These are the four key ingredients for a happy, successful and fulfilling life. And best of all, they’re all achievable.
Talent versus tenacity
We’re all fans of talent. We think of it as that “magic” ingredient. A sprinkling of fairy dust bestowed upon the lucky few. But what if, in fact, it’s not so much talent that sets life’s great achievers apart, but something else?
When the author Angela Duckworth was teaching maths to high school students, she noticed it wasn’t the brightest, most talented students who excelled, but those who worked the hardest. Of course talent – the ability to improve quickly – does matter, but without practice and stamina, talent is useless. Angela refers to this as “grit” – the power to keep going through ups and downs. Grit means not giving up, but here’s the nub – not because you have to do something, or you said you would, but because you want to do it. It’s about showing up and doing it like you mean it.
So it’s not talent we need in abundance, but effort, passion and tenacity. Any one of us can grow grit. It’s actually
an incredibly uplifting message.
Nurture your passion
Ask any successful individual what drives them on, whether that’s author Salman Rushdie, fashion designer Nicole Farhi or comedian Michael Palin, and what you’ll hear time and again is that they love what they do. They can’t wait to get on with the next project. These people do what they do, not because it’s lucrative, or they love fame, or
success, but because they can’t imagine not doing it. And it’s not just celebrities that expound this advice; research studies show people from all walks of life are more satisfied and perform better when they do something that fits their interests. The trouble is most of us have quite a skewed idea of how we might find a passion.
We often assume that, like talent, passion is a God-given gift that’s bestowed on you in a lightningbolt moment. In
fact, you could spend several years exploring a number of different interests before coming upon your passion. The key thing here is to foster a passion. Falling in love with a sport, musical instrument, or indeed anything, needn’t be sudden or swift, but can grow gradually.
Find your purpose
Gritty people have purpose. They feel what they’re doing is important and not just for them but for others too. For society, for their students, to be a better parent, for the greater good. That’s not to say they’re all saints, but their
purpose is a powerful source of motivation – it gives them the drive they need to power on through the setbacks.
Finding a purpose is entirely individual. You could be working in marketing for a hotel chain, for instance – not an immediately obvious choice for a passion project – but the fact that you are connected to your clients’ enjoyment of their holidays could make you feel you are making a valuable contribution to their lives.
TOP TIP It may be that you can carry on doing what you’ve always done but – with a tweak of perspective – with renewed vigour. Think of the parable of the bricklayers. Three bricklayers were asked, “What are you doing?” The first says, “I’m laying bricks.” The second says, “I am building a church.” And the third says, “I’m building the house of God.” Same job, very different perspective.
Practice really does make perfect
Many of us will work at omething for a day, a week, or even a year, but soon find our interest dwindles when our attention is caught by the next glittering prize on the horizon. We book tennis lessons this season, switch to golf the next, and before we know it we’re wondering about trying a cookery course instead. That’s all very well if you’re exploring your interests, but if you want to become excellent at something you’ll need to stay focused and practise. And we mean really practise, not just a lot but with intent. It needs to be deliberate and sustained. In any new activity you’ll improve quickly at first, then gains will trail off and performance flatlines, so increased experience in itself won’t lead to excellence. For example, you can do the same run three times a week, every week for a year, without seeing any improvements. If you want to get faster or fitter, you’ll need to time yourself and record your performance, then make adjustments in your training based on your speed.
Virtuoso violinist Roberto Díaz describes this kind of deliberate practice as “working to find your Achilles’ heel
– the specific aspect that needs problemsolving.” You might feel this sounds like a terrible grind – and yes, it is hard – but it’s also rewarding. There’s nothing like getting better at something to make you feel great.
Set yourself a challenge that’s beyond your reach and work towards it. So if your goal is to improve your tennis but your serves are weak, you practise serves, ideally with a coach, who can give feedback.
Harness your resilience
There’s an old Japanese saying – “fall seven, rise eight” – which is the epitome of grit. When faced with setbacks, gritty people bounce back. They see the future not only as bright, but also as something they can influence. In other words, they have an optimistic outlook. It’s the difference between saying “I mess everything up” or “I’m hopeless”. Compared with “I mismanaged my time” or “I didn’t do my best due to distractions”, which is something you can fix. Adopting this kind of positive attitude will help you get back up when you hit a bump. TOP TIP Practise positive self-talk. If you make a mistake, instead of saying, “I’m the most stupid person, I always make mistakes,” say to yourself, “Everyone makes mistakes sometimes; I can learn from this setback to do better next time.”