Over the past 2 years, I’ve been working toward achieving a fitness goal of reducing my body fat to 17%. When I started this journey in November of 2016, my body fat was at 29.7%. Last week, I finally achieved my goal and I’ve been thinking a lot about all of the hard work and time I’ve invested in making this goal.
It wasn’t easy. In fact, I had a nasty shoulder injury that prevented me from doing much of any lifting last winter. (Plus, I developed a pretty lousy attitude for a while and gained some weight back as a result.) Today, I’m still learning to cope with my SLAP tear and I continue to make time to get to the gym on a regular basis.
I wanted to dedicate today’s topic to grit because I think it’s a really important ingredient in helping us achieve our goals. While grit isn’t the only factor that determines success, I fully believe it’s a necessary one.
According to Angela Duckworth, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, grit is even more important than intelligence and skills in predicting individual success. It’s the combination of passion and persistence over time that really sets people apart — those who reach their goals and those who don’t.
Want to find out how gritty you are? You can take the grit scale for your individual score. If your score isn’t what you had hoped today, there’s great news because Duckworth believes (and I agree with her) that everyone has the potential to improve their grittiness if they have the desire to do so.
Why should you care? Because gritty people tend to be more successful and happier with the circumstances of their lives. And couldn’t we all benefit from those things?
Here’s how to grow your grit:
Set a goal and stick to it. Simply setting a goal isn’t enough to work on developing your grit and it won’t work for just any old goal. This goal needs to be something in which you have a genuine interest and it needs to be personally meaningful to you. These components are important because they are what define passion and grit has everything to do with passion that drives us forward over time.
It could be a goal related to your health (like mine) or it may be a goal for your career or education or any other meaningful goal. It should be something that will take some time (probably several months or even years) and will give you a sense of purpose. Chances are, you already have a goal that you’re working towards, but it’s important to actually articulate that goal and to start thinking about the actions you will need to take in order to reach it.
Avoid getting sidetracked. It can be easy to get deterred by new interests or goals. While we will always have things to balance in our lives (like time with our families, work assignments, hobbies, etc.), it’s important to set our focus on what’s most important and commit to staying on course towards our overarching goal. Some things that can help us do this include:
Setting benchmarks along the way. If your long term goal is Z, then think through the required steps A, B, C, and so on to get you to goal Z. These are short term goals or bench marks that will help keep you on track along the way. Once you have a list of short term goals, you can create a timeline.
For instance, if your goal is to buy a house in 5 years, you need to figure out how much money you will need to save for a down payment. Let’s say you want to put $20,000 down. That means you need to save $4,000 per year and approximately $333 each month. If you get paid biweekly, you will need to designate $167 from each paycheck in order to reach your goal in 5 years.
It’s relatively easy to do this with numbers, but you can actually break down any big goal into smaller measurable goals (if you’re really stumped, feel free to write me a note in the comments section below and I will do my best to offer some suggestions).
Checking your progress regularly. If you’ve created a detailed timeline with bench marks, it will be easy to check your progress. It’s best to make this a regular habit so that it’s at the forefront of our minds. I would recommend checking in on a weekly basis (if possible) to see if you’re making the progress you had hoped.
If not, consider if this is something you can change. For instance, okay- I didn’t do all that well this week, but I will definitely do better next week because I’m going to commit to doing (whatever you need to do to make next week’s goal). Or, it may be that you’ve made your short term goals a bit too difficult and you may need to adjust (extend) your timeline to make these goals more achievable.
Seeing your goal through to the end. Don’t’ despair if you need to make adjustments or changes to your goals along the way. This is a normal part of the process and it does not indicate your success or failure. Sometimes, we will find that our long-term goal has evolved or that it is simply not possible because of new circumstance. In these cases, we can revise our long-term goal as needed. Then, repeat the process of creating benchmarks and a timeline.
