Teach it to yourself first!
The dictionary says that grit demonstrates a person’s courage, resolve, strength of character, and strength of will. It shows toughness and determination.
I would add to this by saying that grit is having the ability to bounce back after a setback. For some people it’s faster, for others it takes time. But either way (whether it’s a matter of days, weeks, or years) the resolve has to be there because there is no other option. We must go on.
There was no way I was focused on developing grit when I was younger. My attention was on other things: graduating college, falling in love, getting a job, moving to another country, going from city to city as my career took off.
But life happens. There’s a big jump from the college life to working a 9–5 job. What starts out as a promising role in a company ends up in a layoff. One manager who knows how to successfully handle a large team leaves, and another one who dislikes having to take on bigger responsibilities comes on board. Personal relationships also change over time, which is normal, because we grow and our needs change. The outcomes aren’t always (in fact they are rarely) what we want or need at the time.
That’s where grit comes into play. Whether I was aware of it at the time or not, I was teaching myself grit every time I encountered a setback. To be honest, it’s usually a long and time-consuming process. But I had to keep going. Why? Because I want to be the kind of person who learns from failures (instead of blaming others for them), who follows logic and common sense (instead of getting overly emotional), and who isn’t afraid to try something new (even if it means I’ll feel like I’m just a beginner).
These are the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Grit lesson #1. I train myself to be in growth mode every day.
Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford, wrote a book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. This book completely changed the way I see myself and what I am capable of overcoming! Dr. Dweck makes an important distinction between two mindsets: fixed and growth mindset. If you’ve adopted a fixed mindset, you think being successful is due to good genes, a particular talent or gift, or something you are born with (or not lucky to be born with). Succeeding means being “perfect” every time, achieving results easily and effortlessly, without experiencing any type of setback EVER. Talk about setting yourself up for disappointment with this way of thinking! It’s a wiser choice to expect a challenge and to prepare for it, and that’s where having a growth mindset can prove helpful.
How can you do it?
To practice a growth mindset, shift your focus from the end result (making straight A’s in school or getting a promotion at work) to the actual process of becoming successful. A growth mindset person doesn’t think that success is being the best—they believe success is doing their best. You can start by moving away from your comfort zone (doing everything the same way over and over, using the same tools and processes), and towards a zone that’s uncomfortable and new. For example, come up with a better way to improve your work — break down a large task in smaller increments, or tackle a difficult problem early in the morning when your mind is likely to concentrate better. Or, wake up a bit earlier each morning to practice a new fitness habit such as going for a run or swim.
Grit lesson #2. I try to use every obstacle to my advantage.
How often have you told yourself, if only I didn’t run out of time I could’ve finished that research paper? Or, if only I wasn’t invited to the party I wouldn’t have eaten three slices of pizza and gone off my diet? In those moments when you’re trying to rationalize your decisions and actions, you’re blaming the obstacles for not achieving your short or long-term goals. Or, to put it differently, you’re giving them top priority and more importance than anything you can do or change with your behavior. But what if obstacles were to serve a different purpose in your life? Instead of using them as an excuse to avoid something or even to quit something, it’s more beneficial if you use them to your advantage.
How can you do it?
In his book Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual, retired US Navy SEAL and author Jocko Willink has a power tip for how to deal with obstacles. I find it a bit controversial, unexpected, and nothing like any advice or feedback I’ve ever received from my circle of family and friends as I was growing up. Jocko says that when you reach an obstacle, instead of saying, Oh no! you should embrace it and say, GOOD! Why talk about an obstacle in a positive light? It’s a subtle switch of your mindset that yields big results because it affects how you react to a problematic situation. If you’ve failed at an exam, GOOD! Now you’ll have more time to prepare and organize your study days more effectively. If you’re trying to multitask and fail at everything, GOOD! Now you’ll have time to take a break and prioritize what is most important so you can focus on that first. If you didn’t get the job offer you expected, GOOD! Now you’ll be able to redo your resume and apply for jobs that are an even better fit for your skill set.
Grit lesson #3. I ride with the turbulence.
It’s an absolutely normal thing to encounter unexpected situations in your life. In fact, more often than not, our week takes a different turn from what we imagine it should be. You think that you have ten days to complete a project and then suddenly the deadline gets pushed up so you have only three days to finish everything. You meet a friend for coffee and what you thought would be an enjoyable chat turns into three hours of them crying about a relationship. You’re careful with your finances this year and save enough to pay off your credit card debt and then a forgotten bill that’s past due shows up out of nowhere. Regardless of the situation, the last thing you should do is let your emotions take over — it’s much better to go with the flow, even if it feels like a rocky ride.
How can you do it?
Step one is to be aware of the thoughts that are running through your mind as you’re reacting to the unexpected event. The thoughts might sound something like this. Oh no, I will fail at this now! There’s no way I can manage this situation! It’s just going to get worse from here! Step two is to tell yourself that whatever emotion you are feeling is only going to be temporary. You can say, Of course I feel upset, no wonder! It’s normal to have an emotional reaction right now but it will pass! And step 3 is to ask yourself, What can I do right now to make myself feel better? It can be taking a few deep breaths, going out for a 30-minute walk, or taking out a pen and paper and writing down three things you can do to correct the situation.
Grit lesson #4. I practice self-discipline.
There’s something about the words “self-discipline” that upsets people. Does it sound harsh, uncomfortable, like a punishment? I don’t see it that way at all. For me, self-discipline is about focusing my energies on an outcome that I want. It can be to increase my writing skill, improve my physical strength, or keep myself on track with a new habit that will make me feel proud. What’s at the core of self-discipline? It’s knowing how to postpone things that are more pleasurable and take care of the essentials FIRST. This practice actually yields long-term benefits. In a study performed by Stanford University scientists called the Marshmallow experiment, results showed that delayed gratification can increase your chance at succeeding in many areas of your life—your education, career, short and long term goals, even your personal life choices.
How can you do it?
Really, practicing self-discipline is not as hard as it sounds. Start by observing the things you’d like to indulge in whenever the opportunity presents itself — for example, when you see a beautiful slice of double-chocolate cake at your coffee shop. Then, resist the temptation to immediately choose to treat yourself by thinking of one reason why not to indulge: maybe you’re starting off the month with new fitness goals or better eating habits. And it’s super important to follow up — take your attention away from the distractions and focus on your priorities for the day: go to the gym for an hour, complete your homework, listen to a podcast on a topic you find inspiring, or prepare dinner early so you have time to do something fun later in the evening.
Grit lesson #5. I do it all over again tomorrow.
Grit isn’t only about what you do in the moment. It’s just as important, if not even more so, that you keep up the progress you’re making over an extended period of time. What’s the point of doing something great right now and then let yourself go in the next three weeks? You’ll lose momentum, you’ll get complacent or just plain lazy, and even worse — you’ll forget how confident you felt when you overcame that initial obstacle. That’s why it is critical to keep at it and to hold yourself accountable every step of the way.
How can you do it?
Be smarter with your time — plan everything out. If you haven’t heard of it already, try out the bullet journal method and track your goals in one notebook. If you feel that you often procrastinate or get distracted by Facebook which prevents you from achieving something important, then your bullet journal will make it impossible to use these external factors as an excuse. Why? Because you’ll have to visually track your progress by checking off every single item for the day, week, and month. And if you don’t? Guess what: you’ll have to carry the missed task over to the next day or week. There’s no getting around it. Staying on track is about doing something valuable with your life and making your time feel valuable too. Trust me on this — if you start right now, your future self will thank you later. ♥️