Successful people require a high level of mental toughness. The best word to describe their mental strength is GRIT.
This definition for mental toughness was first explained by Angela Lee Duckworth: “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
The great thing about grit is people are not born with it, it can be developed. It requires great discipline and can be improved by working on the following 5 characteristics:
Courage is hard but not impossible to measure and it is directly linked to your own level of grit. Your ability to manage failure is an important indicator of your level of success. Gritty people are not afraid to fail; they embrace it as part of the process. They understand that not achieving your goal is an important part of the process and a motivator to get up and try again.
2. Conscientiousness : Achievement Orientated versus Dependable
There are 5 human personality traits known as The Big Five. They are Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neurotic. One minute you may be agreeable, the next neurotic but generally over the course of time, your personality traits remain the same.
According to Duckworth, grit is more closely linked to conscientiousness but is divided into two types, achievement orientated and dependable. The achievement orientated person works tirelessly to complete the task at hand and to do it at a high level, whereas the dependable one tries to just get the job done. So in the context of grittiness level, Duckworth feels it is important to go for gold rather than just making it across the finishing line.
3. Follow Through
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he examines the conditions required for optimal success. He looks at the greats, The Beatles, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and how they became so influential in their fields. Some of Gladwell’s findings point to sheer luck, but generally he discusses how the greats set multiple goals to achieve a greater goal and then practiced, practiced, practiced. But practice must have a purpose and be challenging. There is no point practicing chopsticks on the piano and considering yourself a virtuoso when you have mastered it. That achievement is only one level closer to your next step to success.
The path to greatness has many challenges. Resilience is the ability to overcome the challenges no matter how disheartening. Andrew Zolli defines resilience as “the ability of people, communities, and systems to maintain their core purpose and integrity among unforeseen shocks and surprises.”
Resilience requires a combination of optimism, creativity and confidence. Together, these allow people to regulate their emotions and overcome the obstacles. Key elements of resilience include (1) Knowing that one can influence their surroundings and the outcome of events, and (2) believing that positive and negative experiences will lead to learning and growth.
5. Don’t seek perfection, seek excellence.
Perfection often isn’t attainable, but excellence is. Gritty people understand that perfection is inflexible and unforgiving. It is fine for establishing standards but it is often an ominous barrier to success.
Excellence on the other hand is an attitude, not an endgame. It is more forgiving, allowing vulnerability and embracing failure as a necessary step to improvement.
Developing grit requires a “growth mindset”, an idea developed by Stanford professor Carol Dweck. It is the belief that the ability to learn is not fixed, that it can change with effort. It is commonly found in children that read and learn about the brain. When they grasp that the brain grows in response to challenge, they persevere, knowing that failure is not a permanent condition.
Unfortunately, many adults lose this “growth mindset” as they get older due to the day to day challenges of life, ultimately settling for second best. Adults often don’t believe they have the time to train or retrain their brain to increase their mental strength. This involves the common misconception that time is caused by personal rather than environment situations. Training starts with small steps not unachievable goals. Mental strength can be improved five minutes at a time until mental strengthening becomes a subconscious activity performed throughout your life.
Grit is and was evident in some of our great leaders. Great leaders resist the temptation for short-term gratification; usually a requirement to meet stock market expectations. A classic example of mental toughness was Fujitsu’s decision to ‘go for gold’ with the digitization of cameras when its dominant competitor, Eastman Kodak, was eating up market share in the 1970s and 1980s. And we now know the last chapter of Kodak’s story was a Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.
So start exercising these 5 key characteristics and notice how your grittiness level increases.