Growing Grit – How to persevere and build new habits
Overcoming psychological difficulties is far from easy. In one sense, its about establishing new habits and abandoning old ones that don’t work. But, it takes persistence and a strong commitment to do your exposure work. When you feel low in mood, routinely engaging in values-based activity can be tricky as the tendency to ruminate pulls you down.
Despite the progress you can make, withdrawal and isolation can easily take hold again. It’s difficult to let go, to trust my therapist and to keep walking with the foreboding of uncertainty and hopelessness.
On the other hand, its not too difficult to understand the challenge of keeping up new habits. I know too well, the struggle to regularly eat well, to exercise often and to prioritise my own self-care above being supremely productive.
Over a year ago, I stumbled on Angela Duckworth’s book, GRIT…Why passion and resilience are the secrets to success. I say stumbled, but the truth is that I was looking to understand more about how one perseveres against the odds.
Duckworth is a Psychologist in the US and following extensive research, she came up with a formula to describe how ones accomplishes their goals. Grit, she explains, is what helps you remain steadfast in the pursuit of a goal. Its what helps you to keep going when you’re faced with obstacles and failure. She observed that too many people tend to idealise talent. When we observe somebody showing skill, we say things like “oh, they’ve got real talent.” The trouble with that is attributing expertise to raw talent suggests its natural to our disposition. We either have it or we don’t.
Grit makes a bigger difference to outcome and shapes how much you succeed at something. Duckworth says that in every instance where talent predicts success, effort counts twice as much. And, although people do have certain natural talents, it’s the ones who work hard and stay focused that do better.
The formula she created for achievement goes like this:
Talent x Effort = Skill
Skill x Effort = Achievement
Duckworth breaks this down even further to outline her four-step process. You begin with taking an interest. This is step one. Take an interest in the thing you are avoiding. It could be shame, guilt or fear. Develop a fascination for the emotions or environmental contexts. Get curious and ask questions. Seek to understand them more fully.
Step two is deliberate practice. Do something every day. Take tiny steps and aim to improve. Compete against your past record. Find out what you can do to get better. Seek to learn.
Step three is to connect your practice with a bigger purpose. Underpin activity with freely chosen values. Sound familiar? Noticing the bigger purposes in what you do can help you persist. Stand tall, be strong and wise knowing that to keep going is better than giving up.
Step four is to adopt a growth mind-set. Your kids will know about this from school. Back in 1980s. Carol Dweck pioneered the work around fixed and growth mindsets. Within the latter, you are more open to learning and believe that it will help you grow. This makes it more likely, you’ll embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from criticism and find lessons or inspiration in the success of others. Fixed mindsets see intelligence as static and so effort is avoided, because it appears hopeless.
Put these four steps together and you can grow your grit. I use it myself. When I get caught up thinking my progress is slow and why do I keep falling back, it’s a cue that I’ve stopped practicing regularly. And, I’ve lost sight of what is needed to persevere.
You too can use this approach you seem to be getting stuck. Ask yourself:
- How interested am I in learning something new?
- How often am I practicing?
- Have I identified my values within my actions?
- How open am I to feedback and becoming more skilful?
One useful purpose in my work is curiosity. It is my trusted friend and advisor. It helps me when I feel like I’m drowning in my own frustration and anxiety. I only wish I’d remember to call on him more often. Still, I’ll keep persevering.
This post is adapted from an article originally published in CBT Today.