Three Ways to Cultivate True Grit

Grit, determination, destination, deliberation, success, Harry Potter, Angela Lee Duckworth, motivation

Have any of you measured yourself on the Grit Scale? It’s a test to help determine just how gritty you are because, according to research conducted by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth (who also developed the Grit Scale), the number one characteristic that most accurately predicts how successful you are in life is the characteristic of grit. Not intelligence or talent or personality or charisma or good looks or optimism. Just plain grit.

But just what is grit?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, grit is defined as ‘courage and resolve; strength of character.’ In her 2013 Ted Talk, Duckworth expands further on just what grit is: 

Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

But what if you don’t possess a lot of grit?

I measured my grit on the Grit Scale a few years back and was disappointed to find out that, well, I’m not really a gritty sort of person. It was rather disheartening. Does that mean I’m doomed to fail in life? Does that mean I might as well give up right now since I’m never destined to be truly successful in life?

However, I refused to let those results dictate my life. I decided instead to dig in my heels (like a true gritty person) and try and make a change, to instead do my utmost best to cultivate grit (and hopefully, in consequence, cultivate success!). I thought about the things that made up grit – resilience, perseverance, a refusal to give up and the ability to commit long-term to your goal – and decided to do my best to implement these traits in myself.

Things weren’t just smooth sailing after that. It takes a lot to cultivate grit. It’s not easy. If it was, everyone would be as successful as Bill Gates! However, despite a few false starts and the occasional fall off the wagon – or should I say onto the sofa –  I’m a lot further along the path to gritty success than I used to be and I’ve learned a lot more about resilience and sticking to my goals in spite of all the obstacles in the way – stuff like boredom, pessimism, failures, discouragement and the overall temptation to just throw in the towel and sink into the cozy comfort of mediocrity. Mediocrity is sooo comfortable. That’s what makes it so dangerous.

Note: as of right now, I just took this quick online survey to determine where I sit along the gritty scale once more. Currently, I’ve got a grit score of 3.63%, which means I’m grittier than at least 60% of the US population. Not too shabby! But on the other hand, not good enough yet. I want more grit!

So the other day, as I was musing about doing a post on grit, I found myself wondering if I could summarise a few key steps to follow for the cultivation of grittiness. And for some reason, I kept going back to this: determination, destination, deliberation.

Yup. You read that right. The Harry Potter guide to Disapparating and Apparating! Remember when Minister of Magic Appariton instructor Wilkie Twycross came to Hogwarts to teach the students how to Apparate/Disapparate? And how he used to frequently remind everyone of the three steps to apparation – determination, destination, deliberation! – to the point where almost every student loathed him and came up with other less flattering names beginning with D for him?

Well, it just occurred to me that the three keys to cultivating grit would be very much the same as learning to apparate. How so? Read on!

Destination

To get somewhere, you have to figure out where you’re going. So get yourself some set goals. Many fitness trainers and coaches find their clients work harder when they have something they’re working towards – say, a 10km run, a half marathon or losing the last 5 kilos. it’s also a great way to figure out just what it is you want out of life.

In an interview with ASCD, an online community devoted to teaching and learning, Duckworth recalled how she got started as one of the foremost experts on education research. She recalled constantly changing jobs while in her 20s before realising, despite the successes of her many jobs, that “…just shifting, shifting, shifting every two or three years was not going to add up to what I wanted. I thought, ‘I’m very ambitious. I want to be world-class at something. And this is not a recipe for it.'”

So instead she went about rediscovering just what her passions were. She did some soul searching and realised she naturally gravitated towards education, children and psychology. She also thought about her strengths and realised she had a talent for research. These traits eventually combined to lead her on her career as a psychologist specialising in academic and professional success.

Perhaps you’re not quite sure what your goals are. Perhaps you haven’t figured out exactly what it is you want to achieve. But that’s okay. First, do as Duckworth does and take inventory of your passions, your strengths and your weaknesses (including what it is you would like to improve about yourself and your life). Second, start by setting yourself some small goals. Perhaps you’ve always liked languages and travelling, but you’re not sure what you want to do with it. You could start by taking a course in French with a goal toward achieving complete fluency in the language. You could also set yourself a goal of saving up enough to travel to another country where you would teach English as a second language while assimilating that country’s first language at the same time. Slowly, as you take stock of your passions and set yourself goals in exploring these passions, you’d discover just what it is you really want to do with your life or perhaps find that bigger goal you’re looking for.

