Is there really a secret to success?
According to Angela Duckworth, Ph.D., author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, the answer is yes. During Duckworth’s decade or so of research, her study subjects have included seventh-grade math students, West Point cadets, and National Spelling Bee contestants. She found that a hallmark of the highest performers was how they processed their feelings of frustration and disappointment when they encountered an obstacle. Rather than giving in to defeat, they would ask themselves, “‘What could I do the next time to make something better?’ Of course, outcomes matter—an athlete always wants to win the gold,” she explains. “But the process of getting better is at least as important to them.”
In other words, Duckworth’s research shows that IQ and talent aren’t the best predictors of your future or your success. What leads us to accomplish great things is ferocious determination: resilience in the face of setbacks, sustained effort, hard work, and an optimistic outlook. This, she says, is grit.
Keep reading for four ways to fortify your grit so you can remain ferociously determined—no matter what life throws your way.
1. Be Consistent
Having grit means showing up and continuously striving for progress. “It’s more about stamina than intensity,” Duckworth says. “That’s surprising to some people—when we think about grit, there’s an intensity to it. But I think what’s important is a consistency of effort and focus over time. To be gritty is to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to hold fast to a purposeful goal.”
How to Do It: Set achievable goals. When we set goals, we often become overly ambitious—and run the risk of becoming overwhelmed and discouraged. Instead, start where you are and let your goals evolve as you do. The more specific, the better. For example, “save money” is vague and difficult to zero in on—but a targeted goal such as “add at least $100 to my savings account each month” is clear, realistic, and measurable.
2. Define Success for Yourself
The way we think and talk about success can create false limits on what we actually achieve. “We don’t need to believe we can be Usain Bolt, the fastest person on the planet, or Einstein, the smartest person, but almost all of us could be so much more than we believe we could be,” Duckworth says. “It’s my belief that in the right circumstances— with the right support, the right mindset, the right optimism—people can do marvelous things. We ought not to put ceilings on ourselves too early and we ought not to build those ceilings too low.”
How to Do It: Reframe setbacks as springboards for growth. “When you change your belief about how success happens, you can change your behavior,” says Duckworth. Use self-talk that praises progress over perfection, such as, “I deserve my own respect for trying my best,” or “I’m not a lost cause. I just need practice!”
3. Celebrate Each Step
According to Duckworth’s research, high performers break down long-term goals into small steps, which creates more immediate victories. “Excellence, when we see it all at once, in its final form—for instance, the winning performance of an Olympic swimmer—seems inaccessible, from heaven. But what you don’t see are the hours and hours of practice—refine the left elbow on this one stroke, again and again,” she explains. “We need to realize that this marvelous final product took many, many iterations to come about. And there were these tiny little components, all practicable, all doable. When we think about it that way, it makes things accessible.”
How to Do It: Keep a win list. Write down what went well at the end each day. What did you feel good about? What did you get done? At the end of each week, take a moment to review your list and give yourself credit for a job well done.
4. Challenge Yourself
And finally, says Duckworth, “Gritty people know that action has power, magic, and beauty. Dig into it! You can never learn something from the outside. You have to be on the inside. High achievers that I’ve spoken to, they just keep signing themselves up for things they can’t do. Then they figure out how to do it.”
How to Do It: Push yourself to take small risks every day. Share a candid idea in a meeting, reach out to a colleague you don’t know that well, or ask for feedback so that you can grow and improve.
Over the last 10 years, Janet Ungless has developed a comprehensive expertise in health and well-being as a writer and editor. With a particular focus on sleep, meditation, and wellness, Janet has worked with a host of digital platforms to help consumers live healthier, happier lives. Find her on Twitter @jungless.