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Exercise - A Key to Success in Your Life?

By David Drinks

Exercise is good for you, and you should do more of it. I know, that’s like hearing your mom tell you that broccoli is good for you and that you should eat more of it!

Of course, everyone knows that broccoli and exercise are both good for you. However, sometimes simply hearing that something like exercise is good for you and that you should do it isn’t enough motivation. Instead, I often find that knowing exactly why something is good for me can help me want to do more of it.

Learning about all the benefits of exercise, then, can help push you over the edge of just feeling like you should exercise to actually wanting to!

So, why exactly is exercise good for you? Well, there are a lot of reasons, but there is one very important reason that you may not have thought of before.

While many of the benefits associated with exercise are physical, there is also much to be said about the mental and emotional benefits associated with regular exercise. Exercise can help regulate hormones, build physical and mental strength, better manage stress, and so much more.

However, today I want to go one step further - did you know that exercise can help you build one of the most important mental characteristics to success in your life?

That’s right! Exercise can make you more successful in life. No matter what your goals or career path might be, exercise can help you to cultivate one of the most important characteristics (if not THE most important characteristic) of successful people – grit.

Exercise and Building Grit

Every time we start into a new year, many resolutions are made around people trying to motivate themselves or others to exercise solely because of the physical benefits – you’ll lose weight, gain muscle, become healthier, etc. While those factors are indeed motivating and are good reasons to participate in a regular exercise routine, they are certainly not the only reasons why exercising regularly will benefit you.

Today, I want to highlight another crucial reason why you can and should be motivated to exercise regularly. A regular exercise routine, in addition to building muscle, endurance, and physical well-being, can do an equally good job of building grit.

What is grit, and why is it so crucial to success in life? How can exercise cultivate grit and ultimately success in your life? Well, these are all questions that I want to answer in this article. But to answer these questions, I must first give you a bit of background on grit and where I first learned about it along with all of its benefits.

I first learned about this idea of grit as a personality characteristic from the book, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth. Duckworth is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Her biggest area of study and research has been in the field of the science of success, and how grit - as opposed to talent and IQ alone - predicts success in many different fields.

She first came upon this idea as a teacher when she realized that some of her smartest students were not always the ones who did the best in class. She realized that IQ and talent alone do not always add up to success. In fact, some of the smartest and most talented people do not find success in what they set out to do simply because they don’t persevere long enough to see it through.

Duckworth concluded that your ability to do well in both school and life is due to much more than your ability to learn quickly and easily. Having a high IQ simply means that you have the ability to learn quickly, but being successful in what you set out to do has a lot more to do with what she calls “grit.”

Moving away from the teaching world, Duckworth decided to go back to school to become a psychologist, and further study this idea of grit and success. She conducted research across a number of different fields and settings to find out not only who was successful in their field, but why.

She conducted research at West Point Military Academy, trying to predict which cadets would stay in military basic training and which would drop out. It turns out that West Point is an excellent testing ground for talent versus grit because the academy is very good at recruiting some of the most talented individuals, both physically and mentally.

However, despite West Point’s attempt to recruit the best and brightest, what Duckworth found is that IQ, athletic prowess, and overall talent have little to do with predicting who stays through cadet basic training – which consists of 6 weeks of rigorous physical and mental training - and who drops out.

Instead, what has been found through Duckworth’s research is that the cadets who test as grittier (based on what she calls the grit scale, which is a test that measures your affinity for both passion and perseverance), are the ones who are much more likely to stick it out through the end of basic training – regardless of their innate talent.

Outside of West Point, Duckworth has also conducted research on the National Spelling Bee, trying to predict which children would advance the farthest in competition.

She’s studied rookie teachers working in really tough neighborhoods, asking which teachers would persevere through the school year, and which ones would be the most effective at improving learning outcomes for their students.

She’s studied private sales companies and tried to find out who at these companies would keep their jobs and earn the most money in a challenging and often stressful work environment.

