True Grit: What it Takes to See Goals to the End

Grit, determination, tenacity and resolve. We throw these words around to encourage greatness and spark inspiration, but how many of us ever feel the true power of them? For that matter, how many of us understand the true power of them?

I recently found myself thinking about determination. I wondered, are some people born with a competitive edge so sharp that they have no option but to succeed? Or maybe true grit or determination is the result of years of refusing to accept failure.

Naturally, I jumped head first into research to quell my curiosity and find ways that I could apply what I learned to my life as a marketer. Here are the two most important things I learned:

Determination requires focus.

Stories of sports and determination are always so cliché, but the relevance can’t be glossed over. For example, Jerry Rice is widely considered one of the best football players of all-time. When coaches and teammates talk about him, one trait is always mentioned: focus. He continuously put in the work, staying late after practice to get in a few more runs. His legendary workouts put others to shame and he never paused for the “off season.” There was no off season in Rice’s world.

Of course, Jerry Rice had natural talent, but it was his dedication to growing that made him great. He focused on the skills needed by a wide receiver and perfected them through practice and an ability to adapt.

Rice’s story led me to my first revelation People are often concerned with being the best at everything, but that simply isn’t possible. Part of being determined and crushing goals is picking a focus and dedicating time, energy and resources to learning everything about that focus. Jerry Rice never needed to know how to throw a perfect spiral, so he didn’t waste his time on practicing that skill.

As a marketing professional, I don’t have to be an expert at every aspect of marketing. If I try to be, chances are I won’t truly be an expert of anything. I’ll just be kind of good at everything. This is why we work in teams. I can put all my energy into my strengths, knowing that my teammates will support me with their strengths.

Determination requires a strong mind.

You’ve heard the age-old phrase, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” This phrase is a nod to those who have mastered the power of their minds. These people have “grit,” or mental toughness.

Let’s stick with the sports analogies to explore what is possible with a well-conditioned, dedicated mind. An Ironman Triathlon is a long-distance race consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a 26.22-mile marathon run. Participants spend months, if not years training for these grueling events.

In early 2016, Tristine Emery and her husband, Kevin Nicholson, set out to complete the Taupo Ironman together. The race went well until Emery rolled her foot 3 kilometers into the marathon. Rather than pull out of the competition, Emery made a conscious decision to keep going. Through extreme pain, the New Zealander was able to think rationally and come to the conclusion that if she removed her shoe, she wouldn’t be able to finish. Emery plans to complete more Ironman races in the future. In her words, “People who do Ironman are a bit crazy anyway.” Crazy? Maybe, but what Emery exhibited was not a mental disregard for her well-being. It was a mental fortitude that allowed her to block out the pain and walked 39 kilometers on a foot that was broken in two places.

Psychologists agree that a high level of mental toughness is one of the key factors to achieving greatness as opposed to just barely finishing a goal or not finishing at all. Grit (mental toughness) is not genetic. Yes, some people are born with natural tendencies to strive for their goals, but the brain is a muscle that needs to be exercised.

Visualization and meditation are two ways to increase the strength of your mind. These mental exercises are just as important as the hours spent in the gym or conducting market research. Both practices allow you to mentally prepare to push through barriers and work through problems in moments of extreme pain or intense stress.

YouTube is a great resource for finding guided meditations and visualizations that will strengthen your mind and help you realize your goals. Make sure to choose a video that speaks to you. The music, voice and pace all need to be pleasing to you, or the exercise will feel like a chore.

For me, the most exciting takeaway was that I have the power to accomplish anything I set my mind to. I know, I know, it sounds cliché, but no more cliché than the sports analogies on mental toughness, and hey, let’s face it, the proof is out there. Every day, people are choosing to be the best in their industry, to learn new skills and take risks that may not pay off the first time. You should, too.