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By Antoinette Datoc
Contributing Author
Photos by Carson Zullinger
Not the stuff stuck to the bottom of your dance shoes.

The way we measure success as competitive ballroom dancers is by results. We all long for those coveted moments when our names are the final ones called during awards ceremonies, for gold medals and the highest spot on the winners’ podium. But the losers far outnumber the winners and most of us find ourselves watching in admiration as our efforts are eclipsed by physically superior dancers. But what if there’s more to success than just physical talent?

Applied positive psychologists, who study human peak performance, have identified the characteristic that is the single most significant predictor of success. It transcends all areas of human pursuit and it has little to do with genetics, intellect, emotional IQ, or the myriad other attributes out of our control. It’s grit…and no, not the stuff that’s stuck to the bottom of your dance shoes after a long day on a dirty dance floor. 

The true essence of grit is difficult to grasp. It is elusive and intangible, but you recognize it when you see it in a person. Think about Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Simone Biles, and Steve Jobs. We know it as spunk, moxie, determination, indomitable spirit, and according to American psychologist and researcher, Angela Duckworth, “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals.”

Duckworth and her colleagues studied children and adults in all sorts of highly challenging situations. They studied cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point to predict which ones would stay in military training and which would drop out. They studied children preparing for the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC to predict who would advance the farthest. They studied participants in Teach for America, a program that places rookie teachers in some of the toughest neighborhoods in America, to predict who would last until the end of the school year and of those, who had the most profoundly positive impacts on their students. In each of these scenarios and countless more, the characteristic that emerged as the most significant determinant of success was… you guessed it… grit.

Exactly what is grit and why do you need it? Simply put, grit is mental strength. It is the key to unlocking your potential and the secret sauce that allows you to maximize your physical ability. As Angela Duckworth notes in her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, “Our potential is one thing. What we do with it is another.” In other words, without grit, your human potential will likely go untapped. In my opinion, it’s in your best interest to be gritty and if you’re interested in finding out just how gritty you are, Dr. Duckworth has made it easy. She and her colleagues developed a self-assessment tool called the Grit Scale.

The Grit Scale is a series of ten statements on which you rate yourself using a five-point scale. Click HERE to determine your grittiness. Take your time, reflect, and above all else, be honest with yourself. When you click the GET MY SCORE button at the end, a pop-up window will appear, but don’t be alarmed if it turns out you’re not as gritty as you think you are. While you can’t change your genetic composition, your raw talent or the gifts God gave you, the good news is you can improve your grit factor.

Grit manifests itself differently in everyone, but researchers have identified the five characteristics in just about every gritty person you’ll meet, and honing these traits is a great way to get grittier.

  • Perseverance.
  • Resilience
  • Courage
  • Passion
  • Conscientiousness

Perseverance is the cornerstone of grit. It is steady and persistent action toward a goal in the face of obstacles.

Resilience supports grit, especially when you fail. It is the ability to recover quickly from adversity, to adjust when appropriate, and to maintain a positive mindset. Without perseverance and resilience, you are much more likely to give up when confronted with obstacles or adversity.

Courage is the quality of thought and spirit that allows you to face fear, whether that means trying something that ranges from simply being outside of your comfort zone to something that you find absolutely terrifying. Don’t confuse courage with fearlessness. Like I used to tell my kids when they were frightened, “It’s okay to be scared…you can’t be brave if you’re not scared.”

Passion is the deep desire to achieve a very specific goal and is often rooted in personal values and core beliefs.

Conscientiousness, as related to grit, is creating a plan of action and staying committed to executing it, day in and day out, in order to achieve long-term goals.

There will always be only one first place. Losers will always far outnumber winners, and most of us will find ourselves watching in admiration as our efforts are eclipsed by physically superior dancers. The thing about grit is that it gives us all a fighting chance at the top spot on the podium.

Antoinette Datoc is a certified Mental Performance Coach who specializes in helping athletes cultivate positive mindsets, mental strength and of course, grit. She is a competitive DanceSport member of USA Dance and dances Championship-level American Style Rhythm and Smooth with her husband, Pat. She is the creator of The Dancing Housewife blog and Coffee Break with The Dancing Housewife, a weekly podcast dedicated to anything and everything related to ballroom dance.

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