Grit By ANGELA DUCKWORTH
David Goggins is the personification of grit. Not only did he go through three hell weeks to become a navy seal, he became an ultra-runner and finished a hundred and thirty-five mile race at Death Valley in the middle of summer.
Angela is a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania and she’s obsessed with finding out the answers to the question, “Who’s successful and why?” She’s conducted studies involving National Spelling Bee champions, elite military training graduates and top corporate salespeople to determine the biggest predictor of their success.
She wondered, was a talent or was it effort? Now, our society would have us believe that it would be talent. We have the tendency to marvel at natural talent and overlook the importance of effort. Surveys show that we commend people who put in the effort but we don’t actually believe it can compete with natural talent. We often discount our own abilities when going up against people who have a higher IQ or appear more naturally gifted.
However, Angela has found the following to be true, in study after study, where talent counts once effort counts twice. Angela explains this using a simple formula:
Talent * effort = skill
Skill * effort = achievement
When you apply effort to any base level talent you get skill. When you apply effort to skill you get achievement.
The science shows that grit; the sustained application of effort towards a long-term goal, is the biggest predictor of lifelong achievement. For some it’s an inconvenient truth. Certain people like to see natural talent and use it as an excuse as to why they would never achieve what those people can and don’t even bother trying in the first place. But for others it can be liberating knowing that they’re not doomed to mediocrity due to a lack of talent if they put in the effort they can achieve great things.
Sure there are some limitations. All of us can’t make the NBA; we’re not all six foot nine but you could become one of the best players in your local basketball league. By remembering that talent counts once, effort counts twice we can be hopeful that we can one day become more than we think we can; that we can achieve great things despite not winning the talent lottery.
However, being gritty is hard. Resisting endless temptations to quit or experiencing failure is really difficult to deal with but Angela says, “We all have the ability to grow our grit if we direct our focus in four specific ways.”
First, develop a fascination with what you’re trying to do. Second, strive to improve each day. Third, remind yourself of the greater purpose and fourth adopt a growth mindset.
Charles Darwin admitted to not having great quickness of apprehension. To discover the mysteries of natural science without possessing supernatural intelligence, Darwin developed an obsessive fascination and was said to keep questions alive in the back of his mind; questions that related to what he was observing. This drove him to discover the connection between all living things. His deep interest in the natural sciences and constant questioning led him to the breakthrough that we now know as ‘the theory of evolution’.
So what questions are most intriguing to you? Find the questions that fascinate you and you’ll find the capacity to stay gritty while trying to achieve something great.
Next, aim to improve yourself every single day. compete with who you were yesterday. Olympic gold medal swimmer rowdy Gaines once said, “At every practice, I would try to beat myself. If my coach gave me ten 100-meter swims one day and asked me to hold it to a minute and 15 seconds, the next day he would give me ten 100-meter swims and I would try to hold it to a minute in 14 seconds.”
Angela says that the refrain of all paragons of grit is that whatever it takes, I want to improve. It doesn’t matter how excellent they already are. So how can you carve out time each day to push your abilities and seek constant and never-ending improvement?
The third way to grow our grit is to remind ourselves of the greater purpose. Angela conducted a survey of 16,000 adult Americans to determine the bigger contributor of grit: obtaining a feeling of pleasure or feeling a greater sense of purpose?
She found that people on the upper half of her grit scale experienced a similar level of pleasure in what they were doing but she found that higher levels of purpose directly correlated to higher levels of grit. Angela says the grittiest people see their ultimate aims as deeply connected to the world beyond themselves.
You could be a bricklayer just laying the bricks for a cathedral or you could be a bricklayer building the house of God. It’s largely up to you to determine what purpose or greater meaning your work has. Whatever you come up with has the capacity to raise your level of grit.
The last way to grow your grit is to develop a growth mindset. Bill Mcnab, the past CEO of Vanguard: the world’s largest provider of mutual funds, interviewed leaders within the organization to see who were successful and who weren’t. He found that long-term success was dependent on a core belief. Those who believe that: “I can’t learn anymore. I am what I am. This is how I do things” routinely failed to move up to a senior level.
To be gritty you need to scrap the theory that your abilities are fixed because it’s simply not true. Neuroscience has shown that we have an enormous capacity to change our brains and learn new skills as we get older. The brain is plastic and you can mold it through sustained effort and experience, reflecting the time when you started something new, that you were scared you couldn’t learn but you actually did. Use the memory of that experience to disrupt any beliefs that your abilities are fixed.
In the end, Angela says that, “ learning to stick to something is a life skill that we can all develop by remembering that the science shows that grit matters more than talent and that we all have the capacity to grow our grit. We can develop the confidence to start taking action despite how untalented we think we are.”
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