G – Grind Gives Grit

The 2006 movie, Open Season, introduced us to Boog. Boog is a bear raised in the comforts of a human home by a Park Warden since he was a cub. He knows no other way of living. Boog inadvertently meets Elliott, a clumsy and chaotic deer. Their adventures lead Boog to being reluctantly relegated to the wild. Boog’s struggles with living in the environment for which he was born becomes the basis of the movie.

In one scene, Boog is having difficulties with doing what other bears do best. That is, pooping in the woods. He’s awkward, anxious, and self-conscious. These tensions are making the task tough. As Boog timidly titters with his jitters, his friends offer various encouragements. Elliott finally suggests that Boog should put on his “Grrr face.” Boog questions what this is. Elliott responds more physically than verbally showing that a grrr face involves clenching and squeezing any and all muscles you can find in your body. At its essence, it reflects bearing down and getting on with the task at hand. There’s no pussy footing around a poop. Like the folk wisdom offers, “Either sh!t, or get off the pot.” Doing involves doing, not dithering nor dabbling. We can’t fidget or fake our way forward. At some point, the rubber meets the road and we’ve got to do the work. In some sports, athletes are encouraged to bite down on the mouthpiece and get after it. This is another way of putting on one’s grrr face. It’s bearing down. It’s grinning and bearing it. It’s doubling down when things get tough. It’s pushing harder when your body and mind are telling you to slow down. It’s accepting that the only way through is forwards. It is our effort that moves things forward that makes us better. Putting on our “grrr face” is imploring us to bring the single greatest contribution we have to anything we do, our effort.

The story of Sisyphus comes from Greek Mythology. Sisyphus somehow earned the ire of the Gods who punished him to a never-ending cycle of what looks like frustratingly futile work. Sisyphus is condemned to a task toiling to push a boulder up a hill. It takes him the entirety of each day to muscle that rock up only for the Gods to roll it back down the hill each night where Sisyphus wakes to his Groundhog Day like existence. Day after day, Sisyphus is destined to do the same thing repeatedly. The day is full of effort. He pushes with all his might just to have the stone be back at his feet at the bottom of the hill at the start of each day. Sisyphus seems to make no progress and all his efforts seem to be in vain. To many it is a sad story and one of caution where we should be careful of inviting the anger of the Gods to avoid this type of punishment.

Yet, to others, like the late French philosopher Albert Camus, the story of Sisyphus wasn’t depressing but representative of a well-lived life. Putting the shoulder to the stone and doing the work day after day was a high form of calling. It, to Camus, served as a symbol of what the point of existence was. There’s a nobility to patient plodding. To persist in painful pushing day after day is not something to shy away from but something to lean in to. It is through our work that we form our character. There’s a purpose to the punishment.

Have you experienced the feeling of licking your lips even hours after having swam in the ocean to still taste the sea? The taste is a reminder of where you’ve been. So, too, each grain of grit you create is proof of your personal power. It reflects the sacrifice and struggle you have endured. Because you have in the past, you can do so again. Enduring grit gives you GITT. It is Gas In The Tank. This is the value of having done tough things. The benefit of tasting toughness is it creates cranial callouses. Confidence follows competence. Our ability to believe in our ability to get things done grows when we have a history of getting things done. The more we’ve endured, the more likely we are to in the future persevere. Our past successes fuel future efforts and accomplishments.

With many tasks it can feel like we’re spinning our wheels. The distance between what we’re doing and the outcome can seem so separate that we start to lose faith that what we’re doing is making any difference. Our ability to resist these feelings and to persist in pursuit of the process is, to a large degree, determined by how often we’ve gone down this road in the past. Where we know that we’ve been rewarded with progress after consistent contribution, we’re more likely to continue our efforts. Our past becomes like what Jacob Riis drew upon when observing, “When nothing seems to help, I go back and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred-and-first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not the last blow that did it, but all that had gone before.” A successful outcome may look like it happened quickly, but upon closer inspection it’s the result of a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears.

The Apostle Paul in the Book of Romans (Ch5 v3-4) offers us, “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” When we’ve suffered and survived, we develop the character that helps us understand our capability. This understanding affords us confidence that we can look to perform again in the future. Encountering and working through a difficulty creates an internal resource upon which we can rely for future performance. Brian Germain in Transcending Fear writes, “When we experience things that scare us and we survive, we alter our perception of ourselves. Due to irrefutable evidence, we realize that we can in fact stand up to challenges.” Dan McLaughlin writes in The First Half of a Journey in Human Potential, “Once you do something you know you are capable of doing it again, and the next time you can push the limits a bit more. This is progress and this is why I train every day.”

Success fosters a growth mindset. I can do this follows from I have done this. Again, confidence follows competence. Moreover, little wins in one area builds a greater willingness to try in other areas. Because I’ve succeeded in x, I’m willing to give y a go. Resilience is reinforced by reminding ourselves of the skills we already have.

