In the 1960s, Stanford conducted a series of experiments involving children and marshmallows. This notorious study is now called The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. The goal of the study was to examine the long-term impact of delayed gratification. The short version of the story goes like this. Children were left alone in a room with a single marshmallow. Each child was told that he would receive two marshmallows when the researcher returned if he did not eat the marshmallow.
The gritty kids distracted themselves. They closed their eyes, hummed, and rocked back-and-forth to resist the sugary temptation. Years later, a follow-up study was conducted. It was discovered that those kids who resisted the urge to eat a single marshmallow went on to excel in all areas of life.
They were better students. They had a higher rate of success in their marriages. And they excelled in their careers when compared to children who succumbed to temptation. It appears that a huge secret to success in life is not to eat the marshmallow.
Grittiness matters in leadership and life. The ability to delay gratification, and push through adversity, leads to long-term success. But how do we grow this stick-to-it attitude in our own life? And how do we foster a gritty, marshmallow avoiding, never give-up-attitude in our children?The ability to delay gratification, and push through adversity, leads to long-term success. Click To Tweet
This post will dive into four practical strategies to develop a gritty attitude in ourselves, our children, and those we lead.
1. Gritty leaders practice gritty self-talk.
“Self-talk” is the term therapists use to describe the conversations each one of us has, silently, in our head. Negative self-talk discourages grittiness. Examples of negative self-talk include statements like,
- “I’m a failure.”
- “I’ll never figure this out.”
- “This is too hard.”
People with a pattern of negative self-talk often succumb to depression. Negative self-talk will bring you down. On the other hand, positive self-talk can help you push through adversity. Here are two of my favorite, gritty, self-talk statements.
Gritty Self-Talk: Trust the process.
“Trust the process” is a phrase that was seared into my mind by our Graduate School Dean, Dr. Barry Lord. It was his way of encouraging his students to push forward without protest. If you have a big goal, I encourage you to trust the process. Follow in the footsteps of others. Trust that the journey will lead you down a path of growth. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “Slow to learn, slow to forget.” There is an abundance of wisdom in those words!
Gritty Self-Talk: I’ll get there when I get there.
I first heard this self-talk statement from life-coach Sean Smith. “I’ll get there when I get there” is all about doing the work, sticking with it, and not getting upset when the journey takes longer than expected.
Sean proposes that if one keeps doing the work–and continues to learn and grow along the way–that person will eventually reach a higher level. Instead of asking, “How long will it take me to reach my goal?” Gritty leaders get down to business. They do the work, day after day, knowing that with persistence, they will eventually reach their goal.
Leaders who ask, “How long will it take?” get discouraged by delays. They are more likely to give up.Gritty leaders keep pressing forward, and eventually reach their goals. Click To Tweet
2. Gritty leaders play the “If/Then Game.”
I talk about the If/Then Game in my book, Coffee Shop Inspirations. I tell the story about a night that I was especially discouraged. It was at 3 am. I was working an overnight shift, and my mind wandered to a discouraging place. For some reason, in the middle of my pity-party, I took out the trash. As silly as this sounds, I thought to myself, I did that really well. And if I can do this part of my job well, I bet that I can do the next part with excellence.
The rest of the evening, I completed one small task at a time. By the end of the night, I felt energized. The next day, I applied this simple technique to a school paper. I wrote one sentence at a time. After each sentence, I reminded myself, If I can write one sentence well, then I can write the next one with excellence too.
I kept pressing forward–one sentence at a time–until the assignment was complete. The If/Then Game is all about breaking large tasks into smaller parts. Each small success is celebrated along the way.
3. Gritty leaders don’t give up. They pivot.
Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. Refusing to give up can lead to living out this definition of insanity. But it doesn’t have to. There is a better way.
Giving up, and doing the same thing over and over again, are not the only options. They are two extremes on a much broader continuum. Wise leaders don’t give up. They don’t keep doing the same things over and over again, either. Instead, Wise leaders pivot.
A pivot is a slight shift in direction. I made a pivot in my life when I shifted from pastoral work to counseling. I pivoted again when I started this blog. My goals of supporting others, honoring God, and growing as a leader, never changed. However, my means of pursuing these goals took a shift.
Gritty people don’t give up.
4. Gritty leaders get inspired by other gritty leaders.
Gritty leadership is all over the Bible. I think of David–a shepherd, warrior, and king–who bounced back from one failure after another. His life is messy. Yet David continued to pursue God and is ultimately known as “a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22).”
History is filled with gritty leaders who would not be denied. While writing my first book, I came across a story about a gritty college student who graduated and couldn’t find a job. Instead of becoming discouraged, this young man moved to Alaska. He worked, saved, paid off college debts, and returned to earn his Master’s Degree. While attending graduate school, he lived in his van, wrote a book, worked, and graduated debt-free. Now that is grit!
Ken Ilgunas was kind enough to let me include an abbreviated version of his story in my book Coffee Shop Conversations: Psychology and the Bible. You can dive into his full story in Ken’s book, Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom.
As you can see, grit matters. The good news is this invaluable quality can be developed in ourselves, our children, and those we lead. Have you tried any of these tools? If so, how have they worked for you? Finally, how are you fostering a gritty attitude in yourself and those around you? I’m excited to hear from you and look forward to continuing our discussion on gritty leadership in the comments below!