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Angela Duckworth has just written a great book called, Grit. In her book she talks about what grit is and how we can grow it from the inside out, as well as the outside in. Take heed though, over the years many terms have been used that may sound like grit, but shouldn’t be confused with grit. Such terms as conscientiousness, self-regulation, self-control and executive-control and a few others do in fact have value in creating self-improvement and a higher quality of life like grit does, but differs from grit because grit emphasizes more of a long term passion over short-term control in what is doing and trying to accomplish.
So, what kind of person is a gritty person? Well, Dr. Duckworth shares in her book that grit paragons are satisfied with being dissatisfied. In their own eyes their own performance is never good enough. They are grateful for their continual improvements, but they also know that there is always room for more improvement. They’re driven to constantly improve and enjoy the journey filled with all the hard work just as much as the highlight film and medals at the end. In essences, they believe that raising to the occasion has nothing to do with talent and everything to do with attitude. Grit paragons love to compete. They hate to lose. And maybe even more important, they love to keep going after failure when most others tend to give up.
Those who defy the odds are especially gritty. Grittier kids stick it out longer in order to graduate high school. They stay on the job longer, thus are more often employed. They get advanced degree in college. But, surprisingly, many of the grittiest kids of all are the ones who graduate from two-year colleges where the dropout rate can be as high as 80%. Those who overcome adversity that causes many others to quit become especially gritty.
Talent is constantly romanticizing our society. But the truth is that talent distracts us from what’s even more important… effort. Psychologists have long debated why some people are more successful than others. This on-going debate goes back to at least the spirited debates that Francis Galton and his very observant half-brother Charles Darwin used to partake in. Darwin was always surprised that talent continued to dominate Galton’s short list of what made people successful.
The father of modern psychology William Henry James said that us humans live far within our limits and are only half-awake. Why? Well, Dr. Duckworth seems to believe that it is because many people are distracted by talent. Both their own talent and the talent of others is derailing them. If they blame others’ success on others being naturally more talented then it lets them off the hook for not being as successful as others. Furthermore, it makes the status quo okay. So why try? In addition, if they focus only on their own talent and the highlights of what they have become, chances are they never will put in the hard work necessary for actually becoming that person that they truly can become. Our culture fixation on talent, and constantly defaulting to the easy explanation of success through the well-known talent story is hurting us far more than it is helping us.
Even the great Charles Darwin admitted to his half-brother Sir Francis Galton that he was never really that smart or talented. He was observant, but certainly not any more talented than others. Darwin equates his success to the fact that he would think about problems long after others had given up.
Grittier people are more about stamina than intensity. And the most dazzling human achievements are not really overnight magical performances with herculean intensity, but in fact, the aggregate of countless individual elements, each of which, in a sense is nothing more than ordinary. But, with these ordinary small acts done consistently and correctly, and all together over time, it can’t help but produce excellence! Believe it or not, mundanity produces excellence. It’s a hard sell, but it’s true!
Dr. Duckworth believes that effort is so important in one’s success that it actually factors in twice to the success formula. You see, one cannot have true skill without applying some effort to obtain skill. And at the same time additional effort will make that skill productive. Potential means nothing in the end without a lot of effort to build that skill and then use that skill through effort for however long it takes to win, which by the way, builds even more skill. In Grit, Dr. Duckworth says that she is fiding it more satisfying in sticking with something for as long time in order to become an expert who can see and do what the ordinary cannot than to continuously keep starting over as a newbie with potential.
In 1940 Harvard University began what is today the longest study ever conducted on human development. George Valliant, continues to this day, to follow up on the men that took his 1940 treadmill test that was designed to physically and mentally punish them regardless of their level of talent of fitness. In the many decades that followed, he found the ones that pushed through the pain the longest ended up being better psychologically adjusted throughout their adulthood than the others who had quit earlier.
Oh, by the way, modern day mega blockbuster, Hollywood superstar Will Smith says that he is no more talented than anyone else. However, he is willing to die on that treadmill before he’ll let his competition force him off of it. Do you think Will Smith might know a little something about the Harvard treadmill test study that began way back in the 1940s?
You see, in the end, the evidence appears to be overwhelming that consistency of effort over the long run is everything. And sadly, we tend to quit too often and too soon. Let’s try to be a little grittier and let’s stick it out a little bit longer. Who knows what might happen if we do?
