American author and motivational speaker Albert E.N. Gray said, “All successful people have the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do. They don’t like doing them either necessarily. But their disliking is subordinate to the strength of their purpose.”
In other words, the difference between people who achieve what they set out to do and those who don’t isn’t determined by ability, intelligence, or where one comes from. Nor is it about who one knows or where one went to school.
The difference is in the determination, the internal motivation of the person.
In order to achieve any goal, we’re going to have to face challenges. We’ll have to work hard and do some things that aren’t exactly fun. Successful people know this and are willing to do what it takes.
Of course, it’s going to be easier to achieve a desired outcome if we’re naturally gifted in an area. If we’re tall, agile and fast, it will certainly be easier to become an exceptional basketball player. If we love the game, it’s even more likely that we’ll achieve the desired outcome. There comes a time in every player’s career, however, when she doesn’t feel like practising, when she’s recovering from a painful injury, is unfairly criticized or faces some other form of adversity. Those are the times when she will have to do the things she doesn’t like to do in order to achieve her desired outcome.
While Gray’s small book The Common Denominator of Success is considered a classic in motivational literature, it’s more anecdotal than scientific. Though many years have passed since its publication in 1940, we still know little about developing the skills necessary for success.
This is beginning to change, however.
University of Pennsylvania researcher Angela Lee Duckworth discusses grit. She tells us, “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. … Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
While it’s clear that grit is important to success, there’s surprisingly little that we know about it, or how it’s developed and fostered.
Grit does seem to be related to having what psychologist Carol Dweck refers to as a “growth mindset.” We need to realize we’re in a constant state of development, we’re always improving. Our success is determined not so much by the abilities we’re born with but by our efforts for constant amelioration.
What do we know about achieving success?
First of all, it’s clear that we need to have meaningful goals if we’re ever going to achieve them. We need to know where we’re going if we’re ever going to arrive at our destination.
Secondly, we know that it’s going to take a lot of hard work to achieve anything that’s worthwhile. Whether our goal is to develop a successful business, become a champion athlete, to get an education, to raise healthy, happy and productive children, or to survive an ordeal, we’re going to face seemingly insurmountable challenges. If we can face them with determination, knowing that we become better and more effective people by tapping into our amazing resources, we’ll either achieve our goal or we’ll achieve something even better.
It’s very exciting to see the direction psychological and educational research is moving with regard to achieving our potential. In many ways, we’ve always known what it takes to be successful, whether we call it having grit, a growth mindset or simply being willing to do things we don’t like to do.
As science affirms our innate wisdom, the path to becoming our best selves grows that much clearer, and the whole world will be able to benefit from our giftedness.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.
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