The great Muhammad Ali said, “I don’t count my sit-ups, I only start counting when it starts hurting because they’re the only ones that count.”

Sports analysts during his time often dismiss him as “NOT a natural.” He did not have the “tales of the tape” physique that makes a successful boxer; his moves were neither classical nor technical; he boxed “all wrong.” Yet, he emerged as one of the greatest boxers of all time.

Muhammad Ali shows an example of how grit somehow exceeds in-born talent as a predictor of success. But, what is grit, really?

“We define grit as perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over the years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signal others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course.”

– Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews and Kelly[1]

Angela Duckworth from the University of Pennsylvania, Christopher Peterson of the University of Michigan, and Michael Matthews and Dennis Kelly of United States Military Academy studied educated adults, Ivy League undergraduates, cadets in the United States Military Academy, and children participating in the National Spelling Bee. In the thousands of individual cases they studied, they found out that grit is not positively related to IQ, but is strongly related with Big Five Conscientiousness. They concluded that grit, apart from IQ and talent, contributes to the achievement of difficult goals.

Duckworth and her colleagues define grit as an individual’s characteristics that relate to perseverance, passion, ability to commit to long-term goals despite failures and lack of progress. For someone with grit, success is not an end-goal in itself, but a long-haul process.

In Grit to Great: How Perseverance, Passion, and Pluck Take You from Ordinary to Extraordinary, Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval, identified the four ingredients of grit: guts, resilience, initiative, and tenacity.

Grit begins when you finally have the gut to take courage and aim for victory even if it is nowhere (yet) to be found. You visualize a path that may be visible only to you. Somewhere inside you, you know that success is already yours for the taking.

Grit takes its longevity from your resilience, despite the countless mistakes, failures, and misfortune you experience. Grit makes you resilient—crawling when you fall flat on your face.

“If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Grit is the initiative that burns from within: an ignition for a car, not a hammer to a nail. Grit makes you a self-starter. It pushes you to be self-reliant, to be accountable and responsible for the success you aim for.

Lastly, grit requires tenacity or the ability to focus on a long-term goal. It includes relentless hard work, determination, commitment and sustained intensity. Grit pushes you to ACT (audacious, contagious, and tenacious) a healthy obsession towards your goal.

You cannot choose your talent. You may even claim that you are not born with the talent you need to really succeed in the field you choose. Yet, somehow, like the great Muhammad Ali, you can re-make yourself to let grit exceed talent. After all, grit empowers you to go beyond the boundaries set by talent.

[1] Duckworth, A.; Peterson, C.; Mathews, M.; Kelly, D. (2007). Grit: perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 92 (6): 1087-1101.

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