Grit is that deep-seated drive to persevere despite obstacles, however long or difficult the road.
Like most other character traits, grit is not something you are born with, but something you develop through life experience. More specifically it is a trait that can only be forged through adversity. Nowhere is that more apparent than in endurance sports.
Angela Duckworth is a well-known researcher on the topic of grit. She describes grit as this:
“Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress.”
In some cases, grit is forged through unpleasant life circumstances. In other cases, grit is forged when hard work is valued, or it is the only way. There is a reason that historically Tour de France cyclists originated from the working class. The best distance runners throughout history have shared the same work ethic that transcends cultures and time. You have heard the triumphant stories of Olympic and world champions who have beat the odds and overcome incredible obstacles. Is it possible that those obstacles, those less-than-ideal circumstances, were actually their greatest advantage?
Personally, one of my biggest fears is getting too comfortable. Don’t be like water and always opt for the path of least resistance. Being too comfortable is a modern problem in the developed world, but you don’t have to give into everything. Sometimes take the hard road, run in jeans, carry water, pick up the shovel, do the work.
It’s an obstacle, get over it
In order to experience adversity, there needs to be some obstacles. Things don’t always go as planned. Unforeseen obstacles emerge and plan A becomes plan B or plan C. By working through tough times, you build a resilience that only comes from life experience. Sometimes it takes more effort and power of will than you can fathom, and then the bar has been raised. View obstacles as opportunities to try new strategies, to build resilience, to learn something about yourself.
To find an optimal challenge means being grounded in reality. If you are honest with your own current abilities, then you can challenge yourself in the appropriate way. Setting expectations too high can shatter your self-confidence and setting them too low can give you a false sense of your ability. The flow channel is where the challenge matches your skill level.
Courage to fail
When you challenge yourself appropriately there is a good chance that you won’t have initial success. Intermittent reward is actually much more powerful and longer lasting for your motivation and fulfillment. When something is difficult to achieve then there is a sense of fulfillment, even when you fail. Think of failure as learning. It isn’t about who is watching or who will see your name in the results. When you are too critical of your own performance then you are the one holding yourself back. How you respond to that failure is what will make all the difference.
Find your passion
Persevering in the face of adversity and achieving a meaningful long-term goal is only possible if you have passion to achieve it. In the case of a child prodigy for example, maybe that passion is not long-lasting and further achievement is no longer fulfilling. Only you have the ability to decide what gives you fulfillment and how to direct your passion.
How to teach grit
I believe grit is only forged through adversity, but that doesn’t mean that you can only have a tough life or bad life circumstances to develop it. First, you can encourage effort and hard work and the sense of fulfillment it brings. Second, you can allow your student, athlete, or child to choose what they are passionate about. In some cases, they may need to take a good crack at several different things before they find out. Third, set up an environment where they are allowed to fail with no consequence other than learning.