Where Grit Comes From and Where It Can Take You

The only way to develop grit is to challenge yourself. This author shares her method of doing so.

“Just do it.”

For the sake of follow-through, there’s something to the Nike slogan. Just do it, and keep doing it, and don’t quit. By sticking to our commitments and doing the difficult thing, no matter how hard, we seemingly build strength to push through future obstacles. Persevere and that hard-earned callus toughens us to get through the next challenge that life throws our way. 

I didn’t know that this phenomenon of growth had been scientifically studied until I read GRIT: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. My husband and I discovered Duckworth’s book as newlyweds and were immediately sold on its benefits for our future family. Grit — perseverance and passion for long-term goals — quickly became a quality I wanted to build in myself, my marriage, and my kids. 

Before being able to name this concept, I used to pride myself on my ability to do — my ability to accomplish, to persevere, to just get 👏🏻 it 👏🏻done (and to do it really well, in fact). Didn’t matter what the “it’”was. I was always up for the challenge and giddy at the idea of pursuing new feats. Not because of the rewards or the credit, but because I was intrinsically motivated to grow

Even with that motivation, those activities did not just suddenly become easy. I still spent blood and sweat on pushing through to each of those finish lines. And I did grow because of that hard work — because I did the hard thing. But like any motivation, my efforts to chase something difficult would ebb and flow with the busyness of life.

So we hatched a new plan for our family — an intentional way of developing grit. Ticking off our everyday to-dos was still important, but to cultivate perseverance, we set out to consistently push through something hard. In short, we adopted Duckworth’s recommended rule.

The ‘hard thing’ rule

This rule has three parts: everyone has to do a hard thing; you can quit, but not at just any time — there must be a natural break; and everyone gets to choose their own hard thing.

The goal is to become the type of people who can accomplish difficult tasks without giving up — to develop the character trait of finishing what we start. Not being able to quit until that natural break — the end of a season or after leveling-up — means we can’t call it a day when the going gets tough. And choosing our own hard things gives us the autonomy to determine how to develop ourselves.

So we each chose our hard things. Before pregnancy, one at a time, I trained for a half marathon, became a morning person, Marie Kondo’ed my wardrobe, practiced Duolingo daily, etc. Once I got pregnant, simply making it out the door for a light daily jog was my hard thing. Then came labor and delivery, then keeping a baby alive. The ability to match my hard thing to the current season of life helped me grow right where my feet were planted.

We joke that our 8-month-old son’s hard thing is connecting the dots between squirming on his tummy and crawling, but in all seriousness, my husband and I are developing our own grit by watching our little guy struggle through something hard without rushing in to relieve it.

Each new challenge brings with it new perspective and growth. I could write all the things about how I’m where I am now because of those challenges, but I’d be doing the process an injustice. The fruits of this rule can only truly be appreciated by the individual. And on a grander scale, growth for its own sake is finitely fruitful; it only means something when applied to a greater good.

Self-improvement for self’s sake

“If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.” 

I’m all for self-improvement, but I took issue with this statement when I first heard it. So of course, it got stuck bouncing around my brain.

Is it true? Time keeps moving, we keep aging, the world keeps spinning, and if we’re not growing at least in congruence with how quickly we’re dying, aren’t we sliding backwards? 

But in what context? Our worth is unchanging. As a flawed human, I grapple between what I know to be true (that I’m loved and worthy and no accomplishments or lack thereof will change that) and what I try to accomplish in this worldly life (in doing my part to make an impact by being a better person and in helping others find their way to their heavenly end). 

I recognize I often teeter on the line of self-actualized thinking. Frankly, my never-ending hard thing is leaving room for God to work in my life. I can only accomplish so much on my own, and I know that grace carries me even in ways I can’t see. And yet, shouldn’t I try, try, and keep trying to do better? Being stagnant isn’t doing any real good. 

My humble human answer to this dilemma is to keep getting better and to do it selflessly. But hidden landmines lurk at either end of that spectrum, too. Getting in the best physical shape of your life can be for your and others’ betterment, as long as it’s not an end in itself (vanity). On the other end, being so selfless as to not care at all about your health actually is selfish because of the burden you place on others.

So I strive to achieve a balance in my hard-thing seeking: cultivating my God-given gifts in myself, in ultimate pursuit of the greater good. I’ll continue reaching to better myself — not for my own sake, but so that I can cooperate in God’s work to better the world.

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