A foolish gambit
When I was in high school, I struggled with motivation. As a way of remedying this for an exam, I made a bet with two of my classmates about our exam results. For every percentage point that one of us beat the other by, the loser would pay a certain amount, with one classmate it was thirty cents, and with my mate Tom, it was fifty cents.
I was fairly certain that I was smart enough to leverage these two bets to ensure that at the very least I didn’t lose any money, and so I was content that I would come out of this alright, and hopefully with better grades…
I was recently reading the excellent book, Grit, by Angela Duckworth. Grit is a book that talks about what makes people who are excellent, excellent. It consider’s a variety of factors, including this idea of Grit.
The book Grit is subtitled the power of passion and perseverance, and that’s a pretty good summary of what the main idea is. Excellence doesn’t come magically, it comes because people are driven enough to show up, and passionate enough to care about doing things well.
Here are three main tools you can use to supercharge your outcomes and to become more gritty. These skills, which can be cultivated, appear to be the key to excellence.
Effort is super, crazily important
Our natural abilities are important, but they serve more as a multiplier rather than as the number one factor.
The equation that Duckworth refers to in the book is this:
In other words, if I work hard, and I have a natural leaning towards something, then I’ll get better, or more skilled. If I have great skill and continue to work hard, then I will produce great things.
“Without effort, your talent is nothing more than your unmet potential. Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could have done but didn’t. With effort, talent becomes skill and, at the very same time, effort makes skill productive. [Page 51]”
For someone who is training their strength or movement, this has fairly obvious implications. The more effort you put in over an extended period of time, the more skilled your training efforts will become, meaning that the effort that you put in will then lead into greater physical achievements, whether that is in improved body composition, strength gains, or gains in movement quality (and in reality, unless you’re eating to compensate, or training without too much forethought, it should result in all three).
Not All Effort is Equal
We’ve all seen that person who is pure undirected effort. We appreciate their commitment, and admire their gumption, but there is no doubt that someone who is coached well and who is following a deliberate structured plan, is going to achieve greater improvements in skill and greater levels of achievement than someone who is shooting from the hip.
This bears out what Matthew Syed refers to in bounce when he mentions that your setting is important. Matthew talks about growing up on a particular street in Great Britain that was responsible for a significant number of challengers, competitors, and European and British table tennis champions. One street. The obvious question is, was there something in the water? What was magical about this street that all of these insanely talented individuals came from it?
The thesis of that book is that they may not have been that talented, but fortunate to have been located in a street where a former table tennis champion and excellent coach lived who was happy to open his garage to neighbourhood kids to play every afternoon, and who took the time to invest into their development.
So skill + effort + the right environment = achievement (this is covered in Grit, but I thought I was important to make this more explicit).
Joining a Herd
Our gym is responsible for more than half of the StrongFirst Kettlebell instructors (the world’s no.1 kettlebell certification) in Queensland, and all of the Level II instructors in the same system. I only realised how remarkable that was when I was chatting to a friend from the Philippines who mentioned how excited they were to have four instructors teaching at a workshop together over there, and I realised that we had more than that attending our Saturday morning class (many as participants!). Are these guys super athletes? For the most part, I would suggest that they aren’t (I most certainly wasn’t when I started). What they are, is gritty. They show up week in, week out. They pay attention to the movements that they are doing and focus on honing their craft. They work diligently on increasing their knowledge. And, they are a part of a community with the expertise to improve them, and the support to keep them on the right track (maintaining their passion).
In Grit, it is mentioned that we can do things the easy way or the hard way. The hard way is using self-discipline, forcing ourselves to engage in things on a regular basis through thick and thin, until it becomes a habit. We’ve all tried this, and for most of us, it doesn’t work. The easy way is outlined above, find a community that shares your goal and let the shared norms that we automatically adapt to drag you along. Instead of creating headway on your own, you’re just joining the already flowing current.
So what happened with Tom and Henry and our wager? Turns out Tom was on his way to becoming one of the grittiest people that I know. Since that wager, Tom has worked his way into an influential position at a major company guiding a team of engineers, worked as a consultant, and then decided to do an MBA. Tom dedicated himself for hours each day on top of his stressful job to work towards his entrance exam, doing his best to distinguish himself from the other excellent candidates who were striving to get their MBA’s as well. Unsurprisingly, by dedicating himself consistently, by sourcing the best programs to support his learning, and paying careful attention to the process, Tom managed to put himself in a position to decline a scholarship from a prestigious UK university and to nominate to go to his number one school of choice the London Business School. Having now completed that, he’s on his way to a job in Germany working in his chosen field.
Not surprisingly, the external motivator didn’t give me the impetus to put in the effort to get better grades. Across the different categories, I managed to get beaten by so many marks that it cost me $80. I wasn’t gritty in that respect at that stage, but Tom and Henry were, and it showed.
Nick Collie, 45
Jules Keegan, 43
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