Grit is the ability and mental toughness to stick with a task even if circumstances are not favorable. The road to accomplishment is filled with uncertainty and setbacks, and those who make it are the ones who develop grit. Studies show that grit is the essential ingredient for success. We all have the capacity for grit, and by adopting the right mindset and practices, we can develop it and maximize our efforts towards achieving our wildest dreams. (Estimated reading time: 7-8 minutes)
“Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.”— Angela Duckworth
When we look at masters in any field, many of us think that their proficiency results from talent, luck, or a combination of both.
Whether it’s pro-star athletes, accomplished entrepreneurs, or artists, we put them on pedestals and overlook the events and efforts that went into their becoming.
The road to accomplishment is a perilous one, fraught with uncertainty and disappointment. It takes a special kind of person to hang on long enough to make it to their destination.
The word used to describe this kind of determination is grit. While talent and favorable circumstances are important factors for success, it takes grit to take you the extra mile. Grit is, unquestionably, the essential ingredient in the secret sauce of success.
Grit is a mental toughness that makes you push through those last grueling sets when lifting heavyweights. It’s the nagging conviction that keeps you pressing on after receiving multiple rejection letters from companies you apply to. It’s the compassion in your heart that makes you care for your child no matter how many tantrums they throw.
Grit does not look pretty—but those willing to look past the surface and embrace all that comes with the journey will always see rewards in the end.
Deconstructing grit: what it takes to be “gritty” and win
We all want to be better than we were yesterday. But growth comes at a cost. We must step outside our comfort zones even if we don’t feel like it. We must be willing to put ourselves out there and keep trying again and again until we reach our goals.
This is the phase when most people lose motivation and quit—those who don’t are said to possess grit. According to psychologist Angela Duckworth and author of “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” grit separates the successful from those who fail.
Duckworth defines grit as “passion and sustained persistence applied toward long-term achievement, with no particular concern for rewards or recognition along the way.”
Until recently, people believed talent was inherited and out of our hands. Those who reached great feats, supposedly, won the genetic lottery. Serena Williams has the tennis gene, Einstein had the physics gene, and Michael Jackson had the singing and dancing gene. If you weren’t born with blessed genes—you’re destined for mediocrity.
After many years of research on the science of success, psychologists proved that the theory of our biology dictating our abilities and limiting our possibilities was false. They discovered that deliberate practice and a gritty conviction lead to peak performance, not genetics.
In the article “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance,” psychologist K. Anders Ericsson put forth that expert performers show a life-long period of focused effort to improve performance.
According to Ericsson, they put in their 10,000 hours of practice, the magic number for greatness, to get to where they are. Grit is the intrinsic fuel that sustains you during those 10,000 hours.
To see what this looks like, let’s look at someone who epitomized that quality, the late NBA basketball star Kobe Bryant.
The 6-foot-6-inch guard didn’t begin as a champion on the basketball court. He became a fearless competitor because he had a rigorous training schedule and mental toughness that are rare to come by.
When training for the Olympics, he prepared by:
- Waking up at 4.15 am every day to do weight training, conditioning, and to make 800 shots.
- Clocking in seven hours of practice before anyone else from his team showed up.
- Always practicing with the best players who could challenge him and help take his abilities to the next level.
The “black mamba” remained devoted to his regime and vision, even as he dealt with several issues in his personal life. He stayed strong in the game because grit became his natural way of being.
Grit barriers: the impact of technology, grandiosity, and privilege on performance
While technology has made life a lot easier for us (when we use it responsibly), it impacts our motivation to go above and beyond to reach our goals. In other words, it can make us less gritty.
The addictive nature of social media distracts us from what we need to focus on, causing our productivity to decline and depleting the mental reserves we need to apply grit and will.
Social media can also give us an exaggerated sense of self-importance. Getting 1000’s of likes and engagement can mislead us into believing that we have made it. Becoming the center of attention in the online world can give us a false sense of success and diminish our drive.
In an article, Tim Urban writes that some millennials have developed a sense of entitlement based on an unfounded sense of superiority because of social conditioning. This has led them to believe that they are special and destined for something great. This deservingness can make them fall short in putting in the needed work to match their expectations.
