Images of exhausted refugees determined to succeed in their quest to reach Europe in the hope of safety, have shown us people with admirable grit. They have refused to give in or be deflected by danger, cold or hunger. They meet difficulty with a determination that challenges us to ask ourselves, “could I do the same in the same circumstances?”
So what is grit, and what enables people to access it? Grit is not the same as resilience, but it is an important part of it. Resilience is an outcome, it is the process of recovering from setback. Grit is what keeps people going when the going gets tough. It is grit which keeps individuals determined to achieve a goal, and we need resilience when the reality of the goal makes high demands of us. The refugee who attains their goal of a new life, then has to live the reality of a life apart from their family, of finding work, of learning a new language and living with new cultural norms. They need to access resilience in the same way as an ambitious person who has given up everything in order to achieve a career goal then has to live with the pressures of it, and the risk of failure. It is grit which makes a professional tennis player refuse to concede a match and hang on in, in the belief that their opponent will eventually crumble, rather than accepting the figures on the score board. It is resilience that same person needs when they fail to win and have to get out of bed the next day and start training all over again.
So what is it that gives people ‘grit’? According to Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania, it is holding long term goals: goals that take months or even years to achieve. Grit comes from having a vision of the future which goes beyond the immediacy of the moment. Wanting to escape physical danger provides a short term goal, but wanting to provide a life for one’s children so they can thrive, gives an additional impetus for sticking with discomfort.
Most of us will never face the life challenges of refugees, but we all still need grit. In studying groups as diverse as West Point Academy student cadets, contestants in a national spelling bee competiton and sales people,Angela Duckworth has concluded that grit is a better predictor of success than IQ or EQ. To succeed we need grit.
So if you want to develop your ‘grittiness’ what can you do:
- You need to really want something and know why it is important to you.
- You must want to achieve the goal for yourself, not in order to please parents, partners or win the approval of our boss. When we do things for others when the going gets tough we can blame them for burdening us with their expectations.
- You need multiple goals that you keep in focus during the ups and downs, and which take you beyond immediate rewards. A principle of having 3 goals helps move from the short term to the longer term. A goal of going to the gym regularly is more likely to be stuck with if it is allied to a goal of being able to run a half marathon, which is in turn supported by a goal of having the energy to be a good parent.
- You need to develop your willpower muscle. Willpower is built with practice. Everyone loses willpower at times, – but with practice it becomes easier to reconnect with willpower rather than seeing one setback as a reason for giving in.
- Stop thinking and ‘do’. The energy we put into finding excuses for not doing things is enormous. Closing down the brain and just doing, denies us the possibility of a ‘let out’ clause. In the doing and the discovery that we can do something despite it being difficult or painful, we increase our grittiness.
- Confidence and grit are linked. When we stick at something which stretches us, and in the process discover we can do something we never believed possible, our confidence grows. When we allow ourselves off the hook in order to gain an immediate relief, we unconsciously erode our confidence in our own potential.