Developing grit and achieving your heart’s goals

“Our potential is one thing. What we do with it is quite another” – Grit, by Angela Duckworth

Reading Angela’s book on “Grit”, will aim to draw some conclusions that I think are helpful for everyone reading this blog. It’s a book I recommend to all of you not confident enough that you can really achieve something. Or to those of you who feel you’re lacking the talent needed to succeed. Forget all about that and read on.

Grit: talent or showing up?

The first thing pointed out by the book is that talent is no guarantee for success. Showing up every day, or starting again after each set-back… well, that might be it actually. You can be extremely talented; but unless you put that talent to work, and practice hard, talent won’t help you for long. Especially not in comparison with less talented people that work harder, every day, for longer hours, and show up each and every time, being sometimes annoyingly stubborn.

Showing up, working hard, persisting in doing the needed things, these are the ingredients for success. Talent is a gift that needs to be exploited and grown in order to produce results that are truly outstanding. The conclusion? Regardless how much talent you have at doing something, if you want to achieve anything in that direction, you need to invest yourself in it: time, effort, patience, stubbornness, persistence. In her book, Angela reaches the conclusion that in order to achieve something, effort counts twice as talent.

Stop for a minute and think of a time in your life when you wanted something so badly that you worked really hard to achieve that. Day and night, your mind was only there, and you couldn’t wait for the day to start so you can resume your work. On top of that, nothing of it felt like it was too hard to do. You loved that work, you enjoyed doing it because you knew it’s going to lead you to what you wanted. Well, that’s grit. Keep in mind this experience as we will briefly analyze the components of grit that will help you achieve the next big thing in your life.

Elements of grit

“Do things better than they have ever been done before” – Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks

(1) Interest

The above line is Pete’s life philosophy. Do you feel you have at least thought of it at some point in your life, while doing something you cared about in your personal or professional life? You were thinking something is not really right and you can make it so much better, for yourself and/or for the people interacting with it?

That’s called interest, and it’s one of the intrinsic motivators for grit. Passion and interest have always motivated people to start things, to create new ways of working or to look at the world differently. When you’re passionate about your job, you’re more dedicated and care more, while your performance increases.

To actually achieve something you truly want, passion helps you discover it and pushes you to develop in that direction and deepen your interest. Through this, you become better and better at doing it and love it more and more. In time, you become a master at it and end up build something even greater than your initial thoughts.

The question most people have is how do you discover your passion or interest? Well, for sure not through introspection. You need to experiment, early on and as often as possible. I’ve jotted down here a few ideas on how you can do that right now, no matter how old or busy you are.

On top of everything discussed so far, one last important ingredient to pursue your passions is to have a crew of supporters. A group of people that will cheer for you, encourage you to keep going when things get though and be happy for your success. Can be parents, teachers, mentors, coaches, peers and friends. Their encouragements will provide positive reinforcement that will help you keep on walking till your end goal.

When starting something new, as a beginner, you need a lot of cheering and small wins. Feedback is good, but not too much, and not too harsh. As beginners we cannot handle too much criticism or we’ll will just quit thinking we’re not good enough. But once we become confident in our new passion, the role of the supporting group changes and, from cheering, it evolves into a feedback provider in a still safe environment.

(2) Practice

The Japanese call this “kaizen”, meaning “continuous improvement”. Practice to become better at what you love doing means not just more time on task, but also better time on it. It means to deliberately spend hours doing it in order to expand your comfort zone. You go into the unknown little by little and become knowledgeable at things you didn’t know or couldn’t do before.

Asking for feedback is the best way to improve on the things you’re not doing well. Instead of spending precious time on figuring out how to do it best, better ask a person that already has this answer, and learn it fast. It’s like driving, initially you are conscious about how hard things are, but then, after hours of practice, you’re doing things without thinking about them anymore. You’ve become unconsciously competent at driving.

Once this loops is achieved, you reach out for a new learning goal, and so on. With practice, you learn, you develop and become an expert in the object of your interest. It can be a painful process, but it’s also rewarding. Practice can be less and lees enjoyable as compared to its beginning; but your motivation is strong as it’s driven by your passion (and crew of supporters). It can be exhausting, but it will pay off later.

In the end, expect that no one will care about the hours you’ve put into this; but they’ll care about what you’ve become, what you know and how you can contribute to the world through what you know. And this is ok, as now you can really achieve your goals.

In her book, “Grit”, Angela recommends three main steps in becoming an expert in what you love doing:

First: know the basic requirements of deliberate practice:

  • a clearly defined learning goal;
  • full concentration and effort;
  • immediate and informative feedback;
  • repetition with reflection and refinement.

Second: make practice a habit, every day. Find the best place and time for it and do it daily.

Third: change the way you experience practice, meaning to look at things as it’s really ok to get them wrong, till you get them right. Just think how many times toddlers fall till they learn how to walk, and they never put themselves down for it.

(3) Purpose

An interest is usually the beginning, one source of passion. We love something and we start doing it for mainly intrinsic reasons, but then we find an above-us purpose. We discover that what we do counts for more people than just ourselves and that becomes the principal reason we continue to pursue that goal and achieve things.

Of course purpose can start from seeing a need in the world and deciding to contribute to it through what you know and love doing. Rest assured, the biggest, greatest and outstanding achievements were successful because the people behind them were motivated both intrinsically (interests) as well as extrinsically (purpose beyond their own).

(4) Hope

Grit, the will and determination to keep going, has a strong element of hope in it. The hope that even against all odds and failures, the next try will be successful. Because working hard will eventually pay off (hard work, remember, not luck or fortune).

Hope in this case is a synonym of learned optimism. When facing setbacks, gritty people explain events in a positive way, they talk about lessons learned and what’s next. Their inner talk is optimist as well. And when you think like this, you look for ways to make thing better, therefore you stand a really good chance at succeeding at that.

But still, why there are things to which some people react with hope (and they try again and again and again) and other people are put off completely? What differentiate these people is the measure they dealt with difficult things in their lives. People who are used to face adversity will think that setbacks are somehow normal, that things you really want don’t come easy and therefore they will just keep pushing. While others who are used to things coming their way easily and with no effort believe this is beyond their capabilities and give up in no time.

Choosing & modeling your grit

“If you want to be grittier, find a gritty culture and join in. If you’re a leader, and you want the people in your organization to be grittier, create a gritty culture.” – Grit, Angela Duckworth

Of course you can become grittier by yourself, working hard at your discipline and pursuit of practice and motivation. This would be the hard way (developing grit from the inside). The easier way is to join a group of people, an organization, a culture that is gritty. When all the people around you behave in a certain way, you’ll tend to align your behavior and become grittier yourself (developing grit from the outside).

Competition is another form of developing grit. Compete in everything you do; because every challenge means a chance to overcome your current limitation and become a better you. Don’t look at competition in terms of loosing and winning. But rather in a way that challenges you always do your best. Compete agains your best score yesterday or your colleague’s results, with a computer, with a recording. Compete with everything you can compete with. These are all chances to become an expert, faster.

The book has many studies that back-up all these findings. I personally really enjoyed it. Will keep the book close by for times when I’ll need advice or a motivational boost to keep going. If you want to dig deeper into the matter, feel free to get the book and read it closely. Hope you enjoyed the brief article around it, and that it somehow managed to spark your curiosity.

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