Have you ever wondered how come some people achieve greatness and others do not? According to researcher Angela Duckworth, the most important criterion is not your innate talent, but rather your grit.
World-class champions and top performers have a passion for their discipline and are willing to endure hardship to get to the top.
So let’s see how you can cultivate your grit…
A lack of grit
When I was 15, I was a bicycle racer. My dad started a racing club, and I was enrolled in it.
To be frank, he did not leave me much choice. I did not like sport at the time. And as a teenager, I was a bit of a rebel. So I was often reluctant to even get my nose outside to train myself with the team.
We also started this sport late compared to other children. And the area where I lived was home to a former Paris-Roubaix champion: Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle, who had a son who competed in local races with us, raising the overall competition bar.
Unsurprisingly, we often finished last. And sadly, we never achieved any meaningful victory.
However, I came to understand for the first time what grit really was. One day, I was in the peloton, and there was a big fall of many racers. In my mind, I was thinking: ok, I’m injured, this is over for me. But I was surprised to see how quickly other racers dusted off themselves and came back on their bicycle.
This made me realize what was really lacking in our team: the rage to succeed. But how can we bear the pain needed to succeed? Let’s see how some people become sports addicts …
The paradox of sport
Sport is a strange beast. At first sight, it’s just a useless ordeal and sports addicts are masochists. If you try it for the first time, you are punished two times: first, by the efforts to get your body moving, then on the following morning, as you feel the soreness in your muscles.
In fact, sport is a discipline full of paradoxes: to feel less tired, you must be tired more regularly. To feel less pain, you must take pain more regularly. Regularity is the keyword here. It’s where resides the secret of sport.
After you get over the pain period, doing regular exercise gives you an overwhelming feeling of well-being on both your mind and your body. After each intense exercise, you get to experience Runner’s highs: a short-lasting, deeply euphoric state.
Physiologically speaking, it is the consequence of your body releasing endorphins, which has a deeply relaxing effect. Your brain also receives a shot of dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in the reward circuitry in your brain.
Those facts explain why you can become addicted to sport and efforts. To be fair with my dad, I did experience these addictive effects while doing bicycle races, that’s why I never gave up a race, even if I was last.
The ferocity habit
In fact, I did not tell you the whole truth when I said I never experienced some kind of success at bicycle races. Once, my dad took me to a race in a mountainous region in the southeast of France. And I could not believe how easy it was.
In fact, I took a bad turn and lost myself. Then I still managed to get back on my track and meet the peloton again. Near the end of the race, my father was ecstatic as he saw me on the front of the peloton. And he shouted at me: “Attack! Attack!”.
I felt so ashamed as I was not pretending any victory here. My other competitors told me ironically: “As you wish”. And I soon discovered there was a trap.
The end of the race had a huge steep slope we had to cycle painstakingly. That was the moment everyone had been waiting from the start, and I did not know it (I know, bad preparation). Of course, I quickly lost my edge, even though I still managed to finish in the middle of the peloton.
The cyclists who came first this day were the most ferocious ones. They were the ones who did not slow down during a steep slope but instead accelerated. And they had trained for it.
I first stumbled on the concept of ferocity habit in the book “The Art of Impossible” by Steven Kotler. The author described a similar habit of training yourself when running. Each time you encounter a hill, you must accelerate instead of slowing down. This practice undoubtedly builds your grit, and it’s worth trying it.
The joy of the impossible
Of course, if I tell you this, it’s because you can apply it in your day-to-day knowledge work too. Think about the most arduous tasks that comprise your workday. When you pick one of them, do you stop and think about it before you work on it the task or do you jump at the challenge without hesitation, and give it your best efforts?
There’s a world of difference between the two. When you embrace hard things without hesitation, you don’t have the time to get apprehensive about them. You get immersed in your task and quickly get in a flow state.
Let’s remind ourselves that flow is a deeply rewarding state. So when you do this, by sheer conditioning, the feeling of joy associated with flow also gets associated with hard tasks and makes you addicted to it.
You also tend to do challenging things earlier in the day, which is critical, as it’s harder to work on a challenging task at the end of the day when you are tired. In the end, this attitude makes you much more dedicated to your work and you are able to achieve things that you previously thought were impossible.
Work hard, Recover hard
We can also draw parallels between sport and knowledge work when it comes to the recovery period you need to embrace ferocious grit. I once did a 300km bicycle trip, connecting Grenoble to St Tropez in one day via the Alps mountains.
When I arrived in St Tropez, the skin of my buttocks was so much worn down that I could not sit down. Yes, you might smile at it, but it was not pleasant at the time! It felt like I had sat down on a bucket full of chili peppers. Well, that’s what happens when you push yourself too hard. Needless to say, it took a couple of days to recover.
For a knowledge worker, the most dangerous effect is an accumulation of bad stress. So it’s worth noting you will need a solid recovery strategy. When you work hard, you equally need to recover hard. And if you can’t relax on the weekends, it’s worth at least organizing plenty of pauses, relaxation exercises, and naps during your workday.
That’s what I have been doing for years and the results have been great. It’s also what makes me stand for my 100 days of writing challenge. Initially, I wondered if I would be able to do it, but now I am well on my way to succeeding.
You can succeed much quicker in your domain if you have the rage to succeed. This supposes you develop the habit of ferocity, a penchant for immersing yourself in hard challenges without hesitation.
If you can associate it with the deeply satisfying effects of the flow state, you can achieve what you thought was impossible. Of course, for this, you will need to have powerful recovery strategies that help you reduce bad stress.