The good thing here is that grit isn’t fixed. We can actually develop grit and develop more grit if we’re already a little gritty. However, in order to develop this grit we need to develop an interest. Not find an interest mind you, but to develop one. Next, we have to use our capacity to practice, then become purposeful, and finally never lose hope. Basically, it all comes down to the fact that if we get knocked down and we stay down, grit loses. If we get back up, grit wins.
Grit from the Inside Out
According to Dr. Duckworth, a Gallup Poll found that 2/3 of adults aren’t truly engaged at work. Sadly, few people do what they love. It looks like those countless commencement speeches that constantly say to follow your passions really are on to something important here, aren’t they? The few who are lucky enough to follow their passions into a career field feel extremely satisfied, are usually more productive than their peers and many times don’t really feel like they have worked a day in their lives because their vocation is really their advocation.
So, why isn’t everyone doing this? Why isn’t everyone following their passions and landing in the perfect job that brings them eternal satisfaction and happiness? Dr. Duckworth thinks that it might be because too many people think that one’s interest and one’s passion is something that one just finds or discovers somehow. However, that’s not how it works. Although, there is some degree of discovery involved in finding one’s interest and passion, a much bigger and powerful component of interest and passion is development. One has to actually develop it!
If you can remember your old school guidance counselor driving you crazy in high school, like the author of this article can, when our counselor used to brow beat us while telling us that we had to know exactly what we was going to do with the rest of our life then reading Grit will help you. It will help you realize that high school is way too early for most of us to know what we want to with the rest of our lives, or what our passions are. For most of us, passion is something that really is developed rather than just internally pulled out of oneself or just ‘found’.
Furthermore, we’re not supposed to immediately fall in love with our first job. It’s a mistake and an unrealistic expectation to think that one can just go try out a job and instantly fall in love with everything about the job. The perfect match just isn’t out there, especially for beginners. It’s sort of like relationships. With these unrealistic expectations that many young people have today about everything fitting perfectly and how it shouldn’t be hard, they just jump from one relationship to another or from one job to another never spending enough time to develop a true passion and grow some grit.
Hey, it’s not our fault that we do this hopping around thing. It’s just natural for us humans to want to jump from one thing to another. Unlike animals who have instincts, when we humans are born, as babies we need to learn through experiencing new things. This basic experiential learning helps keep us alive. Thus, novelty, change and variety is a basic human drive that formed its genesis in the survival of our species.
The trick though to building ourselves some grit is to fight these natural impulses and then eventually even learn to use them to work for us, instead of against us. For instance, for the beginner, novelty is anything that they haven’t encountered before. For the expert, novelty is the nuance. Nuance is what keeps the experts or aspiring experts going while others get bored and quit. Nuance is what most non-experts misunderstand. They can’t see what the expert can see.
Thus, with this in mind, now when thinking back to developing a passion and career that goes along with that passion, one can now more clearly see how it could be difficult to know if something is a good fit until you try it for a while and learn to see some of those nuances… And furthermore, learn to enjoy those nuances…
Learning to stick it out long enough to really learn what hard work is all about is a good thing. Finding joy in the simple nuances that others can’t see is also a good thing. And taking your time to develop your passion over the long run is also a good thing too. All of these are good because they build us grit, and in the end make us happier and more successful. Besides, think of the opposite of this. Mindlessly going through the motions without every really improving can be its own form of suffering. And many would say that this kind of suffering is way worse than the 10,000 hours or 10 years of deliberate hard practice that it took them to excel and become an expert.
So, what is this deliberate practice and how do we get the most out of it so we too can march down that 10,000 hours or 10 year road to greatness? Well, to start, experts try to do things that they can’t yet do, fail, and then learn what to do differently. And how do they do this, you ask? First, they clearly define a stretch goal, then they use their full concentration and all-out effort. Next, they look for immediate and informative feedback. Then they use repetition with reflection and refinement until they master their stretch-goal. The once difficult then becomes ordinary for them. Finally, they repeat the process of picking a new stretch-goal and do it all over again.
I know this doesn’t sound easy. As a matter of fact, I know this sounds hard. And that’s because it is hard. However, there are a few things that we can do to make the hard more doable. First, set a routine where you do these hard things at the same time every day. Routines are godsend. You get up every morning, lace up your running shoes and just go. It’s just what you do… Having to decide every single day to do a hard thing would be a nightmare for most of us. Few of us would ever consistently follow through on doing our hard deliberate practice that is needed to make us champions if we had to make up our mind about it every single day. The brain is very good at coming up with excuses for not burning extra calories.
