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A Lesson on Developing Grit from Rocky Balboa

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We all have people we look up to for their ability to be what we consider “mentally tough.” They are able to do amazing things even while facing what seems to be insurmountable odds. It’s inspiring to us. Who doesn’t love a good underdog story? Rocky Balboa comes to mind when I talk about mental toughness.

Rocky had a knack for standing toe to toe with guys that were way more talented than he was; bigger, faster, stronger, more skilled. He would take a beating, but he kept coming back for more until he was able to outlast his opponent or at least go the distance with them.
How was he able to do this again and again? Many people will say that it was because Rocky was more mentally tough than anyone.

But, what does mental toughness even mean? And how can I translate it into my everyday life?

The best definition I have heard comes from Psychologist Angela Duckworth and she uses the word “grit” rather than mental toughness.

This is how she describes it; “Grit is passion and perseverance for long-term goals. One way to think about grit is to consider what grit isn’t. Grit isn’t talent. Grit isn’t luck. Grit isn’t how intensely, for the moment, you want something.

Instead, grit is about having what some researchers call an “ultimate concern”–a goal you care about so much that it organizes and gives meaning to almost everything you do. And grit is holding steadfast to that goal. Even when you fall down. Even when you screw up. Even when progress toward that goal is halting or slow.

Talent and luck matter to success. But talent and luck are no guarantee of grit. And in the very long run, I think grit may matter as least as much, if not more.”

Being mentally tough or having grit isn’t about trying to get the short term “want.” It’s about going after what you “need” to be fulfilled long term. And it’s about knowing the difference between the two. I’m sure that Rocky didn’t always feel like training, but he still got his ass up, drank a glass of raw eggs, put on a sweat suit and made a glorious training montage! He did that because he needed to if he wanted to accomplish his goals. And he didn’t do it once. He did it over and over. There were 6 Rocky movies! (Obviously Rocky 2 &4 were the best.) He knew why he was doing it and it kept him motivated long term.

Why do you do what you do? It doesn’t have to be anything crazy like becoming the heavyweight champion of the world in boxing. It could be being a positive role model for your kids. It could be finding out what your body is capable of physically. It could be gaining self-confidence. Whatever your priorities are, find a way to align all of your actions with those priorities.

For instance, if your priority is to be a role model to your children, you can align your health and fitness goals with that priority by showing your children the importance of being fit, cooking healthy meals together and making daily physical activity a family routine. If you connect what you are doing on a daily basis with that which is most important to you, you will always have motivation and you will be able to persevere through anything. You will develop grit and never lose that “eye of the tiger.”

So, the next time you want to skip the gym, binge eat on cookies, or avoid important work, ask yourself; “Is this a want or a need? Is this moving me closer to my goals or further away? Am I living in accordance with my priorities?”

I will leave you with perhaps the best quote of all to describe grit. It comes from Rocky Balboa himself.

“It’s not about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.”