I write a lot about our thoughts and emotions and how they affect our health. I have written about embracing our dark side, about negative experiences, and how important it is to feel and release our emotions. The truth is, sometimes life is just a struggle and it’s hard enough to get through our day without keeping all these things in mind. The same is true for me as it is for all of you. Some of my most difficult times are when I feel overwhelmed with work obligations, or am suffering with a bad cold, or just feel down in the dumps for whatever reason. During those times, following my own helpful advice just doesn’t seem to work to help me feel balanced again, which just adds to my frustration. These are my “feel good” practices, but if it seems they aren’t working during these times, why continue them?
I continue them because that’s just what I do. Sometimes, it’s not about feeling good. It’s about feeling grit.
Grit is the quality of sticking with something uncomfortable in order to get where we are going. It’s not the pretty, photoshopped quotes and phrases out there (which do have their place at times). It can often feel like no matter what we do, we aren’t making progress, but this is not the reality. The reality is that when you stick to anything that means anything to you, you are always moving forward. No matter what. Even when today’s scenery hasn’t changed from yesterday.
Grit has been shown in studies to be a better predictor of success when compared to IQ, attractiveness, upbringing and talent. It can reliably predict which kids will graduate from inner city schools to which adults will be successful in their chosen careers. It stands alone in studies as one of the most important (if not the most important) quality to cultivate to achieve success in our desired goals. If you want to reach your goal weight in one year? It’s going to take grit. If you want to work your way up the professional ladder? It’s going to take grit. If you want to maintain happy relationships? There’s grit again. Grit will get you through.
The next time you find yourself struggling with any goal, think about grit. Reflect on the times you have shown grit, and times when you haven’t. Although I am not aware of research regarding how to cultivate grit, it does seem that grittier individuals don’t believe in failure as a permanent state of being. They view it as a temporary learning experience, a condition necessary for growth. I believe that grit, like all habits, can be reinforced through practice. My coach training also tells me that keeping ourselves connected to our deep values and motivations can strengthen grit. The brain learns and adapts with our every action and thought, and cultivating grit is likely similar to cultivating gratitude. It’s not something you either feel or don’t – it’s something you choose to do.
As a self-discovery exercise, come up with a subjective “grit score” for yourself, where 1 is giving up on a task the instant it becomes difficult, and 10 is following through no matter how many times you feel like you have failed. Where would you rate yourself in general? Where would you rate yourself for specific goals you have set in your life? Whatever scores you come up with, ask yourself why the scores aren’t lower than they are. Why aren’t they higher?
If you like, you can also ask your friends and family who know you well what their honest impression of your grittiness is. Often, others have a more accurate view of our behavior than we do. How does their score compare with yours?
Once you feel like you know where you fall on the gritty spectrum, spend a few minutes in the following meditation:
Take three deep breaths. Visualize yourself struggling with some task that has become monotonous, a task at which you have failed before. How do you feel? Where in your body do you feel it? Visualize yourself persisting in the task despite your feelings of discouragement or failure. Notice how your tenacity feels in your body. Breathe deeply, allowing that feeling to travel on your breath deep into your chest and down into your toes. Visualize yourself committing to the task, despite obstacles setting you back. Accept the experience without judgement. See yourself clearly as you are right now, persisting. Become comfortable with how this feels. It may not feel “good”, but slowly find yourself easing into your commitment to see the task through. Take three deep breaths.
If you are interested in cultivating grit, I believe this meditation is an excellent way to prepare your brain for your practice. Like with any visualization practice, neuronal connections are being formed that lay the foundation for your actions. You will be more likely to persevere by visualizing yourself persevere.
Be gritty about practicing grit. It’s the best tool you could have on your road to success.