Justin Jacoby Smith is an organizer, web geek, Buddhist, and poet.

grit & habits, failure & persistence

There's a lot of talk lately about grit--studies and books are emerging that show grit, or 'perseverance in the face of failure,' is a key common factor among successful people who get big things done. But it's starting to look like grit is more than just keeping your foot on the gas no matter what gets in your way--it's about the way you approach problems and the way you understand the challenges that land in front of you. When people with grit are faced with failures, psychological studies suggest that they *don't* blame their failure on some innate inability or lack of skill that they can't do anything about--the "I'm just not good at this" approach. They tend to place the blame on factors they're squarely *in* control of: poor planning, insufficient effort, bad strategy. As with anything we're in control of, these are the sorts of things can be altered, changed and improved.

So when a project fails, The Gritty Lady won't say "Maybe I'm just bad at managing projects." She'll ask "What am I in control of that I could have done differently that would have achieved a better outcome?" That approach--focusing on building paths to future success rather than finding intractable reasons for blame--treats every failure as a benchmarking test, an opportunity to find & fix blind spots. That makes the Gritty Lady more capable and more able to handle The Big Project next time it lands on her desk. Image

But what about the rest of us? What about those of us who are working to build grittiness, trying to become more persistent even in the face of failure, so that we can forge a path to success?

The key for people like us, it seems to me, is to remember that altering, changing, and improving on past mistakes requires the hard work of building new habits. If you know your project failed because you didn't plan well enough in advance, then yes--you should work on planning better. But remember: that's a process, or as GTD'ers might say, a project. You don't just wake up Monday morning and have the capability and discipline to be able to plan better forever after. As anyone who's been "planning to get on the treadmill" for 6 months can tell you, building a new habit is hard work. You need reminders, rewards, and accountability. You can do it. But if you want to be persistent, get through your failures without giving up, and be successful, you have to remember: it will be hard. Keep going.