In all of those very different but all very challenging contexts, one thing stood out as a significant predictor of success, and it wasn’t social intelligence, IQ, or any other talent a person might possess; it was grit.

From all this evidence, Duckworth has done a fine job of demonstrating just how important grit is when it comes to finding success in any challenging field. Talent may offer you an advantage, but it far from guarantees success.

So, if grit is such an important characteristic to possess, it would behoove us to learn more about it and how to cultivate it in our lives.

To start, grit is defined as passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is possessing stamina and sticking with a goal for your future, day after day. It’s not simply sticking with a goal just for a week, not for a month, but years.

Grit is putting in the hard work to make a challenging, long-term goal a reality. It’s not jumping from one thing that interests you or excites you every other month, but rather, sticking with a single passion for years to see it through.

The ability to do this is a significant predictor of success in both school and life, and the best news is that it’s not necessarily something you’re born with. Instead, one of the most important aspects of Duckworth’s research and message is that, unlike talent, grit can be cultivated and developed in your life.

So, if you want to develop grit in your life, there are two important factors to understand:

  1. You must possess a growth mindset.

  2. You must consistently push yourself to practice and stick with hard things.

A growth mindset means that you believe you can learn, improve, and grow. You’re not stuck where you are because of the intelligence and talents you were born with. This is a crucial and primary piece to developing grit. Our place in life is not set in stone because of the innate talents, or lack thereof, that we were born with. However, the key to developing grit is believing this and that’s what a growth mindset is all about. Those who possess a growth mindset, versus a fixed mindset, are much more likely to practice and stick with challenging things because they believe it will help them to grow and improve.

Once you believe that you can grow and develop grit, the second key is making a habit of consistently pushing yourself to practice and stick with hard things. Doing so will enable you to develop a lifestyle of grit and perseverance.

Why is that so important? Simply because many things that are truly important to you don’t come without grit and perseverance. Doing well in school, having a successful career, getting/staying in shape, developing meaningful relationships (with both friends and family), all require grit and perseverance.

None of these things come easily just because you have talent. Rather, you must put in consistent effort over the long run to pursue those things that are most meaningful to you, whether that’s a job or a deep relationship with your spouse. Those people who expect everything to come easily just because they have talent or intelligence, are often disappointed when they aren’t able to sustain the effort it requires to truly get to their end goal.

On the other hand, those people who recognize and embrace the need for perseverance and grit often are the ones who sustain the effort needed to get to where they want to be.

So, when it comes to developing grit, make a habit of practicing hard things. For many people - maybe even you - exercise is a hard thing, and that makes it a really good thing to practice!

The nature of engaging in a regular exercise routine is that you will have good days and bad days. At times, you may hurt because of it. Other times, you may not feel like exercising and need to push yourself to get to the gym and do it. Still other times, you may get bored with the same old routine and need to grind through it to get the benefits.

Exercise is also inherently hard work, and it doesn’t pay off just to do it for a week and then stop. It’s really a lifetime pursuit, with months or even years of work required to get to your goal. It requires consistency and perseverance to even maintain what you have gained.

Because of that, many people complain about having to exercise. They think it should be easier to stay in shape, and they bemoan the fact that it takes real work and consistent effort to stay in shape as they age.

However, it’s not a bad thing, it’s a good thing. Choosing to engage in an exercise routine regularly means that you’re developing grit and perseverance that will carry over to all aspects of your life. You will become a more resilient person, both physically and mentally.

So, the next time you don’t feel like going to the gym, just tell yourself, “This is another opportunity to grow my grit.” It may not feel great at the moment, but over the long run you will thank yourself, and that’s what grit and perseverance is all about!


Contact us here to get started working with one of our exercise specialists today! Whether you come into the gym or work with us remotely through our Med Gym Online program, we'll help you develop your best exercise routine and stick with it over the long run!


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