Cultivating GRIT - A systemic ingredient for sustained performance

Certain goals seem just beyond reach, requiring a significant push, pressing against the tide to cross the hump to success. The combination of passion and perseverance with a clear sense of purpose rolled up into Grit is the key ingredient that keeps achievers propelling forward despite all odds. Lets explore how to grow this critical skill in very practical steps....

The journey through life and the adventures contained therein that we embark upon as individuals, groups or organizations such as starting and growing a thriving business, completing an education, achieving mastery in trade, navigating the career puzzle, winning a sports medal, and so many exploits often tend to be sets of winding paths filled with so many twists and turns, surprises or apparent dead-end moments. At some points, even the most passionate and motivated individuals think of raising their hands in surrender and giving it all up because while success seems to be just up ahead, it remains unattainable like a mountain peeking out within a thick jungle, always taunting - appearing near and yet so far.


Yet, in the midst of these dilemmas, some individuals or group of persons come along that somehow manage to make it to the ultimate destinations in the specific pursuit, in defiance of the popular belief that the task is unachievable. They are like the miners who finally strike goal in a deserted land after multiple failed attempts by others. So, what distinguishes the achievers from the crowd and what fuels the zeal to continue when there is only a minute chance of success? The secret ingredient that spices up all other ingredients in the success mix for consistent achievers is Grit. The inner power that keeps you somehow moving or more appropriately 'pushing' forward, putting one foot in front of the other towards the goal at times when just getting through the day alone seems like an audacious tasks.

... The secret ingredient that spices up all other ingredients in the success mix for consistent achievers is Grit...

So, then you might ask "What is Grit?", "Why is it unique?" and even "Why is it that important?". Grit is the combination of passion and perseverance with a clear sense of purpose (adapted from Grit by Angela Duckworth). Grit is not about persisting in a challenge with an approach that does not work. Grit does not discount the obstacles on the path to success, neither does it ignore the inner cries when faced with disappointments at much-anticipated milestones on the success journey. Instead, Grit is about 'showing up' despite it all. It is about acknowledging the challenges and issues ahead but maintaining focus on the ultimate goal while being flexible enough to change tactics in order to get to the goal. As a system thinker, I never miss an opportunity to evaluate systemic interactions and Grit provides the right opportunity. Given that Grit is a combination of passion, perseverance and a clear sense of direction, the systemic interaction of each of these skills or attributes in any individual yields a new whole and propelling force that is larger and unique that an addition of its component paths. Why so?

Grit is about......acknowledging the challenges and issues ahead but remaining focused on the ultimate goal while being flexible enough to change tactics in order to get to the goal....

...The Grit 'system'.....

Passion is a great skill to have as it creates enthusiasm and makes a task that may otherwise have been arduous by others enjoyable. However, in the face of challenges, disappointments or distractions, passions are sometimes abandoned or put on the shelf for a 'later' revisit. Perseverance on the other hand, keeps you focused through trying times and challenges. However persevering individuals sometimes remain on the same spot trying out a method that is clearly not working, sometimes just to prove a point. The last ingredient - a sense of purpose - provides your 'True North' that anchors you to your goals and the essence of it all- Your ‘why?’. When combined there is a new force that is released similar to the energy from a fusion that is not deterred by challenges. It is the compelling force powered by your inner source of strength (often divine) that makes you put one foot in front of the other to cross the hump to success in situations where it is considered humanly impossible to still be standing, talk more of taking the next step. It’s the inner strength and firepower that keeps you going, thinking of alternate and more efficient ways to achieve the intended outcomes if the current approach is not getting you closer to your goals.

...... When combined there is a new force that is released similar to the energy from a fusion that is not deterred by challenges.......

Seeing how powerful grit is as a skill, the question then is why it is not used by a lot of people to grow the bands of consistent achievers and go-getters. You might ask "Is Grit innate or acquired?". While some character traits lend themselves to more grit than others and some individuals already display a high-level of grit from childhood, Grit like many other skills can indeed be learnt or even enhanced. Building or growing your grit is achieved with practice with some individuals building it in months while others require years. The key is a deliberate effort to consistently grow Grit.


