First week of February. That hallmark time where all the resolutions from the New Year are wearing thin. “But going to the gym everyday is so boring!” “Eating healthy is the worst!” After a month of committing, you’ve done so well in your performance. It’s okay to give yourself a day off. I mean, you’ve gone to the gym all the other days. It’s okay to not go once, right?
Then not going once a week turns into not going twice a week. Then three times. Those new clubs you’ve joined are meeting at the most inconvenient times -you can’t make it. Getting the time alone to read or write is near impossible. How in the world did you think you were going to be able to write a book this year?
This, the time when our excuses start flowing like the cold winter rain drizzling outside (which is literally the only thing keeping you from going out to do the weekly runs you want. No, really. You want to do them.), this is the time to get GRITTY.
What is Grit? Grit, in the sense we’re discussing is “firmness of mind or spirit : unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.” According to Merriam-Webster. That’s the general sense, but the definition I’m brooding on today has been refined and popularized by psychologist Angela Duckworth. Her definition of Grit given through her book of the same name is “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” As a teacher, Duckworth was fascinated that innate talent wasn’t the predictor of high achievement in her students. Instead, it was the kids who put in the hard work that achieved and maintained the best scores. Not only was she fascinated with this fact, she packaged it up into multiple studies using data to prove its truth over and over from school children to West Point graduates.
As Duckworth points out at the beginning of the book, hard work as the heart of achievement isn’t an idea we find revolutionary. Quiz people one-off about whether they think intelligence or hard work makes people successful, and they overwhelming identify hard work as the predictor. However, this is in stark contrast to their responses when asked why a certain person, think Jeff Bezos or Yo-Yo Ma, is more successful than most. Then, people say that it must just be that the person is more talented than the rest of us.
This blatant hypocrisy is caused by psychological protection. Of course we want to believe that if we work hard enough, we too can be successful. But when faced with someone who is successful where we aren’t we say, “They must just be born with something special.” In this way, we’re absolved the true responsibility of success. As Duckworth quotes Nietzsche in her book, “If we think of genius as something magical, we are not obliged to compare ourselves and find ourselves lacking,” The Greeks too bestowed creative talent to the Muses, divine beings who pass out genius on a whim allowing us to blame something when we fall short.
How then do you live when you encounter the proof that it is you and only you who holds the keys to your destiny? Stripped of your safety net, how do you make sure you succeed?
I’ll let Duckworth keep her secrets and encourage you to read “GRIT” for yourself to find her answers. Instead, I’ll offer my own tips.
1. Have a plan
Want to eat healthier? Meal plan on Sunday. Let guilt and social responsibility for waste weigh upon your soul if you don’t eat what you buy. Want to exercise? Plan who, what, when, where, and why you’re going to the gym. Build it into your life the way you do work. Want to write a book? Give yourself a weekly writing quota and do it no matter what.
2. Do the plan
Isn’t this just an extension of #1? It is, but it needs repeating. Yoda as my muse -“Do or do not, there is no try.” Aka good intentions don’t count for anything, you actually have to do it.
Really, that’s it? Yes. Every self-help book can be condensed into those two steps. Maybe they’ll give you a snazzy new way of slimming down or identifying the plan. I think it just takes some soul searching for that grit.
Okay, okay, here’s another one.
3. Be sensitive to your interests and yourself.
You know what you like, but if you’re feeling stumped, grab a few good friends and have a brainstorming sessions. A “Vision Board” meeting if you will, to figure out where you are, where you want to be, and the strategy to close the gap. Want to find out your level of grit before you begin so you know where you’re starting from? Of course, Duckworth has a quiz for that.
I want to write a book by the time I’m 30. I’ve always said I wanted to write a book. In college, I was in college and didn’t have time to take writing seriously. After college, I was giving myself a break from college and didn’t have time to take writing seriously. Then I had a job and didn’t have time to take writing seriously. Then I had a job and a master’s program and didn’t have time to take writing seriously. Then I finally had no excuses and just over a year left until I was 30. Now is the time to get gritty. And if I can do it, you can too.