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How to Have More Grit

Grit is the determining predictor of success in life, according to Prof. Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania (http://goo.gl/asYSA

Not IQ.
Not EQ.
Not connections.

But grit.

Dr. Duckworth defines grit as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals” or “the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals.” Or, in other words, sticking with your goals and plans for the 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.

aka stamina
aka stick-to-it-iveness
aka determination

Dr. Duckworth describes it as:
Goal-directedness (knowing where to go and how to get there).
Motivation (having a strong will to achieve identified goals).
Self-control (avoiding distractions and focusing on the task at hand).
Positive mind-set (embracing challenge and viewing failure as a learning opportunity).

As an audience member,
I can see how grit powers the weight lifters get through the last few reps.
I can see how grit powers the prizefighters through the last round
I can easily see the size of their heart, the size of their balls, and the level of their resolve in the last few minutes.

Grit is when you’ve got nothing left and still persevere through your sheer will—that is what separates the winners and losers.

Side note: One of things most people don’t know about me is that I am always asking questions; I like to know how people think, what their perspective is, and what makes them tick. I’m always particularly interested in what the “successful” people have to say about what makes them successful….and after having interviewed hundreds of high performers (and also from personal experience), I have learned that most things people believe are the keys to success (education, networking, IQ, etc.) actually have relatively little influence on success when compared to that one all-important trait: Grit.

It’s the WILLINGNESS to go after what you want—day after day, week after week, month after month,
even when no one is watching,
and even when the going gets tough.

It’s the “intentional intensive efforts” that will help you grow—not those taken inside your comfort zone, and not your “I am in flow, in the zone” efforts.

Will Smith once said, “I will not be out-worked, period…if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die.” (link: http://youtu.be/doqS35FfcUE)

That statement is an uber-example of grittiness!
This explains why he is so successful at being the blockbuster actor he is
and why he was able to dominate multiple industries: TV, music, movies, etc.

(For more on this, read “So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love” by Cal Newport (http://www.amazon.com/Good-They-Cant-Ignore-You/dp/1455509124)

It’s no wonder I’m intrigued by the subject of grit—because, coincidentally, my Chinese name literally means “strong will.” I used to joke that I was the manifestation of strong will, but now I think the opposite is true—I think I need more strong will in my life…and my name has been a constant reminder that strong will is what will determine whether I am successful or not.

So, if I believe this, how the hell do I develop a stronger will and more grit?
Should I intentionally put myself in situations where I am likely to fail? Should I fail intentionally?

Silicon Valley has a saying: “fail fast.”
I think that’s a good shorthand—but if taken literally, it’s an oversimplification of the point.

Would you purposely jump into the deep end of a pool not knowing how to swim? If you did, I’d call that foolish.That’s what instructions and practices at the shallow end are for—to get your mind and body acclimated to the environment and to learn the skills necessary to swim.

Likewise, would you purposely put yourself in a position in your life in which you are almost certain to fail, with grave consequences (to yourself and those around you)? If you did, I’d call that foolish as well.

That’s why you want to practice your grit before you actually NEED it.

Can you handle smaller hardships before life/death scenarios happen? When you practice that discipline over and over, with increasingly more difficult hardships, then you’ll be more ready when the big one presents itself.

So, I say “yes” to intentionally putting myself in situations where I am likely to fail—but where the consequences are smaller.
I say “yes” to rapid iteration towards success;
And “yes” to rapid learnings through iteration.

If I keep “failing small,” over and over again, I can expand my “grittiness.”

What, then, is a good practice arena for grit? What is an activity I can do daily to improve my grittiness?

Here is my answer: weightlifting

Grit, to me, is slaying your inner demon over and over again—and for me to get grittier there is no better way to consistently do that than weightlifting.

When I am pushing my physical limits, my inner voice is the first to scream to stop (even when I just think about it), because my inner voice (lizard brain) always errs on the side of safety and security. For example, when I’m going for my one rep max, after the weight is racked…the first instinct is “I can’t!”
That’s the lizard talking.
One trick I play on myself (and my lizard) is that, as soon as I notice the “I can’t,” I verbally say aloud to my trainer / my spotter / myself: “Awesome! Love it! Bring it on! Let’s do it!”—and perform the action immediately afterwards

This sequence does 3 things:
1) Reassures my lizard: The verbal message reassures my brain (and my body) that the action is no problem;
2) Distracts my lizard: In the time that it takes for my brain to process the message, my body is already completing the motion;
3) Strengthens my grit: The repetition deepens my conviction and increases my confidence every time it happens.

Plus, this is a single conversation/multiple outcomes scenario:
I am able to physically see the results;
I am able to quantitatively measure the progress (poundage, the repetition);
And, even better yet, I am hitting multiple outcomes from a single action—I get smarter, I get fitter, I look sexier…and with every rep, my body, my mind, and my will are getting stronger.

So, to expand the conversation, let’s say you are able to develop your own grit; you can and are willing to take on challenges day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. Great!

What about your business partners?
What about your friends?
What about your significant other / romantic partner?

When you are deciding who to spend your time with and who to partner with, grit can be used as a good filter. Don’t you want to be associated with people who stick to their goals and have what it takes to be successful?

But how do you tell if someone has grit or not? What are some of the indicators?

According to Professor Duckworth’s survey, here are some questions you can use to assess grit:

1. I have overcome setbacks to conquer an important challenge.
2. New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones.*
3. My interests change from year to year.*
4. Setbacks don’t discourage me.
5. I have been obsessed with a certain idea or project for a short time but later lost interest.*
6. I am a hard worker.
7. I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one.*
8. I have difficulty maintaining my focus on projects that take more than a few months to
9. I finish whatever I begin.
10. I have achieved a goal that took years of work.
11. I become interested in new pursuits every few months.*
12. I am diligent.

(Obviously, the questions with an asterisk indicate less grit, and those without indicate more.)

So, you can use those questions to size up people you’re considering having in your life…but to me, even 12 questions are too many. I define grit as, “the ability to face challenges willingly and consistently over a long period of time.” So has this person done that in his or her life?

Certain kinds of life activities require grit; those activities will be the indicators you’re looking for:

School work (university, MS/PhD level post-graduate work often requires a lot of grit);
Professional work that requires long schooling and certification (law, accounting, financial advising, medical professions, etc.);
Family work (marriage, parenting, long term care);
Fitness work (professional and semi-professional athletes are full of grit…but even a “regular” person who has the will to exercise consistently and stay in shape is showing grit)

When you meet people, look at their previous achievements and how they behave…
their current projects…
how long they stick to things…
whether they jump from one thing to another…

In other words…how much grit have they demonstrated in their academic, professional, personal, and physical lives?

To recap: If you want to be more successful in life, you ought to master your own “grit,”
be aware of the inner demon and its tricks,
and slay it as soon as it rears its ugly head by saying out loud, “I love this!” (and follow through with your actions).

(And, even better, as you develop your own grit to expand your capacity, look for others with similar grittiness—and marry one of them so you can be merry together and keep each other gritty!)

ps. here is grit in 90 seconds, http://youtu.be/uyTAfX7cniI