So, what are the practical steps to grow Grit? In the book Living Boldly, an anthology that I co-authored with nine trailblazing ladies, I discussed Grit in detail and identified 7 practical ways to grow it as a critical skill required to transform from within when your normal shifts. These steps are highlighted below.

  1. Define your aiming point in correlation with your sense of purpose, and write it down clearly. Grit has a a key dependency, which is a an understanding of 'Your Why?' often referred to as 'purpose'. When your current goal is linked to your purpose, then that 'larger than life' linkage to the 'essence of it all' for you propels you forward because the achievement of this goal gets you one step closer to the overall impact of your purpose as an individual, group or business. The aiming point must be written down and visible as a constant reminder during the journey to its achievement.

  2. Map the course to the goal. Knowing the goal is great, it helps to know what 'good' looks like. It is however important to understand the relative journey to the goal to provide a realistic perception of what might be needed and in some case preparing for the obstacles ahead. This might involve drawing inspiration from the journey of those who have achieved a feat similar to the goal or even from the challenges you encountered completing another goal.

  3. Be Accountable. Like the marathoner that pushes forwards over the twists and turns of the race influenced by the cheers of the crowd along the running path, we all need accountability partners to remind us or check-in at the times when the sanest course of action is to just lie in bed under the blankets and wish it all away. Sometimes, just saying your goals and vision aloud to someone else brings on tangibility and gives it a life of its own. So, finding accountability partners is key

  4. Move out of your comfort zone in deliberate steps. The goal of planning and charting the course is so that you understand where you want to go and get a sense of how to get there. However, the only sure way towards getting to the destination is to "go", stepping out of your comfort zone with steps large enough to make sure that you don't beat a quick retreat but also realistic enough to help achieve the small wins that propel you forward, building your confidence to take on more. Intentionality in tackling the goal is key. A marathon cannot be started like a sprint otherwise the athlete might burn out way before the actual rigors of the running path starts to challenge even the toughest of them all.

  5. Take stock regularly. While there is always the temptation to keep going and pushing towards the destination, it is important to take time out to take stock of 'who you have become on the journey to becoming'. Identify the small wins and times that 'your former self couldn't have done that'. Also taking stock ensures that the approach today is still matched with the sense of urgency to achieve the ultimate goal(s). It is the opportunity to measure and evaluate and then recharge to keep going.

  6. Celebrate your wins and embrace the interim failures. On the journey towards the goal, it is important to celebrate all the little achievements, milestones, slight and major mindset shifts, etc. to give you the boost to keep going forward. Given that the journey is often bumpy and rife with surprises or obstacles along the way, there are bound to be set-backs once in a while. Identifying the lessons from the setback is key to ensure that you do not remain stuck in a cycle of failing at the same point or from the same issues and gives an opportunity to modify or enhance the overall strategy.

  7. Repeat in bolder steps until you build fluency in stepping out. Grit is not a one-off exercise, it is built by consistency and increasing the size of your stride after building fluency at one level. As the goals defined are achieved, so should the appetite to 'be more' and 'do more'. The confidence built in accomplishing a goal despite the challenges should spur you on to more. It is the repeat cycle of stepping out, with each completion being the practice for the next stage that helps to grow Grit towards consistent achievements and personal / business growth.

...... it is important to take time out to take stock of 'who you have become on the journey to becoming'.........

Finally, bringing it all together. Grit is a critical ingredient for success. It is a delimiter of achievers from the crowd of bystanders, as it draws its power from its uniqueness as a combination of critical success skills. It can be developed and improved regardless of your starting point. Every one needs Grit as life is filled with all sorts of adventures. The true hallmark of a person with Grit is the consistent drive towards delivering goals and becoming a better version of yourself on the journey towards achieving your core purpose. As I concluded in my chapter of Living Boldly, I would like to paint a picture of Grit. "...think about the picture of yourself standing tall and celebrating that awesome win in areas that your former self could not have deemed possible. But just as you are about to retire, you remember that the journey continues towards your ultimate aiming point....... you roll up your sleeves and get started on the task of developing the next version of you: the improved, more credible and enhanced YOU as you tackle the next bigger challenge to the ultimate goal. That is the moment that the sky becomes the leaping board to your universe of opportunities".


Wishing you a transformational journey ahead

Funmilola (Funmi)



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