Simon Marshall and Lesley Paterson in their book, The Brave Athlete, suggest “Structure your training and racing to give yourself lots of opportunity to feel successful—shoot for tons of micro-successes.” It’s motivating to experience progress. Set yourself up for success by giving yourself a chance to taste small wins. Any kind of small win helps us continue to lean in. When what we’re doing works, we want to keep working. As Eric Barker realized and wrote in Barking Up the Wrong Tree, “Success is strange in that it cultivates more success. Once I had achieved something it encouraged me to try even harder.”

Endurance sports are about enduring effort in the face of physical discomfort. To endure is to feel the pain yet continue to pursue progress. There are physiological markers of effort like blood chemistry, heart rate, and respiration that provide objective evidence of effort being given. Coupled with these physical characteristics are psychological sensations. How does the athlete feel when working hard? The psychological assessment is known as RPE or Rate of Perceived Exertion. It’s a ranking an athlete self-assesses at any moment in time based on a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is barely any effort and 10 is maximum, total effort. Experienced athletes can become quite skilled at consistently and accurately matching their RPE with physical biomarkers. Moreover, the best athletes become better at performing closer to their maximum physical outputs as they are willing to push their RPE to maximum levels.

Matt Fitzgerald writes in How Bad Do You Want It?, “Endurance sports are largely about discomfort and stress; hence they are largely about coping. In a race, the job of the muscles is to perform. The job of the mind is to cope. But here’s the hitch: The muscles can only perform to the degree that the mind is able to cope. Endurance sports are therefore a game of ‘mind over muscle.’” Fitzgerald himself as a budding college runner came to experience the power of practice to building mental toughness. As he exposed himself to higher levels of suffering in race events and survived, his self-confidence grew. Fitzgerald writes, “I acquired a greater level of respect for myself, a sense of inner strength that has helped me tackle other challenges, both inside and outside sports.” Fitzgerald earned confidence from his hard-won competence. Each time he sought suffering and summitted, a notch to his belt was added. He earned another arrow in his quiver and gained resources upon which to draw upon in the future. Through enduring the grind, he hardened his mind. This is the grit that we’re seeking to earn by exposing ourselves repeatedly to tougher and tougher trials.

David Goggins, too, is a proponent of drawing on past accomplishments to fuel perseverance in current efforts. Goggins grew up physically abused and aimless. At some point, he got sick of where he was at and determined to join the military. He had to drop a lot of weight to qualify in a short period of time and owned accountability for doing his part. After joining the military, he aspired to become a SEAL. In Can’t Hurt Me, Goggins writes, “The SEALs were everything I wasn’t. They were about pride, dignity, and the type of excellence that came from bathing in the fire. … They were the human equivalent of the hardest, sharpest sword you could imagine.” Their strength came from exposure to struggle.

Goggins has become the Guru of Grit. Goggins offers the idea of the cookie jar. For Goggins, each time we do something difficult we’re putting a coin in our cookie jar. It’s something we can withdraw in the future when we’re suffering to reinforce our resilience. Even though we may feel like giving up, we know we’ve pushed through difficulty before. The evidence of our efforts becomes energy in the moment. The idea of past pain creating persistence has become a major theme of Goggins’ life. He believes that just like the burn of blisters becomes the basis of hardened callouses, the pain of struggle becomes a callous on our character toughening us to be able to better manage future situations.

When we’ve encountered difficulty and worked through it in the past, we’ve created a resource upon which we can draw upon in the future to give us confidence to face struggle again. Strength follows struggle. When we’ve done our part, we strengthen our heart. Our past efforts are duress deposits or success savings that become money in the bank that we can draw on in our future efforts. They are a way for us to see what adversity we’ve faced and overcome with our own efforts. Tracking what we’ve done helps build a tower of personal power. It’s how we show our body of work. We can crystallize the connection between our commitment and our competence further reinforcing our confidence. The strength of streaks is how you help yourself. Look at what you’ve done to see how far you’ve come. Our ability to summon our grrr face is a factor in how often we’ll experience being in first place. Therefore, daily update your competence chart. For it reflects that you’re doing your part.

William James encouraged, “Do something everyday for no other reason than you would rather not do it, so that when the hour of dire need draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved and untrained to stand the test.” James understood that difficulties develop. Struggle breeds strength. Resistance builds resilience. We get stronger from lifting weights that are tough to manage. We learn to run faster, further by pushing harder. We learn better where we proactively seek to retrieve and recall information as opposed to passively listening to lectures drone on. It is through discomfort that we develop. It is by enduring effort that we excel. There is a price to pay for gain in any domain and it usually involves some sort of pain. That’s the game. Work works. Effort breeds excellence. If it’s easy, it’s likely ineffective. Don’t wish for things to be easy. There are no short cuts. The long way is the short way. Wish for an opportunity to work hard and develop yourself. See yourself a sculpture waiting to be refined by your own actions.