Those who are successful in life are very often an example of perseverance, but what makes them so? What drives you to pursue a goal?
Many successful personalities consider the goal of their ambition unattainable; they are never satisfied with their results and never rest on their laurels. It is precisely this feeling of dissatisfaction that drives them, that gives them that impulse of continuous struggle towards improvement. In a nutshell, they find it rewarding to hunt down something that they feel is extremely important and about which they are passionate.
Another main characteristic of successful individuals is the awareness of a direction, not only are they determined but they also know, without a shadow of a doubt, what they are aiming for and what they want. It can therefore be said that it is the combination of passion and perseverance that generates what we call: determination.
Why do some individuals fail and others succeed? How talent and determination interact and which is more important
The society in which we live very often considers natural talent as a more precious resource than hard work and perseverance. It is a widespread idea to consider highly of a genius or a natural talent who has reached a high level of execution in a certain field and not take into account the hard work that produced such a result.
But is natural talent, what we achieve without any apparent effort, really the only ingredient for success?
Many psychologists have wondered what determines the success or failure of an individual, among them was Francis Galton (half-cousin of Charles Darwin), who concluded that champions are exceptional as they demonstrate an unusual ability combined with a deep zeal and the ability to not be frightened by hard work.
Some forty years later, William James, a Harvard psychologist, studied how individuals differ in their pursuit of goals and discovered a gap between potential and its implementation. According to James, mankind is not fully exploiting its potential and only exceptional individuals work hard to implement it. Most of humanity prefers to believe that natural talent is the only explanation for an athlete or musician's incredible achievement, as if there is something magical going on, that way the rest of us can relax in this status quo, deciding that it is impossible to reach high levels by mere perseverance.
So, do we have to think that we all have the same potential to improve in any area? No, certainly some of us can learn something faster than others, but talent isn't the only ingredient that determines success.
According to Duckworth, commitment is incredibly important, so she created the following two equations to explain it: talent + commitment = skill, talent is how quickly we can learn a skill through commitment; skill + commitment = result, the result is what you get when you put your skills to good use.
According to these two equations, talent is important for obtaining a result but commitment is twice as necessary, it is in fact the latter that determines the growth of our skills and makes them productive in order to achieve a result.
For example, the writer John Irving did not start his career by relying on mere talent, being dyslexic, he had, in fact, learned since he was a child that only by doing his utmost, and through continuous practice would he learn to excel at what he loved to do. It is precisely this idea of constant commitment to something you love that determines determination, it is easy to start different activities and commit yourself to them for a day or two, but without perseverance or passion you will never get any results. Without commitment, talent is nothing more than untapped potential, with commitment instead it becomes a skill, continuous effort then makes the ability productive.
Passion and perseverance determine determination, but how do we discover our ultimate goal?
Passion is what gives us direction. When we feel lost and unsure what our ultimate goal or interest is, it can be helpful to imagine our goals as a hierarchy, a gimmick used by Seattle Seahawks football team manager Pete Carroll. At the base level of the hierarchy, you can enter short-term objectives, such as writing an e-mail, these are objectives that allow you to reach a second goal, the more you climb in the hierarchy the more the objective becomes abstract and an end in itself.
“Our potential is one thing. How we use it is another matter entirely.”
For example: I want to leave home at 8:00 AM (first level), because I want to get to work on time (second level), because I want to be punctual (third level), you can keep wondering why until you get to the last level, where eventually the answer to why will only be “why yes”. This will be the objective that acts as a compass and gives direction to all the other lower-level objectives, putting priorities in order.
Grit means keeping the same end goal for a long time, making it your philosophy of life.
When you have your goals defined in a clear hierarchy, you realize that grit doesn't mean achieving every single low-level goal, of course you will have to try achieving each anyway but it is not necessary to reach every goal which is only a means to a more important end. Giving up low-level goals is actually necessary when you can replace them with simpler ones that lead to the same end by making the path easier, reasonable, or even more fun.
Can you increase your grit?
