Developing GRIT: How To Build Your Optimism And Drive Toward Success

Published: Feb 13, 2017
Modified: Jun 01, 2020

By Thomas (TED) Boyce, PH.D.

Why is it that some people are more prone to success than others? Research featured in articles published in Forbes and the New York Times suggest they have a quality called GRIT.

GRIT has become a buzzword in today’s business world. However, little work has been done to truly understand how GRIT can be learned, much less applied, in a business setting to make success more likely. As I noted in a recent AMA webcast, individuals can drive toward success by becoming more optimistic.

A four-part model of GRIT

GRIT is commonly defined as passion and perseverance for long-term goals. I propose that the well-known psychological constructs of growth mindset, self-efficacy, personal control, and learned optimism can be combined to produce behaviors exemplary of GRIT. This conceptualization provides a decades-rich behavioral science platform from which anyone can learn and use new competencies to achieve desired results.

The AMA seminar GRIT: What Successful People Have in Common synthesizes this approach. Here are the four components of GRIT:

  • Growth mindset is a self-perception that people hold about themselves. It stresses flexibility, a perception defined by “I am not limited in my options. I can change paths without changing course.” We learn to avoid attributing the cause of success to labels such as “talent” and focus on situational factors that either facilitate or inhibit behavior.
  • Self-efficacy, as defined by social learning theorist Albert Bandura, is a measure of the strength of a person’s belief in his ability to complete tasks. High levels of self-efficacy are exemplified by the attitude “I can do it.” When self-efficacy is combined with a growth mindset, current skills are used more creatively and obstacles are more easily overcome.
  • Personal control refers to the extent to which a person feels in control over the events in his life. According to psychologist Phil Zimbardo, it reflects the degree to which we believe that the outcomes of our actions are dependent upon what we do. An internal locus of control has been shown to correlate with success and is defined by the attitude “I act upon the world, it does not act upon me.” Personal control and optimism define passion.
  • Learned optimism is defined by the attitude “I expect the best.” Optimists typically are higher achievers and tend to be in better health than pessimists. Psychologist Martin Seligman demonstrated that optimism can be learned. And research has shown a positive relation between challenging negative self-talk and increases in optimism.

Challenge negative self-talk to become more optimistic

Because of our capacity for language, human beings can experience events that have not occurred as if they have. For example, a typical adult will rate the anticipation of a vacation as more pleasing than the vacation itself. The converse is also true. When we anticipate negative events, the anxiety and other negative emotions experienced typically peak prior to the actual event (if it even occurs). Thus, the fear of failure typically produces a greater negative emotional response than the failure itself.

This “pre-event” fear can cause you to “give up” in an effort to escape discomfort. Challenging these thought patterns can make the feelings less intense and make it more likely for you to persevere, even in the face of adversity.

A simple way to manage negative emotions is to learn and repeat this phrase: “All that’s happening (or happened) is…” Here are some examples:

  • All that’s happening is…my boss has asked to meet with me.
  • All that’s happened doctor has ordered a few tests to better understand my health.
  • All that’s happened is…I didn’t get this job.

Try this for a week every time you start to feel anxiety, fear, sadness, anger, or frustration. My guess is that you will feel immediately better and that these perceived negative experiences will ultimately feel and be less disruptive to achieving your goals.

About The Author

Thomas E. (Ted) Boyce, PhD, is a professional speaker, educator, author, and business coach. He is currently president and senior consultant with the Center for Behavioral Safety, LLC and faculty with the American Management Association. Boyce has been providing cost-effective leadership and culture change training to the U.S. mining, manufacturing, and construction industries for over 22 years. He is a full-member of the American Psychological Association, American Psychological Society, and the Association for Behavior Analysis International. More information is available at