The difference between sticking to your plan and reaching for the cheesy poofs at the first sign of trouble may have to do with how “gritty” you are.
What’s grit? It’s a word being used by professor Angela Duckworth, PhD, MacArthur scholar and author of “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” to describe that difficult-to-define quality that separates those of us who excel at setting and reaching goals from those of us who don’t. Put simply, it’s a combination of passion for a long-term goal, motivation and stick-to-itiveness.
People without much grit may try, stumble and give up — or simply coast without really applying ourselves, hoping something magical will happen in our favor. Or they may never start at all.
How gritty are you? Find out using Duckworth’s grit scale.
Wherever you land, you can cultivate the fortitude required to passionately persevere until you reach even your loftiest goals. This may be especially exciting for those of us with multiple failed weight-loss attempts in our wake.
How Grit Can Help With Weight Loss
Duckworth herself is the first to admit that our “grit factor” isn’t the only indicator that we will succeed in any area of life. Weight-loss experts in particular note that weight gain is a complex issue, depending on factors like your health, emotions and food environment.
However, the idea that we can “grow in grit” means we can develop this powerful skill to reach our goals in weight loss and in life.
Duckworth’s book has several important messages for those of us attempting to reach any physical or health goal — even something as difficult as losing weight and keeping it off long-term. Here are six ideas for getting gritty that might help in the struggle to shed those extra pounds.
1. Drop the idea of “natural talent.”
Duckworth suggests that even the grittiest among us fall victim to the unrealistic idea that the success we observe around us is based on talent or even luck. Yes, some in-born traits will play a role in how easily we reach certain goals. But, she adds, “Effort counts twice.”
This idea that success is open to everyone seems like a critical component for anyone seeking to finally win the weight-loss war.
2. Find your sense of purpose.
Duckworth tells stories of people who exhibited the grit required to survive when faced with dire circumstances. So think realistically about how extra weight will continue to affect your life. Perhaps your motivator is playing with your kids, finishing a marathon, avoiding heart disease or getting off your blood pressure medication.
Define your purpose, then create a vision for yourself and let it guide you, Duckworth says. If it is suitably motivating, you will likely find yourself rising to the occasion at times when you might otherwise cave.
3. Practice deliberately.
Success is hardly ever one big cosmic bang. It’s the result of hundreds or thousands of tiny actions over time.
In a world that celebrates glitz and glamour, the truth of trudging mundanity rarely sells, Duckworth notes. It’s important to remember that the athletes, actors and other luminaries we admire put in thousands of hours of finding what works to come to that one moment we label “genius.”
And that includes the people we know or hear about who maintain a 140-pound weight loss. They stuck with a plan that works at times when it was difficult, ugly or not fun at all.
4. Make friends with frustration.
Improving performance may be a function of trying things you can’t do easily again and again. Understand that just because you’re frustrated doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong track, Duckworth’s book explains.
If you can embrace rather than fear challenge, you may be able to approach tough moments differently (that is, without diving into cherry cheesecake). In one story published in “Grit,” a gritty 6-year-old swimmer exclaimed after her very first swim meet, “That was hard! It was great!”
If you can foster the idea that overcoming challenges is actually fun — and even, perhaps, what makes life worthwhile — you may find the energy to continue improving your eating plan and exercise regimen, even when it sucks.
5. Hang with gritty people.
Duckworth says that, whether or not we’re aware of it, our culture — where we live, and with whom we identify — shapes our reality. This includes whether or not we keep going after tough goals.
To cultivate grit, she says, find a gritty culture and join it. Some possible options include:
- Fitness groups. This may be a morning swim club, a community-focused workout like CrossFit or an informal but spirited group of weightlifters at your local gym.
LIVESTRONG.com's Stronger program also has a vibrant online community.
- Group-based weight-loss programs, such as Weight Watchers. There are also many expert-led weight-loss challenges that offer a private Facebook group for members.
Look into RRM 66 by Amber Mikaelsson (the Rural Rebel Mama), Ripped Girls with Michelle Rycroft, or online group training with Sarah Gage.
- Support groups. A local hospital or community center in your area may offer a weight-loss support group. You may also consider a 12-step group such as Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous (FA) or Overeaters Anonymous (OA).
The key is being around people who are truly identify with and are committed to the cause of reaching a healthy weight. They create a culture of success that encourages you when the going gets tough.
6. Try, try again.
Zeal and hard work are important. But the path to excellence or achievement is rarely straightforward. To win long-term, Duckworth says, we have to make a plan to get back up when we falter (quoting the Japanese proverb “fall down seven times, stand up eight”). And in weight loss, faltering is common.
One caveat: Duckworth states that grit may be tough to come by if we faced trauma early in life over which we felt completely powerless, such as sexual trauma or the death of a parent. Rhode Island-based therapist Diane Petrella, MSW, who has written extensively on trauma and weight gain, agrees.
“Extra weight affords a kind of armor,” Petrella says. “Grit won’t be of much help when you’re actually scared to let that protection go. The weight will stay — or keep coming back — until you work through those emotions.”
Weight loss isn’t easy. Long term weight-loss success, then, requires an ability to observe our less helpful actions without beating ourselves up — and then using what we learn to move forward with renewed confidence.