Determination

Work on staying determined. It’s always easy to come up against obstacles and find yourself thinking thoughts like, “I’ve got a million social commitments this week and I just don’t feel sticking to my 10km training schedule!” or “I’m really tired. Would it really be so bad if I didn’t conjugate those verbs and skipped this week’s French class?” Well, to be honest, it really wouldn’t be so bad. But it would definitely stall you along your path towards being gritty and achieving your goals. And once you’ve skipped one class/practice/workout/study session, it would make it that much easier to skip another. And another. Till the point where you find yourself thinking, “I’ve missed so many sessions now. Maybe I should just stop right now and I’ll restart this again next year when I’ve got more time.” Come next year, you might find yourself just as busy with just as many obstacles and negative thoughts in your way. Or you might find yourself starting fresh again. But do you really want to be doing that when, just as easily, come next year, you could find yourself living in Paris or running a second marathon while thinking, “I’m so glad I’ve put in all the hard work and managed to do this for myself!!!”?

fear, time, accomplishments, grit, resilience, perseverance, Earl Nightingale, motivation

It’s always easy to give up and that’s where you need to cultivate resilience and perseverance (in other words: grit) to keep from allowing these roadblocks to stymied you. This is where the significance of habits come in – you could choose either to cultivate good habits (like waking up early, eating well, doing one or two chores every day, studying for an hour every day, doing some form of exercise for 30 minutes every day, etc) or you could choose to cultivate bad habits. Once you’ve settled into a rhythm, it’s much easier to keep going.

Sometimes, you will fall off the wagon. That’s just a part of life. But the important thing is to stay resilient by a) not beating yourself up for slipping and b) getting right back on the horse as soon as you can so you wouldn’t break the flow of your journey by too much. (I know, wagon – horse – I’m totally mixing my metaphors right now).

Also, whenever you feel discouraged, tired, lazy or ready to give up, remind yourself of the reasons why you choose to begin this journey in the first place (which is another reason why you should have set goals). Be kind to yourself. Tell yourself, “I know I’m really tired and cranky and not in the mood and would much rather just crash on the sofa and watch back-to-back episodes of Orange is the New Black. But I’m just going to crack open that book/practice that new music instrument/work on that new computer program/work on that blog post/start running for just 10 minutes. Just 10 minutes. If I’m still feeling shitty, I can stop.” Usually, though, you’d find you’ve gotten into the flow and are able to continue. If not, you can still stop and pat yourself on the back for at least giving yourself those 10 minutes. As Woody Allen said, “80 per cent of life is showing up.” So persevere and show up. You’ll eventually get there.

Deliberation

Author Pearl S. Buck once wrote: “The secret of joy in work is contained in one word – excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.”

Now that you’ve showed up at the party, you might as well be at the party. In other words, work the room, have a few drinks, engage in some lively chatter, dance like you mean it and charm everyone, even if you were initially planning just to stick it out for an hour against the wall, making one drink last for as long as you can and wishing fervently you could just be at home.

This might be another reason why it’s important to set goals that involve work you feel passionate about. If you’re not passionate about your work, you’re not going to enjoy working hard and sometimes doing things you don’t want to do (like getting up early for practice or missing out on dinner with friends because you’re working late or going to a class). In other words, it’s 100 times much harder to stay focused with your eyes on the prize when you don’t really find that prize attractive anyway.

Now that you’ve chosen your goals and you’re showing up every day, you must choose to work with deliberation and focus. According to Duckworth, conscientiousness is closely related with grit. In other words, it’s okay to show up for 10 minutes every once in a while when you’re feeling a little tired and burnt out. But you’re not going to get better at your chosen goal unless you engage in what psychologist K. Anders Ericsson terms ‘deliberate practice.’

When I first started learning to swim, I took it really easy. I would show up to class but I spent most of my time just standing in the pool, chatting with classmates and my instructor and postponing actually swimming for as much as I could. Then I would go home. Needless to say, my swimming didn’t improve. Not until I started taking things seriously, swimming as much as I could, listening to my instructor’s tips, practising drills, and working on improvement each and every move as much as I could.

So work at being the best you can be at your chosen goal. Strive to be the best; aim for the highest and seek to improve; keeping pushing that envelope and raising your limits. Do this by ensuring your work is as meticulous as it can be. Know that perfection is impossible, but keep striving for it anyway. Be ambitious.

“When I look at people whom I really respect and admire,” Duckworth said, “like psychology professor Walter Mischel or economist Jim Heckman, these people are extremely talented. For every hour that they put into research, they’re getting a lot out of it. Still, they work 17 hours a day. Jim Heckman won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2000, and if he were working to get to a cut point, he should now be coasting. But he’s not. I think he wants to win another Nobel!”

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