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The Secret Weapon

All of us know about IQ, EQ, SAT scores, physical fitness, class predictions, and a score of other things that claim to predict future success in challenging situations. But research (and my personal experience, for what it’s worth) has found one thing that outranks all those others: Grit.

That word may conjure up pictures of John Wayne. But according to the Oxford dictionary, grit means “courage and resolve; strength of character.” Grit is the ability to stay steady, holding on tightly and remaining committed to something important, even when the fight is uphill. Ivy League professor and best-selling author, Angela Duckworth, defined grit “as the combination of perseverance and passion toward long-term goals.” Grit is when you’re able to harness the power of passion and turn it into all that is needed to work toward goals that endure over time. Bottom line: Grit is consistent hard work.

There are at least two benefits that come to mind for developing grit. The first thing is that grit prepares us for long-term success. The grit from a smaller project can be carried over into graduating college, career development, or family relationships.

A second natural benefit is that grit can actually overcome talent deficiencies. But almost never can talent overcome a lack of grit. No matter how gifted you are, if you don’t have the capacity and willingness to persevere and fight through, you will not make it.

Grit’s powerful cousin is resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back after going through something difficult. Resilience is like a rubber band snapping back after being stretched. As Nelson Mandela said, “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” That is resilience.

Dr. Angela Duckworth, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, describes grit as something that is both nature and nurture. That is, while people are born with different degrees of “grittiness,” you can develop more grit throughout your life by adopting certain mindsets and taking specific actions.

Here are seven ideas for how we can develop this trait:

1. Define what it is that you truly value. What gives you a sense of purpose? What makes you glad to get up in the morning? We must know what it is that we cherish, what makes our hearts beat faster if we want to live with passion and purpose. Look at the different areas of your life: family, friends, career, leisure, spiritual life. What matters to you in each category?

2. Measure your steps to prevent burnout. If you always take on too much, you will burn out and be gone. Make certain you make choices that are reasonable for you to fulfill. Baby steps in pursuit of your goals will get you there. Focus on the journey. Celebrate and learn to build on small successes.

3. Realize that failure can be a gift. When something goes wrong, remember the old lesson about horseback riding. If you get thrown, get right back on. Shifting your mindset from helplessness to hopefulness will develop grit. A setback is an opportunity to grow. Virtually every great person you know through history has had multiple setbacks…and they’ve had grit. They pushed through. They got back on the horse. They didn’t quit. Make sure you don’t.

4. Work for balance. You must have grit. But it can’t be all grit. You have to unclench your fist sometimes. Take a breather. Go for a walk. Work out. Watch a movie or read a book that has nothing to do with work. Find a way to relax so you can balance out the toughness, sacrifice, and hard work. You won’t be able to last for the long haul if you can’t relax and refresh.

5. Purposely create a community around you who share the value of grit. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn says we are the average of the five people we surround ourselves with most. Science actually supports that thought. We are most definitely affected by those around us. We tend to mirror other people’s emotions. Happy people make us feel happier. Sad people make us feel sadder. If we surround ourselves with gritty people, we get grittier. Think a moment about the people with whom you interact most. Are they gritty? Are they are resilient? Spend time with people who share this value with you. Their tenacity will rub off on you. Their grit will inspire you. Their resilience will help keep you on track.

6. Keep a mental file of the instances when you have been gritty. Pull out the file and hold on to the fact that you have been gritty and resilient, and focus on that. It will help you in a slump. Create a gritty narrative for yourself, and remind yourself that you do not give up. If you remember times when you’ve had to work hard and stay focused to accomplish something important, you will know you have it in you to meet your current situation. Remember how you felt when you were gritty and resilient. Tapping into your feelings of empowerment and strength that come with accomplishing difficult tasks become intrinsic motivators.

7. Always remember that being gritty is being harsh with yourself or others. You can be gritty, preserving, resilient, confident, and empowered—and also kind, generous, helpful, and serving.

Grit—you need it. The people around you need you to have it. And if you teach it by example, the people around you will grow too.

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