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The Complete Guide to Developing Your Grit

A realistic method for achieving your goals

Patrik Edblad
Apr 14, 2017 · 9 min read
Photo: Tyson Dudley, Unsplash

Do you know the feeling?

You’re all fired up about a big goal you want to accomplish.

And for a couple of days, or maybe even weeks, your inspiration keeps you going.

But after a while, your initial motivation wears off.

It becomes increasingly difficult to show up and do the work.

You start procrastinating, and before you know it, you’re back where you started.

If you’re familiar with that pattern, you’re likely feeling a bit discouraged.

But sticking with your goals doesn’t have to be such a struggle.

Developing your grit can make it quite easy. Even a lot of fun.

What Is Grit?

Grit is one of the hottest concepts in psychology right now. Researchers are studying how athletes can develop more mental toughness, how teachers can foster grit in their students, and how people like you and me can build grit into their daily lives.

Photo: Crystian Cruz

So, what is grit anyway? In short, it’s “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” Passion gives a person energy and zeal for an activity, but perseverance is the quality that keeps them going despite adversity and plateaus in progress.

Angela Duckworth is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and a pioneering grit researcher. She has found, in study after study, that “where talents count once, effort counts twice.”

To explain that finding, Duckworth uses this formula:

TALENT x EFFORT = SKILL

SKILL x EFFORT = ACHIEVEMENT

When you apply effort to talent, you develop skill. And when you apply effort to that skill, you get achievement.

Without effort, your talents are just untapped potential for skills. And without effort, your skills are untapped potential for actual accomplishments.

Grit Is Crucial for Success

Duckworth has studied grit in a variety of different areas. Her research has shown that:

  • Participants in the National Spelling Bee outperform their peers not because of IQ, but because of their grit and commitment to consistent practice.
  • Ivy League undergraduate students who had more grit also had higher GPAs than their peers — even though they had lower SAT scores.
  • Soldiers with high grit were more likely to than their peers to complete demanding military training.
  • When comparing two people who are the same age, it’s not intelligence but grit that more accurately predicts who will be better educated.
  • Adults who are gritty are likelier to succeed at work and stay in their marriages.

What all that tells us is that no matter what long-term goal you’re trying to achieve, you need grit to get there. And the good news is that you can grow your grit.

Developing certain factors that indirectly influence your grit can dramatically increase your chances of accomplishing your goals.

Let’s have a look at Duckworth’s recommendations for doing just that.

1. Pursue Your Interests

As you may have noticed, it’s hard to stick to goals that don’t fascinate you. So, the first step to developing your grit is to find something interesting to spend your time on.

One way to do that is to ask yourself questions like:

  • What did I spend time doing as a kid?
  • What activities absorbs me so much that I forget to eat and sleep?
  • If money wasn’t an issue, what would I spend my time doing?

You can also get a lot of insights from exercises like these:

  • Take a personality test, like the Myers-Briggs or Big Five.
  • Take a character strengths test, like the VIA Survey.
  • Email the people closest to you and ask what they think you should specialize in and why.

But don’t rely too much on introspection. According to Duckworth, nothing beats real-life experience. You need to get out there and try different stuff to find what’s perfect for you.

2. Practice, Practice, Practice

Hard work develops skill, and we’re more likely to stick with things we’re good at. Once you’ve found a deep interest, you need to get consistently better at it. Specifically, you need to engage in what scientists call deliberate practice.

Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology and a pioneering researcher in the psychological nature of expertise and human performance, describes deliberate practice as “a highly structured activity, the explicit goal of which is to improve performance.”

To practice deliberately, you need to avoid wasting time on mindless or enjoyable activities. Instead, you should be actively looking for weaknesses and finding ways to improve them.

If that sounds tedious, that’s because it is. According to Ericsson, deliberate practice should be effortful. If you’re enjoying it, you’re doing it wrong. The people who engage in it don’t do it because it’s fun. They do it because it makes them experts in their fields.

How do you muster up the grit to do that hard work before you’re truly gritty? You turn it into a game! Research has shown that tracking your results and celebrating small wins are great ways to boost motivation.

Find a way to measure your results, try to make incremental improvements every day, and celebrate each step in the right direction. If possible, get a coach to help find your weaknesses, speed up your learning curve, and hold you accountable.

3. Connect to a Higher Purpose

After studying 16,000 people, Angela Duckworth found that grittier people are dramatically more motivated than others to seek a meaningful, other-centered life.”

It’s not enough to find something interesting and work hard to become great at it. You also need to connect it to a higher purpose. You need to remind yourself how what you do serves the greater good.

Gritty people don’t have a job — they have a calling in life. Duckworth explains it with this story:

Three bricklayers are asked, “What are you doing?” The first says, “I am laying bricks.” The second says, “I am building a church.” The third says, “I am building the house of God.” The first bricklayer has a job. The second has a career. The third has a calling.

But what if you want to be gritty at your job but don’t find any obvious meaning in it? In that case, Duckworth suggests thinking about how what you do helps others:

David Yeager recommends reflecting on how the work you’re already doing can make a positive contribution to society…reflecting on purpose led students to double the amount of time they spent studying for an upcoming exam, work harder on tedious math problems when given the option to watch entertaining videos instead, and, in math and science classes, bring home better report card grades. Amy Wrzesniewski recommends thinking about how, in small but meaningful ways, you can change your current work to enhance its connection to your core values.

