How To Stick With Something When Times Get Tough

We already know that nothing worth having or doing comes easy. Here’s how to get what we truly want.

How To Stick With Something When Times Get Tough
[Photo: Flickr user Axel Bührmann]

Any worthwhile, let alone noteworthy, achievement is inherently tough. It takes considerable effort, energy, and sacrifice, usually over a significant period of time to make it happen–otherwise it’s not an achievement. In a word, it takes grit.


Most of us want and need more grit, which begs the question, more of what, exactly? Four building blocks form and fuel your grit: Growth, Resilience, Instinct, and Tenacity. Here’s what you need to know about each to help you be more successful:


Growth is your propensity to seek and consider new ideas, additional alternatives, different approaches, and fresh perspectives.

Consider how important this one element is to your effectiveness and success, to achieving anything worthwhile. Research reveals it is about more than having a “growth” or “fixed” mindset. In the world of grit, growth encompasses your propensity to rise above the immediate situation to seek fresh, alternative perspectives, ideas, and insights as a way to improve your approach, expertise, and chances of success.


How well you respond to adversity and your capacity to be strengthened and improved by the tough stuff is resilience. But it’s about so much more than simply bouncing back from adversity. Recovering is one thing. But where you go from there is everything.

It’s not enough to survive, cope with, manage, or even overcome adversity. You have to harness it, which means using it, converting it to fuel that propels you to a place you never would have enjoyed without the adversity. Over time, either adversity consumes you, or you have to consume it. That’s why resilience is so essential to grit.


Instinct is your propensity to pursue the right goals in the best-possible ways.


It’s tough and yet utterly essential, and it’s been uniformly missing from the entire conversation on grit. How much energy, time, effort, hope, and resources have you expended pursuing the wrong stuff, or pursuing the right stuff in the wrong ways? For most people the answer is, “A heck of a lot.”

I recently asked this question of 350 top telecom executives, and their answer was, “More than half.” More than half their time, effort, resources, and energy were spent pursuing less than optimal goals, in less than optimal ways.

The brutal but compelling truth is that it’s impossible to lead an optimal life or grow an optimal business without developing the instinct to pursue optimal goals in optimal ways. Of course no one ever does this 100% of the time. But significantly increasing the proportion of your goals and strategies, that are increasingly close to optimal, is what the whole grit game, and this brief journey is all about.


The degree and duration of relentless effort and energy you put into whatever you do is tenacity.

Growth, resilience, and instinct are all essential. But tenacity propels you across the finish line. How many attempts, how many starts and stops, how many heartfelt efforts over how much time does it take to break through and succeed? After all these decades of studying and applying tenacity, I still don’t know how to answer this question, except to say, “One more.” And an increasingly common response I’ve receiving in our global research is, “More than ever before.”

If most grand quests take longer and are more difficult than originally imagined, tenacity is what determines the difference between success and failure. It turns out that nearly all major breakthroughs, innovations, and step changes in history took seemingly senseless levels of tenacity. It required sticking with it long after other, “saner,” less determined people would have tossed in the towel.


Paul G. Stoltz, Ph.D. is the founder and CEO of Peak Learning and is the author of GRIT: The New Science of What it Takes to Persevere · Flourish · Succeed (ClimbStrong Press, January 2015). Stoltz is considered the world’s leading expert on the integration and application of resilience and grit.