When it comes to tackling our goals at work or in life, for many of us enthusiasm is common but endurance is rare. Let’s face it being gritty enough to see things through can be hard work, and yet researchers have recently started to suggest that grit — more than IQ, EQ, or good luck — is the key to predicting our success.
You see grit is the passion and perseverance for the pursuit of long-term goals. It’s the ability to stick with working towards something for years, as you try to accomplish something that lights you up and gives you purpose. It’s living life like it’s a marathon, rather than a sprint.
Because while talent certainly matters, without the effort to keep improving your skills, it’s simply the promise of what’s possible and not the guarantee. And while we’re drawn to stories of overnight success, in reality almost every one of these stories has a consistent tale of years and years of gritty effort that has made their talents productive.
The good news is that while your levels of grit appear to be partially genetic, it can also be developed in the process of pursuing a big dream, tends to increase over your lifespan and can be contagious when you are surrounded by other gritty people.
But can you have too much grit?
“Absolutely. When you drive forward to the detriment of yourself and others, I call that stupid grit,” explains best-selling author and positive psychology coach Caroline Adams Miller. “It’s what happens when athletes play through pain and ruin their careers. It occurs in workplaces when people become too rigid around ideas or practices and fail to pivot when the market changes. In mountaineering, it’s called summit fever. In scuba diving, it’s called the rapture of the deep.”
And let’s be honest, at some stage you’ve probably stuck with something for longer than was good for you. Be it an idea you should have passed on, a job you weren’t suited for or a relationship that was hurting you. We’ve all had stupid grit moments.
“The overuse of anything good, can do harm to yourself and others,” Miller cautions. “Like any positive psychology practice you have to use grit in the right context, in the right way, with the right goals to have consistently positive outcomes. Grit isn’t just an approach to life that can spell the difference between quitting and succeeding, it’s also the quality that we should cultivate if we want to play bigger in life, live without regrets, and inspire others to live with more passion and fortitude as well.”
As a result Miller suggests that we would do better to pursue authentic grit. She defines this as: “The passionate pursuit of hard goals that causes one to emotionally flourish, take positive risks, live without regret, and awe and inspire others.”
So how can you be more authentically gritty?
Miller suggests five approaches:
- Find your passion: Follow your interests and notice what naturally grabs your attention, and then trigger and retrigger this interest until you find your passion. Walk through open doors and stick with what you’re learning. Think about what you’ll regret not doing when you look back over your life.
- Start asking yourself ‘why not?’: Our ability to take risks starts in our heads. So when you’re thinking about what it will take to realize your passion, instead of asking ‘why’ try asking yourself, “Why not?” Gritty people take risks and bet on themselves.
- Set goals and follow through: Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King changed the world because they set meaningful long-term goals that lit them up and had the self-regulation and dignity to follow them through in the face of every challenge. Intuitively they understood the science to goal setting and used this to their advantage.
- Change your self-talk: We know from endurance tests that the body gives up only after the brain tells it to do so. When we face real challenges our inner pessimist is often quick to tell us how inept we are, how this will never work and why the logical thing to do is quit. It’s in these moments you want to gently challenge yourself and really test the truth of stories. The more temporary (versus permanent) and specific (versus pervasive) explanations we can find, the less likely minor complications are to turn into major adversities. Perhaps things aren’t going to plan right now or you haven’t mastered that skill yet, but with effort and persistence what might be possible when you look ahead?
- Build a gritty support team: Every paragon of grit has a story about wanting to quit when their goal became too hard, the obstacles too big, or they just didn’t feel like they were making any real progress. They all report that one thing helped them preserve in these moments. The family, friends, teachers, coaches, or colleagues who urged them on. Remember, grit is contagious so make sure you have the right support team around you.
What can you do to improve your authentic grit? To learn more grab Miller’s goal setting workbook here. For more download the free chapter of Caroline’s next book “Authentic Grit: Passion and Perseverance for Hard Goals” or take her free grit challenge here.
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