What You Already Know About Grit Might Hurt You

This week I had the great fortune to attend a talk and discussion with Angela Duckworth about her first book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. The central concept of Duckworth’s research is that the unrelenting pursuit of a goal in the face of challenge or setbacks over time—grit—is a greater predictor of success than talent or IQ. Among other findings, her research and analysis highlights that effort and perseverance are significant components for success.

Those that live with the sometimes tortuous drive to be the best at what we do, to strive for ever higher peaks in our performance know well that effort is essential in creating success. So I got worried when I heard this message. Will this lead an achievement-oriented successful person to think, “Alright, if I want more, I am going to get even grittier. I will work even harder. I’ll persevere more!”?

I couldn’t help but wonder if what she said about effort in both developing skill and maximizing performance might resonate for success-driven people, like my clients and me, as a call to action.

I got fidgety in my seat thinking about it.

Instantly I could here that inner voice say, “OK. It’s on. I am going to outwork and outperform like nobody’s business.” I could almost feel that adrenaline rush, that surge of ecstasy, that sweet drug of challenge that we high achievers crave.

I know from my own experience and from the clients I work with that this thought process is real. I know it results in intensified effort and that it is a turbo-boost to our drive. I also know that can be dangerous.

I wondered if this message could lead to more overwork and overdrive in the already burned out. I couldn’t help but ponder the potential risk of this message in the eyes and hands of the already gritty.

Could this lead to more willing acceptance among us that success has to suck? Might this amplify the exhaustion among the successful? Might we cling more fervently to the notion of sacrifice and to the “success at all costs” mentality that makes us miserable?

So I asked her.

I asked Ms. Duckworth about diminishing returns to effort and perseverance and the potential impact to happiness. Her answer? There is a cost to perseverance, grit, and tenacity in the pursuit of a goal. As she put it, “burnout is real.” Straight up.

She talked about how “paragons of grit” work extremely hard, deliberately practicing and honing their expertise in the name of top performance, AND that they rest. They are not uni-dimensional people who work without respite or other engagement beyond their pursuit of success. Top athletes, for example, have intense periods of training and then they rest (even on a daily basis). Top business professionals work in heightened focus for periods of time and then they engage their attention and energy elsewhere.

And so I offer you this, success focused high achievers that you are. A tip for you when you read this book. Take the effort piece as given. Agree with it, based on your own experience and record of success. Then, sink into the rest of it. Explore the concepts around interest, passion, and purpose. Consider how the application of deliberate practice might influence your greater success. Think about how you might instill grit and self-regulation in your children. And wonder, how might your experience of success expand as a result?

You might be surprised…not to mention happier!

When Success Blows Up…Are you the Mentos?

It’s time for a little success lesson from Steve Spangler, our locally based and internationally recognized hands-on science educator.

Steve’s the guy we all must thank for introducing us to the spectacular Mentos and Diet Coke geyser experiment. This fantastic display of the volatility of gas is not only instructive of scientific concepts, it also brilliantly illustrates a common professional success trap and the messy results of falling into it.

One of the first things we learn in this experiment is that it is not the Diet Coke that causes this massive eruption. There is no explosion without the Mentos. These candies—sweet, minty and delightful on their own—when dropped into the active, high pressure environment of the soda bottle, create a stellar blow up. The whole thing creates a huge mess of brown soda.

Even though the aftermath of the eruption suggests that the soda itself was the issue, we cannot overlook the role of the Mentos. The truth is, these delectable saccharine nuggets have some significant accountability in that mess.

And therein lies the perfect lesson for our pursuit of happiness and success.

Just like inside the soda bottle, the environments in which we endeavor to create success are high pressure, dynamic, and volatile. Then we, with our own characteristics and properties, act within and upon that environment. That’s when stuff blows up.

When it does, our tendency is to look at the environment or things around us for the reasons for what happened. We take the point of view that blow ups happen to or around us. We aren’t typically inclined to consider our role in creating the circumstances that allowed things to bubble and build to the point of eruption.

We don’t recognize that we also have accountability for part of the mess. And that can trip us up on our path to success.

But what’s true is this:  We are the Mentos!

It is time now to become accountable for what we introduce into our own atmosphere which causes things to react. Like how the Mentos causes the carbon dioxide in the soda bottle to react, things like how we show up, how we face challenge, and how we respond to other people in our midst causes elements in our environment to react.

It doesn’t matter where the volatility in our surroundings is coming from. Whether from not seeing the growth we expected on the bottom line, our perception of not being respected for our contribution, or from our team not functioning effectively. No matter the specific situation, a reaction will occur in your surroundings to what you are doing, thinking, or saying, or fundamentally to how you are being in the environment.

As much like the Mentos as we are in creating the intense pressure that can cause messy blow ups in our own professional environments, we have the distinct advantage of being able to change our characteristics to elicit an alternate reaction. With deliberate attention to and awareness of what we are doing to contribute to blow ups we have the opportunity to modify that. We can diffuse the pressure of the environment rather than intensify it.

But it starts with owning up to and taking accountability. So from here forward….don’t be the Mentos!