Grit & Doing the Change

You care, you’ve got a plan, now you’ve just got to do it. Great! You’re going to change your life. This is the easy part! You just need to get up every day for a year, and go for a five mile run first thing in the morning, no exceptions.

The hard part of doing the things that you’ve planned and plotted to change your life is that a lot of that doing is dull. It is not sexy. The path to your brilliant novel, beautiful portfolio of photographs, or business that mints money is not lined with applauding crowds. Quite the opposite in fact, the world will mostly not care, even when you’ve accomplished with tremendous skill or speed what you set out to do.

Caring helps a lot, no doubt. A positive and internal motivation really shows its value when you get to this ugly and dull business of doing the thing. An intelligent plan that’s sensitive to reality helps too. But the doing really comes down to will. Resilience. Stamina. Grit. Stick-to-itiveness. Perseverance.

Grit requires you to believe in your capability to do the thing you set out to do. Any change you’re motivated to make in your life, that you care about, that you have a strategy for, is still likely the cause of uncertainty in you. You think this might work, you hope it does, but you’re not sure you’ll be able to pull it off. If you believe that you’ll get there — you can allow for changes of plan along the way — you’re much more likely to continue to put in the effort to get you there.

Belief in your capability is a hard thing to teach, but Carol Dweck’s work on “mindsets” is really useful here. What Dweck’s research has convinced her of is that there’s a vast gulf between people who believe they can learn, and those who believe their capabilities were fixed at birth. Her book is packed with anecdotes and studies that can help you bridge that gap if you see yourself on the wrong end of it — I was mostly a fixed mindset type before I read it, and came away changed.

Grit is also something that you get better at with practice. Which sounds wrong — in a “I don’t have the grit to develop grit” way — but is actually a really good thing. Practice patience with the people who frustrate you in your life. Practice sticking with things past the point where they’re fun to do. Practice pressing yourself to go just a bit faster than you feel like. Doing one of these, followed by noticing and acknowledging when you succeed, makes you better at the others.

Grit is also something you get better at by realizing you’re already good at it. It’s almost certain there is some area of your life where you push beyond your bounds, put in that extra effort, and really give it a full shot. Acknowledging yourself for that effort and talent, and seeing yourself as someone capable of that kind of effort is empowering, and a great way to become the kind of person who sees all important projects through to completion.

Doing is easy when it’s acknowledged and praised externally. Finding outside people to support you is a great strategy. Getting some good people in your corner will make the whole thing easier.

But most of the work will have no audience and win no acclaim. What’s necessary for you to really succeed in that environment is what’s necessary for you to succeed anywhere. Recognize the importance of sticking with the plan, of  going on when you feel least like doing it, and of the fact that you can really do those things. Keep going on that basis and there’s nothing you can’t do.

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