Remember, grit is indicated by passion and persistence over time which means your commitment is what really counts – not how quickly you achieve your goal or how few times you adjust your goal or that you envision exactly the same outcome throughout the process. In fact, your goal will almost certainly be impacted by unforeseen circumstances because that’s how real life is – unpredictable.
Don’t be discouraged by setbacks. Resilience is perhaps the most important characteristic of grittiness. Acknowledging that setbacks and challenges are likely to occur can help us be more adaptable and readily able to navigate them when they occur. Instead of viewing setbacks as failures, we can recognize them as learning opportunities. In fact, they are normal and necessary to our personal growth and development – it’s literally how we learn. (e.g., “Well that didn’t work, so now I’m going to try this approach instead.”).
When we face setbacks, it’s best to take a step back and look at the big picture. Think about what needs to change in order for progress to occur. And sometimes, we may need to actually give up a goal. For instance, if continuing to pursue it would be detrimental as in continuing to pour money into a failed business venture. Or if we’ve decided that this is no longer a goal worth pursuing. This could occur when choosing to make a major career change, for example.
Even in such cases, we can immediately begin recreating a revised long term goal. Just because we abandon one goal, doesn’t mean we’re not still working towards something.
Be diligent and hardworking. Maybe these seem obvious, but actually being dedicated to our goals and putting in the quality of work required to achieve them are just as important as the rest of the process. It isn’t enough to simply set goals and then hope we make them.
We have to set ourselves up for success by committing to do the work. This may mean carving out time to work on our goals each day or each week (like actually putting it on your calendar). It may mean that we need to go talk to others who have already achieved similar goals to find out how they did it. Whatever the case, taking action is absolutely required – and it’s often the hardest step.
Take some time to consider how you can help ensure you will actually do what you need to do. Having accountability in some way can be particularly meaningful. I did this by working out two times a week with a trainer. Not only did this help me meet my goals, it ensured that at least twice each week I would physically be at the gym to workout.
Find a gritty mentor. Finding a mentor can be extremely worthwhile. According to Duckworth, mentors should provide both challenge and support. Without both of these components, we are likely to become discouraged or complacent. For example, if my trainer always told me I could do better and never praised my progress, I would quickly become frustrated. In the same way, if my trainer never challenged me to try harder and always just told me how awesome I am, I would quickly lose motivation to work harder.
Your mentor can be pretty much anyone – a colleague, a friend, a family member. He or she should be a gritty person as well which is indicated by their passion and persistence to a long-term goal. Generally, highly successful people are gritty, so try to find someone you view as successful and who will provide both challenge and support for you.
Grit is something that tends to change over time based on the circumstances of our lives and our focused effort at a given time. Recognize that it’s okay to be a work-in-progress – really, we all are. 🙂 It’s about practicing in order to grow your personal grittiness.
You can read a lot more about grit from leading expert, Angela Duckworth, in her book: Grit
I would love to hear about your own meaningful long-term goals and welcome you to share them (or any other questions or comments) in the comments section below.
Belli, G. (2018). How to develop grit. PayScale. Retrieved November 16, 2018, from https://www.payscale.com/career-news/2018/03/how-to-develop-grit
Duckworth, A. (2018). Q&A. Angela Duckworth. https://angeladuckworth.com/qa/
Koehn, N. (2018). Resilience won’t just be there when you need it. You have to train it. Big Think. Retrieved November 16, 2018, from https://bigthink.com/videos/nancy-koehn-resilience-wont-just-be-there-when-you-need-it-you-have-to-train-it
Lebowitz, S. (2016). A UPenn psychologist says ‘grit’ is key to success in life – here’s how to become a grittier person. Business Insider. Retrieved November 16, 2018, from
Photo Credits (in order of appearance)
- Top of the Morning, Photo by Francisco Gonzalez on Unsplash
- Planner and coffee, Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash
- Woman, Photo by Soragrit Wongsa on Unsplash
- Climbing, Photo by Tommy Lisbin on Unsplash