April 4, 2011 cburnham


One of my clients recently sent me an article he read in Women’s Health about Grit (he says it was his girlfriends but I really think he was trying to find out how to get sleek, sexy arms [note: pink 5 pound dumbbells isn’t going to cut it]).  In the article they talk about a woman, Micha Burden, who wanted to win open ocean swims at the top level of the sport.  The only problem was she was well off the pace of the leaders of the sport.  She dedicated herself to her goal, was convinced she could do it, and put her nose to the aqua grindstone.  In 2007 she achieved her goal and beat 24 other women to win the U.S. Open Water World Championship Trials.

She had grit, defined as “sustained perseverance and passion for long term goals” which is a key personal quality of most, if not all, successful people.  I don’t care if you want to be a top swimmer, cyclist, CEO, or cupcake baker.  You need to be committed to your goals and have the passion and perseverance to achieve your true potential.

Bruce Lee once said that talent creates opportunity, but desire creates talent.  Contrary to what a lot of people think, the best in the world had to work ridiculously hard, for a ridiculously long time to become the best in the world.  They may have the genetic gold ticket, but unless they put in the work they wouldn’t get to win the chocolate factory.  In the past 10 years coaching I have seen several athletes who had a ton of talent but didn’t have the desire, the perseverance, or grit to really develop that talent.  I have also seen the athlete that wasn’t naturally gifted but worked their ass off and out trained the “talented” athletes to reach their goals and become extremely successful, even becoming professional athletes.

So how do you get “grit”?  The million dollar question right?  Just like anything worth having, you have to work at it but there are few things that can help.  First you have to believe in your training program and know that you are doing what you need to be doing.  Most self coached athletes do what they like.  You think you’re a good climber hence love climbing, so in training you climb when really you should be working on developing your sprint or time-trialing ability.  Be honest with yourself and pick your biggest weakness and make it a strength.  Than reassess and start on the next weakness.  Continue till your crushing the competition.  Don’t know where to start? Get a coach you believe in and has a proven track record of creating successful athletes.

Find out what gets you in the “zone” for your sport and do it often.  Where do you need to be mentally for that hard workout or race?  When I was still racing it was when I could find that quiet, intense focus on the start line.  I didn’t see my competitors, only the course and was prepared to push way beyond my comfort zone.  I had an ideal pre-race routine that would prepare me for that focus which consisted of a particular warm-up, visualizing the course, and a little caffeine.  Is it music, quiet time, a double shot of espresso, Phil Liggett commenting in your head, or mental visualization that puts you in that take no prisoners mind set?  Find out and do it often.  It’s also important to realize that what motivates you today will probably be different tomorrow.  Be versatile and build a big tool box of strategies to get in the zone.

Grit is really developed from facing tough situations.  Don’t baby yourself.  Occasionally throw yourself into the fire, into hard situations, and survive.  There is no better way to build self-confidence than knowing you can survive hard situations.


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