1: When we reflect on our lives, what are our proudest accomplishments?  Steven Kotler asks in The Art of Impossible: A Peak Performance Primer.

“Now think about how hard we worked to accomplish them.  Sure, everybody gets lucky a few times.  There’s always a handful of occasions when you get exactly what you want without having to work very hard to achieve it,” he observes.

“But are those the memories that brought the most happiness?  The ones that provided actual optimism and confidence in our future?  The ones that significantly boosted our long-term performance?”

Not likely.

“We humans like gritty hard work, because gritty hard work provides better long-term survival benefits,” Steven notes.  “And if we can tap into that drive, we can fundamentally change the quality of our life.”

2: Back in 1869, Sir Francis Galton completed the first study of grit and high achievement.  

“In a lengthy historical analysis, he examined standouts in the fields of politics, sport, art, music, and science, looking for traits that accounted for their success,” Steven writes.  

While natural talent was important, he found two characteristics that mattered even more: “Zeal” and “capacity for hard labor.”

150 years later, we’ve yet to prove Sir Francis wrong.  

What we’ve done is modernize his terminology.  In the early 2000s, University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth replaced “zeal” with “passion” and “capacity for hard labor” with “perseverance.”

“It’s the combination she famously calls ‘grit,'” Steven notes.

Angela conducted a series of studies that proved the combination of passion and perseverance was twice as important to academic success as IQ.  

“And what is true for academics is true for a host of additional fields,” Steven writes.  “Which is to say,” as Angela puts it, “all high achievers are paragons of perseverance.”

Perseverance is the easiest-understood version of grit.  “It’s day-to-day steadfastness.  The kind of persistence that lets you tough it out no matter the circumstance,” Steven notes.

“Kick me in the teeth or sing my praises, doesn’t matter, I’m still here.”

This approach to life is captured in the DO THE HARD THING sign that hangs above Steven’s desk.  It’s why the Navy SEALs have embraced EMBRACE THE SUCK as their unofficial motto.

3: “Yet, lost in this tough talk is a soft underbelly,” he writes.  “Psychologists have found that humans can achieve three levels of well-being on this planet, each more pleasurable than the last.”

Level one is moment-to-moment “happiness.” Which is sometimes called the “hedonic approach to life.”

The next level up is “engagement.” This experience of life is “where happiness is achieved not by the pursuit of pleasure but rather through seeking out challenging tasks that have a high likelihood of producing flow,” Steven notes.

Flow is a term synonymous with “being in the zone,” or being completely engaged.  It involves heightened focus and creative immersion.

The peak level of happiness, what Steven refers to as “the best we get to feel on the planet, is known as ‘purpose,’ which blends the high-flow lifestyle of level two with the desire to impact lives beyond our own.”

Angela and Yale psychologist Katherine Von Culin conducted a study involving 16,000 subjects.  They discovered “a clear link between grit and what level of happiness people pursue,” Steven writes.  “Less gritty people hunt happiness through pleasure, while grittier folks choose engagement.  By consistently choosing engagement and triggering flow, the grittier folks are actually getting more happiness, not less.

“Thus, while grit requires more energy and emotional fortitude in the in the short run, it provides a much bigger boost in mood and motivation in the long run.”

More tomorrow!


Reflection: Looking back at my life, what are my proudest accomplishments?  Did they come easy?  Or did they require lots of hard work and grit?

Action: Make it a point to stay resolute and complete a difficult task today.

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