3 Ways to Build Mental Grit

Us humans are a funny fuckin’ bunch.

One of the things that I love (and hate) about this human nature is how much we need stories.

From the movies and songs we consume…

To our everyday conversations….

Everything about the human experience is a story.

We even think about and process our world through stories.

When my son was young, I would read him bedtime stories to help him fall asleep.

Even though he grew out of that…

We as adults tell ourselves stories for our entire lives to help us make sense of the world and organize our experiences.

But stories are a double-edged sword.

Because we also use stories to make excuses.

If you decide to skip the gym, you tell yourself a story: I was too tired because I went to work today.

The story eases the discomfort you feel from avoiding something that’s good for you…

It lets you make sense of your decision and justify it.

If you stay up late when you need to be up early the next day, you tell yourself a story: I needed the extra time to myself and can make up my sleep tomorrow night.

But there are even bigger, longer stories that we tell ourselves over the course of our lives.

I’m not smart enough to get that job…

I’m not big enough to take on that challenge…

I’m not rich enough to date that person…

I’m not good enough to deserve good shit for my life.

Now, here’s the thing about stories: most of them aren’t true.

Unlike like my son who’s grown up and realized that the stories I read him in bed aren’t actually true…

We as adults almost always believe the stories we tell ourselves even though they’re bullshit.

And I’ve got some science here that proves the stories we tell ourselves are bullshit.

There’s this researcher with the University of Pennsylvania named Angela Duckworth.

She looked at over 2,000 cadets at the United States Military Academy, West Point.

During their first summer, every single cadet has to go through a “hell week” called Beast Barracks.

Duckworth looked at the GPAs, the SAT scores, leadership potential, physical ability, and also a Grit Score, which measures perseverance and passion for their goals.

You’d expect the biggest, smartest, and most mature cadets would come out on top, right?

Wrong.

The best predictor of the cadets’ success was their Grit Score, not strength, intelligence, or leadership potential.

Cadets with lower GPAs and SAT scores often outperformed their “smarter” peers.

This phenomenon isn’t limited to West Point cadets.

Duckworth also looked at Ivy League grads and the general public. Grit was still the better predictor of success than GPAs or SAT scores.

Let me break down how this works in the real world because I’ve seen this in my life countless times.

If you have mental toughness and perseverance, you are able to do the little things well and do them well consistently.

If you’ve got grit, you get your ass out of bed in the morning and get to your work or appointments on time.

If you’ve got grit, you’re able to focus yourself on your work and get your shit done faster and better.

If you’ve got grit, you spend your free time learning new skills, hustling on your side project, and making progress on other things that will get you closer to your goals.

You could have a 200 IQ, throw a 98 mile-per-hour fastball, and run a 4-second 40-yard dash…

But if you don’t have grit, all those other advantages you were born with will go to waste because you don’t have the grit to do the hard work.

We all know the cliche of the high school quarterback ending up washing cars or flipping burgers…

And it all goes back to grit.

Okay, so what?

Let me give you three ways that you can train yourself to have more grit.

See, the US military realized that it’s really fuckin good for soldiers to have lots of grit.

So they developed a psychological program to train drill sergeants how to develop and instill mental toughness into their cadets.

Here’s what they’re taught.

Grit Comes from Thinking Like an Optimist

The psychologist that developed this program, Martin Seligman, says that mental toughness stems from optimism, “People who don’t give up have a habit of interpreting setbacks as temporary, local and changeable.”


Which makes sense. You have to think positive thoughts in order to make it through adversity. If you think negative thoughts, you’re probably not going to get very far.

So when you hit setbacks, here are some thoughts they tell these drill sergeants to keep in mind.

  • Setbacks are expected. Everyone has them. 
  • Setbacks are temporary, they will soon go away. 
  • You can change your setbacks.
  • You are in control, even during failure.
  • Challenge the accuracy of your negative thoughts.

Grit Comes from Challenging Negative Thoughts

The drill sergeants are trained to recognize negative thoughts, fight back against them by challenging their accuracy, search for positive alternatives, and recognize real concerns.

So there’s a pattern here:

  • Identify the negative thoughts - This requires mindfulness of your thoughts. When shit hits the fan, that is when you must be consciously aware of what you’re thinking. You can even say your thoughts aloud to help you target them.
  • Challenge them - When you encounter negative thoughts the right response is, “Is this actually true?” 
  • Focus on positives - One of the best ways to do this is to focus on the lesson that you learn from setbacks, how you will use it moving forward, and how it makes you stronger.
  • Recognize real problems - If you continue to experience the same setback over and over, it’s probably something you should look at closely. Figure out what is causing this repetition and address it. 

Grit Comes from Gratitude and Generosity

The drill sergeants are also taught two characteristics that aren’t usually associated with grit: gratitude and generosity. The practice ways to “hunt for the good stuff” and appreciate the good things they are lucky to have.

The drill sergeants also do not judge their cadets too quickly. Instead, they try to encourage and cultivate mental toughness in their subordinates instead of just rejecting them.

We are our own toughest critic. Be gentle on yourself. Strength take time to develop physically and also mentally.

Don’t be so fast to judge yourself harshly. Look for the good stuff you’re doing, even if it is small. Look for the blessings you already have.

Give yourself some grace, friend.

Live Like a Lion,

- Mike Rashid King

 

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