Building Grit to Attain Your Goals

As an entrepreneur, a kickboxer, a coach, and a therapist, I have developed a strong interest in performance, motivation, grit, and the various factors that contribute to being successful and reaching one’s goals. I direct these factors into my daily work with individuals to help them reach their own goals, win competitions, and build better lives.

A source of inspiration for me on successfully attaining goals was Angela Duckworth’s book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.  At this time of year when everyone is talking about making and maintaining New Year’s resolutions, it appears that spending a little time learning more about grit is a great way to start.grit to attain goals

Grit is the ability to stick to something, to persevere in the face of setbacks, obstacles, and failures, even when the going gets tough. Not everyone strives to be a high-level athlete, a navy seal or a top performer, but there are some principles of grit that can be helpful for everyone. Grit allows us to push through when we’d rather give up.  Many of us can approach a new project with passion, excitement, and enthusiasm, but how many new gym memberships are sold when those keen on getting back into shape make their New Year’s resolutions? People take up sports or hobbies, vow self-improvement, start healthier diets, make a pledge to quit smoking … more often than not, they face setbacks, hit plateaus or just simply lose enthusiasm, and then quit.

Many of us hold the view that talent is everything. Duckworth makes a compelling argument that talent may have very little to do with a successful outcome. Rather, the ability to persevere and stick with something, often against the odds, can be a much better predictor of success. Talent is how quickly your skills improve when you invest effort. Achievement is what happens when you take your acquired skills and use them.

How much grit do you have?  Take the test:

No matter what your score, you can work to improve your grittiness.  Here are some tips to help you towards that:

1. Cultivate your interests.

It is important to try to identify what you like, then do more of it.  When we love what we do it is much easier to be passionate about it.  We tend to be more satisfied with our work when it is aligned with our interests. When we are more satisfied, we perform better.  Even if we can’t all be rock stars, astronauts or prima ballerinas, we can take stock of our interests, figuring out what we like, what we really care about, and also very importantly, what we really do not enjoy.

We can also aim to cultivate interests and passions outside of our work lives by finding fulfilling hobbies and pastimes. One word of advice: interests are not discovered through introspection, but rather through experience.  So, get out there and explore the things that may have sparked your interest or try something new that fascinates you.

2. Develop your capacity for rigorous practice.

It’s not easy to learn new skills and to have the staying power to get from good to great. To really master something, you have to prepare to stick with it for the long haul. 

Some of you may have heard about the 10,000-hour rule based on the work of cognitive psychologist, Anders Ericsson.  Ericsson, who studies world-class experts in varied fields ranging from athletes to professional musicians and chess players, found that those who had reached the top of their game had logged about 10,000 hours of deliberate practice in their chosen area.

Again, not everyone has the drive to invest the time or commitment to becoming a world-class player, but there are some principles here that could apply to everyone.

First, remember that mastery takes time.  In my role as a kickboxing coach, I have seen athletes become frustrated and discouraged when they failed to execute a new skill properly or when they lose a fight.  Sometimes, when facing these obstacles, they want to quit.  Those who are able to push through these hard times and continue to practice inevitably improve.

Another useful point is that it is not just practice, but deliberate, practice that leads to improvement.  So, what is deliberate practice?  Deliberate practice means that you set goals for yourself, with identified targets which are based on specific areas of your performance that you are trying to improve.  For example, in my practice as a therapist, we often look at negative thinking and cognitive distortions as specific and identifiable targets to begin work on.  I ask my clients to complete daily mood logs to record their thinking when negative emotions are triggered and we begin to see some common themes emerge.  Over time, with deliberate practice, these automatic thoughts, which often lead to anxiety and depression, can be altered and transformed. It takes a lot of dedication and hard work, but I have seen many people overcome life-long patterns of self-defeating thinking.

3. Develop a sense of purpose.

It can be very difficult to sustain a long-term interest in something without having a sense of purpose.  A sense of purpose means that our passion is somehow linked to the contribution of the well-being of others.

Angela Duckworth illustrates this with the recounting of the parable of the three bricklayers.  When asked, the first bricklayer said that he was laying bricks.  The second bricklayer said that he was building a church.  The third bricklayer said that he was building the house of God. These show the differences between a job, a career, and a calling.

4. Maintain a sense of hope.

In order to grow and develop grit, we have to maintain a sense of hope along the way, even when we have doubts.  An important concept to address here is that of learned optimism.  Optimists are just as likely to encounter setbacks and negative events in life, but what differs is the way that they think about them.

Optimists tend to seek out the temporary and specific causes for their setbacks, while pessimists tend to believe that more permanent or pervasive causes are to blame.  For example, when presented with a bad grade, the optimist is more likely to attribute it to a problem with time management skills or ineffective study habits, while the pessimist may attribute it to their stupidity or blame it on the teacher or a problem with the education system.  Clearly, when we strive to maintain an optimistic outlook, we are empowered to take control of the outcome.

So as 2017 gets off to a start, what are your goals?  Can you spend some time this year cultivating your interests?  Maybe try that cooking course you’ve always wanted to sign up for? Take an art class?  Learn to dance?  Do you already have a passion?  Can you devote some more time to deepening your interest and apply some of the principles of deliberate practice?

Wishing you all a happy, (and gritty) new year!

Written by: Rebecca Murray, Director, Montreal Therapy Centre