In addition, believe it or not, we all can learn to embrace challenge rather than fear it. And we can embrace this embracing by simply relieving ourselves of our own judgement that gets in our way of enjoying the challenge we really want to and really need to face.
Let’s think about this for a moment. When we were babies or even toddlers, learning from mistakes didn’t bother us at all, right? So, why do we let it bother us so much now? If we did that as a baby we would have never stood upright, taken those first few steps, and then kept right on taking those steps right into a walk and then eventually a run. Doesn’t the grownup version of ourselves have a spine just as strong as or even stronger than the baby and toddler version of ourselves?
The truth is that not only are our backbones bigger and stronger, but so is our grit as we age and mature. Growing grit is just a natural progression. When we are young, we don’t really know yet what we want. As we age we experience enough to know a lot more about the world and what we really want. Furthermore, we better understand the big picture and the role synergy and legacy plays within it.
As youngsters, it’s hard to think beyond our own basic needs. As we mature we learn to think beyond our own basic needs and it causes our passions to mature and become grittier. Which then causes us to operate on a higher level beyond our own self-interest and causes our passions to also include purpose or desire to help others. This purpose may start off as self-interest and then develop into purpose. And that’s okay because we have to start somewhere.
In addition, when we help others survive, they can also help us survive. So, it really is, in the end, in our best self-interest to help others. But, unfortunately, we can’t always see this when we are young and less gritty. In the end, this new sense of purpose developed through maturity is also a very powerful motivator.
Eventually, developing a purpose can lead to one having a calling. Dr. Duckworth believes that we would all like to have a calling. But, unfortunately, most of us don’t have this calling. We can’t seem to find our calling. To tell you the truth, we’re not going to find our calling; we’re going to develop our calling just like we develop our own interest and our own passion. We don’t have to go anywhere to find our calling. It’s right here in what we’re doing every day. But, unfortunately, very few people recognize this.
For example, most adults go to work most days. However, not all of us are fully engaged in our jobs because after all they are just our jobs, right? However, some of us have found more meaning in the work we do every day and have put in the extra work to change our jobs into a profession. This was a choice and this was something that these few choose to do. Out of these few, and even smaller segment choose to do even more extra work to make their profession their calling. Every day when all the others are going to their job, these special few aren’t going to work, they’re going to their calling.
Let me explain some more. In the parable of the bricklayers, everyone has the same occupation but their subjective experience- how they themselves viewed their work- couldn’t be more different. The first bricklayer says, “I am laying bricks.” The second bricklayer says, “I am building a church.” And the third says, “I am building the house of God.” It’s a choice. Which choice are you making every day? Are you choosing to be gritty every day and develop that very satisfying calling?
If you’re not choosing to be gritty every day, well then, start right now to choose to be gritty every day. And if you find yourself having some trouble doing this, then find a purposeful role model to emulate and borrow some grit from until you can more fully develop your own. In addition, always remember the old Japanese proverb, “Fall seven, raise eight!”
Since this author of this article was voted most optimistic in high school and it’s a trait that has stuck with him throughout the years, he is happy to say that Dr. Duckworth feels that optimism and grit go hand-in-hand. Don’t let the world steal your smile. Paint that smile on your face if you have to. Dr Duckworth says to develop and protect that optimistic growth-mindset that Dr. Carol Dweck talks about in her book, Mindset and your natural consequence will be in becoming grittier.
Just beware though, only telling yourself or another to be optimistic is just the beginning. People also have to overcome real adversity in order to rewire their brains to look similar to those who already have grit. So here is the path laid out for you. Be optimistic with a growth-mindset, engage your inner self-talk and preserver again, and again, and again over adversity. It’s sort of like what Teddy Roosevelt said about the strenuous life being the good life and how he doesn’t think another man has ever had as much fun as he has in all his endeavors.
Growing Grit from the Outside
The Latin meaning of the word parent is ‘bring forth’. We need to bring forth interest, practice, purpose and hope in all the people that we care for and care about. We have to show our children, according to Dr. Duckworth, that it’s not about us and what we need, but that it’s truly about giving the kids all that we got. We have to do this, even when it’s not easy because kids need demanding and supportive parenting or other words, ‘tough-love’ in order to build some grit of their own.
However, remember that we don’t need to be a parent to make a difference. If we just care about them and get to know them and what’s going on in their lives, we can make a positive impact. I’m sure that we have all heard the old African proverb, that it takes a village to raise a child, right?
