Monday, October 6, 2014

Got Grit?

The grit bus is on a roll, and I’m grabbing a seat.

Defined by Webster’s as “stubborn courage, pluck, determination,” grit has become a hot topic in academia and education. Angela Lee Duckworth, Ph.D., of the Positive Psychology Center and The Duckworth Lab at the University of Pennsylvania studies grit and self-control, and her research suggests that these are two critical personality traits in terms of success. Dr. Duckworth (who has an excellent Ted Talk) has found that grit predicts a dizzying array of achievements, including surviving the first summer of training at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, reaching the final rounds of the National Spelling Bee, retention in both the U.S. Special Forces and among novice teachers, graduation from Chicago public high schools, performance in standardized test scores, and physical fitness. In other studies, she notes, “grit correlates with lifetime educational attainment and, inversely, lifetime career changes and divorce.”

Well, that’s great. But how do you build something as intangible as “grit” (other than by not washing your three-year-old for a couple of days)? I hope to give you some good answers in The Ultra Mindset: An Endurance Champion’s 8 Core Principles for Success in Business, Sports, and Life, which comes out March 24 and can be pre-ordered here.

Until then, here’s a great story that explains how America’s best XTERRA off-road triathlete, Josiah Middaugh, built some of his grit as a kid.

In 1988, Josiah Middaugh was sleeping in a tent on a remote Canadian island in Lake Huron. The ten-year-old’s grandparents rested in their cabin at the other end of the island, and little Josiah was out in the woods by himself. He was a little bit scared, but he slept well because he was so tired.

Josiah had spent the day, you see, deeply engrossed in a lengthy exercise of mental training. A week ago, he had ridden the bus, alone, from the small, rural, Bohemian community near East Jordan, Michigan where he lived with his parents and siblings in a home he now proudly refers to as “simple,” recalling that the floor was dirt for awhile until his hard-working parents built one out of wood. Josiah met his grandfather at the bus station, and they canoed two miles to the island, where the only mark of man was one small cabin.

As they paddled together, the old man explained the boy’s schedule for the trip. Sleep in the tent and wake up early. Paddle to the mainland. Run two miles. Paddle back to the island. Work for four hours, managing the land and mending the cabin. Play in the afternoon. Eat dinner. Sleep in the tent.

Josiah stuck to the schedule, and he worked hard. He was happy when, at the end of the trip, his grandfather paid him $1 for every hour of work he had done. And he didn't whine when his grandfather explained that he needed to give half of that back to pay for the temporary health insurance that had been purchased for his time in Canada. Josiah Middaugh didn't complain or give in to fear or worry about being alone or seek out daily comforts then, and he doesn’t now.

Training hard is part of the reason Josiah is the best, but when push comes to shove, it’s his mental toughness, day in and day out, that sets him apart.

Food for thought:

What does grit mean to you?

In what areas of life are you gritty?

In what areas of life aren’t you gritty?

What will you do to build grit this week?

What stories can you tell yourself to become grittier?

Grit played a big role for me at Ultra Race of Champions: The Ultrarunning World Championship in September. The 100k course climbed about 10,000 feet and occurred between 9,800 and 12,400 feet in elevation. It was a pretty good day at the office and I finished 3rd.

I also enjoyed doing an expert interview with Marna Thall as part of her Rewire Your Brain to Think Thin summit. We discussed Ultra Mindset principles, and the interview will be played here on October 25.

Thanks for reading,


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