“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”
These motivational words not only look good on a wall, but they also hint at something much bigger. The idea that you can work your way through — or out of — any situation is a key aspect that pays dividends when life’s toughest moments hit.
Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, calls this characteristic grit. In her book, Grit, she says, “where talent counts once, effort counts twice.”
Duckworth’s breakthrough happened by studying children and adults in difficult environments. Those most likely to succeed were not necessarily the smartest or had the highest IQ; rather, it was those that possessed more grit that made them more likely to blaze a path of long-term success.
How to Overcome Setbacks
Duckworth explains Grit as the perfect blend of passion and persistence, mixed with a relentless ambition to pursue goals, even if it takes months, years, or decades — while disregarding concern for rewards or recognition.
This “I’ll show you” mentality is invaluable when you consider that setbacks are an inevitable part of life.
According to Duckworth, there are 5 ways you can build your grit:
- Pursue your interests. Find something that fascinates you.
- Practice, practice, practice. Get a little bit better every day.
- Connect to a higher purpose. ...
- Cultivate hope. ...
- Surround yourself with gritty people.
To help you with #5, but we spoke with some of the grittiest people in the world. Here are their stories of how they deal with setbacks and what they have done to overcome obstacles.
Arnold Schwarzenegger: Do The Reps
My heart surgery last year is what most people would consider a setback. I expected an easy outpatient procedure but woke up to find out they had split my chest open and performed open-heart surgery. Anyone who has had open-heart surgery can tell you it isn’t an easy comeback. But, Terminator was starting to film 3 months later. So I was lucky: I had my vision. I had to be ready to do stunts.
After heart surgery, you start out in the hospital with lung exercises and short walks. I counted those reps and marked them off. The walks got longer. Then, the doctors said I could go to the gym if I didn’t lift heavy, so I just did very light weights to get my body used to the motions again. I was 100% ready to fight when I got to set. The key was having the vision and counting every rep that took me to get to the vision.
LeBron James: Turn Frustration Into Opportunity
Setbacks to me are opportunities to grow. An opportunity came in 2014 in the NBA Finals when I wasn’t able to do everything I wanted to due to muscle cramping. After that, Mike (LeBron's trainer) and I set out to find a solution so we could do our best to avoid that situation down the road. Now here we are, five years later with our own company, Ladder, to offer that same product and support to everyone.
Harley Pasternak: Favor Process Over Outcomes
My advice would be to focus on the process. Don’t think about success, or wealth, or any end result. Focus on the things you have direct control over, such as your daily habits and rituals. By succeeding at those on a daily basis, the larger goal will be achieved as a byproduct.
Anna Victoria: Take a Step Back
My infertility journey was a struggle I never anticipated having to endure. It disrupted my entire life as I knew it. My plans, my workouts, what I ate, and definitely my mental and emotional well-being.
I had to take a step back from a lot of the plans I had for my life and just take things day by day, but also not let it consume me. That’s pretty hard to do, to be honest, and while I wouldn’t wish for this journey, it’s definitely made me stronger.
I don’t think there’s any “comeback” after an infertility struggle, not even a successful pregnancy can heal the wounds caused by infertility, but it gives you a lot of empathy for the millions of other women struggling, and if my struggle can somehow help someone else know they’re not alone in this, then I’m okay with that.
Ben Bruno: Use "Lows" To Change Your Life For Better
I had back surgery when I was 19 years old that forced me to leave school for two years. I was not a trainer at the time, but going through the rehab process got me interested in training, which ultimately led me to get into doing what I do now.
Kelsey Heenan: Eliminate the "All or Nothing" Mindset
I almost died of anorexia in 2009. Through treatment, therapy, accountability, practice, and lots of grace, I made a full recovery. Now, my rituals are about creating a truly healthy and balanced life.
If you have a goal, you need to have a plan in place. You also need consistent habits that are aligned with your plan to reach those goals.
Another key factor is that most people need to get rid of the “all or nothing” mindset. Most people fall off-track because they expect perfect execution of the plan, but that’s not realistic.
When you’re trying to get to the next level, there’s no doubt you need to work hard. However, when life happens and there’s a bump in the road, your mindset needs to be in a place that allows you to know how to get back into the groove of the plan when you get off track.
This is how you create consistency, and consistency with your plan will help you not only reach your goals but surpass them.
Seniesa Estrada: See Your Success Before It Happens
The biggest setback in my life has been at the beginning of my pro career because I struggled so much to break down barriers for women’s boxing. I continued to believe in myself through visualization of my goals and prayer I was able to overcome all of the struggles.
Adam Bornstein: Turn Failures Into Competitive Advantages
The funny thing about success is you only see the end result, never the struggle. I remember when one of my books became a New York Times bestseller and people wanted to know, “what was your secret?” or “what was your big break?”
My break was starting over at 26, going back to school after getting rejected by 27 different journalism jobs (no joke), applying for internships to work my way up, making no money, having 5 books proposals rejected, writing 2 books that I was never paid for, and then writing another one that hit it big. And you know what? I wouldn’t change the journey for anything. Every obstacle, every setback, every bruise, is not really a roadblock — it’s a springboard forward if you’re able to learn from it and use those obstacles as a competitive advantage for the next opportunity. If you know what doesn't work, that means you're one step closer to what does. And when you consider that most people quit when they fail, when you keep going, the competition starts to lessen through perseverance.
I don’t believe in right or wrong decisions; the only wrong decision is indecision. Act, live, grow, and move forward.