As a follow-up to my last column on leadership lessons from Revolutionary War hero John Paul Jones, this month I would like to present a supplemental concept which, when combined with “grit” in the context of business, plays a significant role in our success: self-control. The better we understand the connections and distinctions between self-control and grit, the better we will be able to use them to our professional advantage.
Self-control is often described as “resisting the hourly temptations” while grit is described as “passion and effort sustained over years.” Both are associated with the achievement of positive life outcomes, but each contribute in different ways.
The precursor to self-control: the ability to analyze any given situation, recognizing the options before us, and understanding the impact and implications of decisions we make.
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For years, self-control has been more closely associated with personal impulses than with professional decision-making and success. Traditionally referred to simply as “willpower,” self-control was what got you to go to the gym instead of staying at home sitting on the couch, or to forgo desert to avoid the added calories. But there’s so much more to self-control that needs to be appreciated.
Research has confirmed that “higher levels of self-control earlier in life predict later academic achievement and attainment, employment, earnings, savings, and physical health. In fact, self-control predicts many consequential outcomes at least as well as either general intelligence or socioeconomic status.” (Duckworth & Seligman, 2005; Moffit et al., 2011). According to Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. and author of The Willpower Instinct, willpower is a response that comes from both the mind and the body and is a reaction to internal conflict. But beyond the questions of whether to eat a cupcake or go to the gym, we face internal conflicts in our businesses on a daily basis, and self-control can have a tremendous impact on our success. That same internal reaction that helps us to forgo an immediate pleasure (like smoking a cigarette) in return for a longer-term benefit (like avoiding lung cancer) can help us to make better professional decisions for a more sustainable future — and I don’t have to go far to offer a concrete, and personal, example.
At Lemartec, we have developed a niche in industrial, aviation and power-generation projects. While we were founded right here in South Florida and continue to serve the local market, we have also expanded our footprint nationally, and now internationally, as part of a strategic plan because many of these types of projects are found outside of our immediate area. Part of our plan takes into consideration that we reinvest back into Lemartec from our net income. While this strategy entails forgoing a portion of our profit in the short term, we do so to facilitate our strategic growth and expansion with the expectation of an even brighter future.
Given the importance of self-control and willpower as it relates to our businesses and our success, here are six steps that we can take immediately to improve our self-control today. (These were compiled by Belle Beth Cooper of Buffer.com.)
▪ Increase your capacity for pressure: Learn how to manage your stress.
▪ Create a plan and encourage yourself to stick with it.
▪ Get more sleep to help your brain manage energy better.
▪ Meditate: Meditation helps improve attention, focus and stress management.
▪ Better exercise and nutrition: The most ignored route to higher willpower.
▪ “Postpone” things for later to gain focus on what’s important now.
As I previously mentioned, like self-control, grit is also associated with the achievement of positive life outcomes. But grit goes beyond the here and now, which self-control deals with. Grit is about sustained passion and effort over years, even decades if necessary, for the attainment of worthy goals regardless of the challenges and difficulties we will invariably encounter.
While research on grit is still in the early stages, studies are already proving that people with grit are more effective than those without it. Grit fuels determination, and determination is what compels us to carry on in good times and in bad. One study by Duckworth, Kirby, Tsukayama, Bernstein and Ericsson in 2001 showed that grittier competitors in the National Spelling Bee “accumulated more hours of deliberate practice over the course of years, which in turn fully mediates the effect of grit on final ranking.” While a spelling bee is a far cry from what you and I may face in our businesses (even though some of these spelling bees can be pretty intense), the fact is that the passion and sustained effort associated with grit is a “predictor of deliberate practice and, in turn, performance.”
We know that success does not happen overnight. The most successful people in the world, regardless of the industry they may be in, have spent themselves over years and decades developing their skills, which in turn increases their effectiveness. Grit is what has allowed them to stick with it over a sustained period, regardless of the setbacks.
True grit and self-control. Let’s ask ourselves to what degree we have these two qualities in our lives both personally and professionally. As new research on the subject continues to confirm, they are more reliable predictors of success than we realize.