It’s 5:00 AM. I stumble out of bed and try to leave my bedroom quietly so I won’t wake my husband. Half asleep and desperately in need of my first cup of coffee, I open my computer and wait for the words to flow. On most days, it is hard work. (By the way, the words for this blog are not coming so quickly either.) Nevertheless, I am up against a deadline for my first book, The Grit Guide for Teens: A Workbook to Help You Build Perseverance, Self-Control, and a Growth Mindset, and it’s not going to write itself.
I often reflect on how much grit I needed to write my first book, a workbook that teaches teens how to be gritty. In this month’s blog, I would like to share what I have learned about grit by writing a book on the topic.
Focus on the positive, or find a higher purpose for the task.
Taking on hard things is work. However, if you can connect to and find the positive in the process, the work changes from a “have to” to a “want to.” On those dark and early mornings when all I wanted to do was sleep in, I reminded myself why I started the project in the first place. I wanted to share with others why grit has been essential to my success and has helped the teens I work with navigate an ever-changing world. When I was able to connect to this passion and higher purpose – why the book would benefit myself and others- I was able to persevere.
The next time you take on a difficult task or project, see if you can connect to your passion and find a higher purpose in the work.
Know that there will be obstacles along the way.
It is hard to feel positive or energetic about a project when you hit a snag. In those moments, it is easy to lose sight of your progress and get caught up emotionally in the next obstacle.
What I found helpful was to remind myself that obstacles are inherent in the process and to see a “fail” as a “first attempt in learning.” For example, I received some very nice “no’s” from people who were too busy to review my book. But instead of focusing on what I perceived to be a rejection, I tried to look at it in a positive light. Even though they said no, asking them allowed me to get my work in front of people I admire. In addition, putting myself out there, and exhibiting what I call “social grit,” made me stronger, and braver. By having this mindset, I was able to approach challenges with optimism and competence (ways that research shows are associated with increased grit).
Don’t get me wrong, there is a sting that accompanies a setback, but if you can reframe your setbacks, you will gain the inner strength to stick with things that are hard but meaningful.
It is not enough to talk the talk; you need to walk the walk.
As I tell the teens I work with, it is not enough to think about changing, they need to actually change their behavior. It’s easy to believe that we need to wait for the motivation before taking on something hard. What I learned from writing my book is that it often works in the reverse. I found that by engaging in the behavior (writing), the thinking and ideas would follow. At times, just like my teens, I would be tempted to wait for inspiration. However, what I actually needed to do was make a habit of sitting down and writing, even when nothing was flowing. This commitment, which ultimately turns into a habit, makes possible the change we are all looking for.
There is an “I” and a “T” in the word grit.
Although gritty individuals work on themselves (the “I”), no one achieves real success without their team (the “T”). The teens I interviewed for my book all told me they reached out to others when trying to reach their goals and grow their grit. While working on my book, I too reached out to friends, family, and colleagues who listened, empathized and gave me essential feedback (and did all those things repeatedly). Without their support, I would not have been able to finish my book.
A final thought: I recently participated in the Leatherman’s Loop, a 10K race through branches, mud flats and river crossings. As I traversed the challenging terrain, I found myself drawing upon my gritty thinking, as well as the support of friends (thanks Helene for holding my hand through the mud flats!). I noticed many people wearing orange shirts with the word “Doug” on them. I asked one of the orange-shirted participants about his shirt, and he told me they wore them in honor of his close friend Doug who loved this race but died too early, ten years ago. Ever since, Doug’s family, friends, and colleagues come out and run the race in his honor. Finding this higher purpose and doing it with the support of others shows what true grit is all about.
I have learned a great deal about grit from writing my first book. I continue to be inspired by people, like the orange shirt folks, who are true exemplars of grit. When we have a positive mindset, committed behavior, social support, and a higher purpose we can achieve true greatness. Wishing you much success in all the hard things you do!
Please see my website (drbaruchfeldman.com/book) for information about my upcoming book, titled, “The Grit Guide for Teens”. Additional blogs, articles, and presentations are available on the website. You can follow me at twitter at carenfeldman@carenfeldman.
© 2017 Caren Baruch-Feldman