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By Eric Barker
May 10, 2016
IDEAS
Barker is the author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree

Ever feel like you just wanna give up on something? How can you develop the inner strength necessary to achieve your long term goals?

Turns out that grit — the perseverance that keeps us going — is a lot more important than you might think. In fact, it’s the best predictor of success among West Point cadets.

From Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us:

Stanford researcher Catharine Cox studied 301 eminent historical figures. What conclusion did she come to? Persistence beats smarts.

From Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance:

So we all need more grit. But how do we get there? I decided to call an expert…

In 2013 Angela Duckworth was awarded the MacArthur “Genius” Award for her work on grit.

She’s a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Here’s her TED talk:

Angela and I talked about the four things that lead to the development of grit — as well as a fifth element that’s a shortcut to the inner strength we all need to succeed.

Let’s get to it…

1) Pursue What Interests You

It’s hard to stick with something over the long haul if you don’t care. So the first step to grittiness is finding something that deeply interests you. Here’s Angela:

So you need to sit back and ponder what you’re passionate about, right? Wrong. Angela says introspection is not the right path. You need to get out there and try stuff so you really know what’s perfect for you.

And once you think you’ve found something you’re really excited about, Angela recommends picking a role model or teacher to help you along.

When I spoke to her UPenn colleague, professor Adam Grant, he said a mentor is key to turning passion into skill. Here’s Adam:

(To learn a Navy SEAL platoon commander’s secrets to grit, click here.)

Alright, so you know what you want to be gritty at. What’s the next step?

2) Practice, Practice, Practice

Hard work develops skill, and we’re more likely to stick with things we’re good at. Here’s Angela:

Like she said, working on weaknesses is key. And she’s not the only grit expert who believe this. When I spoke to former Navy SEAL James Waters, he said this is exactly what makes SEALs so tough.

They do a debrief after each mission to review what happened and spend 90% of it discussing what they could do better next time. Here’s James:

When I spoke to Anders Ericsson, who did the original “10,000 hours” research, he emphasized that deliberate practice isn’t easy. It’s intense. (To learn how to do deliberate practice the right way, click here.)

So how do you muster the grit to do that hard work before you’re truly gritty? Angela says, “Change the way you experience it.”

And, once again, the Navy SEALs agree. James said the secret to getting through the near-impossible SEAL training (BUD/S) was to turn it into a game. Here’s James:

(To learn the scientific way to become an expert at anything, click here.)

Okay, you’re passionate and working hard. But plenty of people can say that. What do the truly gritty people do that leaves everyone else behind?

3) Find Purpose

The difference between someone who is just a hard worker and somebody who has real grit is that the latter finds meaning in what they do. And that meaning involves serving others. Here’s Angela:

Studying 16,000 people, Angela found that “grittier people are dramatically more motivated than others to seek a meaningful, other-centered life.”

From Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance:

Gritty people don’t merely have a “job.” They have a calling in life. She explains it with this story…

From Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance:

And helping others through your work doesn’t just make you gritty — it also makes you love what you do. People who perform work that benefits society show high levels of job satisfaction. And that leads to an upward spiral of grit.

From How to Find Fulfilling Work:

I know what some of you are thinking: I want to be gritty at my job but I don’t find meaning in it.

No problemo. Think about what you do that helps others. This alone boosts grit. Beyond that, other research shows that tweaking how you see your job can make a huge difference.

From Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance:

(To learn how to develop the mental toughness of an Olympic athlete, click here.)

Passion, deliberate practice and purpose. Great. But what’s the final step that will turn you into a juggernaut of grit?

4) Have Hope

Sound corny? No, this isn’t just wishing things will go well. Angela says you need an active type of hope. You must believe things will improve because you’re going to improve them.

From Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance:

Now hope may sound fuzzy and unscientific but it’s not. Research shows people without hope avoid bigger challenges, quit earlier, and act helpless. What could be more anti-grit than that?

From Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined:

So what should you do if you’re not too hopeful? 2 things: have a “growth mindset” and use “optimistic self-talk.”

Angela says these two lead to perseverance over adversity. A growth mindset is the attitude that your abilities aren’t fixed. Don’t focus on innate talent. Believe you can get smarter and better at anything if you work hard.

And optimistic self-talk is as simple as telling yourself “I can do it” when things get difficult. In fact, the US military has taught this to recruits in order to increase their grit.

(To learn how to develop a growth mindset, click here.)

So those are the big 4 ways you can develop grit… and, yes, they can be really hard.

But is there another way that’s easier? Or something you can use to complement the above strategies when you’re at your limit? Yes…

5) Join A Gritty Group

Hang out with gritty people or join a gritty company and it will rub off on you. Here’s Angela:

We like to think we’re all unique snowflakes but we’re inevitably influenced by those around us. News flash: that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Peer pressure can be awesome if you use it the right way.

From Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance:

When I spoke to Stanford GSB professor Bob Sutton, he told me his #1 piece of advice to students was this:

(To learn how your friends can be the easy way to an awesome life, click here.)

We’ve learned a lot from Angela. Let’s round it all up and find out the most surprising benefit of grit…

Read more from Eric Barker:

Sum Up

Here’s what Angela says will build that inner strength and make you gritty:

  • Pursue what interests you: You’re not going to stick it out if you don’t care.
  • Practice, practice, practice: It’s not just how you get to Carnegie Hall. We love doing things we’re good at.
  • Find purpose: How does what you do help others? That’s what makes a job into a calling.
  • Have hope: No “wishing on a star” here, pal. Have hope because you are going to make it happen.
  • Join a gritty group: Mom was right; spend time with slackers and you’ll be a slacker.

So you do all of these things and become a Tyrannosaurus of grit. Awesome. Know what else you will be?

Happy.

Angela surveyed 2000 people and the results were clear: “I found that the grittier a person is, the more likely they’ll enjoy a healthy emotional life.”

And it’s not some lazy, starry-eyed contentment. Gritty people strive every day and enjoy new challenges. That’s the exciting kind of happiness. Here’s Angela:

Everyone today is concerned with work-life balance. It’s nice to know that the same quality that can make you a success in your career can help promote happiness at home.

You should never give up on being happy. Or better yet: never give up on yourself.

I’ll have more from my interview with Angela including the three things that will make your kids gritty (and the technique she uses with her own children.) To make sure you don’t miss it, join here.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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