Cultivating Grit One Challenge at a Time

We have never lived in a time period that required more grit - passion and persistence to do hard things that make you wiser, stronger and better while inspiring others. Here's how to do it.

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The pictures on social media of college students congregating and partying with impunity, and without masks, are currently crowding the airwaves. Their behavior is being criticized, by school administrators, the news media, and observers, as thoughtless and self-centered.

College students are not the only people during the coronavirus pandemic who are having trouble delaying their immediate gratification, regardless of the known negative impact their behavior has on others. Fights are erupting over mask-wearing at stores and restaurants from consumers who complain that they’re tired of being restricted in movement or behavior; and, as a result, employees making minimum wage have been attacked for enforcing local and state guidelines.

Part of what we are witnessing in society through these reports is proof of a lack of grit — often defined as the ability to do hard things for an extended period of time. We just don’t want to avoid parties, cover our faces, cancel a vacation, or eat at home. While other countries have shown resilience by adhering to these societal restrictions, many Americans cannot tolerate wearing an “uncomfortable” 2-ounce cloth mask, putting off a crowded day at the beach, or skipping a night of barhopping.

In my 2017 book, Getting Grit, I laid out the need for, and a path to, cultivating “authentic,” or good, grit so that our culture could reinforce the importance of pursuing hard goals with a resilient mindset. When we have the passion and perseverance to pursue a meaningful goal, our lives blossom with possibilities and our self-confidence improves. There are many things I’ve found that can lead to the cultivation of authentic grit, as well as a new type of grit that I’ve identified as compassionate grit, which is an important quality that allows us to do hard things for an extended period of time so that other people benefit from our actions.

Here are some of the evidence-based tips that I believe can lead to the development of the qualities of authentic grit, such as passion, willpower, and humility.

Create A Persistence Mantra

In recent years, I’ve watched my daughter, Samantha, tackle one hard thing after the next, including pursuing a career as a public defender. When I asked her what went through her head when she faced difficulties, she said that she had trained herself to think, “But, what if I did it?” Automatically asking herself this question makes her spin into the future and see herself on the other side of accomplishing something hard, which triggers her willingness to plunge into the unknown.

Give Three Blessings to Others

A popular exercise in positive psychology is the “Three Blessings” exercise, but I have added a twist by challenging people to instead record three blessings they gave to others that had no strings attached. A recent study of prosocial behavior — informal giving through kindness and compassion for others — found that performing such acts can provide a boost to health and well‑being, particularly among youth. Feeling psychologically better as a result of behaving compassionately — for example, by wearing a mask — gives us empathy for others, which is a key part of compassionate grit.

Ask Someone for Advice

Gritty people usually possess one or both types of humility — social, where they don’t have to be the star of every scenario and can allow others to shine; or, intellectual, where they possess a willingness to learn from others. Not only is it good to recognize that you don’t always have the answers to your challenges, but asking others for their advice gives them the gift of knowing you value their opinion.

Learn the Stories of Gritty People

Sometimes, we must rev ourselves up with tales of inspirational people who overcame steep odds. One such story is about the Golden Thirteen the Black servicemen who survived discriminatory military standards and blatant prejudice in 1944 to become naval officers, despite their training time being half of what was given to white applicants. When we can relate to gritty men and women, it builds self-efficacy and evokes the hope that we can accomplish our own hard goals, too.

Don’t Play It Safe

Gritty people don’t pursue easy goals within their comfort zones. They pursue worthy goals that have a future payoff, so that they can live without regret and discover what they are capable of. The Michigan State football team deliberately puts seniors into the nerve-racking situation of giving a speech in front of hundreds of teammates and coaches called, “Who Are You?” This is designed to give the men the confidence to take risks with their emotions, not just with their bodies, so that they leave the program with more than just football skills.

Play Chess

It’s often said that a crafty person plays chess not checkers. This is because when you play a board game like chess, you learn to think in patterns and to spot the long-term advantages of giving up a piece now to gain a more nuanced path to the later win. Other activities that bolster patience include cultivating a garden, setting aside a little bit of money every month to reach a long-term goal like going on a vacation, or watching a favorite show in weekly installments instead of on a daylong binge.

The fourth precept of the Japanese warrior code known as Dokkodo is, “Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.” This is the type of credo we should all adopt now in our collective fight against the coronavirus. It will make it easier for us to stop focusing on our own short-term wants, and to instead, consider the long-term needs of the world. Grit comes from one-day-at-a-time actions that might seem insignificant in the moment, but over time add up to sculpt the type of grit that changes lives, even the world.

This post originally appeared at on October 5, 2020 and can be seen here.

My 5th book, Creating Your Best Life, has sold more than 100K copies and will be reissued in December 2020. It is the first mass market book to connect the science of happiness with the science of goal setting. Go to to learn more and get the new introduction, first chapter and a sample worksheet.

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