Cultivating Mental Grit

Have you ever asked yourself the question: “How is that person able to succeed so well at work?” Or, “How is he able to be such a great dad?” Or, “Where does she get her drive to be such a stellar athlete?” These questions are all essentially asking, “How come some people can overcome their obstacles (i.e., achieve their goals), while others do not?”

I believe that what makes some people achieve their goals, while others do not has a lot to do with mental grit. (Caveat: This is a generalization, and it does not take into account all the many variables that contribute to achieving or failing at goals.)

There are many quotes about this, such the one by Thomas Edison who said “Genius is 10% inspiration, and 90% perspiration.” Research seems to support the idea that while you can’t change the genes you were born with, you can achieve goals in life by developing mental toughness.

Angela Duckworth, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, has spent years studying mental grit. At West Point, she tracked 2,441 cadets in two entering classes. She recorded their high school rank, SAT scores, participation in extracurricular activities, physical aptitude exam (a standardized physical exercise evaluation), and grit scale (which measures perseverance and passion for long–term goals).

And her results where surprising. Unlike what we might think, intelligence, physical strength, or leadership potential had little bearing on whether or not a cadet would succeed. Instead, it was mental grit.

So what is mental grit? Duckworth defines mental grit as “the perseverance and passion to achieve long-term goals.” Which is a really great definition, but leaves much to the imagination on how to cultivate said perseverance and passion. Which leads us to the next question of:

Mental Grit is the perseverance and passion to achieve long-term goals.

How does one develop mental grit? In a word: “consistency.” You don’t need divine inspiration or incredible bouts of courage. What you do need is to build daily habits that allow you to follow a schedule and that strength your ability to overcome obstacles over, and over, and still over again.

How does one develop mental grit? In a word: “consistency.”

The idea of sticking to a schedule consistently can be daunting for some. Which is why we really like these five simple steps on how to develop a new habit. (Credit: James Clear, “Transform your Habits: The Science of How to Stick to Good Habits and How to Break Bad Ones.”)

  1. Start by building your identity.
  2. Focus on small behaviors, not life-changing transformations.
  3. Develop a routine that gets you going regardless of how motivated you feel.
  4. Stick to the schedule and forget about the results.
  5. When you slip up, get back on track as quickly as possible.

You can apply these 5 steps to pretty much any aspect of your life. In regards to fitness, it might look like:

  • Doing the 10th rep when your brain is yelling for you to only do nine.
  • Work out every day for a week, then two weeks, then a month.
  • Cut out processed foods or sugars.
  • Sign up for and train for a race you’ve never done before.

Whatever your goal is, one thing is clear. Motivation and willpower will only take you so far. You have to develop the consistent habits that will carry you through when your brain is telling you to stop. (And, we hope along the way you still maintain the ability to smile.)

Race Ragnar

Mike King – Racing Race Ragnar Trail Relay – 2016



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