so relate to her:  Chinese-American, schooled at Harvard. When she mentioned reading her manuscript, slowly chapter by chapter, to her father who had Parkinson’s, I thought, “wow, another thing we have in common.”

Her book validated my long held theory that any success I’ve achieved has not been through natural talent, rather through very hard work. I scored an IQ in grade school just high enough to gain entrance into the gifted program where I got to dissect rats – side by side those truly at the genius level – like Calvin Kuo now leading his own cancer lab at Stanford.

At MIT, surrounded by students way, way more brilliant and then by outrageously competitive and ambitious peers at Harvard Business School, I was driven to work harder. To persevere with passion.

As I advance in decades, I find myself still striving to find ways to continue to challenge myself. I was encouraged to learn in Grit that contrary to popular belief, IQ scores are not entirely fixed over a person’s lifespan. You can increase your grit and therefore, your IQ. I still have hope!


How to Calculate and Understand your Grit Score:

What is your Grit score? 2 Components of Grit: (1) Passion (2) Perseverance

I scored 3.92.  5 = extremely gritty and 1 = not at all gritty.

My Passion Component: 4.2

My Perseverance Component: 5.2    Perseverance component is usually higher.

You can grow your grit. I have room to improve. Cultivate interests.  Develop daily habit of doing things that  challenge your existing skills. Connect your work to a purpose bigger than yourself.  Learn to hope when all seems lost.

For all of us who don’t fall into the genius bucket, according to Duckworth’s research, genius can be acquired!


At my 50th birthday party, I asked friends not to bring gifts, but to tell a memory that we’ve shared. My friend, giving the final toast, expressed that my expansive passion – for whatever I undertake in life – as what he remembers most. Duckworth said that if she ever has the opportunity to give a commencement address, the first thing she would encourage young people is to develop a passion. Another area I share in common with Angela! My wish, in the coming decades, is to help inspire everyone I touch to have a Passion, yup a capital P, and to experience it furiously and fully.


What about Perseverance?

In recent years, I have come to admire my son’s grit. I call it #nickgrit. Given he has not eaten red meat since turning 16, I encouraged him his senior year in high school to see the documentary PlantPure Nation based on Colin Campbell’s China Study. He sat completely focused and mesmerized throughout the 95 minutes. Not easy for my then 18 year old who has “battled” ADHD for years. I now realize this “difference” is a treasure – look at Michael Phelps and Elon Musk.

And as one highly successful entrepreneur recently told me, I have a bit too as does he. People gifted with ADHD are natural entrepreneurs. And one of my coaching clients who runs more companies than I can count up to also holds this positive difference. What makes him special.

After viewing the documentary, my son immediately became a vegetarian. Months later, he converted to being a pure vegan which he has steadfastly remained through his freshman year at UNC Chapel Hill. He wakes up every day to run 6-8 miles up the hill of Chapel Hill. He has grit. He works twice as hard. His effort counts twice. He inspires my running and eating. I look forward to seeing all the fun and challenges this next year at Carolina holds. #nickgrit


Points that jumped out at me while on my runs listening to Grit…

Talent x Effort = Skill

Talent is how quickly your skills improve when you invest effort. Talent you have naturally. Skills are only achieved through beating on your craft for hours and hours. For a talented potter, the first 10,000 pots are difficult.

Skill x Effort = Achievement.

Achievement is what happens when you take your acquired skills and use them. Without effort, your talent is nothing more than your unmet potential. A coach can make all the difference. Michael Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, is a prime example. And the coach may be more important than anything about the individual.

Luck is just as important as talent. Almost every entrepreneur who exited successfully attributes luck to their outcome. This is not said just out of modesty. While usually self deprecating and their own harshest critics, successful entrepreneurs are confident, and satisfied always being unsatisfied.

High achievers have not just determination, but direction.

Winners love to go head to head with competition and hate losing.

Always compete. Compete in everything you do. You’re a Seahawk in everything you do.”

— Head Coach of Seattle Seahawks, Peter Caroll

Darwin’s research concluded that zeal and hard work are ultimately more important than intellectual ability. He realized that he was above average in noticing things that easily escaped the attention of others and then observed them carefully. His love of natural science was steady and ardent.

Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is not.

In all things in life, 9 out of 10 things do not work.

Most people stink at the things they love… And stink even more at the things they don’t love.

It takes hard work to get good. A friend who was a leader at a Savvy client, “retired” before turning 50 and has since been spending a lot of his days playing golf. When I asked him if it takes 20 years to become an overnight success at golf, he immediately said “Yes!”

Social Multiplier Effect: playing basketball with people just a bit more skilled makes you better.

I definitely observe that I get better by being around people better than me. It’s common sense.

To be interesting is to be different and to be surprising. Latin root word: Interesato differ.

I recommend the book, Growth Mindset, by Carol Dweck which leaders at companies such as Microsoft espouse to help in achieving Grit.


About the Author: Speaker, Writer, Consultant, Coach

The biggest mountain I’m climbing now is writing my book, Project Peak. I’m combining stories of interesting entrepreneurs I meet, my cycling accident story where I went downhill at age 40, and the key tenets of positive psychology research to inspire readers to climb their own mountains. We all have our own mountains, and this is what drives us.

I founded Savvy Marketing Group in 2003 and rebranded to Savvy Growth in recent years to reflect our management consulting & executive and team coaching services, in addition to our long standing marketing services.


Click here for information on leadership coaching.

Click here for information on motivational speaking/workshops.

Click here for information on marketing consulting.

Speaking Highlights:

Commencement: Climbing Mountains of Life: Business and Beyond

Keynote: Happiness Post-Harvard: Project PeakAudience Reaction

TED Talk: Climbing Mountain Entrepreneurship – 10 Steps to Top

Women in Technology: Channeling Fear, Embracing Failure

We also speak and give workshops on Project Peak – inspiring team members to climb their mountains.

Savvy’s passion is working closely with our clients as long term partners to help you reach your goals. Nothing makes us happier than having you come back to say thank you, that we made a significant impact on you individually as well as your business!

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