I saw a car commercial recently that led to some pretty deep reflection. The commercial used the vehicle’s GPS system as a metaphor for life. The car would drive along down its intended path, except when obstacles would appear and it was required to veer off course. The GPS would display “Recalculating…” and the vehicle would find a new path to take it to its desired destination. What a beautiful metaphor for one’s life – especially that of a resilient superachiever.
Superachievers decide what they want from life and then they go after it. Regardless of the number of obstacles that they find in their paths, they find ways to go around, under, or over the obstacle by “recalculating” to get to their final goal. What exactly is “recalculating?” It is an attitude – one that requires grit, resilience, perseverance – all that good stuff that helps us survive and even thrive in life. It is also a system, one that requires going through logical problem solving and developing multiple back-up plans so that one can quickly recalculate. Let’s look at each of these in detail.
First, the attitude. The dictionary defines grit as “courage and resolve; strength of character” and Angela Lee Duckworth calls it the key to success in her TED Talk. Grit is the single factor that determined the success of all of the individuals that participated in her research studies. What if you don’t believe you have grit? Well – the good news is that you can learn it. Learning grit is not easy as it requires a change in perspective. By attempting to learn or improve your grit, you are, in essence, practicing grit, so it is a win-win. The strategy I have found that works for building grit involves looking at the gifts that each adversity we face brings us. Yes, even the traumatic stuff that occurs to some of us. This can be really hard to do in the midst of adversity; however, it is so worth it. How does this play out? I’ll use a personal story for this one: the death of my father. I witnessed my father fight pancreatic cancer for many years until he finally succumbed. His passing brought me so many gifts – while he was still with us, it made me realize just how precious time with a loved one is when you’re not sure if you’ll ever see them again. The whole process taught me that life is short, you never know what tomorrow will bring, so to enjoy each and every moment. There are many more gifts I received by going through that adversity, but I shared enough to get the point across.
When I say adversity, I’m not just talking about the big stuff either. Let’s look at a small inconvenience and how you can use it to work on your grit. Let’s say you’re running late for a meeting or appointment and you’re in line at the grocery store because you needed a couple of items. The cashier and the older lady in front of you are taking their time talking, even showing photos of grandchildren. You feel the familiar impatience and frustration rise. Then you stop, remember you’re working on your grit, and ask yourself – what gifts is this moment bringing me? Perhaps it is a lesson that you need to better manage your time so you aren’t running late. Or maybe it’s a lesson on taking the time to connect with other human beings like the two ladies in front of you are doing. Or it could be that you are witnessing the only human connection the older lady in front of you gets on a daily basis and are chilling out so she can enjoy a moment with another human being. Whatever your lesson is, by focusing on it, you are building your grit.
That was attitude, now let’s look at the system you can put into place for being able to quickly recalculate when an obstacle appears in your path. The system is fairly simple as it involves some logical problem solving and then developing a plan for each potential obstacle identified. This involves looking at what you want to achieve, identifying the potential obstacles that may arise and then developing “If, Then” contingency plans. Let’s go through this process for a simple goal, such as sitting down to write something (like a blog, paper, memo, whatever you have to write on a regular basis). We’ll look at the most feasible obstacles for the sake of brevity (just enough to understand the process.) The two most common obstacles to writing are potential interruptions by external forces and inability to focus. So we ask ourselves, IF an outside interruption or inability to focus occurs, THEN I will ask myself if it is worth diverting my attention; since it most likely is not, I will focus on writing. So the first part of the plan is to minimize all distractions. For example, when I sit down to write, I will do it in my living room or dining room on my laptop, without my phone nearby. I also, turn off everything on my laptop, but the writing program. So Plan A is to sit with my laptop, only with the writing program open, in an environment where I will not see my “to do” pile on my desk or have other potential distractions nearby. Plan B is if a distraction does occur, whether it is external or an inability to focus on my part, I will ask myself it is more important that the writing. Let’s say the doorbell rings and I see that it is someone with a clipboard. I will not answer the door unless it is a police officer or fire fighter. I will also not answer the phone unless they call two times in a row (so I can make sure it’s not an emergency.)
Let’s recap – to practice “recalculating” at the superachiever level, we will work on our grit, by practicing the gift of adversity strategy. We will ask ourselves what gift the adversity we are currently experiencing is bringing us. Then we will also set up a “recalculating” system in which we engage in logical problem solving for potential obstacles and devise back-up plans that can be immediately implemented in the event that one of the obstacles appears. Your call to action is to reflect on how well you are “recalculating” in your life and to develop a plan to improve it.