To reach mastery, we need mental toughness to challenge ourselves based on a realistic appraisal of our strengths and weaknesses. Confidence is essential, but smugness isn’t.
Grit also doesn’t consider the starting points from which people begin their quests for success. People from marginalized and low-income backgrounds, who face barriers to entering mainstream institutions, have a harder time making it no matter how much grit they show.
Some people must put in much more work because they have to overcome institutional barriers to access good education and workplaces to make a decent living. Grit is a privilege based on the assumption that no other challenges exist besides sticking to a routine and overcoming failures from one’s attempts.
However, there are many stories of people who had difficult upbringings or had to overcome hardships and setbacks in their lives and still made it. The lives of Chris Gardner, Nelson Mandela, and Viktor Frankl, among many others, demonstrate that it’s possible to rise above circumstances when we have courage and the right mindset.
Becoming a grit powerhouse: How to develop the six types of grit
Grit has many faces. After studying and interviewing the world’s top artists, writers, athletes, and entrepreneurs, peak performance expert Steven Kotler found that grit can be broken down into six types. Each type is mastered and trained on its own.
Below are the six types of grit and some actions you can take to develop them:
1. The grit to persevere
This is the type that we commonly associate with grit. The grit to persevere refers to the capacity to stick with a task for long periods, no matter what conditions you face. Kotler says that the grit to persevere is composed of three psychological traits:
- Willpower: This is all about self-control and staying focused, managing impulses, and delaying gratification. We can develop willpower by challenging ourselves to do the hard things (that will take us further in life), add structure to minimize decision-making, and tackle our most difficult tasks at the start of our days.
- Mindset: Grit requires a mindset of growth to believe that our actions will bring us the results we want. You can create the right mental framework by developing a growth mindset and eliminating the thoughts that limit your possibilities for growth.
- Passion: Being passionate about something gives you the intrinsic motivation to hang on when the going gets tough. When picking goals, always choose the ones that excite you. For instance, if you want to lose weight, find an activity you love doing, like dancing or jumping rope, and you’re more likely to stick with it.
2. The grit to control your thoughts
Managing our thoughts requires a different type of grit. The grit to control thoughts refers to having the awareness to recognize and discipline our negative feelings. To break the cycle of negativity and shift our thoughts, we can use techniques like cognitive reframing and cultivating practices like meditation, mindfulness, and a gratitude journal.
3. The grit to master fear
Kotler writes that if we’re interested in doing the impossible, fear will be a natural companion. That’s why, to accomplish great things and unlock your fullest potential, you must develop the grit to master fear. To harness the positive effects of fear, be willing to take calculated risks regularly to build your tolerance and get comfortable with how fear manifests in your body.
4. The grit to be your best when you’re at your worst
Conditions aren’t always ideal when we’re trying to make progress in our lives. We prefer to skip the gym on the days that we don’t get enough sleep. Work seems like the last thing on our minds when we’re recovering from heartbreak. Growing this type of grit is about building stamina to push hard and operate at a high level even we’re at our worst (without harming our health, of course).
5. The grit to train your weaknesses
In general, we’re advised to highlight our strengths and downplay our weaknesses. But your weakness should be addressed if you’re looking to master something. You’re only as strong as your weakest links, so acknowledge and work on them. This isn’t easy to do as we don’t like to be reminded of where we fall short; that’s why grit is needed to apply ourselves.
6. The grit to recover
To make peak performance sustainable, Kotler says that recovery is essential. This might seem easy to do, but it can be tempting to keep going and not notice that you’re running out of steam if you’re a workaholic. If you’re an avid weightlifter, you might cut short your break after an injury. To avoid burnout, schedule active recovery and rest during which you can replenish your reserves.
Having grit is not about being an Energizer Bunny that just keeps going and going. We aren’t machines, but human beings with mental, emotional, and physical needs that should be honored. When we balance the masculine properties of grit with the feminine powers of self-compassion, we maximize our efforts towards achieving our wildest dreams.
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: Where in your life do you currently most need to apply grit? Which of the six types of grit do you need to develop?
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