My grandmother was born on the kitchen table, had a special baseball cap reserved just for wearing into town and once confused Dom Perignon with a mafia leader. She told me to “suck it up” when I complained about my teachers.
I resented the fact that she didn’t take my side when I came home crying that Mrs. Archie ordered — not asked — me to finish my math homework. It wasn’t that Grandma couldn’t be sweet when she wanted, it was more than she did not suffer fools. She knew that learning can be tough and didn’t have time to waste on a cry-baby who couldn’t take a few knocks.
My grandmother had grit.
Grit is a mindset which means it’s something that it can be developed over time. Once we realize that we have control over the way we think about our obstacles, we have the power to find opportunities in the midst of our adversity. Grit is hefted with determination and resilience. It’s also an unwavering faith to follow through on what we’ve started because it’s something we believe in and is important to us.
People with grit want to better themselves rather than complain about what they don’t have in life. They have the kick-butt attitude that most of us need in today’s world if we want to succeed. A person with a grit-up approach is equipped with tools and strategies to deal with setbacks.
Here are reasons grit can be important to your success:
1. Success doesn’t depend on talent
Not everyone may agree with my grandmother’s attitude toward life, but science is actually proving that grit is a far more reliable predictor of success than intelligence. If you have grit, you’re brave and strong enough to do what it takes to succeed in business and life. It’s a powerful force that allows you to stand out from the crowd even though your skills may not be exceptional.
Psychology professor Angela Duckworth finds that grit — defined as passion and perseverance for long-term goals — is an important predictor of success, if not the only one. In fact, grit is unrelated, or even negatively correlated, with talent. When working with West Point cadets, she found that those who scored higher in grit had the mental toughness to keep going when times got tough.
The high score on grit surpassed other tests such as SAT scores, IQ, class rank, leadership, and physical aptitude when it came to predicting retention rates.
How to make it work for you: It takes more than talent and it takes more than skill. It takes effort. Here is Duckworth’s formula:
- Talent X Effort = Skill
- Skill X Effort = Achievement
Without effort, even the most skilled and talented people in the world will never accomplish anything.
2. Work with a sense of purpose
Grit requires an intrinsic desire to go beyond what can easily be accomplished with talent or skill. This requires a deep sense of purpose because we believe our work is worth it.
If forced to work this hard, we could just put in the minimum and call it good. That, folks, is where most people land. They may be skilled, but they don’t have grit because their heart isn’t in it. They’re not motivated to go beyond what can easily be achieved with their talent.
How to make it work for you: Take the time to connect with your higher purpose. Despite all those slick advertisements and what you see in movies, it isn’t all about the fastest car or the biggest paycheck. Purpose will require you to find value in yourself and discover how you can contribute to the well-being of others.
3. Get better every day
A grit mindset never forgets that there are always opportunities to improve, no matter how good you may already be. This way of thinking gives people a leg up when confronted with an obstacle because defeat is never the default.
For many people, what stands in the way often becomes the way. A setback is not looked at as an opportunity to improve themselves; instead, it unfolds as their new path, regardless of whether it takes them where they want to go.
Eric Kandel, who shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology in 2000, discovered the phenomenon of synaptic plasticity. As we try something new, we have to work at it to develop the skill. The nerve cells involved in that learning process fire a neurotransmitter to get the process started. The more effort we exert, the larger the synapses become and the connections strengthen.
The more we stress our brain, those neural pathways get stronger. That is why practice — the repeated firing of neurons — leads to improved performance.
We rarely embrace hard work that stresses our brain, but our brain actually get stronger from it. James Loehr, an expert on peak performance, says, “Stress (in moderation) is not the enemy in our life; paradoxically, it’s the key to growth.”
How to make it work for you: Once you’ve found a pursuit that fills you with purpose, put in the work to get better at it every day. Compete with yourself so that you’re a bit better today than yesterday.
4. Learn to fail well
To get the job done on our Wyoming cattle ranch, I had to learn the best way to do it. Often, I had to try several ways to get the job done before I found a way that did work.
I didn’t label those attempts as failure. Instead, each iteration took me closer to finding a solution. It wasn’t until I was hit in the face with college entrance exams and job performance appraisals that failure took on such an ominous meaning.
When I was younger, I was told that failure and trying again was simply part of the learning process. Failure presented a “problem” to be worked out and it was often a game of trying something new that might work.
I grew up believing in the power of Plan B. My grandmother knew how to brush off failure and take the steps necessary to try again. Stupidity, in her eyes, was to go back and repeat the same mistakes. And yes, expect a different result. Her second, third, or fourth attempts were transitions from failure to success.
How to make it work for you: Many people look at failure as the F-word and avoid it if possible. Instead, look at your failure as fertile training ground for future improvement. List everything you learned from the experience. List all the insights and lessons gained as well as all that went wrong, and why. It’s only a painful memory if you don’t grow from the experience.
As my grandmother would say, “Grit up!”
LaRae Quy was an FBI undercover and counterintelligence agent for 24 years. She exposed foreign spies and recruited them to work for the US government. As an FBI agent, she developed the mental toughness to survive in environments of risk, uncertainty, and deception. Quy is the author of “Secrets of a Strong Mind” and “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths.” If you’d like to find out if you are mentally tough, get her free 45-question Mental Toughness Assessment. Follow her on Twitter.
If you enjoyed this article, sign up for SmartBrief’s free e-mails on leadership and career development, among SmartBrief’s more than 200 industry-focused newsletters.