What if there was one measurable skill that could help you stop being so tired?
Well, according to recent research, there is. Some may call it more of a personality trait than a skill. But since it can be developed, I’ll refer to it as a skill. Dr. Angela Duckworth is an expert on grit. And grit is likely what will determine your success or failure in a given endeavor. Including overcoming chronic fatigue.
Grit is why some individuals accomplish more than their peers. Grit is one possible reason why some people overcome chronic fatigue while others never seem to achieve more energy. Yes, certain careers or skillsets favor specific personality traits. For example, car salesmen often do better as extroverts. While more accomplished artists are often introverts. However, grit seems to be the skill that is necessary for success no matter one’s chosen domain.
What exactly is grit?
Grit is defined as perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. (1) Grit is about staying the course. For some, boredom and disappointment may signal it’s time for a change. But not for the gritty individual. She keeps moving forward. Grit is a marathon. And all too often, we approach health goals as a sprint.
Grit sounds a lot like what’s required to overcome any challenging, chronic illness, doesn’t it?
Dr. Angela Duckworth describes grit as follows:
One way to think about grit is to consider what grit isn’t. Grit isn’t talent. Grit isn’t luck. Grit isn’t how intensely, for the moment, you want something.
Instead, grit is about having what some researchers call an”ultimate concern”–a goal you care about so much that it organizes and gives meaning to almost everything you do. And grit is holding steadfast to that goal. Even when you fall down. Even when you screw up. Even when progress toward that goal is halting or slow.
Talent and luck matter to success. But talent and luck are no guarantee of grit. And in the very long run, I think grit may matter as least as much, if not more.
Will Smith describes grit below:
The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be out-worked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me, you might be all of those things you got it on me in nine categories. But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die.
Think back to January 1 of last year. Did you have resolutions you intended to work towards for the year?
If you’re like most people, you had goals/aims/ambitions you wanted to achieve. A lot of the time, these goals are health and wellness-focused. Perhaps you wanted to overcome your fatigue. For good this time!
Unfortunately, only 14% of people over the age of fifty actually achieved their goal(s). (2) This likely occurs because you approach goals as though they are a sprint. You set the goal to be incredibly high with a very short time-frame attached to it. Something like losing 50lbs in three months. Or, stopping smoking next week.
After the goal is set, you start running. Fast. Unfortunately, you run out of breath part of the way through the race. This occurs because the goals you set are marathon goals – something we need to do over the long term. Envision trying to sprint your way through a marathon. If you follow this technique, you won’t make it to the finish line. The best distant runners know that pacing is the most important part of a marathon.
Grit is analogous to endurance. You have a finite amount of it. But you can train yourself to develop more. When you partake in a race or a long-term goal, pacing is essential. Grit is what will take you to the finish line.
Have you ever thought about changing your nutrition plan? Maybe you read somewhere that a paleo diet can help increase energy levels and beat fatigue. Or maybe you tried following a paleo diet for a few weeks but it took too much time to prep every single meal. Well, grit is what will help you adhere to the plan for the long term. Read on to learn how to get more grit in your life!
Is grit required to overcome fatigue and chronic illness?
Absolutely. I’d even go far as to say that it’s essential. Without it, you’re unlikely to heal from any chronic illness. Overcoming chronic illness and/or fatigue is about long-term commitment. It requires changes to nutrition, sleep, stress reduction, and exercise. These changes don’t come about overnight. They happen slowly. Sometimes, at a pace that seems too slow. Or, even backward. You’ll need grit to ensure you stick with them over the long-term.
When I help patients overcome fatigue, I often recommend a paleo-style diet as an initial step. I’ve seen one example of a patient who went paleo overnight. Everyone else makes the transition gradually. And this is the way I’d recommend doing it. Slow and steady. Gradual changes are sustainable. They keep stress levels lower and overall life enjoyment higher. These gradual changes are also a good way to build grit.
According to Dr. Duckworth’s research, when it comes to achieving long-term goals, grit is more important than IQ, intelligence, natural ability, or talent. (3) Grit (or, a lack of it) is why the smartest person in your graduating class (likely) isn’t the most successful. Or, why your friend who was a “natural” athlete in high school probably isn’t still engaged in competitive athletics.
Did you catch that? You don’t need to be super smart, talented, or have the perfect genetic combination to overcome fatigue and/or any other chronic illness. It’s as simple (and challenging) as sticking to the correct treatment plan over the long term.
Grit is absolutely essential to high achievement. This also includes overcoming any chronic illness. Without it, you’ll be unable to follow-through with his ambitions. The gritty individual not only finishes tasks at hand but pursues a given aim over years. It is this long-term focus that results in seemingly great or large accomplishments.
Grit is specific to achievement in the context of long-term goals that are challenging and have a great deal of personal meaning. (4) You don’t need grit to go to the gym tomorrow morning at 6 am. That takes self-control. But grit is needed to indefinitely follow a paleo diet in order to overcome chronic fatigue.
How is grit measured?
I hope I’ve made a compelling argument for why grit is such an important (maybe the most important?) characteristic for long-term success. Especially so if your goals involve overcoming chronic fatigue or illness.
Now that you know you should have it, how do you go about measuring and tracking it? Fortunately, Researchers love metrics. Dr. Duckworth has created a scale specifically for measuring grit. Below, are the 10 questions that make up the grit scale. (5)
To take the test yourself, click here.
Here are a number of statements that may or may not apply to you. There are no right or wrong answers, so just answer honestly, considering how you compare to most people.
1. New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones.
How do you build grit?
All we know about grit is based on recent research. Dr. Duckworth’s seminal paper on the topic was only released ten years ago. Before that, we didn’t even know grit existed. As such, we don’t yet have clear information on how to build grit. How to best build grit is a topic of great discussion. While we may not have scientific facts on how to best build grit, we do have evidence formed from observing gritty individuals. These grit role models tend to share four traits in common: (6)
Grit begins with enjoying what you do. You won’t be able to pursue a given endeavor over the long term if you don’t enjoy it.
You’ve heard the adage of practice makes perfect. Unfortunately, it’s not entirely true. Perfect practice makes perfect. Continual practice does not lead to improvement. I’ve written at length about this topic in this post. To develop grit, you must continue to practice in a way that improves your skills. You must focus on your weaknesses and work to improve them. And you must do this over and over again. For years.
Purpose feeds interest. If you do not feel that the work you are doing has a purpose greater than yourself, you’ll soon lose interest in it. Purpose tends to appear when the work you are doing benefits others. Don’t worry about trying to find an activity that’s purposeful. Purpose tends to ensue after you’ve already put work into a long-term project or goal.
Hope is what gets you out of bed when you don’t want to face the world. Hope pushes you through times of great challenge and effort. When you and everyone around you are doubting the success of your operation, hope pushes you through to the next challenge.
If you’re in need of more grit, try aligning your work/hobby/interest(s) with the above. Remember, these traits tend to develop after engaging in a pursuit for a long period of time. There’s no need to worry if your new found love of running doesn’t bring purpose to your life. Over the next few years, it may very well!
Now, I want to hear from you!
How do you develop grit?
Also published on Medium.