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Got Grit? Five Ways To Boost Your Mental Toughness

shutterstock_132344354According To Dr. Martin Seligman, the author of the bestselling, Learned Optimism, and considered by many to be the father of positive psychology, grit is the single most important skill to overall success at any goal. Tested across many different contexts, the grit score has held ground as the strongest predictor — when compared to the 23 other character strengths that Seligman identifies — of whether a person fails or succeeds.

Yet grit is seldom taught, and is something that public schools are only just beginning to speak about, thanks to Paul Tough’s bestselling book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character. Yet for all of the attention Tough has brought to the way we teach children, examples of grit are rare.

But it matters. After all, we all have goals, we all have dreams, we all want success. And we are all going to need it because failures happen to everyone. But what separates those who ultimately succeed from those who fail is grit. So just what do you do to get grit? Here are five ways.

Make Commitment Automatic Commitment for most people is not automatic. You have to convince yourself every morning to get up and go for a run, because a part of you just doesn’t want to. So you put your shoes out, charge up the ipod, set the alarm fifteen minutes early — whatever it takes — because when the morning rolls around you are still convincing yourself. On the other hand, you don’t have to convince yourself to brush your teeth. You just do it because not brushing them isn’t an option. The commitment to do it is already there — automatic. Not surprising then that people who have grit also have an “unwavering approach to their goals,” and they don’t question what needs to be done to reach them. Instead, they just do it — automatically.

Manage Your Failures Failures have a unique way of introducing you to yourself. And depending on who you are, you can see failures as permanent, pervasive, and personal — the three responses Seligman identifies with low levels of optimism and grit. People who think in these ways about failures take a long time to rebound, and some don’t ever. But on the other hand, some people just can’t be knocked down. Why? Because people with grit make failure temporary — quickly assigning it to things that can be improved, as oppose to permanent features of character — keep it in perspective — while they may fail in one area, they persist on in all other areas, well aware that one has nothing to do with the other — and they don’t take failure personally — instead they take responsibility.

Keep Your Expectations in Check One surefire way to fail is to over face yourself. When you set the bar too high — beyond what you are ready for — you literally set yourself up for failure. While aspirations, hopes, and dreams can all be in the category of “large and ambitious” expectations need to match one important thing. And that is your ability. And while ability increases slowly with diligent practice, so should your expectations. What those with grit know is that like your abilities, each time you raise your expectations, it should only be because your abilities have progressed, and not for any other reason.

Pace Yourself People who succeed against the odds can tell us one thing for sure. It didn’t happen overnight. Instead, it was a long, hard battle, and not one for the faint of heart. Or the impatient. If you want to get there, you are going to need to pace yourself. Start slowly, don’t expect too much too soon, and be patient. Grit, like all things worthwhile, is going to take some time.

Remove Obstacles To Your Success Obstacles have an interesting way of taking your eye off of the goal. And when you’ve got a lot of them, that’s all you see. They can come in many forms — the critical friends, the overstuffed schedule, the extra drama in your life that you don’t need — but whatever they are, they are robbing your of the energy you need to reach your goals. And what people with grit can tell you is that they don’t spend time on things that don’t get them closer to their goals.

While grit is something that takes time, and is largely developed through a process of facing challenges, perfecting skills and building confidence, remembering the five points above can start you on your way to becominhg mentally tough.



1. Seligman, M. (2006). Learned Optimism: How To Change Your Mind And Your Life. New York, Vintage.

Determination image available from Shutterstock.

Got Grit? Five Ways To Boost Your Mental Toughness

Claire Dorotik-Nana, LMFT

Claire Dorotik-Nana LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in post-traumatic growth, leveraging adversity, and other epic human achievements. Claire has written multiple continuing education courses for Professional Development Resources, Zur Institute, and International Sport Science Association. Claire has also authored multiple books, including:
Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks into Springboards and On The Back Of A Horse: Harnessing The Healing Power Of The Human-Equine Bond. For more information about Leveraging Adversity or Claire, visit

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APA Reference
Dorotik-Nana, C. (2014). Got Grit? Five Ways To Boost Your Mental Toughness. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 3, 2020, from


Last updated: 2 Oct 2014
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