The Secret to Focus in Work and Life

Published November 15, 2018


One thing that makes me especially interested in human goals is that they exist in a hierarchy. Picture a pyramid in your head of goals. From the very bottom-level, low-level goals I would call them, there are very specific, concrete things on your to-do-list.

To be gritty is not to hold steadfast to your to-do-list goals. To call this person back or write that email. To be gritty is to have a well-organized and aligned pyramid of goals, where the low-level goals serve mid-level goals, and the mid-level goals serve higher-level goals.

Ultimately you have what some scientists like to call an ultimate concern. That goal is the one that you are tenacious about; that you are stubborn about; that you wake up in the morning and go to bed at night aligned to, even if you have to switch out one of the low-level goal, because it is just not working.

Returning again and again to this question, “What is my top-level goal? What am I all about?” is a tremendously powerful exercise.

You should ask yourself to keep coming back until you get to a phrase (I would recommend 10 words or fewer) that says, “This is who I am.” Every small decision adds up to furthering this goal, which is your ultimate concern.

When I remember what my top-level goal is, it helps me make decisions all the way down the tree. My top-level goal is to help children thrive using psychological science.

I run every small decision that I need to make, today or tomorrow, through that test. Does this further that top-level goal?

If so, I completely have my priorities in order.

About the Author
Angela Duckworth

Angela Duckworth

Professor; Best-selling Author

University of Pennsylvania

Angela Duckworth is a professor of psychology at University of Pennsylvania and founder of Character Lab, a nonprofit whose mission is to advance the practice of character development. An advisor to the White House, the World Bank and Fortune 500 CEOs, Duckworth studies grit and self-control, two attributes critical to success and well-being. Her first book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, debuted in 2016 as a New York Times bestseller.

Years at GLS 2017