A deep dive into grit: six layers of grit

Updated: May 3, 2021

Grit is often presented as one of the great tools of peak performing people. Grit means "a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual's perseverance of effort combined with the passion for a particular long-term goal or end state".

We often tend to view grit as a single layered tool. However, as Steven Kotler explains, there are 6 layers that make up the grit foundation. Understanding all six layers would certainly give us comprehensive appreciations and a starting blueprint for building grit.

Like many other peak performance attributes, grit is a learnable and pursuable endeavor. So, what are the six layers of grit?

Level 1: Grit to Perseverance - this is the starting layer of grit, and the most commonly referred to synonym for grit. The grit to persevere is the ability to persist in a task or big goal, for extended periods, whether conditions are fair or foul. According to Kotler, the grit to persevere is made up of three psychological sub-traits: 1) willpower, 2) mindset, and 3) passion

Level 2: Grit to Control Thought - the skill to get a handle on our thoughts and make them malleable to achieve outcomes. Kotler recommends three ways to develop the grit to control your thoughts:

1) Replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk, 2) Cultivate gratitude, 3) Practice mindfulness meditation.

Level 3: Grit to be your best when you are at your worst - The best example of this level in action is the Navy Seal training. Particularly, the training session referred to as the hell week. In this level, we must develop the skillset to perform to the best of our mental ability despite being at the worst of our physical ability/ condition. The way you develop this kind of grit is to train in practice under circumstances that are more difficult than the ones you’re likely to face in actuality.

Level 4: Grit to train up your weaknesses - We all have weak links in our metaphorical physical and mental armors. In this level, we must learn how to develop specific skills to address our biggest weaknesses (be it physical or mental) in order to move our performance beyond normal levels. In general, “Work on your strengths, instead of your weaknesses” is a more widely preached personal development paradigm. When we magnify your strengths, they overwhelm and compensate for our weaknesses, mitigating their potential detriment and significance. Rather than spending our energy pulling out noxious plants from your life, spend more time tending to flowers that will simply choke the weeds off with their growth. But, if we really want to take something to the next level, our weaknesses do have to be directly addressed.

Level 5: Grit to confront fear - this is one of the hardest and challenging grit levels to skill up and train for. It includes learning and skilling up to confront debilitating fears that hold us back, and developing courage to face them. The fear may not go away. But, the skills we develop with enable us to negotiate those fears and develop courage - so we can face them in the future, and step through it. As Steven Kotler puts it, fear is the greatest gift our biology has given us, not just to survive, but to thrive and evolve - because when channeled correctly, fear tells us where to go next, how to evolve/ adapt to excel.

Level 6: Grit to recover - this is the most counter intuitive grit level of all. However, the commitment and passion go through recovery processes is a key tool all peak performers use to emerge better and evolved on the other side. We all know some of the well researched physical recovery protocols - stretching, sleep, saunas, salt and cold baths, massages etc. In addition to this, we must also actively focus on mental recovery protocols - meditation, mindfulness, deep breathing, positive envisioning, positive affirmations, walking in nature etc.

How to apply this in our lives:

Use the 6 layers of grit as a bit of a process blueprint. After identifying the area of development, step through the above 6 layers in a step by step manner. Some layers may not be applicable to what you are trying to develop - skip them. Focus on the layers that will be applicable to the area of development.

However, most importantly, always end with layer six. For best long term results and longevity of grit development, grit to recover is the most important aspect of this 6 layer view. While it can be difficult to prioritise recovery, taking the time to regularly sharpen the saw in the short-term will keep us in the game in the long-term. With grit to recover, we will be able rise each morning ready to train the other five layers of grit, and put them to use in realising our highest aspirations.

Credit: Kervin Rae | Steven Kotler | Keep Me Prime | Grit - by Angela Duckworth | Art of Manliness

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