51: Grit revisited

On this week’s episode, we talked about Grit, by Angela Duckworth. (Also check out a video I made about Gritand of course the last time we talked about it in our second episode ever.)

Wally and I are trying to have themes for each week. We tried this before but we’re just going to go ahead and try it again.

These are the themes we’re tentatively looking at for the next few weeks:

  • Grit: You’re reading about it right now, baby! And hopefully you’ll take some time to listen to the episode. It’s a theme but really it’s about Angela Duckworth’s book “Grit”. We refer to our Grit episode from last year as one of our better episodes. Maybe we peaked in our second episode. But I was actually happy with what we came up with this week.
  • Questions: I’ve been reading a few books about questions lately so that’s what this episode would be about. Good questions. This would center around the book “Wait, What?” and also “Tools of Titans” and “Tribe of Mentors”. I use questions from these books pretty often, particularly in these creative projects.
  • Unconventional beliefs: Ramit Sethi has a related phrase for this: invisible scripts. We grow up learning invisible scripts and conventional beliefs. One of his was that he could never build muscle. Once he started changing his beliefs around that, then he was able to take the steps to gaining weight and building muscle. Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t take work. But some people won’t even take the first step because they hold conventional beliefs and believe in invisible scripts so strongly. (Possible books: Liminal Thinking; Smartcuts.)
  • Stretching: We’ve got the podcast process sort of down. We can show up, record, do some editing, and put the episode out in a couple hours. It’s time to start improving it. Earlier on we were deliberate about trying new things to figure out what works. We need to do that again. In this episode we can talk about why it’s important to stretch yourself. (Possible books: Smarter, Better, Faster; The First Twenty Hours; The Talent Code.)

I talked to Wally about trying themes out. For a second we thought maybe we might run out of ideas for themes. Then we realized that we have pretty much every word in English to use. We won’t run out of themes.

Anyway, we’ll see how it goes.

Grit: The treadmill (What is grit?)

“The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be out-worked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me, you might be all of those things you got it on me in nine categories. But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple, right?.” — Will Smith

In Grit, Angela Duckworth describes a study about running on a treadmill and a follow up a few decades later. The gist? People who stayed on the treadmill longer ended up more mentally adept later in their lives.

She points out, though, that getting off the treadmill is when you can actually start showing your grit. Making the choice to get back on the treadmill the next day is how you display perseverance. And the next day and the next day.

(If you want to start actually running, I can’t recommend the Nike and Headspace collaborations enough. Check out this Headspace podcast episode with Nike‘s headrunning coach. And remember, just like showing grit, it’s important to celebrate the start (getting on the treadmill, hitting the road day after day) and not just the finish.

Grit: Steps for passion (Growing grit from the inside out)

“To the thirty-something on Reddit with a “fleeting interest in everything” and “no career direction,” here’s what science has to say: passion for your work is a little bit of discovery, followed by a lot of development, and then a lifetime of deepening.”

Okay, so why would you get on that treadmill? Not to just get on it. You’re not passionate about treadmills. It might align to something else you might be passionate about. You might think you’re passionate about losing those 10 pounds. But that often isn’t enough to show up day after day.

If you survive through a heart attack, you’ll get passionate about heart health quickly.

Okay let’s get off the treadmill for a second.

In our episode, Wally and I talk about things we’re passionate about. It can often be helpful to look to your past. What did you do when you were younger for fun that you don’t do anymore today? There’s a chance it’s something you could still be passionate about.

Does there mean there’s a direct career in it? Not necessarily.

Flipping that, what if you have a career in something you’re not passionate about? Does it mean it’s not worth mastering? Same answer: not necessarily.

If you take the time to learn more about the field you’re in, you can build your skills up and then grow passionate about it.

If you read business books for long enough, you’ll eventually see Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You pop up in your shopping algorithm. It’s a great book that really analyzes passion and mastery. Hint: focus on getting good instead of finding a passion.

Grit: Flow vs. Deliberate Practice

Cal Newport also has a more recent book: Deep Work. It’s about working with focus. It’s about improving. A lot of it aligns with Anders Ericsson’s research into deliberate practice. This is where you stretch yourself in the skill you’re developing. It should be hard. You should struggle. Then through session after session of it, you improve.

On the other end of this is flow, which Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has written about extensively.

(Go check out our very first episode where we talked about the book Flow and autotelic and exotelic activities.)

Flow, of course, is getting in the zone. This is where you make hard things look effortless. It’s Kevin Durant pulling up four feet behind the three-point line.

Deliberate practice is hard. Flow seems effortless. Can they exist together?

Ericsson is skeptical that deliberate practice could ever feel as enjoyable as flow. In his view, “skilled people can sometimes experience highly enjoyable states (‘ flow’ as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) during their performance. These states are, however, incompatible with deliberate practice. . . .” Why? Because deliberate practice is carefully planned, and flow is spontaneous. Because deliberate practice requires working where challenges exceed skill, and flow is most commonly experienced when challenge and skill are in balance. And, most important, because deliberate practice is exceptionally effortful, and flow is, by definition, effortless.

Angela Duckworth set up a talk between Ericsson and Csikszentmihalyi where they would each argue for the importance of the opposing forces of deliberate practice and flow.

(They pretty much didn’t argue.)

You have to be proficient in a skill to experience flow. You get there through deliberate practice.

Putting together what I learned from this survey, the findings on National Spelling Bee finalists, and a decadelong inspection of the relevant research literature, I’ve come to the following conclusion: Gritty people do more deliberate practice and experience more flow. There’s no contradiction here, for two reasons. First, deliberate practice is a behavior, and flow is an experience. Anders Ericsson is talking about what experts do; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is talking about how experts feel. Second, you don’t have to be doing deliberate practice and experiencing flow at the same time. And, in fact, I think that for most experts, they rarely go together.

How’d he get good enough to make it look automatic? By doing it thousands of times and making the right adjustments after misses in session after session.

Flow takes practice.

Grit: From Barking up the Wrong Tree

Okay so your grit reserves are low. How do you give them a bit of a boost? Give yourself a story. Give your work some meaning.

So what is meaning? Meaning, for the human mind, comes in the form of the stories we tell ourselves about the world. This is why so many people believe in fate or say things were “meant to be.” Having a story about the meaning of life helps us to cope with hard times. Not only do we naturally see the world this way, but frankly we can’t not tell stories. If I asked you how your day was or how you met your spouse, what would you tell me? A story. What’s your résumé? A story. You even tell stories when you sleep: dreams. And research shows you have about two thousand daydreams every day, telling yourself little stories about this or that.

What’s your story? If not, take a look at what you’re working on and ask why over and over until you have a little more clarity around your story. (It’s also good to hit pause if this leads you to questioning reality.)

Once you’ve found a good story to align things to (doing the work today means a little more security for your family tomorrow) then write it down somewhere to remind yourself of it when the going gets tough.

If you can’t figure out why you’re doing something or you find out the story just isn’t good enough, I’ll give you one: you’re building your reputation as someone who finishes their commitments.

Now get back on that treadmill.

Thanks for checking this out

The theme for next week’s episode: QUESTIONS (What are good questions to ask other people? What are good questions to ask yourself?)