President Harry Truman once said, “C-students run the world.” Truman was in many respects an average person who, through middle-age, possessed an unremarkable record of achievement. A reading of his biography, however, reveals a man with an astonishing reserve of persistence, focus, and resilience.
In part, what Truman meant when he spoke of C-students in the 1940’s was that superior intelligence, a prestigious education, and wealth were no guarantee of success. “Average” people often excel where those who appear to have more going for them do not.
Fast forward to 2016. A McKinsey consultant turned 7th grade math and science teacher, Angela Duckworth, wrote a book called Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. She was fascinated that some of her students worked harder, were more persistent, and tended to achieve their goals more often than others — and it seemed to have nothing to do with intelligence or academic scores.
Based on several years of research, Duckworth says there are two traits that predict achievement: grit and self-control. “Grit is the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals. Self-control is the voluntary regulation of impulses in the presence of momentarily gratifying temptations.”
President Truman had grit.
We see grit operating in the working world every day. Some of our colleagues seem to have more determination, an ability to overcome obstacles, remain more optimistic, stay focused, and achieve their goals. They have more grit than their co-workers. Others, equally or more talented, are easily discouraged, have difficulty maintaining their energy when faced with unexpected obstacles, and struggle to achieve their goals.
One of the most important aspects of Duckworth’s findings is that grit can be developed. The American Psychological Association (APA), speaks of resilience — “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress” — and agrees that resilience is not something that people either have or don’t have. For more about resilience read Arden Coaching’s article, “Success in an Uncertain World: the Power of Resilience.”
You are not stuck with the hand you were dealt. You can build grit:
1. Regularly visualize your goal. Imagine in your mind’s eye what your goal looks like when it’s achieved. There is actually something real in the Law of Attraction — not new age crystals and determinism, but real changes in perspective based in neuroscience. Visualizing our goals helps us focus, maintains our enthusiasm, and makes us more optimistic. That’s helpful when we encounter obstacles — and no goal worth attaining has ever been achieved without experiencing barriers and stumbling blocks. For more, read Arden Coaching’s article, “Get Your RAS in Gear!!…The ‘Law of Attraction’ for Leaders.”
2. Remove toxic people from your life. Research increasingly demonstrates the critical importance of your social and support networks. Associate with people who will help you be a better person. Distance yourself from the toxic personalities in your life.
3. Create small realistic goals along the way. Small incremental goals help you move steadily toward a big goal. Often, we get discouraged about big goals because of their sheer size and complexity. We can feel that we’re not making any progress, and that’s discouraging. We are more likely to stay committed and persist toward a big goal if we are regularly achieving smaller goals that move us forward.
4. Focus on one thing at a time. We are bombarded with information and demands on our time. It’s easy to feel that multitasking makes us more productive. It turns out the opposite is true. Chunk the information coming at you and work on one major chunk at a time. Work on your big project from 8-10 AM; then your email for 30 minutes after that; next, dive into a short-term project until noon. This promotes concentration and helps you direct your work toward the things that matter most.
5. Cultivate compassion. This may sound surprising, but the research supports that cultivating compassion — for yourself as well as for others — builds grit and resilience. According to research referenced by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, “Compassion increases positive emotions, creates positive work relationships, and increases cooperation and collaboration.”
6. Practice! Take small steps, achieve small victories. When things don’t go right, dust yourself off and start again. Make a habit of tenacity: get up when you are knocked down. You can work to develop grit on your own. You may also work with an executive coach to serve as a critical guide and partner to help you accelerate your progress. We often have difficulty analyzing and assessing our own strengths and weaknesses objectively. An executive coach will help you do that in a productive, forward-looking way.
To learn more about executive coaching and developing your grit and resilience, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 646.844.2233.