The Key to Achieving Long-Term Goals? A Healthy Dose of Mental Toughness

As a kid, business mogul Richard Branson was deemed “stupid and lazy” by his teachers, only to find out he suffered from dyslexia, which, in turn, helped drive him to succeed.

J.K. Rowling, author of the best-selling Harry Potter series, was a single mom living on welfare when she began writing her first book.

Vincent Van Gogh trained relentlessly as an artist, yet failed to sell a single painting during his lifetime, despite producing more than 200 works that now reside in renowned museums across the globe and sell for hundreds of millions of dollars.

It literally took Thomas Edison 1,000 tries before he finally invented the light bulb.

Do you see the common thread here? What do these incredibly successful people from varying backgrounds have in common? They all demonstrate mental toughness – or grit – the ability to harness passion, perseverance and resilience to achieve long-term goals.

I just finished reading best-selling author Angela Duckworth’s book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. In addition to being an impressive author and speaker, Angela is  the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and founder and CEO of Character Lab, a nonprofit that aims to advance the science of character development. In her book, Angela describes how she studied the theory of mental toughness in a variety of settings – the boardroom, the classroom, the military and the football field. I found her research fascinating, as she finds, time and time again, that grit trumps I.Q., physical fitness, straight A’s, street smarts and a host of other measures in determining success. If you don’t have time for the book – watch her TED Talk on the topic – it’s a great 6 minutes!

So, if it’s not the innate, natural ability to run the fastest, hit the hardest, think the most abstractly, or compute the most accurately, what are the behavioral characteristics of peak performers? According to Angela’s findings, these individuals:

  • Carefully plan, focusing on the long term by setting and achieving small goals along the way.
  • Thrive on pressure, adapting and excelling in high-stress situations.
  • Remain optimistic, not letting setbacks or failures derail them.
  • Are driven by curiosity – thriving on reinvention, innovation and learning new things while asking themselves “why” or “how” along the way.
  • Celebrate their triumphs, no matter how big or small, giving themselves encouragement and momentum to accomplish that next goal.
  • Have passions outside of their career, giving them an outlet to reboot and rejuvenate to avoid burnout.

In today’s swirling world of change, the only thing you can truly control is your reaction to the ups and downs of daily life and work. For me, staying mentally strong is all about being grounded in my human truth as a woman, wife, mother and leader. It isn’t ever just one of these roles that defines me – it is ALL of them all wrapped up together that give me the strength to persevere through the worst of times and to experience the elation of the great successes in work and life.

My top tips for becoming mentally stronger?

    1. Work really hard. Success doesn’t come easy. You have to W-O-R-K at it. This may mean burning the midnight oil, working smarter by divvying up responsibility, looking for new and improved ways to do things, and seeing the proverbial forest through the trees. Remember that the road to that enduring success is paved with many small wins along the way.
    2. Enjoy what you do. If you are truly passionate about your work, you have more energy to put into success. You are more confident in your decision-making. You are more creative when it comes to strategy development and problem-solving. You are better able to inspire others who work with you. And, I truly believe it is that passion that drives you forward when the going gets tough – and at some point the going will get tough!
    3. Learn from your mistakes. It’s inevitable. You are going to make mistakes in your career. But don’t fixate on the blunder, as it will end up hampering your performance. Accept it, learn from it, and move forward.
    4. Celebrate the success of others. Everyone has something beneficial to offer. Instead of wasting time comparing yourself to others or sizing people up, appreciate what they bring to the table. Surround yourself with smart, driven people and find ways to work together to achieve success.
    5. Pursue growth.Continue to get better and better. Read, investigate, experiment, absorb, reflect. View both your successes and failures as growth opportunities and NEVER stop learning.
Angela Gillespie
Angela Gillespie
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