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How to Get True Grit

02/16/2013 12:50 am ET | Updated Apr 17, 2013
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I remember more about the professor's fish necktie than I do the principles that I studied in that Intro to Economics class my junior year in college.

But, to this day, more than 20 years later (whoa, did I just say that?) I feel my heart beat fast, and pressure at the base of my throat like a swallowed a bubble whenever I think of Economics 201.

Economics hasn't been the only obstacle in my career path. Not even close to the biggest. But, it was a clear one. I had to pass the class to graduate from journalism school, and despite otherwise good transcripts, I was struggling to make the grade.

I got a tutor, studied hard, showed up at the professor's office hours (who does that?) participated in a study group, did the assignments. I even read the book -- seriously, I did. Of course, I also worried and fretted and whined. Then, I got a "No Pass." So, I did it all again. And again, until I got through it.

Grades aren't a big deal when compared to the heavy challenges in life that come later, but it was a toughie at the time and remembering how I prevailed helps me even now to keep going when other obstacles show up.

And plenty do. Of course they do. But, now I know I have the grit to see them through.

How about you? Do you have grit?

True Grit Allows You to Keep Going

Grit, say psychologists, is the quality that makes us willing to commit to the long-term goals and see them through despite adversity. It's a stick-to-it-ness. It is tenacity and a meld of other qualities like optimism, discipline and self-motivation.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania who have extensively studied resilience and grit say that grit is even more important than intelligence or talent when it comes to succeeding in school, work, and at other tasks. Grit is even the quality, according to research, that helps cadets survive at West Point and kids win spelling bees.

But, it isn't some magical quality. We can all get grit. So, if the only grit you have in your life is in the grout between the tub tiles, then it's time to take on some grit-building behaviors.

How to Get Grit

Pursue your passion. The things we are passionate about also involve challenge and adversity. Our passions are generally things we have not yet mastered, but things that inspire us and drive us to improve. The process, therefore, becomes rewarding in its own right. If you are pursuing an end-point, say a million bucks, or 50-pound weight loss, make sure you are picking activities and experiences en route to that goal that excite you. Passion will help you persevere -- which is gritty behavior.

But, there are bound to be aspects of any goal that you don't find all that interesting. As a writer, there are plenty of parts of the job that I don't like. That's when I challenge myself to find the interesting within the mundane.

For example, as a young reporters, I didn't get all that excited about attending city council meetings, but I did enjoy discovering the buried story, the one unique and quirky idea that would often surface in those forums that I could get amped up about.

So, while I covered the meeting, I focused on finding that single, unexpected thing. It kept me engaged. It kept me moving toward my other writing goals because it honed my observation skills and creativity. Find your thing, the piece that helps you keep developing your passions even when the task ahead threatens to derail you.

Build in practice time. Let's get real -- if you are going to accomplish anything, you're going to have to practice. Get better. Refine, revise all along the way. The people who have the grit needed to succeed, also know it takes hard work.

These grit mongers are not turned off by that, instead they continue to learn and train and practice. I set the goal to write a book when I was in the second grade. My first one came out in November. I spent all these years in between practicing and learning and studying the craft of writing until I was ready.

Sometimes the practice was enjoyable. Sometimes it was a total drag. But, it was always worthwhile.

Push on. Now, keep going. Right? In order to make anything happen you've got to keep at it. Persist. Persevere. Stick to it. There will be days, months even, that you don't want to. There will be setbacks that make you want to quit-- guaranteed. But, by acting gritty, by pushing on even when you feel like throwing in the towel, you'll actually get stronger.

So, on the days when you feel like giving up do this: Reevaluate your goal. If you believe it's still important then recommit and take one inspired action in that moment to keep you moving toward it.

Find support too. I have a friend who always gives me a little pep talk when I'm too burnt out to do it for myself. Read something inspiring or take on a five-minute practice to remind yourself that you can prevail. That you must because it matters.

When people ask how I became a published author I often tell them this: I work hard. I am not the most talented writer out there, but I will not quit. And that dogged determination has contributed to my success.

You've got that in you too. Of course you do. And, by practicing these grit-building behaviors you will not only get after your goals, but you will begin to create the life of your dreams.

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