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Erik Trautman

“Everything you can imagine is real.”
-- Pablo Picasso

Grit is a Muscle. Train it.

"Inch towards daylight" is one of my favorite mantras from a book I read recently. It also accurately describes how to develop the oft-discussed but seldom mastered skill of Grit.

Grit is generally defined as perseverance in the face of obstacles and/or lack of positive reinforcement. It's the ability to do hard things regardless of whether the environment is supportive, and it's the ability to maintain determination and motivation for long term goals through all the shit work between now and then.

Grit is often and inaccurately presented as an innate characteristic. That gives those who lack it far too convenient an excuse to stop trying or to justify their deficits. In reality, Grit is a muscle that needs to be trained.

In 2017, I ran an Ironman triathlon and sold a challenging service business that I'd bootstrapped through 4 arduous years. I live with a group of highly motivated high achievers who span the world of entrepreneurial and life success — the collection of their acquisitions, press articles, TED talks and general awesomeness gives me constant awe — yet they constantly express amazement at the kind of will I'm able to deploy to the fulfillment of a particular goal. Why?

I'm no perfect specimen of a Tour de France winner or Navy Seal — I still find myself hopelessly lost in the throes of addiction to the pages of a particularly good book and can't for the life of me resist that last piece of chocolate. But I have made a practice of getting good at accomplishing goals regardless of comfort or positive reinforcement. And it all starts with practice.

Grit is not something you can suddenly call upon to accomplish that one thing you really want. Think of willpower as a muscle that needs to be trained. If you've trained yourself on a reward system that enables you to cop out halfway through accomplishing your goals because you've historically done so in the pursuit of more momentary comfort, you'll never break out of that pattern when it counts. If you can't get yourself out of bed before 9am, how can you expect to do anything else hard?

There are lots of tactics which can help you maintain willpower in the face of obstacles but the core strategy is the most important and typically the most disregarded: You can only develop Grit by practicing Grit. You have to make a practice of doing hard things to build up the resilience to do even harder things.

One of the best ways to get started is by anchoring your day on something difficult and do it consistently.

Every morning, I wake up and don't allow myself to leave the bed until I have done 200 crunches. I make the bed, open the blinds, and get onto the floor to do 101 pushups. These days, I typically have to post up and breathe a couple of times in the middle, but I don't remove my hands from the ground until they are all done. Then I wash my face with cold water, dry off, and am officially ON for the day.

I've done this routine for over 1000 straight days without missing one, regardless of how hung over I am, if I've hurt myself or if I'm running the hardest race in the world that day. There are zero valid excuses for not doing this because I wake up every day somewhere that has a bed and a floor.

This example is not about a physical fitness accomplishment. That's just the enabling factor for me. And I certainly didn't start with those numbers — I began by doing 50 crunches and 20 pushups and worked my way up. The real message is that you build up mental fortitude by doing hard things consistently every day. There are no shortcuts.

For some people it starts as simply as making your bed 100% of the time in the morning. For others it's a cold shower. For others it's resisting the pull of electronics until after lunch. Many find it through endurance sports. Regardless of what works for you, start small and push yourself a little more every day. Long-term consistency is key.

When you do hard things and, eventually, are rewarded for it, you develop the mental patterning and resiliency to keep hope during other hard things. There are far better educated people than I who can tell you exactly which behavioral patterns you're forging but the fact is: do something hard and it gets easier next time. At some point, you begin to achieve Varsity-level mental conditioning where you see shitty, difficult tasks as just another repetition at the gym and that helps you get out of the self-pitying loop of wallowing in denied comfort which blocks your progress toward true Grit.

At that point, you've effectively hacked your psychology to Embrace the Suck.

You wouldn't expect to be able to lift a car without hitting the gym fairly religiously for several years. Similarly, it's totally unreasonable to believe that applying a single hack here and there to use your willpower will suddenly give you possession of the kind of grit which will take you through the accomplishment of the most challenging long-term goals.

You fight to build it day by day and inch by inch along the way to daylight.