Get crystal clear on your “why.” What’s your purpose? Why do you do what you do? How does it benefit the people around you?

If you struggle to remember your “why” every day, create a personal mission statement and put it on a prominent wall in your house or office. Then take a couple of seconds every day to read it.

4. Cultivate Hope

According to Duckworth, gritty people are hopeful. But they don’t sit around wishing for good things to happen. Instead, they have an active kind of hope. They believe things will get better because they are going to make them better:

One kind of hope is the expectation that tomorrow will be better than today. It’s the kind of hope that has us yearning for sunnier weather, or a smoother path ahead. It comes without the burden of responsibility. The onus is on the universe to make things better. Grit depends on a different kind of hope. It rests on the expectation that our own efforts can improve our future. “I have a feeling tomorrow will be better” is different from “I resolve to make tomorrow better.” The hope that gritty people have has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with getting up again.

Without hope, you’ll be much more likely to avoid challenges, act helpless, and quit before you achieve your goal.

To cultivate hope, you need to develop a growth mindset—the attitude that your basic qualities, like intelligence and talent, can be developed through dedication and hard work. Research has shown that people with this mindset stay motivated to stick it out when things are difficult.

Look, your brain consists of about 100 billion neurons that in turn have up to 50,000 connections to other cells. The number of possible connections between these neurons exceeds the number of atoms in the entire universe. And these neural pathways are constantly changing and adapting to what you’re experiencing and learning.

There’s no way of knowing what your limits are. But you can be sure you have the most advanced piece of machinery on earth right between your ears. So, let go of your beliefs about what you’re capable of and take action instead.

Once your growth mindset is in place, you need to use empowering language to support it. Instead of saying “I can’t,” say “I won’t.” Instead of “I have to,” say “I’m going to.” Instead of “I don’t know,” say “I’ll figure it out.”

Pay attention to the language you use, get rid of any phrases that imply helplessness, and replace them with empowering words. The words you use become the narrative of your life—choose them wisely.

5. Surround Yourself with Gritty People

Human beings are social creatures, and we affect each other much more than we are consciously aware of. For instance, we pick up other people’s emotions by automatically mimicking and synchronizing with their expressions, vocalizations, postures, and movements. As a result, we soon start feeling like they do. Psychologists refer to this as emotional contagion.

We’re also susceptible to goal contagion, a tendency to take on the goals of others. And that has some serious implications for our lives. One study, for example, found that if your friend becomes obese, then your risk of obesity increases by 57 percent — even if your friend lives hundreds of miles away.

The takeaway is that the people you surround yourself with determine what’s normal for you. When you spend enough time with a particular peer group, their norms and values rub off and become your new standard.

Beliefs, feelings, and behaviors spread like viruses. And while you can’t immunize yourself to that peer pressure, you can choose who you let infect you every day.

If you hang out with people who are pessimistic and lazy, you’re likely to feel as negatively and perform as poorly as they do. If you surround yourself with enthusiastic and hardworking people, those are the feelings and attitudes you’ll adopt instead.

Make time for people you want to be like. Set up mastermind groups, find mentors, and team up with accountability partners.

Surround yourself with gritty people, and it’s only a matter of time before you’re just as gritty yourself.

Summary

Grit is the “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” A gritty person has the ability and zeal to stick to long-term goals and keeps going despite adversity.

Where talents counts once, effort counts twice:

TALENT x EFFORT = SKILL

SKILL x EFFORT = ACHIEVEMENT

No matter what long-term goal you’re trying to achieve, you need grit to get there.

By developing certain factors that indirectly influence your grit, you can dramatically increase your chances of accomplishing your goals:

  1. Pursue your interests. If something doesn’t fascinate you, it’ll be hard sticking to it.
  2. Practice, practice, practice. We like doing what we’re good at. Use deliberate practice to improve every day.
  3. Connect to a higher purpose. Find your “why,” and consistently remind yourself of it.
  4. Cultivate hope. Develop a growth mindset, and use empowering language to support it.
  5. Surround yourself with gritty people. Their beliefs, feelings, and behaviors will infect you.

Further Reading

  1. Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals,” Angela L. Duckworth, Christopher Peterson, Michael D. Matthews, and Dennis R. Kelly
  2. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth
  3. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, Anders Ericsson
  4. The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance,” K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Th. Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Romer
  5. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol S. Dweck
  6. Neuroplasticity,” Stephanie Liou
  7. Emotional Contagion,” Elaine Hatfield, John T. Cacioppo, and Richard L. Rapson
  8. Goal Contagion: Perceiving Is for Pursuing,” H. Aarts, P.M. Gollwitzer, and R.R. Hassin
  9. The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years,” N.A. Christakis, J.H. Fowler

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Thanks to Coach Tony

Patrik Edblad

Written by

I write about timeless ideas and science-backed strategies to feel great and perform at your very best. Get more from me at https://www.patrikedblad.com

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

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