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Grit – The Power of Passion and Perseverance

On Sunday I watched hundreds of people compete in a local triathlon. As I saw them emerge from a swim in the choppy North Sea, cycle 20 kilometers and then run 5 kilometers on what was then quite a warm day, I thought, these guys have grit.

Competitors were all sorts of shapes, ages and natural talent and yet this did not appear to correlate with where they were in the final sprint for the finishing line. This reminded me of a book I read recently by Angela Duckworth, the title of which is the title to this piece.

Angela has researched the secret to outstanding achievement and has confirmed her intuition that it is not natural talent but a blend of passion and persistence, which she calls ‘grit’. She found:

As much as talent counts…effort counts twice as much, because we count it twice:

(Talent x Effort = Skill) x Effort = Achievement – hence the importance of effort.

She says: Effort needs to be efficient. Gritty people find ways to make their effort efficient. This also relates to work done by Michael Syed and written about in his book Black box thinking which is also a great book. Through the effort of practice and a growth mindset we can identify opportunities to learn from our practice and keep changing things as we learn and improving our practice so that our effort is not wasted – hence more efficient.

I work with my clients on identifying their passions, strengths, values and purpose as you are more likely to put the effort into something if you feel a passion for it. Even more so if you have a strong sense of purpose for your goals. Meaning something deeper than intention, meaning your goals relate in some way to improving the lives of others in some way and not just achieving something for our own sake. Angela’s findings also recommend this approach. Angela says:

Grit is a passion and purpose driven desire to put the required amount of effort in to achieve challenging goals and be one of the best in your field at something. Perhaps this is another way of describing talent, rather than assuming we mean someone with a natural talent/gift for something that comes with little effort.

Angela found gritty people are optimists. They believe their efforts will achieve their goals. This gives them resilience. There are huge links here to Martin Seligman’s work on optimism and Carol Dweck’s work on Growth mindset versus Fixed mindset.

In my experience, if you have a passion and a purpose you are driven to achieve you need to be surrounded by people and in a place where there are similar passions, purpose and where effort is recognised and rewarded. You will find it more difficult to achieve in a culture where the norms and values of the people around us are not gritty.

Grit relates to our happiness too. Angela conducted a survey of 2000 American adults to identify how grit relates to life satisfaction and found that the grittier a person is the more likely they are to enjoy a healthy emotional life.

Back to the triathlon, the happiest people crossing the line on Sunday seemed to be the people towards the end of the field, especially the last person to cross the line. These people must have had a real passion to persevere through all three elements of the race. Achieving their goal of finishing clearly brought huge happiness and for them they were the real winners that day!

Thanks to TriHard events UK for the photograph

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