2 years ago


Sharpen your grit and watch your dreams turn into reality.



On a recent trip to Doha, Qatar, I met a Kenyan taxi driver named Jensen. For the past five years in Doha, he has worked 17-hour shifts every day and has not been home to see his family. His hard work has paid off and he has been able to buy a plot of land in Kenya on which he has three cows and a delivery truck. He has also sent his two sons to university. He has decided that he will be going home at the end of the month. To me, Jensen is a great example of someone with grit.

The concept of grit can be seen as a positive psychological concept that focuses on an individual’s perseverance and passion for a particular long-term objective or end-state. Individuals who have high levels of grit are typically courageous, conscientious, goal-orientated, resilient and always striving for excellence.


When it comes to courage, individuals who have high levels of grit are typically not scared of taking risks. They are also not scared of making mistakes. They believe that there are great lessons to be learnt from losing, messing up and overcoming one’s fears. Psychologists describe the fear of failure as an abnormal and unhealthy aversion to risk. Fear of failure sees individuals develop a very strong resistance to change, coupled with feelings of ambiguity and vulnerability. Change or uncertainty will typically be met with feelings of anxiety, mental blocks and inability to perform. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do something that scares you every day.” Consider your goals and break them down into bite-sized actions or solutions. Reflect on your own strengths and experience and consider how they can be utilized to overcome your

fears. Don’t be scared of making a fool of yourself or failing because courage is a muscle that needs to be exercised. The more you put yourself out there the more you will develop courage and, subsequently, grit.


Being conscientious is not just about showing up at work every day or being dependable and meticulous. Conscientiousness implies being able to align your actions towards a specific goal or outcome. Individuals with high levels of grit do not merely slave away at their tasks or responsibilities but take a long-term view of their work and align their activities accordingly. In Jensen’s case, for example, he knew that he had to work 17-hour shifts every day in order to achieve his outcomes and he did it with a smile. How are the daily activities that you are busy with helping you achieve your goals? Some of these activities may be fun, some may be difficult or tedious, but as long as they are aligned to what you want to achieve, you will experience a lot of contentment when you engage in them.




As mentioned earlier, grit is all about perseverance and endurance. Individuals who have high levels of grit are like marathon runners who have the finish line in mind, but also know that they need to run at a persistent pace to reach the finish line. Being a good marathon runner is not necessarily about being talented in running, but rather about being headstrong, consistent in your training and staying focused on your goals. The difference between somebody who succeeds and somebody who is just spending a lot of time doing things is this: Practice must have purpose. Do not spend nine hours at work every day working on someone else’s goals and come home and spend no time working on your own goals. Write down your goals, nurture them and spend time every day working toward them.


Individuals who have high levels of grit are typically very resilient. Resilience has to do with the ability to bounce back from difficult circumstances, coping with pressures and dealing with ambiguity. Psychologists describe resilient individuals as being hardy, having the courage to grow from stressful or even traumatizing situations and being aware of the things that they can and those which they cannot control. Research has shown that resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary, and that it can be developed in anyone. A key trait that resilient individuals have is that they know the extent of their resilience and where their emotional cups can be refilled. To enhance your resilience, you should invest in mutually satisfactory relationships. This provides a support system. You must keep in mind that change is a part of life and that you need to be proactive and decisive about your future and to look for opportunities for self-discovery.


Most individuals who have high levels of grit do not seek perfection, but rather strive for excellence. Perfectionists tend to be pedantic, stubborn, demanding and a real pain to be around. Perfectionism could lead to anxiety disorders, low self-esteem and even obsessive-compulsive disorder. Excellence is far more forgiving. It allows for mistakes and prioritizes progress over perfection. Excellence and grit have to do with an attitude of engaging in activities because you enjoy them, and it is an opportunity for you to explore, develop and optimise your talents and capabilities, rather than to prove a point to someone or yourself.

People with grit are flexible, proactive and goal-orientated. They enjoy life, have positive relationships, are self-aware and never say no to a challenge.

How gritty are you?


Dr Marais Bester is a registered occupational psychologist who works for PSI Innovative HR Solutions in Dubai. As a consultant, speaker and author, he works across Africa and the Middle East to help people optimise their careers. Find him on:

twitter: @marais_bester;;

This article was published in Esteem Psychology Magazine Oct - Dec 2018 issue.