If you could do anything or develop any skill, what would it be? We value hard work in American society, but we might secretly admire talent more. We find it more exciting to think that someone is a “natural” than that it took a lot of effort to develop their skills. This may be one reason many people give up quickly when things get hard and waste their potential. What might change if they knew that research has shown when pursuing excellence in goals that matter to us, the combination of passion and perseverance may count more than talent? Even if you don’t think you have very much talent in something that matters to you, you can still succeed in it as you develop grit.
If you’d like to be more gritty, the first step is to recognize where you are right now in relation to goals. Do you have a life philosophy? For example, you might be striving as a parent to help your children develop social, physical, and psychological health. You might even have several overarching purposes – one for your career, another for your marriage, etc. It’s okay if you don’t have a clear philosophy yet and if it changes over time. The important part is that you have something that can fuel and guide your other “lower” goals and actions.
Grit is about more than working hard. It involves working toward the same important and inspiring top-level goal for a long time. To do this and have your dream be more than “positive fantasizing,” you need to have related mid- and lower-level goals that take into account what might get in the way of you and your ultimate goal. You also need to let go of small goals that don’t matter to you as much and that may be distracting from what matters most.
As you consider where you are and where you would like to go, keep in mind these four key assets research has identified in gritty people that can be grown by anyone.
Finding a passion about takes time and interaction with the world around you. You need to experiment and be patient, keeping in mind that you might not even notice at first that you’ve discovered something that can engage you for a lifetime. Once an interest is triggered, it takes a lengthy, proactive period to develop it.
It is important to seek continuous improvement of your passion through deliberate practice – that is, to have a clearly defined goal that will stretch you, fully focus on the task, seek and receive feedback from yourself and others (What went well? What can you do better?), and repeat the process. Figure out what practice time and place work best for you and make it a habit. Finally, learn to embrace the challenge of difficulty rather than fearing it by practicing nonjudgmental self-awareness in each moment. As grit expert Angela Duckworthy would say, “effort counts twice,” (that is, it both helps you develop a skill and put the skill to good use) and practice is an important part of effort.
Purpose takes the motivation for developing a skill beyond personal interest; it’s all about finding ways to use the skill to help other people. This determines the difference between a job or career and a calling, and it can be cultivated as you find small but meaningful ways make changes to connect your current work or situation to your core values and strengths.
Hope is more than a feeling. It involves recognizing that we can make a difference in our own lives and keep getting up with a determination to make tomorrow better. Practicing hope takes updating beliefs about our ability to change, practicing optimistic self-talk*, and reaching out to others for help.
If you don’t know what your passion is yet, that’s okay. Go out and try new things, focusing on “fostering” a passion rather than following it. If you struggle to improve on something that matters to you, great! That can provide valuable feedback that will help the skill go even deeper. If your purpose is unclear to you, don’t worry. Keep your eyes and mind open, reflect on when you have felt most connected to others, and experiment. You might also complete the questionnaire found on viasurvey to gain perspective of your strengths and how they can affect other people. If you feel like you don’t have much hope right now, hold on to what you do have and try to thread it into every step of the process of nurturing these skills. It’s an invaluable asset and will grow as you practice it.
Grit in itself doesn’t make for success, health, or happiness overall. It’s important to develop other dimensions of your life and your character beyond it. However, grit can play an important part in what you are able to do in many areas of your life. With grit, you can make the most of whatever talent you have to develop skills that matter to you, use those skills to benefit people around you, and find fulfillment as you make the most of your potential.
*See the article “How to Learn and Practice the ‘Psychological Self-Defense’ of Optimism”
Duckworthy, A. (2016). Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc.