Grit and the Near Win

On Monday night at my CrossFit gym, we did the Baseline workout, which consists of a 500-meter row, 40 squats, 30 sit-ups, 20 push-ups and 10 pull-ups for time. It’s the first WOD you do when you are introduced to the gym and thus has been a constant measure of my progress since I started back in July 2011.

I shaved three seconds off my overall time since last doing the workout in late January. It was a new PR of 4 minutes and 43 seconds. Despite my numbers going in the right direction, I wasn’t very happy. My goal this year is to complete the baseline in 4 minutes and 30 seconds. I walked into the gym not thinking I was going to hit that number and that was my problem. I didn’t fight hard enough for it. I moved my ass for sure, thus the incremental improvement; but if I really went for it I should have ended up breathing fire and laying on the floor in a pool of sweat and exhaustion.

Coincidentally enough, while going down the rabbit hole that is the interwebs, I came across two great TED Talks after class that evening that provided some food for thought.

In the first, art historian Sarah Lewis asks us to consider the role of the near win in our own lives. She uses the example of the artist never happy with his or her work even though others would call it a masterpiece. Lewis argues that the artist (and I find it analogous to that of an athlete) constantly faces a series of near wins on the path to mastery and that is actually a gift. She says, “And this is what a near win does – it gets us to focus on what right now we plan do to address that mountain in our sights.”

Considering this first talk, I immediately realize that one of my deficiencies that needs to be addressed is my sit-ups. It is the one element where I really slowed down my pace and where there is room for improvement.

In this second TED Talk, psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth has found in her research that success is not defined by physical health, social intelligence, good looks or IQ. Rather, she explains, “One characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success…it was grit. Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future day in day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years. And working really hard to make that future a reality.”

And as Angela concludes in her talk, how we build grit is unclear. What is clear to me though is that I need get a bit grittier to achieve success. I need to embrace the hurt and really commit to every workout, even if it only ends up only being a near win.

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