It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the last two years have been tough. It’s been tough on individuals, families, nations, and the global community. Reflecting on these past events—and facing continued uncertainty—everyone has had different emotions, reactions, and coping mechanisms.
With everything happening in the world, one thing is clear: there’s more volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity than ever before.
The ideas, images, and information we bombard ourselves with every day don’t always help. If you turn on the news, you’re not likely to see anything good. All platforms of social media are, by their nature, artificial, incomplete, oversimplified representations of what’s really going on in people’s lives.
Still, despite this, we have to find a way to move forward.
When I’m spending time with my children, I realize I’m often chuckling to myself. Whether we’re shooting basketball or studying for an exam, we’re almost certain to come up against some frustration, obstacle, or challenge. This makes my kids instantly want to give up. I’m sure many parents can relate to the common refrain: I can’t do it!
When I hear this, I always think of a particular piece of wisdom from Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
This is especially important to remember in today’s landscape. Technology has made nearly everything incredibly accessible. We’re a society of instant gratification. In that context, how do you continue to show up and to identify the grit you need to move forward?
The respected academic, psychologist, and author Angela Duckworth offers some insight into this question in her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. In that work, Duckworth defines grit as purpose and passion over long periods of time.
How do we access grit, though, when we’re also navigating fear, uncertainty, and doubt? How do we show up every day and be the leaders we want to be?
When you hit a challenge, it’s easy to say you can’t do something. It’s infinitely harder to adjust your mindset and frame of reference. It’s harder to cultivate those feelings of gratitude. It’s harder to gain (and to keep) perspective.
When we’re feeling challenged, our mindset, attitude, and perspective determine so much of our future success. So, how do we flip that switch? How do we train our brains to understand that doing challenging tasks or striving toward something difficult to attain is actually a good thing?
A big part of the challenge is having a growth mindset. It’s embracing a life of abundance; focusing on what you have, not what you lack; and believing there’s enough success and happiness in the world to go around. It’s rejecting the fixed mindset, which leads to the detrimental opposite: a scarcity mentality.
This idea is also about a lot more than how our perceptions simply make us feel. How we see the world can have finite, quantifiable consequences. In the human brain, there’s a bundle of nerves located in the brainstem. It’s known as the reticular activating system (RAS), and it helps to filter out what we train it to be unnecessary information. It stops our brains from constantly being inundated with too much irrelevant data.
How we think can literally affect what our brains allow us to perceive. If you believe you’re terrible at public speaking, chances are you will be. The RAS makes you see what you want to see, and this can directly influence actions.
The good news? Having the right mindset can also train your RAS to make opportunities more apparent. If you’re focused on your goals, the “universe” will often reward you by presenting people, information, or opportunities that lead directly to accomplishing that goal.
The important thing to remember is that input was always available. Our brains just made us walk past it without noticing it, and we can train our brains to see those options all around us.
To learn even more about controlling the direction of your life, I wholeheartedly recommend The Leader Within Us: Mindset, Principles, and Tools for a Life by Design, by Warren Rustand. Whereas Duckworth talks about grit and long-term goals, Rustand focuses on having clarity of vision with certainty of intent.
He also discusses focusing on the elements you can directly control. To harness that concept, I start every morning with something Rustand teaches: the 10/10/10 habit.
Here’s what that looks like for me:
- Ten minutes of reflection.
- No checking my phone, social media, or email. I’m getting myself into the right headspace to start the day. For a guided meditation, I’ll sometimes dial into Peloton Meditation, Headspace, or Calm.
- Ten minutes of reading.
- No The goal here is to put something positive or worthwhile into my head. If I choose to check the news or social media to start my day, I find my brain bombarded with negative ideas I focus on and carry with me throughout the day. Reading every single morning also helps me prioritize continuous learning.
- Ten minutes of journaling.
- A mentor once recommended the Oak Journal to me, and I highly recommend it as well. I find I tend to do things more easily if they’re laid out for me ahead of time, and the Oak Journal is formatted in this way.
I also like to add at least ten minutes of physical activity into my morning routine. This doesn’t have to be strenuous exercise. Sometimes it just means taking the dog for a walk. This works for me and my personal goals.
The underlying idea here is that a lot of small actions can add up to big results. I have time in the morning to enjoy a cup of coffee because I got up early enough. I feel rested because I went to bed early enough the night before. I feel an immediate sense of accomplishment in my day because I made my bed.
A long-term goal or vision can seem distant and difficult. You might even find yourself parroting your children and saying, “I can’t do it.” When we’re all surrounded by the fear, doubt, and uncertainty the last few years have created, it’s all the easier to say this.
But if you do something every day—no matter how small—to move yourself toward that vision with determination and grit, you will make steady, perceivable progress. It’s like watching your fingernails grow. You can’t always see it, but you know growth is happening.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably seen Ted Lasso’s popular “Believe” sign. The slogan has seemingly swept the nation. It’s on T-shirts, and it adorns signs at sporting events. It’s a simple but powerful message that has extra relevance today.
Believing is only half the battle, though. Opportunities come to those who have a growth mindset and embrace the idea that things will work out in the end. Success comes to those who seize those opportunities, control what they can control, and take actionable steps every day to move themselves closer to their goals.