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Updated: Apr 14, 2022

"Grit is the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals”.

Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth

West Point is the most demanding mitilar academy in the United States. To be accepted all the test and trials that the applicants have to overcome are based on their physical capabilities and intelligence. Angela Lee Duckworth, psychologist and sciencist, concluded due to an investigation that she did, neither physical capacity nor intelligence were the best predictors to succeed in that institution. However, grit was in a high percentage of the cases. Now in West Point they are trying to improve the acceptance process to integrate Grit.

According to the theory of Daniel Levitin, a canadian psychologist, we need 10.000 hours of practice yo reach mastery in an activity. It could be to play an instrument, practice a sport, an art or a profession. Let´s do the maths: This is 5 hours every day during 5 years; therefore it´s not a surprise that the majority of the university courses are 5 years long.

Reaching mastery demands grit. Along those five years the level of motivation has ups and downs, new interests arise, problems, social pressure, trips, bad wetter or even illness and injuries make it difficult to keep up with the work 5 hours every day; it´s easy to give up. Grit helps us to overcome failure, forces us to repeat again and again the most difficult movements, to go out to train despite of the weather and most of all to say NO to distractions, temptations or any other person or activity that takes up your time.

How to boost grit.

Following an inportant target a long time can lead you to moments of failure, disorientation, lack of motivation and feeling like giving up. Grit´s key is precisely an efficient management of those critical moments. The solution: We must have tools prepared to fight back those crisis before we start our long trip toward our goal.

Those tools can be extrinsic or intrinsic. The first is related to favorable social environments. The second is related to ourselves.

Extrinsic tools

Positive Psychology: Traditional psychology works with people who have a mental pathology. The goal is to put them in the "mental normality" point. Positive psychology works with mentally healthy people to lead them to excellence. In the case of grit, the psychologist takes the role of observer, detecting the crisis and working with different techniques to raise the motivation and redirect the activity or the behaviour. The psychologist helps to make the goal visible and assess the starting point, the actual situation and the advance toward the goal.

In a research made by Spencer and Grant to 63 participants published in 2007, the people who received during 10 weeks profesional coaching showed more progression and commitment to the goal and a higher state of well being compared with people who received non-professional support. The research emphasized the education, professionalism and knowledge of the coach as a decisive factor.

Institution Effect: To be surrounded by people whose interests and goals are ours is one of the most powerfull tools to get our target. Let´s take for example the university: The online courses or grades have a higher drop out rate than the face to face courses partly due to the lack of personal contact between participants. One of the areas where online courses most work is precisely in the development of a strong online comunity between the students reinforced with face to face classes and regular meetings. With the institution effect we use the social conformism, the need to belong to a group, in our favor. Besides, to be surrounded with people with the same goal gives us feedback in two ways: We can measure our advance compared with others and we can learn from them. The dangers of the institution effect are hypercompetitivity and exclusive goals. There are few people who can adapt to an hypercompetitive environment (Olimpic athletes are a good example). That environment is for the majority of people a menace instead of a support. Exclusive goals are goals where just one can win. The solution to these two problems is to boost cooperation and to set up the idea that everyone competes against Themselves.

Mentoring: This concept is centred in individuals who start an activity, what we call beginners or apprentices. In these programmes the goal is to learn and to gain integration within the group. With mentoring there´s a lot of research with dissimilar results about its effectiveness. When we look at the mentoring programs in general, the levels of lack of commitment of mentor and mentee are high. Lack of time, interest, commitment, communication and remuneration affects the mentor´s performance. The mentee detects it and immediatly his commitment falls. To build this relationship as a successful one, the solution is the introduction of diverse mentors to diverse mentee. The protege should choose freely, the mentor should sign a contract and we have to work out the duration, goals and meetings of the programme. The mentor´s quality is key. In a survey made by Rutger University in New Jersey in 2007 with handicap college graduates, to have a mentor was recognised  as a key factor for the graduates´ success.

Intrinsic tools:

Visualization: We are visual animals, and despite our abstract capacity, the visible goals are the ones that most boost our motivation. The finish line in a competition is easy to see, but the majority of the long-term goals are abstract goals: Weight loss, to pass the course, more savings for retirement... How can we make those goals more visual? Cheema and Bagchi, from Virginia Tech made an experiment with vendors. A 20% sales gain over the year´s personal goal would lead to a trip to Hawaii. The vendors who saw a bar diagram with their performance instead numbers won more trips. The idea was to "show" the graph, so they could "see" the goal approaching, to transform an abstract goal into a visual one. It works; it´s a technique that works for savings, selling, sport or studing.

Divide into small activities: You have to devise a great goal (To become a master pianist) into small goals (learning "For Elise"). In soccer the trainers always remember their players not to think about the championship, just about the sunday match. The basis is practical, because it helps us to focus in our immediate duty. It has a physiological basis too.

According to Leslie Sherin, specialist in neuronal performance, during the execution our brain´s  activity reach a peek. Once we´ve finished, if we make a little ritual like writing a tick in a checklist, to throw a Post It away or simply saying "done", the brain activity goes down, taking us to a more relaxed state. The brain segregates serotonin, giving us a calmed and satisfied feeling. We will seek to repeat that sensation and we would rather easily take the next activity over to "fill the checklist". It´s a virtuous circle. We have to design these little motivation´s "injections" in 10-30 min intervals. This will help to keep us at 100% during the journey.

Passion: Passion, love for what you do... if you want to develop mastery in an activity it is better off to like it, because you will have to be a long time hoocked on it. Ken Robinson, education specialist, explains it very well in his book "The Element": Once you find your element, your life changes. It was the case of Gillian Lynne, a little girl who in the last century´s thirties was brand as "troublemaker and distracted, probably affected by a serious learning problem"; until a doctor told her mother to take her to dance classes. There she found her Element. Se became soloist in the Royal Ballet and created the choreography of musicals like Cats and the Phantom of the Opera.

When we face long-term challenges, entrusting the fulfilment to our will-power is very risky. The people who go places try to be surrounded by people who help them reach that goal. They use different motivation tools and know how to say no to distractions.

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