Researchers have long been interested in exploring why some people are more successful than others. IQ, education, and personality have all been considered as possible correlates of achievement. Two other factors, talent and effort, have also been widely studied as potential influencers of success.
In a series of studies, University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Angela Duckworth set out to determine specific predictors of achievement. She found a common characteristic that exists among high achievers, a term she refers to as grit. Based on her research, Duckworth concluded grit is an important driver of achievement, independent of and beyond what talent and intelligence contribute.
The concept of grit gained mainstream momentum after Duckworth’s 2013 Ted Talk and the release of her best-selling book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Duckworth defines grit as passion and perseverance for achieving long-term, meaningful goals.
For some people, the idea that sustained effort matters more for achievement than innate talent goes against what they have always believed. Duckworth claims being naturally smart and talented are great attributes; however, to truly do well and thrive, you must have grit. Gritty people—as Duckworth calls them—are people who have an ability to persevere despite challenges. In her book, she contends, “Without grit, talent may be nothing more than unmet potential. It is only with effort that talent becomes a skill that leads to success” (p. 51).
You may be left wondering which traits make a person gritty and whether grit is something that can be taught. Researchers have found grit can be cultivated through deliberate practice and character-building exercises. The following six steps can help you cultivate your own grit:
1. Find Your Greater Purpose
First and foremost, find a purpose in life. Studies have shown people with a clear purpose are happier and more committed to achieving their goals.
Purpose is a key driver of motivation, providing you with the necessary energy to continue working toward your goals. Without it, maintaining momentum can become difficult, especially during periods of perceived failure. Having an understanding of your goals and the reason behind pursuing them can create a clear sense of purpose, which then gives you the necessary fuel to maintain grit.
Simon Sinek discusses this very concept in his popular book, Start With Why. Sinek describes our ‘why’ as the underlying purpose, cause, or belief that drives us. Our ‘why’ is what sets us apart from others and inspires us to take action. It not only gives us the confidence we need to meet our goals, but also injects passion into our pursuit.
Action Item: Purpose can seem like a hard-to-define goal. Start by identifying your values. Next, try to align your goals with your values. Create smaller goals that will keep you on your path toward achieving your larger purpose.
2. Be Passionate About Your Goals
Purpose can serve as an ideal catalyst in driving passion. Passion is about having the drive, ambition, and a genuine love for what you do and/or the people you serve. Successful people almost always have an underlying passion that propels them forward—a drive that keeps them laser-focused on their goals.
Passion can also be contagious. When you’re passionate, you can make those around you feel excited. If you are passionate about your goals, then others around you will likely share in your enthusiasm and be willing to help you to achieve your goals.
Action Item: Stop and ask yourself: What gives you passion? What makes you excited about the activities you are doing?
3. Practice, Practice, Practice
Once you have identified your purpose and passion, you will need to engage in deliberate and consistent practice. It typically takes effort to become good at something and even more effort to become truly competent. Gritty people often look for ways to engage in activities that will help them improve their craft.
Gritty people do not put their fate in other people’s hands. They put in the hard work and learn to get a little better each day. Having grit means following through on what you start. It’s about committing to a goal and working hard to complete it no matter what. Gritty people rarely become distracted by other goals. In fact, they often work longer and harder to achieve the goals they have set.
Building grit can take a lot of hard work. You may need to stick with tasks even when they are boring or during times when you feel you are not making any headway. Many people give up when they perceive impending rejection. After all, it is often easier to quit than to fail.
Gritty people do not put their fate in other people’s hands. They put in the hard work and learn to get a little better each day. This type of practice involves more than simply putting in the hours. It is a deliberate and arduous process that requires pushing yourself to perform outside of your current abilities.
Action Item: Set “stretch goals” in specific areas where you would like to make gains. Aggressive goal-setting is meant to stretch us in new ways, increasing our chances of being successful. Seek meaningful feedback from coaches or mentors on specific areas of improvement and then set goals that directly target those areas.
4. Have the Courage to Try
We live in an extremely competitive world that is riddled with opportunities for rejection. In fact, over 50% of new businesses will fail after only 5 years. Knowing these odds, it can be easy to let fear take hold and give up before you even start. During these times, courage might be the secret ingredient you need to continue pushing forward. Courage is an essential component of grit.
Gritty people have the ability to successfully manage fears of failure. In fact, they have learned to embrace setbacks and use them as motivation to keep moving forward. They do this by reframing “failures” as “opportunities for growth.” They understand there are valuable lessons in defeat and that the vulnerability of perseverance is part of the road toward achievement.
Action Items: Identify situations that trigger your fears. Reframe your beliefs surrounding those situations to feel more in control. Avoid comparing yourself to others.
5. Learn to Persevere
When pursuing long-term goals, it is inevitable that you will experience challenges, struggles, and setbacks. Life is full of roadblocks and hardships. When faced with potential failure, we are given a choice—do we throw in the proverbial towel and give up, or do we keep on going?
Gritty people typically choose the latter. They keep going no matter what. Instead of thinking the world owes them something or looking to the universe to fix things, gritty people know they are the only ones who can change their situations. They use strength and determination to keep going.
Action Item: Identify goals that are worthy of perseverance. Keep those goals visible at all times. Maintain an optimistic outlook and use emotion to drive behavior.
6. Build Resiliency
Research underscores the importance of bouncing back from adversity and persevering through challenges. Resilience is an inherent attribute of grit. It describes the ability to withstand stress and negative emotional experiences. Resilience is what allows you to get back up when you’ve been knocked down and move forward after experiencing failure or rejection. Resilience combines optimism with creativity and confidence.
Resilient people are determined to succeed even when the odds are against them. They are confident in their abilities and are willing to put forth the effort to overcome obstacles that are in the way of them achieving their goals. In a world of rejections, resiliency gives you the needed edge to resist the pressures associated with intense competition.
Action Item: Look for opportunities for self-discovery. Learn to keep things in perspective. Develop reasonable goals and take decisive action.
If you are struggling at any step of this process, a trained therapist can help you spot and overcome roadblocks. Like most valuable skills, grit takes practice. You will likely need both patience and endurance to build up your grit. Yet once you have achieved your goal, you will likely find that your journey has been worth the effort.
- Business Employment Dynamics. (2016, April 28). Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/bdm/entrepreneurship/bdm_chart3.htm
- Duckworth, A. (2016).Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. New York, NY: Scribner
- Robak, R. W., & Griffin, P. W. (2000). Purpose in life: What is its relationship to happiness, depression, and grieving? North American Journal of Psychology, 2(1), 113-119
- Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. New York, NY: Penguin Group
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