How to Develop Grit

How to Develop Grit

Grit is Kind of a Buzzword Right Now.  Working in education, Sam and I both hear the term often. It’s something kids need to develop, it’s something athletes need to develop, but well–what is Grit?

Grit in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or endstate, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective.

That is the definition according to Wikipedia (so you know, it’s not set in stone). Basically grit is something you have that makes you tough. Grit makes you get back up and start running when you stumble and fall. Grit makes you work hard, despite setbacks, failures or situations where you aren’t “good”.

In some ways, grit goes against perfectionism.

Think about it–when you are a “gritty” person, you try things and work for them, even if they don’t come naturally. Gritty people want things. They keep going. They aren’t afraid to lose, to fail, to fall down.

Historically, I haven’t always been “gritty”. Sam has some pretty serious grit. Playing through college golf, despite a torn rotator cuff, running marathons, sleeping in his car between two colleges as he finished up two degrees–that’s gritty. He likes to do things over and over until he masters them, whether it’s graphic design, landscaping, or tearing down a tree in the backyard. He definitely keeps going and figures it out, works hard and powers through until he owns it.

Not to say, I’m not tough. I’ve done some pretty tough things in my life too, but physically I’ve always been somewhat…marshmallow-y. I think I ran once in elementary school. Literally–one time. I was bad at it–I was slow, it hurt, I was uncomfortable, so I quit.

I never played sports in high school, which I think give kids a lot of “grit” foundation. I was more bookish and artsy. I explored new projects of course, but I always gravitated to things that game more easy for me–creative pursuits, logic problems, “brain stuff’.

Over the last five years, I’ve definitely gained more grit. I PR’d in my fourth 10K this past fall, and ran my 8th 5K as well. I dropped 40 pounds a few years ago, and I’ve mostly kept it off. I quit drinking. I’ve paid off almost all of our debt. I changed my diet. I’ve become a much better writer, and I’ve taught myself how to market, how to fundraise, and how to do all kinds of stuff related to working at a school. I’ve done a lot of things that weren’t easy for me. Am I the best at them, now? Hell no! I’m still pretty slow. I am sometimes a junk food vegan. I don’t love budgeting (or even like it).

There are a couple of things I’ve learned about developing grit:

1. It’s Not Always Fun

So, doing “gritty” things isn’t always fun (that’s why it takes grit). Some mornings, I absolutely hate the treadmill. Some mornings, I simply hate mornings.

Doing things to develop your grit might be things you enjoy, but even if you love learning how to build websites, or enjoy swimming, there will be times when you can’t figure out why the widget in WordPress doesn’t work, or there will be moments when you just don’t want to be in the pool. Whatever it is, it won’t always be a cake walk. That’s okay.

2. You Should Take it Slow

When we’re trying to develop any skill or new pursuit, take it slow. Don’t try to be perfect all the time. Remember what I said about perfection being counter to grit? Often when we try to take on too many things at once we get frustrated. Then we quit.

Instead, try pacing yourself. If you want to get healthier, try tackling one or two healthy things at first. Then, once you’ve mastered those, take on another. Bite off only what you can chew, but stay consistent. Even if you can only practice something for 10 minutes per day. Keep building on those incremental gains.

3. Pat Yourself on the Back

There’s a huge difference between patting yourself on your back, and resting on your laurels. Resting on your accomplishments makes you complacent. It makes you settle for “good enough” and that’s it–not grit.

However, when you tackle something, when you get out there, when you fall off your bike, or have a butt kicking workout, pat yourself on the back. When you have a hard day, but you’re able to take something away from it, even if it’s just a lesson on what you should do differently next time, look at it as a win!

4. Surround Yourself with Gritty People

Gritty people are surrounded by their peers–they know that if you want to be awesome at something, you have to learn from others. This is why “teamwork” works. If you are around a bunch of people who don’t push you to be your best, or who bring out your worst, it’s time to look for new people.

When you have common goals, you compare yourself to those around you and you push yourself just a little further. If you have a buddy who will run with you, or a friend who will hold you accountable for your goals, hang on to them! They will see you to the finish line and beyond.

5. Most Important: Get Back Up!

The biggest trait of gritty people is that they dress up, show up, and don’t give up. When things don’t go their way, they don’t get angry, complain that it’s unfair or throw in the towel. They pick themselves up and figure out how they can learn from the experience. They get back up and keep going.

I’ve stumbled many times in my goals (and will surely stumble many more) but working toward something means that the stumbling blocks are healthy. They help you figure out what you’re doing wrong. They help you devise new approaches and different angles to tackle a problem with.

I believe that we can all find our inner grit. We just have to find the spirit to keep trying. We have to learn it’s okay to fail, and stumble. It’s perfectly okay to fall down, as long as you always get back up!

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