In 6th grade, my family got its first computer. In 7th grade, I started taking it apart to see how it worked.
I’d asked my parents if I could upgrade the RAM—the computer was slower than I wanted it to be—and the answer was an unequivocal “no.” It was an expensive machine and I wasn’t to mess with it. My mom marveled at it. My dad marveled at its cost.
So, my exploration became a series of covert operations. Mom and Dad would get home from work two hours after I got home from school, and this time was spent with a flashlight and a tiny screwdriver I stole from the garage carefully disassembling and inspecting the many pieces inside.
I planned my missions so I had enough time to put things back together before anyone came home. Sometimes, I’d get it wrong or one of them would come home early. There were days when the computer didn’t work at all because I’d nearly been discovered and rushed to put the case back on the PC, hiding all its guts under my bed until I could get back to work the next day. Mom and Dad didn’t use the computer much; I never got caught.
When I was in high school—and after a two-year begging campaign—we finally got the Internet. I immediately started doing things I wasn’t supposed to (stealing music) and downloaded a virus.
How did I fix it? I figured out how to get to all the operating system files and started deleting them, one at a time, to see what worked. I must have broken the whole machine a hundred times. But, each time, I’d keep a note of what worked and what didn’t, restore the OS, and start over. Eventually, I cleared the virus.
Today, I’m comfortable fixing almost any problem myself. And not just computer problems. The skills I learned breaking and fixing that old computer have helped me fix my bike, my car, my website, my washing machine, my iPhone, even abstract things like broken travel plans and general life difficulties. It’s part of my “Don’t Own Stuff You Can’t Fix” Plan For Life.
I credit most of my problem-solving skills today to the breaking-stuff skills I developed as a kid. When I broke something, I just kept working and working to fix it because I knew the alternative was two upset parents.
This is called grit—the ability to hunker down and keep working on a difficult task until its done, despite setbacks. And recent research has proven not only that grit is an important factor in professional and life success, but that you don’t have to be a genius to have it. Those with grit can outperform smarter people without it.
Read on to learn about developing your own grit.
Grit: The Personality Trait That Outperforms Genius
Several years ago, a few social researchers wanted to know what else besides IQ lead to professional success. Why did some people with lower IQs do better on tests, at work, and in life than those with higher IQs? Their hypothesis: perseverance propelled some ahead of others.
They tested adults in education, students from West Point Academy and Ivy League schools, and competitors in a national spelling bee.
What they found was astonishing. IQ alone could not accurately predict achievement. But when IQ was also measured along with personality traits, those with grit performed predictably better in areas of life requiring sustained effort under challenging conditions.
Put simply: Your natural intelligence doesn’t matter much if you don’t have the chutzpah to follow through when things get difficult. And a lot of chutzpah can overcome a lack of natural intelligence.
This is great news for dummies like me. I can’t increase my God given intelligence, but I can definitely improve my stamina and “sticktutiveness” for difficult tasks.
Taking apart my computer and frustratedly putting it back together in my early days helped build the grit I have today, but I can develop even more.
Here’s what you can do to develop your own regardless your age, social status, IQ, or any other circumstance.
Simple Mental Exercises For Developing Grit
As a risk-taker, being able to take hard times and grind them out to a happy ending is a critical part of being successful now and in the long-term. Here are some things you can do right now to develop your grit and even turn it into one of your strongest personality traits.
Develop an interest in how everyday things work.
Take apart your toaster and put it back together again just to see if you can. Try to look at the world the way you did when you were a child. You didn’t accept that things “just worked.” You wanted to know how they worked and why. That exploration probably ended up with some broken things, but it wasn’t the end of the world. Along the way, you learned how to fix things, and that boosted your confidence in your own abilities.
Developing your grit starts with a desire to understand the world around you so you know what to do when something stops working.
Learn something new each day (on purpose).
To get better at problem solving, your brain needs regular stimulus. You want to prove to yourself that you can still learn things and, more importantly, that you enjoy learning new things.
To do this, make a habit of learning something new—on purpose—every single day. Keep a notebook or a note on your phone with questions you have about the world. Maybe you had a conversation with someone and you didn’t understand one of the things they said. Maybe you heard someone say a word you didn’t recognize. Write it down and, once a day, go through your notes and find a question to answer.
It could be as simple as reading a Wikipedia article or asking a co-worker to explain something. The effect on your brain is you build confidence in your ability to uncover new information.
Challenge yourself to solve a small problem every day.
In addition to learning something new, make it a goal to solve some small problem in your life each day. Organize the files on your computer so you can find things quicker. Tighten the loose handle on your toilet. Create a budget.
Do something every day that improves your life in some small way. By combining this step with the previous one, your brain will get in the habit of not just learning something new, but figuring out how to apply new information to create a better life. It builds the grit you need to get through the tougher challenges that will surely come.
Your Homework: Take Something Apart And Put It Back Together.
Building grit and increasing your stamina for problem-solving is not something you can do by reading an article on the internet. As a Smart Riskologist, your homework today is to find something you own—an object—and then:
- Take it apart.
- Take note of its pieces.
- Put it back together (bonus points if it still works).
You can make this a low-stakes adventure to begin with. Don’t go taking apart your car or your work computer. Try a small kitchen appliance or dig through your old electronics bin for something you don’t use anymore. And be sure to come back when you’re done and let us know how it went.
What will you take apart? What are you going to do to build your grit?