By Caren Baruch-Feldman, PhD, author of The Grit Guide for Teens
Being gritty, having self-control in the face of temptations, and rebounding from failure are not easy. However, there are ways that we know from science that makes it easier for us to have stick-to-it-ness. The question is what are some ways that can put you in the driver’s seat as opposed to being driven by your temptations?
Here are my top ten strategies (secret recipe) based on the latest scientific research in helping people change in general that can be applied to growing your grit.
1. Frame the Behavior in the Positive
(For example, I will eat healthier, and I will be on time for class, I will get my work done on-time or early). Many people try to persist by simply resisting urges, using willpower and saying, “No” (e.g., no cookies, don’t be late, don’t procrastinate). However, the human mind doesn’t like being told “no.” Highlight the positive aspects rather than focusing on the deprivation.
2. Make It Easy to Be Gritty and Hard to Give into Temptation
Shawn Achor a psychologist who wrote a book called Before Happiness: Five Actionable Strategies to Create a Positive Path to Success, speaks about wanting to run more and watch less TV. What did he do? He took the batteries out of the remote in his TV and slept in his running clothes, making it easier to focus on his long-term goal of running as opposed to what may make him feel better in the moment (TV watching).
3. Be Specific and Don’t Take on Too Much All at Once
It is best to change one behavior at a time. So don’t try to be grittier in all domains of your life at first. Specifically, take one area (e.g., academics) or one behavior (eating healthy) at a time. Also, you can shrink the change by breaking down the change so it no longer spooks you. It’s easier to tackle big problems if you take it on in small manageable steps.
4. Write It Down and Monitor Yourself
We know that writing down what we want to accomplish helps change our brain more than just saying it. Also, what we monitor is what changes. Write down the specific steps to achieving your goal(s). Make goals actionable by scripting the essential moves and be specific. Instead of writing down, “I will go to the gym” in your phone or calendar, write down, “yoga, 7:30 Wednesday night.”
5. Pre-commit to Action
Pre-committing makes it more difficult to change our minds. I know when I pick out a class to go to from the gym and put the event in my calendar there is a greater chance that I will go, then when I decide to wing it and wait to see how I will feel on that particular day. Pre-committing makes it difficult to reverse your preferences.
6. Make It Public and Get Social Support
Let others know about your desire to be grittier and try to work on being grittier together. By letting people know what you are doing, you pre-commit and have a better chance of changing your ways. Also, when you surround yourself with other gritty people, their grit is contagious and will rub off on you.
In addition, when you are faced with a challenge you can access that needed social support to get you right back in the game.
7. Stand Firm, No Wavering
This notion of “standing firm” has been for me, one of the most important strategies in helping me be gritty. The idea is that to help you persist it can be helpful to tell yourself that there is “No choice, this is what I am doing!” It is the wavering that causes all the trouble. Once you start having a dialogue, “Should I eat the cookie, it is only one, I was so good today,” or “I know I am late, but it is only a few minutes, I’m sure it will be fine,” you have lost the battle!
8. Change Your Environment and Avoid your Triggers
Environmental cues have a tremendous effect on our behavior. We are much more successful when we set our environments up in a way that promotes gritty behavior than thinking we can put ourselves in a tempting environment and not give in. For example, turn the social media off when you study instead of thinking you can resist the lure of Facebook or Instagram.
9. Develop Beliefs That Will Inspire You
Figure out your thinking traps, challenge them, and come up with new more helpful, positive ways to think that will inspire you to persevere. Focus on long term goals as opposed to the immediate gratification. Having a growth mindset and being passionate about your future will inspire grittier behavior.
10. Get Back on Track and Don’t Overreact When You Mess Up
Remember failure can be your friend. However, most people don’t see it that way and instead engage in the “what the heck phenomena.” For example, once people lapse, they often react by blowing off the rest. For example, if they procrastinate by watching you-tube videos, they might as well blow the whole night off and watch some more. Instead of learning from the lapse, they overreact causing way more damage than if they just got back on track.