Top rugby coaches are being drafted into schools in the UK to teach kids ‘grit and resilience’, as a means of strengthening kids’ character and, presumably, preparing them for the real world. But what does grit actually mean? We associate it with dogged determination; gritting one’s teeth and forging ahead no matter what. But actually, it’s more complex than that. Grit is about the sustained, passionate pursuit of a long-term goal. It’s about finding clever solutions that allow you to persevere despite obstacles; as opposed to stubbornly trying to head-butt your way through them.
Grit is associated with plenty of favorable long-term outcomes. A 2014 study found that men with higher grit levels are more likely to stay married. Another links it with children’s success in the National Spelling Bee. And a recent paper published in the journal of Military Psychology states that grit and hardiness predict persistence and achievement in the US Military Academy at West Point.
While a military training camp is a world away from the environs of business and the (primarily young, white, male) cadets faced unique challenges, there are parallels we can draw. West Point prepares cadets to enter an extremely volatile environment with sometimes unrelenting adversity – while the stakes are different, many business leaders in the current economic climate would recognize the challenges such a context brings. And cadets are thrust into an unknown world over which they have little control, facing a lack of sleep, physical exhaustion and social isolation – sensations which new and would-be entrepreneurs know only too well.
So aside from recruiting only the grittiest and most hardy, what can be done to increase the likelihood of achieving a long-term goal; whether that’s graduating from West Point or seeing a new product launched successfully into market? Psychologists believe there are two main ways we can become grittier: by shifting our mindset, and by developing our ability to handle stress.
Change your mind
- Regain a sense of control. There’s such a thing as “learned helplessness” – if you constantly focus on what’s out of your control, you’ll feel overwhelmed. Instead focus on what you believe you can influence.
- Be open to change. Grit isn’t about following a single course of action no matter what. Be flexible and see obstacles to your goal as a challenge rather than a threat; an opportunity to learn. Easier said than done, but by embracing change you’ll feel less wrong-footed when it inevitably comes about.
- Embrace confusion and frustration. These emotions aren’t signs that you should quit so much as normal markers that a breakthrough is on its way.
- See the big picture. By its very nature grit is about playing the long game – remaining consistently committed as well as pushing past challenges. With any long-term goal or project, interest is likely to wane as progress plateaus, so remind yourself of why it was worth starting in the first place.
Use stress to grow
- Set yourself up to fail, occasionally. Studies show that if we are put in a challenging situation, we put in more effort so our performance on a subsequent task improves. Seek out challenging situations; even if you don’t get exactly what you want, it’ll build your tolerance to stress and means you’ll find a better way next time.
- Aim for excellence, not perfection. Grit isn’t about persevering to the bitter end; perfection at the expense of progress. When obstacles occur reframe what success looks like, so that you can achieve it and move on to the next stage.
- Engage with others. Withdrawing into oneself is a natural response to stress and overload, but a “vigorous engagement with others” is a hallmark of a highly hardy individual. Get out there and be interested in others’ lives and challenges in order to stave off the alienation which hampers your drive.
Follow @DrSebBailey on twitter or on Forbes at the top of this post.
My new book, Mind Gym: Achieve More by Thinking Differently is now available in bookstores nationwide.
This article was written by Sebastian Bailey from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.