6 ways to uncover your true grit
As a prisoner of war in the steamy jungles of Vietnam, he held out for months, repeatedly refusing to sign documents decrying American aggression in Southeast Asia presented to him by the North Vietnamese after his crash and imprisonment. During these times, he drew inspiration from the memory of how his grandfather had been the only person in their village strong enough not to vote for Hitler during elections, despite threats of execution.
As a child in Germany, he had looked up and marvelled at the US enemy planes, and resolved to one day fly for the United States of America. His father had been killed in the war and his mother was desperately poor. People were starving to death in Germany after WW2. He got used to feeding off garbage. He was a survivor.
In these conditions, he sold scrap metal to raise money and hitch-hiked to Hamburg to get passage to America. Once in the US, he lived on the streets in Manhattan. He studied for years (sometimes living in an upturned boat), eventually achieved his dream, and became a US Navy pilot, but…
Motivated to persevere
He was shot down on his first mission over Vietnam. Eventually, he was captured by enemy troops; he managed to escape, but was recaptured. He joined other captives and instigated an escape plan. The prisoners heard their captors planning to kill them; there was no time to lose.
They managed to escape and overpower their guards. Leeches, starvation, danger, and misery followed. He never gave up hope. At one point, he and another man thought they’d been spotted by US planes and rescue was imminent – it wasn’t. They kept going, trying to make it to Thailand. His friend was killed by villagers.
He kept on alone, eating snakes but always on the edge of starvation. After 23 days surviving in the jungle, sick, injured, but managing to evade capture, he was rescued by a US helicopter. He had been behind enemy lines for over six months.
His weight had dropped to 93 pounds. He was the only POW ever to escape and survive during the Vietnam War. He continued a successful career as a pilot for many years.
We can all persevere even when we think we can’t.
How to increase determination and maximize motivation
Okay, most of us don’t experience such stark conditions as Dieter Dengler (1), but we all sometimes need to keep going when every part of us is screaming, “I can’t go on!” Whether it’s:
- facing illness;
- keeping a family together;
- facing massive life changes after divorce;
- making a business work;
- doing a degree;
- getting into peak physical shape; or
- going for the kind of life you feel you must live;
we all need to be iron-gritted in our determination sometimes.
In the articles 7 Self-Discipline Techniques and Boost Your Self-Motivation Today, I mention how important it is not to fall into the trap of having to constantly feel emotionally rewarded by stuff you do in order to actually get on with it. Here I want to present a few more ideas to help you persevere and get going when times are tough.
1) Draw inspiration from others
Actually, whilst it can be useful to draw inspiration from extraordinary individuals (like Dieter Dengler or Helen Keller), research (2) shows we draw more inspiration from reading, seeing, or thinking about a type of person rather than a one-off ‘outlier’. We become cleverer (in tests) if we see photos of ‘clever-looking people’ rather than, say, a picture of a ‘one-off genius’ like Einstein.
So consider that:
- Roman legions completed more than one-and-a-half marathons a day carrying more than half their body weight in equipment.
- Athens employed 30,000 rowers who could all exceed the achievements of modern oarsmen.
- Ancient Australian aboriginals threw hardwood spears 110 meters or more (the current world javelin record is 98.48m) (3).
- Most people in history have had to survive without healthcare, social security, or modern medicine.
- Most people in history have had to educate themselves if they wanted to improve.
2) Don’t think; just act
Thinking is vital and much of human folly happens because we don’t think. We can think ourselves out of problems, around situations, into solutions – but also out of doing what we should. “I can’t go on” is a thought that may be useful or it may be self-deception. If you have to keep on, then start to ignore these kinds of thoughts. When times are tough, sometimes we need to just keep on without thinking until the ‘nose down to the grindstone’ times have passed.
3) Strengthen your will by exercising it
I have a lazy friend. Don’t get me wrong; he’s a lovely guy, but he’s so unaccustomed to work or exertion that if you ask him to do anything, it’s a major deal. It’s much harder for him to do anything than most people. He’s healthy and fit enough, but he’s not used to work – and it shows.
Recent research showed that willpower, like a muscle, gets stronger the more you use it. So remember that even when it feels tough, it will get easier. The more you exercise your will and determination, the more naturally motivated you will begin to feel.
4) Think about what you really want
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” ~ George Bernhard Shaw
What do you want your life to be like? Are you happy living the way you are living? Take two sheets of paper. On one sheet, write down how you’d like to be living. Now take the second sheet and write down all the things you need to do to make your life as it is now more like the life you’d like to have. Every detail counts. This will be your initial blueprint. Remember that you can update this blueprint as you go. But if it seems too unreasonable to you…it might not be at all.
5) Imagine an iron centre within you
Sometimes life calls for you to be irrepressible, unassailable, resolute, and super-focused. I remember when I was a child distinctly feeling on occasion a palpable, almost physical, determination within me; a sense that my determination was a thing I could feel. Today I’ll use self-hypnosis to recapture that and get that real ‘iron core’ feeling when I really need it.
To get a sense of what I mean, listen to this free audio session.
6) Never give up!
The night is always darkest just before dawn. You just don’t know how close you are to a breakthrough. If your intentions are good and you keep working, something will happen – even if it’s not exactly what you had planned. If you do nothing, nothing happens.
Dieter Dengler could have stopped walking in the jungle, Helen Keller could have stopped learning to communicate, Edmund Hillary could have stopped climbing Everest, and Thomas Edison could have given up on the light bulb.