Grit, like any other human trait, is influenced by genetics and experiences, so it can increase or decrease. This means that the differences in tenacity between individuals can be partly attributed to the individual genetic factors in each of us and partly to life experiences.
There isn't a single gene that influences the heritability of grit, but as many studies in genetics have shown, very often our traits are due to a polygenic inheritance. Furthermore, our species is one of the most adaptable ones on the planet, in practice we are able to adapt to various situations based on experience, it can be said that “necessity is the mother of adaptation” and according to the studies conducted by the author on individuals of different ages, it is shown that the grit is not fixed over time, but changes and evolves. Twenty-year-olds show less grit than sixty and seventy-year-olds, this is both due to a different cultural environment in which each grew up and due to adaptation to the more demanding circumstances to which they are exposed over time. If you don't have the grit you would like, you have to ask yourself why. When you don't persevere in something there is always one or several reasons.
Individuals who are examples of grit develop four characteristics in the following order:
- the discipline to commit
- the belief that one's work is important
How to find your interest, your passion.
During growth, very often, the message that parents pass on to their children is that following their dreams or passions is not the right strategy if you want to achieve a comfortable or successful life. However, research shows that individuals lead more rewarding and fulfilling lives if they work towards something they love or that matches their interests, and they also work harder and with better results.
So, the first step to increase one's determination is to do something that interests us. However, we must not believe that each of us knows what fascinates us from birth.
Research shows that the passion for one's work is a discovery, followed by its perennial development and deepening. Interests are not recognized through introspection but by interacting with the world. Passion for something can be a slow discovery that can sometimes go unnoticed, it develops over time and thrives, thanks to the support of friends and family as well.
According to some studies, children who are given more freedom of choice about what may pique their interest are more likely to develop and over time identify these as their passion. An important aspect of the process of birth of a passion is to understand that the interest in its initial phase does not automatically activate an obsession to improve, but starts as a game in which, after discovery the development phase takes place. If you want to develop an interest but have no idea where to start, the first step is to discover, ask yourself what you like to think about, what you care about and how you like to spend our time.
How to improve practice
Grit doesn't just mean spending time continuously practicing your interest, it also affects the quality of time spent practicing it.
Cognitive psychologist Anders Ericsson found that industry experts not only spend more time in their own interests, but they also use that time differently, they use what Ericsson calls “deliberate practice”.
“Deliberate practice is an element that predicts progress in the final rounds of competitions far better than any other practice.”
Experts set a goal, a specific weakness in which they want to improve and continue to practice and challenge themselves in that area until they can perfectly perform what they previously had problems with, at which point they set themselves a new goal for improvement.
It can therefore be said that experts are more interested in their mistakes and not in what they do correctly. To learn how to make the most of deliberate practice, you must:
- define a goal;
- receive immediate feedback on your performance;
- repeat and refine one's skill;
- make deliberate practice a habit;
- learn to accept the challenge instead of fear it.
Grit depends on the hope that our actions and commitment can impact and improve the future.
The hope of spirited individuals is not related to luck but to perseverance.
Usually, the models of grit are individuals who have a positive mentality and have a more optimistic view of adversity, they do not give up at the first hitch but continue to persevere. When you keep trying to improve your situation, you have a high chance of finding a solution, but when you assume, with a negative attitude, that there is no solution, then you will stop trying and realize exactly what you believe in.
“The more persistent you are, the more likely you are to have a healthy and happy emotional life.”
Individuals with a fixed mentality basically believe that they cannot change or improve, so they will interpret all adversities or setbacks in a negative way as proof that they do not have the right stuff. Instead, a growth mentality leads you to believe that with commitment you can always do better. Difficulties will be seen in a more positive light as challenges to be overcome, which in turn will make you stronger. Hope, optimism and a growth mentality teach you not to give up and to persevere.
Grit is perseverance in practicing something we love and believe has a greater purpose. It can be developed by cultivating one's interests, practicing deliberate practice, finding a greater purpose that guides our life, and by having a positive outlook in the face of challenges. Grit can also be taught by parents, teachers, friends and bosses, who become role models from whom to draw inspiration.