Book summary : Grit

The Power and Passion of Perseverance

“Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.”

A few years ago I was sitting in the sun in the living room with my partner at the time. She was reading Grit, whilst I was playing video games, she looked at me over the book and said “I think you are very gritty”. Which was a confusing, but kind thought.

Now, having (finally) read Grit myself I realise I am not. I am strong on the passion, but much weaker on the perseverance. I jump in and out of things. Throwing myself completely into them for a time before moving on.

In my adult life I have challenged myself with a great number of pursuits from a standing start and become somewhat good at each: long course triathlon, home renovation, cycling, teaching, mountaineering and being a founder to name a few.

I am confident in my work ethic, and resilience. However, reading Grit myself brought my own lack of clarity on passion into sharp focus.

1 paragraph summary

Grit is the combination of passion (clarity in your own purpose) and perseverance (hard work and resilience toward this). The grittier you are the more likely you are to succeed in really challenging pursuits, whether that is an Olympic athlete, special forces training or operating at the highest levels in business. Like most skills Grit is not static. It can be grown through a combination of efforts within ourselves (cultivating a growth mindset, setting goals) and outside ourselves(through building a strong support network of coaches, mentors or parents).

Think of the most resilient high achieving person you know. It may be an athlete, someone leading a charity, a political leader. This persons success can, at least in large part, be attributed to their grit, that intersection of passion and perseverance.

This combination, passion and perseverance, is grit. The more you hone your own grit the more likely you are to be successful in any difficult challenges you are faced with.

Grit can be easily measured with something called the Grit Scale and is highly predictive of future success in essentially any field.

You may be wondering, what’s so good about being gritty? I don’t want to go to the Olympics! Being more gritty is unsurprisingly strongly correlated to overall life satisfaction.

More grit = more satisfaction. Grit score (x-axis) vs life satisfaction (y-axis).

Fortunately for those us that are less ‘gritty’, it is something that can be improved. Grit goes to great lengths to share practical tips both for individuals and for parents looking to shape their children.

Building grit comes from a combination of things within ourselves and things outside of us. Internally there are four ingredients ingredients we need.

Interest

You need to love what you do. You need to hold on to that sense of captivation with whatever it is that you are pursuing, so that you will be willing to push through the inevitable challenges that arise along the way.

This doesn’t mean if you are an Olympic swimmer you need to love every single swim stroke whilst staring at a black line in the pool. It means you need to be captivated by some element of competing, whether that is the sense of improvement or the sheer joy of competition.

Interest isn’t something that just appears one day. It grows through repeated exposure to an idea. In one example in Grit NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins describes how viewing a number of launches over several years sparked his interest and led him to a lifelong curiosity of all thing NASA.

Cultivating strong interests is a critical first step. This isn’t a bolt of inspiration, but an interest built up over time.

Practice

To grow in any skill you must deliberately practice.

A common theme in the highest achievers in any field comes down to the quality and enjoyment of this consistent effort.

The basics of this are unremarkable:

  • Clearly defined stretch goal
  • Full concentration and effort
  • Immediate and informative feedback
  • Repetition with reflection and refinement

Almost anyone working on any skill won’t do all of these things regularly. How many people do you know training for a marathon that go and ‘train’ without a clear goal? Or stick headphones in to zone out while they run?

Grit makes a real point that this deliberate practice can feel good. In fact, the highest performers in a field, whether rowing or spelling bees, practice in this way.

Purpose

How do the things that you are doing day to day line up with your own values?

Grit quotes a parable of three bricklayers, when asked what they are doing they each take a different perspective:

The first says “I am laying bricks”
The second says “I am building a church”
The third says “I am building the house of god”

It isn’t the nature of the work that matters as much our perspective on that work. We can each reflect on the work we are already and how it can make a positive impact to society.

With this clarity you can change your work in small, but meaningful ways to increase your happiness, engagement and, ultimately, mastery.

Hope

Gritty people are optimists. They are the type of people to get continually knocked down, pick themselves up and keep going.

Hope-filled optimists tend to see the world as flexible and malleable rather than fixed.

Internal work is only part of the puzzle. Like so many in things in life the network around you shapes how successful you can be.

Who you surround yourself with

There’s an old adage, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. So the more ambitious and successful the people you are around become the more like you are to be successful and ambitious.

Your coaches, mentors, friends, family and peers are an important element of building up your grit.

As a personal reflection, joining a cycling team was, hands down, the biggest improvement I ever made. I trained harder, and much more intentionally when surrounded by people better than me.

Grit is a learnable skill. It is one that correlates extremely strongly with overall success and life satisfaction. What are you going to do to improve yourself?

“Yes, but the main thing is that greatness is doable. Greatness is many, many individual feats, and each of them is doable.”

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