As a disclaimer, I do not claim to always have grit (or even most of the time). I often whine, cry, and have a negative outlook on life. However, it is a trait that I think that we all can achieve with the right mindset.
I started thinking about grit the other day when my friend Phil started telling me how one of his good friends was getting prepared to race the Badwater Ultramarathon. For those not familiar with Badwater, it is essentially a 135 mile footrace from the lowest point of the United States (the Badwater Basin at -282 feet) to the highest point (Mount Whitney at 14,505 feet). It is not a race that follows beautiful trails, either. It is raced on an asphalt road in the desert. The average temperature can be above 107 degrees, and even has soared to 130 degrees.
In any case, it is not an event for those weak of heart and mind.
During a 14-mile training run for my first 50K race, I was feeling particularly exhausted and sick of running and began pondering how in the world do actual humans run 100-milers. The sheer fact that people pay to be on their feet, running for 24 hours (or even longer) seemed impossible to me (it kind of still does…).
The core question is how does one even train for a 100 mile footrace? How is one able to persist and finish the Badwater Ultramarathon? I can promise you there are sparse (if any) cash prizes and press media for these kinds of races, so money and fame are out of the question.
As I huffed and puffed into the final mile of my training run, I realized that the answer is grit. Persistence. A calm and clear mind.
Would you be surprised to learn that the average longest training run these kinds of races is only about half the full race distance (50 miles for a 100 mile race). Although physical fitness is important throughout the entire race, ultramarathons can only truly be completed with the presence of grit.
This article featured on wired.com gives an extremely thoughtful definition on the implications of grit on a person:
“…Those with grit are more single-minded about their goals – they tend to get obsessed with certain activities – and also more likely to persist in the face of struggle and failure.”
Whoa. Hardcore status.
Although I used the example of grit while running ultra-marathons, it truly is a trait that can be applied to ALL of life and what it throws at us.
Below, I’ve compiled 6 tips that I believe can help you on your nitty gritty path and dig deeper when the going gets tough:
1. Stay present. This applies a lot to my own life. As an impatient individual, I am constantly caught up in the “what ifs” of life. I also tend to worry a lot. Lately, however, I’ve been forcing my focus on the here and now. Life usually never turns out how we think, so what am I doing worrying about things out of my control. Embrace the little moments right in front of you or you will miss them completely.
2. Have a mantra. When the going gets tough, sometimes it works for you to keep a simple and repetitive phrase in your mind. It is really something to hold on to, but it is a good distraction and easy reminder of your end goal. I really like to repeat “I am who I am,” but another good example can be taken from Nike’s “Just do it.” Are you biking a century and your legs are screaming in pain at mile 82? Nothing can quiet and distract your mind from your pain better than a simple repetitive mantra. Honestly.
3. Keep Perspective. Let’s be honest, reality never meets our expectations. We always have this plan of how things should go, but it rarely it stays on that path. Although we should have high expectations for ourselves and our lives, it is sometimes important to know how to roll with the punches too.
4. Look at the bigger picture. We are all self-centered. As humans, it is a natural survival trait. However, it is SO FREAKING EASY to get caught up in our lives, our relationships (or lack of), etc. We need to shift our thinking. When I traveled to Guatemala this past summer, it amazed me how HAPPY and content these people were, living in 3 walled shacks with no running water or electricity and barely enough food to feed their families and pets. I was shocked. But the simple truth was- they were thankful for what they had, and that was enough. We need to be grateful for what we have, what we can do with the skills life gave us, and keep moving forward.
5. Slow your pace. As a full-time grad student, I can admit to pushing sleep aside to make room for homework, projects, papers, and studying. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” I often hear myself joke. During stressful times of the school year, I’m so focused on being the perfect student, that I am busy working the entire day and often sleep only about 4 or 5 hours a night. Although to some superhuman individuals, this may be normal, to me- its not. I become irritable, compulsive, and have a very negative outlook. Not good. I survived that semester, but not with true grit. This upcoming school year, I hope to slow the pace a little. Focus on what is the most important. Make time for other priorities other than school. There is absolutely no need to be perfect while life rushes past us.
6. Look towards the past. Look back to a time when you were strong and resilient even though you wanted to lay down on the road and die. Or go to sleep, whatever. Anyways, the point is that you GOT PAST that point. And you’re going to get past the current moment. You’ve got this.
*For further information, look towards this TED talk about the correlation between grit and success.