Words: Krista Stryker
If you’ve ever made a fitness goal only to become overwhelmed and give up, you’re not alone.
When you make a goal to finally lose those last ten pounds, or sign up for your first half marathon, or work toward your long-time goal of being able to do a pull-up, you most likely start out strong, full of enthusiasm. And while the initial push goes well, before long, you start to struggle. Life gets in the way. One missed workout turns into two. The deadline to sign up for that race you were so excited about comes and goes. Before long, you’re making excuses about why your goal wasn’t realistic in the first place, and you’re back at square one.
Whenever this happens, it’s easy to get discouraged and feel like you’re just not cut out for this fitness thing. But your underlying athleticism has nothing to do with how much progress you make. You’re not hopeless—you just need to build some grit.
What it Means to Have Grit
Psychologists define grit as passion and perseverance for long-term goals.
The truest form of grit combines persistence, ambition, and self-discipline to pursue high, hard goals that might take months, years, or even decades to accomplish. When it comes to fitness goals, this might mean you have a goal to build a lifelong workout habit, work toward mastery in a specific sport or activity, or continue to crush your personal records in the gym.
Of course, grit doesn’t just apply only to our most far-reaching goals. We also need to have grit to accomplish smaller goals and develop habits, such as finishing a workout program, building up to a challenging strength move like handstands or one legged-squats, or getting in your daily 10,000 steps.
Basically, you have to have a certain amount of grit to stick with any goal.
How to Grow Your Grit
Some of us may be born grittier than others. Luckily for the rest of us, it’s possible to learn and train grit over time. The more you practice, the better you’ll get at sticking with your goals.
Here’s a four-step process you can use to grow your grit:
Step One: Find your passion
The first step in the grit-building process is to find something you care about enough to stick with for an extended period of time. After all, why waste time being gritty on something that doesn’t really matter to you?
But this crucial first step is easier said than done. Many people actually get stuck at this point in the process, trying to figure out something they’re passionate enough about to pursue long-term. They get so worried about finding the absolute perfect fit that they never end up pursuing—or even trying—anything.
On the other hand, some people dive right in and commit wholeheartedly to a goal, only to find out fairly quickly that they’re actually not that interested in that goal (or the process of pursuing that goal) after all. This often leads to people quitting and feeling like a failure early on. But quitting early isn’t something to be ashamed of. The earlier you realise that your goal isn’t the right fit, the earlier you can quit and move onto something new. Then just keep trying new things until you find something that fascinates you enough to stick with it.
The key is to avoid putting too much pressure on this process—it may take years until you find something that feels like the right fit. Be patient, and try to enjoy the process of discovery.
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Step Two: Seek out knowledge
Once you’re relatively clear on your long-term goal, the next step is to seek out the knowledge you’ll need to improve. This can be through books, online programs, in-person coaching, workshops, etc.
The key here is not to overload yourself with too much high-level knowledge too early. Try to break your long-term goals into small, manageable steps you can follow to make steady progress toward your larger goal. This will help you stay motivated to take action without being too overwhelmed about the big picture.
For example, when I was first learning handstands, I had big, lofty goals that included impressive leg shapes and a solid Cirque du Soleil-Esque one arm handstand. But rather than focus on these long-term goals, I started where I was at: holding a handstand against the wall. Then, I slowly built up my skills and endurance step by step, all the while focusing on building the foundation I would need to eventually be able to do more challenging handstand skills.
Step Three: Connect it to a larger purpose
Another key step to increasing grit is to connect your goal to a larger purpose related to your higher values. In your regular life or career, this usually means figuring out how what you’re doing is helping others and making a difference in the world. When it comes to your fitness goals, this may be as simple as connecting your goal to your larger value of living a healthy, active life and setting a good example for your kids and future grandkids.
It’s not just about sticking with that new program or losing a few pounds in the short-term. Connecting your smaller goals to a larger purpose makes it much more likely you’ll have the grit to stick with your goals when things get hard (and they will!).
Step Four: Track and adjust
We would all love to experience smooth, linear progress toward our goals, but that’s not how goal pursuit works. Two steps forward, one step back is more typical than not when going after a challenging enough goal. If at any point in the process you feel like you’ve plateaued and aren’t sure where to go next, it may be time to track and adjust. Start by asking yourself these questions:
Is this goal still something I want to pursue? Quitting isn’t always negative. Be intentional about quitting, and make sure you’ve given yourself long enough to see some progress. One to two years is a good amount of time actually to see some real progress on a new goal. If, after that amount of time, you decide it’s no longer a goal you want to pursue, whether because of different interests or new priorities, then by all means, find something new to go after.
Do I need to decrease the challenge? When we make a high, hard goal, we often get so stuck on that end goal that anything less can seem like we’re coming up short. But the key to actually accomplishing those big, long-term goals is to break them down into smaller, manageable steps. If you’re not making progress because your current goal is just a little too challenging, break it down even further. For example, if your goal is to do a push-up, you can break it down by first doing push-ups with your hands on a countertop, then a bench, a step, and finally, the floor.
Do I need to ‘up’ the challenge? If you’re the type of person who almost always gets bored with long-term goals, you may need to increase the challenge. I see this happen with a lot of people who do group workouts—at a certain point, they’ve reached a level of fitness where the workouts are no longer challenging them. As a result, they stop making progress, get bored, and quit. Aim to increase the challenge by about four percent consistently. This four percent reach is the sweet spot that will help you continue to make progress and get into flow or “in the zone” on a regular basis.
Do I need more feedback? If you’ve been at a goal for a while and are just feeling stuck, it may be because you’ve reached the limits of your knowledge base and need more feedback on how to break through and keep making progress. The best way to get this kind of feedback is to find someone more experienced than you, whether it’s a coach, trainer, or even an experienced friend or mentor. If you can’t afford to hire someone, there are always free or low-cost resources like books, online courses, video tutorials, etc. The internet is an amazing place—you can learn nearly anything if you put your mind to it.
“Our potential is one thing. What we do with it is quite another.” – Angela Duckworth
ABOUT KRISTA STRYKER
Krista is the author of the new book, The 12-Minute Athlete: Get Fitter, Faster, and Stronger Using HIIT and Your Bodyweight and a leading fitness and mindset expert. She is the founder of 12 Minute Athlete and the 12 Minute Athlete app as well as a writer, TV guest/host, and motivational speaker. The book is available online or anywhere that books are sold.