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How To Bounce Back When (Not If) Our Grit Fails Us

Hey, peeps, we have been covering much ground as we dance with the concept of grit: what it can do, what it gets wrong, and how to play nicer with grit so we can use it to our advantage. All along, it’s been about how we can better harness, or work with our passion (or purpose!) and persevere more effectively to achieve (or help others achieve) those big, hairy, audacious goals worth pursuing in our lives.

Today, I want to stare failure in the face and talk about what we, as the performers we are, can do when grit completely and utterly fails us. Abandons us. Leaves us for dead, or in my case, leaves me to play a seemingly endless series of Word Blitz games on my phone. And what's worse? I lose most of them. :)

What do we do when we lose our will? When we cease and desist trying to maintain a habit we know we want?

Be Kind to Yourself. Really, Really Kind. Kinder than You Think is Useful or Even Possible

Cultivating this attitude of real self-kindness can take some time and effort if you are not used to doing it. We often resist this very notion at first simply because it sounds so, well, cheesy. But as a wise meditation teacher once said, “if being cheesy brings freedom, what’s wrong with being cheesy?” This is about treating yourself with the same compassionate care you would offer to a loved one or good friend. People who get good at this save time, effort, and pain, as they are more able to get back up more quickly after falling down.

Having said that, I’m not speaking of the kindness that says, “Screw it, I’m eating the rest of this container of ice cream and giving myself permission to binge-watch the next 12 re-runs of Parks and Recreation.” That is self-dislike and judgment masquerading as kindness. That is us running away from painful feelings.

Don’t get me wrong, a little running away can be good for the soul. Taking a break to acknowledge your pain, taking a walk, treating yourself to a bowl (not the container) of ice cream, watching an episode of fluff TV…while being clear that you are taking a break, not running away. Knowing that you will enjoy the break and come back to reality soon.

The difference between these two scenarios is one of intent. The first scenario is about mindless escapism. It’s a primitive form of coping that says, “I’m pretending that tomorrow will never come.” Except, tomorrow inevitably does. And what then? You wake up feeling worse, not better. Guilty, ashamed, disappointed, you name it. The second scenario, mindfully applied, can and should be about refreshment, not escape. It was but a break, after all. Realistically, you may well still be disappointed, but at least you haven’t doubled your pain.

The Big Question for you - after which scenario are you more likely to find the resolve to get back onto your habit train?

Whatever the case, after either scenario, we come back to face the reality that we failed to maintain our habit. The kindness work here is about connecting with, turning toward, leaning into that part of you that is hurt - the part that wants things to be better but didn’t get it done this time. And doing so without defaulting to blame and self-recrimination. It’s about self-support. Compassion turned inward. It’s first the simple acknowledgment that, “right now, this is hard. I’m disappointed and feel that.” And (and this is important): "I'm okay." I failed and I am okay. Our "okayness" is unconditional.

Take a Peek Under Your Habit’s Bonnet (or Hood for my American friends)

Sometimes our habits fail not because of a lack of effort, but because we never were all that invested in them, or we are doing them for the wrong reasons. The late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, in his book, Kitchen Confidential, lamented the many restaurant failures resulting from people who thought, “I like cooking! I should open a restaurant! That’s a great idea!” Only to discover that cooking is just a small part of what a restaurant is about.

Successful restauranteurs are clear about the purpose their restaurant serves which becomes their why (not just the what). Slogans such as, When you’re here, you’re family, or Have it your way, or Just like Mama used to make. And then running their business with these attitudes always at the forefront. Creating ambiance is as important, if not more so, than creating things to eat. People who merely like to cook are missing this point completely, and often find out they actually dislike being in the restaurant business. This is not a mindset for sustained success in anyone’s book.

Check into your “why” underpinning your habit. Does the end goal truly inspire you? Some people try for habits out of fear of the opposite. The athlete who aspires for a gold medal out of her fear of failure can find her journey to be filled with, well, fear. As well as thoughts of, “what if this doesn’t work out?”

A fair few athletes and coaches see this as a perfectly reasonable way to think, equating their love of winning as the same as a fear of not winning, along the lines of, "what real winner would tolerate even the thought of losing?" I’d argue that this is an unhelpful denial of reality, the kind of old-style motivational poster that looks good but falls apart like a house of cards upon any kind of closer examination. If losing is supposed to be so utterly terrible and unthinkable an option, where does that leave you when it happens? Sorry to break this to you, my friends, but we all fail, especially if we are trying to do something difficult where the endpoint is beyond our current capabilities. If we are really pushing ourselves by trying something new, failure is not only possible but inevitable. But if in your mind, failure is unacceptable, then how do you recover?

Habits that stick are the ones that pull us forward toward a vision of ourselves we can get behind, not those that prod us from behind. Habits that inspire us to see obstacles as challenges, habits that encourage us to keep going even when we fail. In my work with athletes, I find that we cannot check in with our habit “why’s” often enough, at least not until they become so engrained that we cease having to think about them or decide whether to do them or not.

Adding it All Up…

The big challenges in our lives that are worth pursuing are often hard enough in their own right. Beating ourselves up or otherwise not extending kindness to ourselves in the face of our inevitable missteps and failures along the way just makes the journey harder. Reworking our habits to be in line with who we want to be and how we want to serve the world is another way to smooth out our already challenging journey. By making things easier, we greatly increase our chances of picking ourselves up after failures and more quickly regaining the momentum we need to stay on our most important journeys.

Good luck!

As always, I appreciate your thoughts and feedback.

I provide individual and group coaching on how you or your team can learn more about getting out of your own way and working with your mind for more frictionless and sustainable performance. If you want more information or have questions, you can reach me at

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