You've been working diligently on your goals, setting aside time each day to make small changes. Then, suddenly, your routine is disrupted. Perhaps you were handed a project at work with a fast-approaching deadline, or your significant other took ill and needed your time and attention more than in the past.
Big or small, distractions and disruptions occur all the time. With your routine in disarray, those good habits you built tend to slip. Too many days, weeks or months escape, and you make no progress on your goals. Each day you promise yourself you will get back on track, and yet, it never happens. It's frustrating to realize that, after working so hard and making progress on your goals, a simple unexpected change could derail you so easily.
Unfortunately, goal attainment is never a straight line. But why can some adjust, pivot and still stay on track, while others are entirely thrown off course? Hurdles and challenges will always arise, so we must learn to anticipate that. Those who continue to make strides despite unpredictable challenges have a trait called "grit" or "mental toughness."
Angela Duckworth, the founder and CEO of Character Lab and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, found that grit was the one trait that stood out in the most successful individuals. Her research shows that grit plays a more significant role than anything else for achieving your health, business and life goals—even more so than intelligence, talent or outside support. Not to say those things aren't necessary, but when it comes to goal attainment grit is the quality that will separate those who continue to be successful with those who fall through the cracks when faced with disruption.
Grit is about stamina and consistency. It is the mental toughness to stick with daily actions, which lead to achieving your most meaningful goals. Mental toughness is like a muscle; it needs to be worked to grow and develop. Building your grit muscle leads to more success with even the most challenging goals. More importantly, by increasing mental toughness, you will have the tools necessary to stay the course even when you are tired, other endeavors divert your attention or your world turns upside down.
Flex Your Mental Toughness Muscle
Duckworth believes the best way to grow grit is by having a "growth mindset." When you have a growth mindset, you believe success depends on hard work, learning new skills and constantly seeking knowledge. You don't see yourself as a victim of circumstance, but rather believe you have a greater sense of free will and freedom of action within your world. In other words, challenges in the path are opportunities to learn and grow, rather than stop signs.
To arm yourself against future bumps in the road, spend some time committing yourself to increasing your grit to set yourself up for success.
- Define what you are going after and what mental toughness would look like for you. Evaluate which habits, when consistently practiced, would leave you feeling strong and tough!
- Stop waiting for motivation. Remind yourself you are growing your grit and discipline muscles, and action will lead to feeling more motivated. Pick a non-negotiable start date to take action and put in on your calendar.
- Break your objectives down into small, manageable steps. Practice each step until it feels more like a habit than a goal. In the end, grit comes down to your habits. It's about doing the things you know you're supposed to do on a more consistent basis, and dedicating yourself to the daily practice of sticking to a schedule.
- Look at setbacks as opportunities to learn rather than failures. If your action plan didn't go as expected, don't beat yourself up. Ask yourself why it didn't work out and shift your behavior when you try again.
- Pivot and readjust goals and strategies as circumstances demand. If the situation has changed, but your desire to accomplish your goals hasn’t, it is time for a revision. For instance, if your studio closed down and you can no longer take the exercise class you loved, look into virtual classes or hire a personal trainer.
- Be okay with temporary discomfort. Getting off the couch and taking a walk might feel uncomfortable, but your mind and body will appreciate it when you're done!
- Remember that you've done it before and can do it again. Don't spend time beating yourself up for getting off track. Lapses occur for everyone. You have the grit, discipline, desire and choice to begin again at any moment that you choose.
Everyone battles giving into the ease of distraction versus overcoming the pain of staying disciplined. However, the more consistent you are staying in action, the more you will develop grit. And the grittiest among us are the most successful!
The next time you find yourself struggling to move forward with your goals, remind yourself you have the grit and mental toughness it takes to stay the course—even if that course gets bumpy or you need to pivot in a different direction altogether.