Besides parents growing grit from the outside in within their own homes with their own children, extracurricular activities is another great way to build grit. With extracurricular activities there is usually a more objective adult standing in for the parent who is also demanding and supportive. In addition, this other adult and the extracurricular activity itself is designed by nature to cultivate interest, increase practice and produce purpose and hope. And the beautiful thing is that it really doesn’t matter what the extracurricular activity is because all extracurricular activities are playing fields of grit. So, let’s sign our kids up for something so they can spend at least part of their week doing hard things that interest them.
You see, this is how it works… School is hard for our young ones, but for many it’s also boring, or at least not intrinsically interesting. Texting their friends is interesting, but not hard. Extracurricular activities, on the other hand, can be the best of both worlds… They can be hard and fun. In addition, kids who participate in extracurricular activities fare better on every conceivable metric.
Dr. Duckworth talks about a study began in 1978 by Warren Willingham who was the director of the Personal Qualities Project, and which still remains to this day as one of the most ambitious studies ever done to discover what determinants help young people become successful young adults. What he found was the extracurricular activities are a great indicator of future success. But here was the real secret though… Kids who participate in more than one extracurricular activity and took part for more than one year, who also somehow made great strides became the most successful young adults off all, regardless of what their S.A.T. scores were, or what their grade point average was. Harvard University has picked up on this fact and bases at least part of their admissions on this. Bill Fitsimmons, the former Dean of Admissions for Harvard says that kid who was consistent and succeeded on one of the extracurricular playing fields of grit, could use that energy and determination for something else purposeful like getting good grades at Harvard, even if that kid no longer participates in that extracurriculars. Sadly, many high schools are facing budget cuts today and are cutting their extracurricular programs…
According to Dr. Duckworth, without directly experiencing the connection between effort and reward that seems to go hand-in-hand with extracurricular activities, all animals, humans included, default to laziness. Calorie-burning effort is after all, something evolution has shaped us to avoid whenever possible. Taking away extracurricular activities and then accusing kids of being lazy doesn’t seem to add up correctly though. We are the adults. We need to do better.
So, what’s another way us parents can build more grit in ourselves and our children? Simple. Join a gritty team. Join a winning team. Join a team where it’s normal to get up early, work hard, and stay late. When we reside in a culture that is gritty, then acting gritty just seems normal. It’s just what we do. After all, the concept of conformity is a very powerful one. Most of us will conform to the culture that we’re living in, whether we know it or not.
The Finnish people even have a word for the culture of toughness that they live in. That word is sisu. They believer that just by being Finnish it makes the people in Finland grittier, tougher, or sisu. Pete Carroll, coach of the Seattle Seahawks professional football team calls it competing. If you’re part of the Seahawks culture you’re always competing. And in Coach Carroll’s culture, the word compete doesn’t mean one wins and one loses. Instead, it means to bring forth the best in all of them.
Which, leads me to my next point. If you don’t have a winning gritty culture or team to join, then create one of your own where your own grit will rub off onto your teammates, co-workers, or even your own children. Hey, it’s sort of like the great John Wooden of UCLA basketball fame would say, “Success is never final; failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.” So, choose to have that courage and build that grit in yourself. Then pass it around so others too can get a little more cultured.
What we accomplish in the marathon of life depends a lot on our grit, passion and perseverance for long term goals. Sadly, an obsession with talent distracts us all from this simple truth. And makes no mistake about it, most of us are distracted. We love the mystique of what someone becomes, we’re not very interested in what it took, or the becoming part that was required for them to reach their full potential and mastery.
The good thing is that we can all choose to work on our own grit and becoming grittier. We can grow our grit from the inside out through some exploration and perseverance and we can also employ others to our cause and grow grit from the outside in.
Becoming grittier is excellent for all of us because becoming grittier makes us emotionally healthier. Considering all the crazy stuff we have seen seeing in the news lately, I think you would agree with me that our society being a little more emotionally healthy would be a good thing that could benefit all of us.
In conclusion, I say stay curious my friend. Curiosity usually has an undercurrent of optimism that accompanies a growth-mindset. Curiosity, in the end, may be the best companion to true grit. Get your gritty self out there and somehow get your hands on Dr. Angela Duckworth’s book, Grit. You’ll be happier that you did. It will improve your outlook on life like it has for me. Grit reminds us that we don’t have to go down that road of learned helplessness. Given enough time and grit, we can make our dreams come true by becoming even grittier.
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