When I look at world-class performers, I see magic. I see Gods. I see supernatural.
My vanity is fooling me. I find it hard to accept that someone, somewhere, worked harder than I did. That I could be that someone, but I’m not. While he’s winning the Olympics, getting an Oscar, curing cancer, I’m watching Seinfeld. I love Seinfeld. Seinfeld & pancakes.
But I guess Nietzsche puts it better than I do:
For if we think of genius as something magical, we are not obligated to compare ourselves and find ourselves lacking… To call someone divine means: here there is no need to compete.
So now, you might think:
Ok great, you can do everything you set your mind to. So how come we don’t? What is it that stops us from succeeding?
Short answer: you lack grit.
See, we all tend to love novelty. The excitement of a new activity releases dopamine. As learning beings, we enjoy the discovery of a new realm. But when things get hard, we crumble and give up. When you have to swim in the middle of December in NYC. When you have to wake up at 6 to start writing. When you have to go to that trade show in the middle of Nevada. You quit. You skip it once. Then twice. The forever. You don’t resist to adversity.
Good news: You can change this.
Here’s your manual to achieving anything. Buckle up!
Talent is overrated
As our favorite incestuous pedophile puts it:
Eighty percent of success in life is showing up.
– Woody Allen
We live in a society that vows a passion for genius. “You ain’t no Einstein” used to say my 8th-grade math teacher.
But did you know?
Einstein could have gone unnoticed. He could have sipped caipirinhas all day on Copacabana beach. What made him iconic? He worked his ass off.
Intelligence without hard work is useless.
So my teacher meant I could be more perseverant. Or so I like to assume. Topic closed.
It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.
Do you still need intelligence to succeed in life? Damn sure you need it.
But two things:
- intelligence is not crystallized, and can increase;
- Intelligence without grit is like vodka without Redbull. Sooner or later you’re going to crash.
Effort trumps talent every freaking day.
What is grit?
To be gritty is to :
- to have an exciting and purposeful goal (= passion);
- and to invest every day in challenging practice (= perseverance).
Passion usually refers to the feeling of intense emotion. Here, passion is a daily mindset that drives you to pursue your goal. No change of plans when novelty wears off.
Perseverance is what makes you push through difficulties every day.
Fall seven. Rise eight.
– Japanese proverb
Or, as my favorite actor/rapper – I made a fan website when I was 14, true shameful story:
I will never be outworked. Period.
– Will Smith
Align your goals and actions with your values. This way, you’ll get an infinite source of passion and perseverance.
Discover your passion
Interest develops over time.
First, there is discovery: you try things, see what you like and dislike. Only actions will let you discover your interests.
Then, you have the development phase. This is where you actively seek improvement in your interest. You do that by challenging yourself and learning from your mistakes.
Finally, you reach the deepening phase. That is where true experts are made. You see novelty in the nuances of your work, where the novice eye wouldn’t look at any subtleties.
Improve with practice
Deliberate practice designates a practice tailored for improvement through continuous challenges.
It includes 4 elements:
- A clear goal: you need to make your goal measurable, and zero in on one narrow aspect of overall performance.
- Focused effort: be mindful of what you’re trying to improve. Practicing without full concentration to the task is useless. You can’t multitask. Period.
- Feedback: that’s where a coach comes in handy. Immediate and constructive feedback on your performance is crucial to your improvement.
- Repetition: reflect on your past mistakes and refine your skills.
Make deliberate practice a joyful habit. Enjoy the pain. Grow from it every day. And reward yourself by looking at your accomplishments & progress.
Also, surround yourself with more skilled people. Surround yourself with gritty people. The need for conformity that we all have will make you push yourself more. Your entourage matters.
Make it your purpose
Purpose is the will to contribute to the well being of others. Oh, and if you don’t feel philanthropic today, let me remind you that caring for others is engraved in your DNA. The need for survival made us seek prosocial interests. Being liked by others used to increase our chances to survive a mammoth attack. You still have that in you.
If your goals are part of a grander scheme than your mere selfish growth, you’ll perform better.
Foster a growth mindset: understand that talent can and should be learned. Focus on the process rather than the outcome. Update your beliefs about intelligence & skill.
Be careful with your inner self-talk: it shapes your perception. You can learn optimism.
Realize that your setbacks are temporary and specific to some events. Never disregard your efforts by focusing on an isolated failure. Look at the whole picture.
Stay focused on your higher goal, don’t let short-term failures crush you.
If you can, have a helping hand that can set you back on the right track when need be.
Persevere over adversity. Failing doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It says this particular attempt was. Learn from it, and get back on your feet.
Develop a vision for yourself and stick with it. Discipline and efforts to maintain that vision can make it all come true.
Reach for your best: no whining. No complaining. No excuses.
One last thing: “why should I be gritty anyways? We are all going to end up dead anyway.” First, thanks, Party Pooper.
But more seriously: because grit leads to happiness.
There is a satisfaction that comes from doing something important for yourself and others, and doing it well even though it’s very hard.
Complacency has its charms, but none worth trading for the fulfillment of realizing your potential.
– Angela Duckworth
Also published on Medium.