‘Grit’ & Greatness – The secret substance everyone needs to be successful.


DSC_0010I have been wanting to write about ‘grit’ for a long time now but I was unsure the best way of making it not only understandable but backed up by science. After weeks of researching I feel confident I can explain what Grit is and also how one can improve their grit in order to create an advantage both inside and outside of a sport setting. At work I feel I can always estimate the level of grit in people have after I have trained them for 10 or more hours. For example with my current girls under 16 team I could rank the girls in order of how gritty they are without taking too much time to analyse the players further.

In order to make judgements on how gritty someone is, first we need to look at what grit is in more detail and why it is so important. The leading psychologist in regards to researching grit and its importance on daily life, Angela Duckworth, defines grit as:

“…the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals. Self-control is the voluntary regulation of behavioural, emotional, and attentional impulses in the presence of momentarily gratifying temptations or diversions.”

The most important thing to look at first is the end of the first sentence towards very long-term goals. Become a master at something is not as easy as it sounds. The road towards a long-term goal can be hard, painful and often cruel to those who pursue them. The reason that you are not a world class pianist or an olympic athlete is not due to a ‘lack of talent’ but in fact you have not spent tens of thousands of hours practicing to be one. Does this mean that you can become the incredible master you have always wanted to be? Yes! But you need something in order to get there – GRIT!

In order to get a fresh insight to what makes people gritty I decided to conduct a very simple study. I asked people I knew who played hockey a few questions and at the end of the form there were questions regarding the times they pushed through difficulties or gave up (one question for hockey and one for life outside of hockey). The sample was very large going from young children right up to international and professional hockey players. It was very interesting to read what things these people have done, players who played at a high level seem to also be gritty when it comes to tasks outside their sport whether it was school or relationships. What I found to be the most interesting though is the words that the players used to describe their feelings when they were gritty (or not). The study was conducted in dutch but translating some of the words they used shows a strong pattern:

Words to describe giving up in life Words used to describe giving up in hockey Words used to describe being Gritty in life Words used to describe being Gritty in Hockey
I really regret it I felt like a failure My family was proud It made others proud of me
I did not feel good about it I regret not carrying on I was proud of my self It made me feel happy
I was very irritated I felt like I let my team down I was relieved and proud It made me stronger
I did not feel interested It made me angry at my self Others admired me for being so strong It made me more focused
It made me feel sad I wish I could change how I felt I find it more pleasurable now It made others around me have more energy

DSC_0064When describing themselves during times of showing grit they used powerful words such as proud and strong. If these players know that being gritty gives them a great sense of self worth why did they also give up on tasks and use words such as regret to explain them? Angela Duckworth suggests that in order to understand what grit is you should look at what grit is not:

“Grit isn’t talent. Grit isn’t luck. Grit isn’t how intensely, for the moment, you want something…

Instead, grit is about having what some researchers call an [ultimate concern]–a goal you care about so much that it organises and gives meaning to almost everything you do. And grit is holding steadfast to that goal. Even when you fall down. Even when you screw up. Even when progress toward that goal is halted or slowed.”

Angela Duckworth mentions in her book Grit: Why passion and resilience are the secrets to success, that it is possible to “Grow your Grit” in 4 specific ways:

1. Develop a fascination with what you’re trying to do:

In order to learn and develop a skill you do not need to have raw talent but instead ant rue interest in the task or skill you want to learn. Charles Darwin admitted he did not have an abnormal base intelligence but how was he able to become one of the most influential scientists of the modern age? He had a true passion for finding out the unknown, he developed an obsessive fascination to find out questions that were in the back of his mind. These questions were what pushed him to discover the link between all living things, the theory of evolution.

Find out what questions fascinate you? Then you will find the capacity to stay on the path to achieving something great.

2. Aim to improve your self every single day:

Always try to beat your self, with everything single thing you do no matter how good you currently are. Something that I say a lot the juniors I train at the hockey school (ages 6-10) is “Are you better than last week?”. I use this sentence to bring the child back into perspective of the process of learning. As most of us can also admit we want to go form being a novice to a master in 5 minutes but in reality this is impossible. Competing with our selves and striving to become better than we were last time is a great way to improve our grit.

How can you carve out time each day to make sure you are improving? Competing against your self focusing on always becoming better than last time is key.

3. Remind your self of a greater purpose:

Angela found through many studies that those who were found to be more gritty than others felt that what they were doing was for a higher purpose. In a study of 16,00 adults she found that those with higher levels of grit had higher levels of purpose than pleasure, doing something for a reason was more gratifying than doing it for pleasure. Feeling that you are working towards a higher purpose gives more self gratification which in turn keeps you focused through the difficult or menial tasks on a day to day basis.

How does the task you are doing impact others or things around you? The most gritty people see their aims deeply connected to the goals of others around them.

4. Develop a growth mindset:

Long term success is centred on a core belief, our skills are not fixed. Many people do not obtain long term success because they believe that they “Can not learn any more/ can not change who they are”. In order to achieve your goals you need to scrap the idea that your brain can not be changed. The brain can be moulded your whole life and has a huge capacity for learning and changing your abilities.

Think of a time where you learnt something new that you thought was not possible. Use this to motivate and remind you that you can learn and grow and your abilities are not fixed.

By following these 4 points anyone is able to grow their grit and unlock the secret to success. Focus on constant improvement and soon it will become a habit and perseverance will become normal.

Personally for me grit is very important in my role as a professional coach, with team selections for my girls team starting in 4 weeks I am already thinking of ways of assessing the grit of potential players instead of looking at their talent and skill. It is a personal goal of mine to focus on making the grittiest team to have ever been produced by Hisalis!


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