We’d all like to be able to get what we want, when we want it, and how we want it.
Of course, reality may get in the way, and sheer determination doesn’t always lead to your desired goals.
However, according to one view, if you have enough “grit,” you can do just that. It’s the stick-to-itness in your personality that will allow you to realize your ambitions.
Want to get that college degree in just 3 years? Decide you’re going to do it by studying hard and diligently. Hoping to get to know the “stranger from across a crowded room”? Throw your energy into making this your goal and you might as well start looking at real estate ads for your new love nest.
According to University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth, grit is a combination of two elements: passion and perseverance. The key to success in the workplace, for example, grit will get you from here to there, no matter where here or there happen to be.
It’s an appealing notion, and fits with our can-do mentality so prevalent in Western culture. Before you jump on the grit bandwagon, though, a warning.
In a review of the research on grit as a personality construct, Iowa State University psychologists Marcus Credé and Michael Tynan, along with University of Alabama psychologist Peter Harms (June 2016) conclude that grit is just another version of the personality trait of conscientiousness.
In their meta-analysis of the grit literature, entitled appropriately “Much Ado about Grit,” Credé and his co-authors argue further that helping people systematically become grittier won’t necessarily improve their performance.
The grit critics believe that grit enthusiasts may be falling prey to what’s called the “jangle fallacy,” meaning that “two things are different simply because they have different names” (p. 4).
If you worry that there’s too much psych jargon in the world, you can almost certainly relate to this notion. If grit is just perseverance with a twist, why not call it perseverance? We have measures for this and decades of research evidence to help provide insight into its nuances.
Credé and his coauthors point out that the two most relevant aspects of conscientiousness, self-discipline and achievement, are both part of the standard personality inventory measuring the Five Factor traits and are well understood.
What about the idea that because grit can help you in, for example, the workplace, we should train people to become grittier? Credé et al. find only limited evidence that such interventions would be worth the effort they require.
You might be able to teach college students to become more persistent and passionate, or you could invest your training bucks into teaching them how to organize their time and study more effectively.
Having seen that there’s too much ado about grit, what might you learn to apply to helping yourself use grit or something like it to get what you want? These 5 tips should get you closer – or at least mostly- to those goals:
- Take a page from the grit playbook. If passion plus perseverance can help at least some of the time, why not adopt that mindset yourself? The data don’t support the complete grit mentality, but you can’t lose by seeing if it will work for you. When you’ve set your mind on something, and given the qualifications below, decide it may very well be something you can achieve.
- Gauge the situation to determine whether the time is right. In a previous blog posting, I looked at 9 ways to ask for what you want, to increase the likelihood that you will. When getting what you want involves other people, it’s key to know how to approach them so that they’ll be more willing to help you. This is perhaps why grit doesn’t always work. Someone else may be even more passionate and persevering than you, or just not ready to give way to you just yet.
- Set realistically achievable, but incremental goals. In addition to your mental fortitude, you also need ability to get to your goals. Not everyone can run a marathon, be a winner on Jeopardy!, or even cook the perfect scrambled eggs. From your current level of ability, experiment with taking it to the next step, but if you don’t get there, you’ll know you need to scale it back a bit.
- Decide whether you actually want what you think you do. The expression “be careful what you wish for” is one worth pondering. You may think you’d be much, much, happier if you moved out because your roommate (or spouse, partner, or parents) is making life so difficult. Before you take action, consider what that alternative would be like and see if you can imagine yourself that much happier living there and without your current brood instead of where you are now.
- Take pride and pleasure in what you do accomplish. It’s a great feeling to achieve your goal. When you do, rather than start to dream up the next one right away, step back and admire the result. It may even be worth taking a breather, depending on how you had to work for it, just to recharge your energy if only temporarily.