Call me naive, but when someone tells me they’re going to do something, I believe them. I’m surprised when they don’t. I’ve learned that sometimes what I believe to be a sure thing is really just good intention. What’s missing? Follow through.
Following through is taking action to completion.
Exercise Your Follow-Through, Grit, and Stick-to-it-ness Muscles
Another name for follow through is grit. Angela Duckworth found that more than intelligence, good looks, or physical health “grittiness” was the biggest predictor of success. Grit is passion and perseverance. It is your “stick-to-it-ness”. She’s even developed a quiz you can take to see how much grit you have.
Your follow-through is like a muscle. It might be highly toned or as mushy as canned peas.
Why does exercising your follow-through muscle matter? Things that are most rewarding as often the things that are most difficult. We don’t celebrate easy.
My own follow-through muscles are fairly well-developed. They’re the ones that have me flying a helicopter instead of just thinking about it, helped me create a standing-ovation worthy TED talk, and propel me forward as I develop my online business.
Worrying About Something Difficult Is Worse Than Doing It
Eric Greitens, author of Resilience, is a former Navy Seal, Rhodes Scholar, and humanitarian. He’s knows a lot about following through. He shared most people dropped out of his Navy Seal class when they thought about what they still had to endure rather than during the painful and seemingly impossible physical tasks. He realized thinking about pain and discomfort is more difficult than the actual experience. Mental toughness is as important if not more important than physical toughness.
Low Grit Equals Low Results
People with weak follow-through muscles talk about doing things but never take action. Or start things but never finish them. Instead they sit on the couch, stream another episode of TV and feel bad for not doing the things they want to be doing.
We aren’t like those people. We know that life is short. We get uncomfortable, take risks, and go for it.
You Can Strengthen Your Follow-Through Muscles
Grit isn’t something you have or you don’t. You can build grit and your follow-through muscles. Helping people develop grit is a bit part of my job as a coach. Just like a personal trainer would help you in the gym, I help clients with their skills strength, and technique. Ready to build your own grit? Here’s how:
Eight Training Tips to Get Gritty and Build Your Follow-Through Muscles:
1. Create Clear Reasons for Why You Want to Do Something.
Know why you want to do something. “Get in shape” isn’t as clear as “I want to feel good in my own body”. Or I want to climb Matanuska Peak. Be Specific. Make it personal. “I want to enjoy going to work each day” is better than “I want to find a new job”.
2. Take Imperfect Action.
When I feel a great deal of resistance, I feel overwhelmed and my inner critic tells me, “You don’t know what you’re doing”. It’s true, I don’t know. Take one step, even if it might not be the “right” step. Then take another. And another. Start small. Complete one task at a time. Build your focus and ignore distractions. Getting started will avoid the panic of procrastination.
3. Create Milestones.
The more difficult the task, the more frequent and smaller milestones you need. Break the task down until you feel the individual steps are doable. If you want to find a new job, don’t worry about the entire task, just commit to spending twenty minutes updating your resume. If you are worried about an upcoming presentation, determine three points you want to mention. If you’re moving to a new apartment, choose one shelf to pack at a time. Every creative endeavor starts with a crappy first draft. Just get started. Willpower is finite, use it wisely.
4. Implement Consequences.
Reward yourself when you reach a milestone. I like positive rewards more than negative rewards. When I get through a difficult piece of work, I’ll reward myself with free time or treat myself to a new novel. The key is creating something that truly motivates you. What would compel you to get the task done more quickly? What can you put into place as a negative consequence if you don’t reach a milestone in a particular time frame?
5. Plan for Difficulty.
Things will get hard. Plan for setbacks. Rehearse what you are going to do when difficulty arises. What will you do when you get stuck? Who will you call for help? How can you help yourself? Revisit step 3 and break things into smaller chunks.
6. Hold Yourself Accountable.
People are much better about keeping the promises they make to others than they make to themselves. Use this to your advantage as you get started. Find an accountability partner or group. Write down the things you’re going to do. Research by Matthews found writing down and sharing your goals with someone makes success significantly more likely. As you get stronger, make keeping your word to yourself just as important as keeping your word to others.
7. Leverage Momentum.
As you start to develop your follow-through muscles, you’ll develop momentum. It is easier to keep exercising than to take a break and restart again later. Exercise your follow-through muscles daily. Develop new habits. Ditch bad ones.
8. Develop a growth mindset.
As much as we celebrate the destination, it really is all about the journey. Thinking about your process is incredibly valuable because you’ll be able to apply what you learned to other areas of you life. What worked? What didn’t? What would you do differently next time?
Practicing the eight training tips to get gritty is like cross-fit for your follow-through muscles. You’ll feel better, stronger, and more confident in your ability to get things done even when something is difficult.
Sometimes You Really Do Need to Quit –This Takes Grit Too
What if you’re follow-through muscles are over-developed? Each muscle group has a corresponding opposing muscle group. Your follow-through muscles are paired with letting go. You need to be able to say no, opt out, and know when to move on.
I’m so determined that sometimes I don’t know when it is time to quit. At the end of a long-term relationship I went to counseling with my partner in an attempt to repair things. At one point the therapist said to me, “You couldn’t save your Dad and now you’re keeping this relationship on life support.”
I didn’t like it. Not one cell of my body. But it resonated. There was truth there. I finally let the relationship go. In hindsight, it was time to let it go much earlier. I’ll keep using my letting go muscles so they’re equally toned as my follow-through muscles.
How do you know when it is time to let something go?
How to Know When to Quit
There are two times when it is appropriate to quit:
- Your health is being compromised.
- The goal isn’t in alignment with your purpose.
Check in with your gut or inner mentor for guidance. When we call on our inner wisdom, we usually know the answer. You may not like the answer, just in the way I didn’t want to give up on the relationship, but your gut doesn’t lie. It knows.
Where in your life do you have rock-hard follow-through muscles? Where do you need to practice letting go? Share in the comments.