Inventor Thomas Edison toiled away doggedly in his laboratory to find the answer to the incandescent lightbulb with the goal of illuminating the world. Failure after failure plagued Edison as he tirelessly sought to find the way to create light on demand, going so far as to sleep in his lab in his clothes for weeks while pursuing the answer.
Over 1,000 experiments were made in the pursuit of creating light on demand but failure was the result each time. However, Edison continued with the same breathtaking consistency and enthusiasm as when he first began, and he created the light-bulb illuminating the world in the process.
In each case study, overwhelming odds were overcome by applying maximum effort in the face of repeated failure with the same robust energy as in the beginning efforts. The single variable was a distinct quality that makes the difference in overcoming great obstacles to achieve great outcomes — grit.
What is Grit?
Angela Duckworth, author of the bestselling book Grit, calls grit a type of mental toughness to bear any burden with great enthusiasm while displaying the will and perseverance that never yields.
Any goal worth pursuing is going to require taking on new tasks while learning new skills which can be a combination of intimidating and overwhelming. Adding to that, success is not a straight line remaining adaptable to the needs of the moment while maintaining the ability to go forward is vitally important.
Duckworth’s purpose in studying grit was to help students to persevere through difficult work despite setbacks and failure. In pursuing her purpose, she discovered 4 distinct characteristics in gritty individuals across a diverse set of vocation. They are:
- Deliberate Practice
At the very beginning of an individual’s journey is the spark of curiosity about a thing or event they get exposed to. From this exposure, curiosity grows into passion drawing the individual deeper into the finer details of the activity. As the individual pursues answers in the pursuit of their passion, it transforms to ambition where they attempt to pursue a vocation while doing the thing that they love.
Mark Zuckerberg was interested in coding from an early age. He would code for hours and hours learning the intricate steps to designing new programs. His passion for coding would keep him occupied, often causing him to be so drawn in to what he was doing he would forget to eat or drink anything.
Later, when introduced to the early concepts of social media while attending Harvard, his coding experience allowed him to see deeper into its vast potential. That same experience gave him a different set of eyes into what would eventually become Facebook as he obsessively worked the long hours needed to bring his vision into reality.
Even today, his interest in programming causes Facebook to continually evolve drawing ever-increasing amounts of billions of people to its site every day.
Find what interests you — what brings out your passion — and pursue it relentlessly while seeking to get better along the way.
All great goals are works of art which require long hours of deliberate practice to bring them into reality.
The greater the goal, the greater the commitment is needed to persevere till success is achieved. Focusing on the process leading up to success is going to be an important distinction to avoiding the urge to quit.
Practice evolves over time into “deliberate practice” where you can focus intensely with all your internal and external resources while striving to improve.
Over time, small degrees of improvement cause your skillset to grow and become more efficient, transforming your practice into mastery. It’s at this level where the magic really begins to happen, and your progress begins to grow exponentially.
As passion starts to take over, you begin to tie your identity to what you’re doing, and it begins to become your purpose.
Having a purpose behind what you’re doing is a powerful motivator that can sustain you even in the greatest defeat or when you’re filled with doubt.
In 2004, Stephen R. Covey, businessman and best-selling author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, wrote in a revised copy of that same book — a story about his granddaughter, Shannon.
Shannon was in Romania when she encountered a young orphan girl who was sick. The little girl was so sick that she vomited all over Shannon’s dress. Shaken, Shannon then glanced at the child to see that the small girl raised her arms for a hug. Immediately, she embraced the child and felt herself filled with a sense of purpose to serve the people of Romania.
The power of purpose is a force multiplier that propels you forward to continue the work that you have been inspired to do especially when don’t feel you can continue.
The characteristic of hope maintains the belief that you can create the change that you seek in yourself and the world. Hope sustains in you in the lonely hours by supporting your belief that you can grow, attain the skills, educate yourself, and eventually create the change they want for yourself and/or the world.
It’s this self-affirming belief that supports a growth-mindset, which helps you make small, incremental improvements and grow. These small improvements don’t make much of an impact by themselves but over time can cumulatively make a lasting impact on your ability to achieve success.
Hope is strengthened when you experience doubt or fear and then move beyond them. Hope gives you the ability to set aside negative feelings and go forward anyway. Over time, as you take small but consistent daily actions in the pursuit of your goals, hope replaces disempowering feelings and thoughts of inadequacy.
When it does, you’ll find yourself transformed into a stronger, more successful version of yourself.
What it all means
The hard truth is that most people give up too soon or put off doing the things that would help them succeed.
Like a muscle, grit grows stronger over time and has the power to recreate a person’s identity, making them stronger, more resolute, tenacious, and able to support themselves in achieving excellence.
Fortunately, each of the key components of grit can be trained and made stronger on the path to success.