Article by Miriam Yates, Psychologist at Within Consulting

Why do you need Grit? How do you get it? And why talent isn’t everything!

The business world is obsessed with the ‘talented’, the ‘intellectually gifted’, the people who learn quickly and apply information to make decisions quickly.  But, in a world economy fractured by snap decisions, poor choices and a lack of forethought, what is the role of perseverance, reflection, and ‘grit’?

Originally when I sat down to read Angela Duckworth’s Grit, I was on a flight home from a work trip. I was tired, and had envisaged relaxing over a glass of wine and quick read.  I ended up with something quite different.  What an incredible piece of work!  Duckworth presents a compelling narrative on the merits of ‘grit’ in business, and she also details how you too can develop grit.

Grit might seem like a fairly vague concept.  And, you’re right.  It takes a little time for Duckworth to truly define it.  Ultimately, she suggests that “Grit is about holding the same top-level goal for a very long time” and tirelessly working toward that ‘top-level’ goal in spite of challenges, setbacks, or roadblocks.  One of the (many) brilliant research examples Duckworth provides for testing grit is a Harvard study of Adult Development or the “Harvard Treadmill Test”.  In this, 130 sophomores were asked to run up a treadmill for up to 5 minutes.  The catch was, the treadmill was at such a steep angle and high speed, that the average participant only made it to four minutes, and some only one and a half minutes.  This study tracked the individuals over the course of their lives.  It turns out that run time at age twenty was a reliable predictor (despite baseline physical fitness) of psychological adjustment in adulthood.  This suggests that there’s something about dogged perseverance that readies us for the psychosocial challenges of life.

One of Duckworth’s key points is that “if we overemphasise talent, we under-emphasise everything else”.  In other words, if you constantly just do the things that you excel at, and these things don’t align with what drives you, achieving satisfaction will be a hard sell.  Satisfaction comes from striving, working hard, and achieving that stretch goal.  This suggests that sometimes we need failure, to remind us to stop. reflect. evaluate. and change.  As Nietzche says, when everything is perfect “we do not ask how it came to be” instead, “we rejoice in the present fact as though it came out of the ground by magic.”

Throughout our working lives, there are likely times where we have to demonstrate grit.  Recently, I met a CEO who had just lost the contract on a project he’d started 4 years prior.  He was deeply passionate about his work, and felt a real connection to the project’s goals and outcomes.  He talked about his original aims, the achievements to date, and what he anticipated would be the future.  In knowing that he wouldn’t be part of that future, he was adamant that he would leave the project in the best shape he could within the time frame he had.  In his mind, he’d clarified what his goals were, considered the obstacles that might impede his progress, and aligned the project goals and outcomes with his personal (yet also professional) aims in life.  In doing this, he had created a pathway for practicing ‘grit’, and a strategy for maintaining momentum.  He had established a process for perseverance, he had the goal in mind, and worked out mitigation strategies for barriers that may present over the upcoming year.

Given the challenges he faced, I wonder how long he might’ve persevered with the treadmill test?  Would he have gone back the day after if he wasn’t successful in completing five minutes?  I suspect he might’ve made close (if not the full) five-minute mark…  In reading this, I want you to think of a time where you’ve demonstrated grit.  What was your goal?  What obstacles did you face, and how did you work through these to achieve what you wanted?  Was your goal congruent with your life mission?  [If you haven’t got one, don’t fret, we’ll come back to this!].

Throughout Grit, Duckworth continually refers to the importance of perseverance and hard work.  Dan Chambliss, a Sociologist, emphasises that “the main thing is that greatness is doable. Greatness is many, many individual feats, and each of them is doable.”  But, sometimes it’s hard to know what your Greatness is.  It’s a bit like considering your end-game, and in Western society where instant gratification is emphasised, we often lose sight of our ultimate goal.  So, if you could take a step back, what is your ultimate goal, or mission in life?  You might even find that you have two or even three ultimate goals.  Before you read any further, take five minutes and consider your end game.  When it’s all said and done, why do you get up in the morning?  What drives you?

At present, you might find that’s its not your current job, and that’s completely okay. Or, you might find that within your current job, there are some parts you love, and some parts you detest.  All-in-all, how does this contribute to your overall mission?

If you’re unsure of where you’re currently at, Duckworth suggests asking yourself a few key questions:
1.    What’s your interest? Are you doing it?
2.    What’s your capacity to practice your interest?  There will be areas that you’ll need to work on and develop.  How can you practice these areas better, and develop next time you try?
3.    What’s your purpose?  Is your work contributing to your version of the greater good? And,
4.     What’s your hope?  What makes you rise-to-the-occasion when you get knocked down? Hope will permeate the former three points, and is intertwined with each.

Finally, if you’re still not motivated, consider this.  Steve Jobs once said “I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”  So. Hunker down. Reflect on where you’re at, and evaluate where you’d like to be.  What can you change, and where will your ‘grit’ shine through?

If you, or your work-group are needing to develop a little ‘grit’, why not get in touch to see how Within Consulting can help you?  We offer a range of workplace solutions to challenging workplace problems by looking within, and working within.

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