Six Steps to Getting Tougher

Categories Lifestyle


Here’s how to develop the mental grit you need to succeed…

Much recent psychological research has focused on “grit”, which is best described as persistence in the passionate pursuit of long-term goals. While IQ and natural talent play a part in what we achieve in life, repeated studies have shown the key predictor of success is “stick-to-itvness” (yep, they really call it that). So here’s how to toughen yourself mentally, get gritty and reap the rewards…

1. Know Why

It’s not just what you want but why. Knowing why you’re doing something will help you persist with the program. Wanting a bigger salary for bragging rights is a superficial motivation unlikely to sustain you over the longer term. Wanting more money so you can experience the freedom of travel, the security of home ownership or to better provide for your family are rock-solid reasons that can keep you on track for years or decades. Studies show motivations with some sort of positive moral basis are more likely to help you stick to your goals. It shouldn’t be all about you. While you might want to succeed in your career or get fit for your own satisfaction, folding the impact on others into your motivation builds an irresistible sense of duty about your activities. Eg: “If I earn more I’ll be able to provide a better life for my family”; “If I’m healthier I’ll be able to be a better dad to my kids.”

2. Let Yourself Feel The Fear

Fear is natural and often a great motivator. Examine what you’re afraid of and ask what you can do about it. Imagine the worst happening and resolve to take control of your life to avoid that outcome. If you fear being stuck on the middle rung of the career ladder for the rest of your life, ask what will it take for you to step up. Further education? Change of employer? Working longer hours? Taking on more responsibility? If you fear being unhealthy and dying young, what changes do you need to make to your diet, lifestyle and exercise regime? “If I don’t want X to happen then I have to do Y” is a powerful reminder that can assist in maintaining resolve.

3. Manage Expectations

If your ambitions are unrealistic you set yourself up for surprises and failures, which can make you feel out of control, reduce your resilience and make it harder to persist from the outset. Grit is all about being prepared to work long and hard toward realistic goals. Want to rise through the corporate ranks or lose weight and pack on muscle? Like the shampoo ad used to say, it won’t happen overnight but it will happen. Being prepared to work hard and long is what grit is all about. The rewards will be yours but you’ll have to be willing to delay the gratification associated with that larger, long-term objective. Setting smaller markers of your progress will help you to keep on track. Personal bests are useful here—whether it’s a sales target or sit-ups—because you’re only in competition with yourself. Take pleasure in ticking those off on the way to bigger success.

4. Control Your Reactions

Getting worked up emotionally wastes energy and saps your morale. We all have a tendency to overreact, especially when confronted with surprises. But shocks often come from not having thought through the possible outcomes. If you have already considered what might happen (whether it’s not getting that promotion or putting on weight) then the surprise and emotional impact is lessened. Developing mental flexibility is also key. Having a back-up plan means you’re soon able to see yourself moving around and past the new obstacle… which means it’s no longer an obstacle. While you can’t control everything that’ll happen to you in life, you can develop the mental attitude that allows you to control how you react to events. “Don’t make me angry” is what The Hulk was famous for saying. Truth was he was making himself angry. He could just as easily have chosen to respond calmly. So, where possible, take a few deep breaths and/or a few minutes before you respond to any confronting situation. Even better, sleep on it. You’ll be amazed how often that slight delay makes the problem seem so much smaller and the solution so much more obvious. Repeated application of this mental strategy builds your sense of control, which increases your ability to stay calm, persist and see things through.


5. Own Your Emotions

Taking time to respond doesn’t mean you don’t feel bad when things go wrong. Being okay with those emotions will actually help you prevent them from taking over. Sad? Angry? Rejected? Admit it to yourself, be willing to inhabit this discomfort zone as you ask yourself honest questions as to why you’re here and offer yourself advice as to how to move beyond these feelings. Don’t overdramatise. You’ve likely felt this way before and it passed. What made you feel better before? Was it taking action, discussing the problem with a friend or colleague, getting some exercise or simply the passage of time? Chances are those strategies will work again. Seeing light at the end of the tunnel actually accelerates the recovery from negative emotional states. That said: if you’re in serious emotional and/or mental distress, seek professional assistance.

6. Accentuate The Positive (But Accept Failure)

Beating yourself up repeatedly with negative appraisals will beat yourself down in terms of what you achieve. Practicing the art of positive thinking by focusing on your good qualities and on your progress. For example, “I suck because I only worked out for 45 minutes instead of an hour” is a glass one-quarter empty approach. Instead, change the point-of-view to: “Working out for 45 minutes is better than what I was doing a week ago, but tomorrow I will…” Having a growth mindset means you accept that there will be setbacks and failures but that these are opportunities to start over with lessons learned. Think of it like that Chumbawumba song “Tubthumping”, with its insanely catchy chorus: “I get knocked down/But I get up again/You’re never gonna keep me down.”