Grit by Angela Duckworth

I enjoyed reading Angela Duckworth's book Grit. I made it the first book to read and discuss in my book club for people looking to learn from others to help improve their lives. But when it came to writing a summary, I have to tell you that I am a little stuck.


It can be boiled down simply: "Talent × effort = skill. Skill × effort = achievement." or in other words "Effort counts twice." 


Why do we need an entire book to share insights from people that apply this and failures of people that quit because they don't make the effort? Why do we need case study after case study to show us that we need more stick-to-itiveness? 

And why is it so hard to stick to something? Why do we have a myth that genius is God's gift not because of effort and practice and learned skills? 


I know from my own experience, I was an overachiever child and excelled at most subjects. I learned very quickly how prized good grades were, not to mention straight A's and perfect attendance. I remember being in a reading competition with my classmates in fifth grade. I was a good reader, but one girl read twice as many books as I did so I fell to a distant second or third place. Because I couldn't win, I stopped competing and focused elsewhere.

This is the story of how I went through most of my school. I picked subjects that I could put in some effort and excel. Notice I said some effort, not loads of effort. I never learned what it meant to put in tons of effort to get something that didn't come easily to me. I just decided I didn't really want the thing that badly, so I would change focus.


As an adult this became really frustrating because I would have interests that I wanted to pursue but they did not come completely naturally to me. I was doing ok at the introductory level, but once I advanced to the next level I was no longer excelling and I would feel discouraged. I would think that it was my fault that I wasn't naturally gifted at the thing (dancing, language, fitness, entrepreneurship, etc) and I would move on to the next thing. I would tell myself "I guess this isn't my thing! My calling is still out there, so I better cut my losses and move on!" 


I learned this is not the way it works. Things don't come naturally to most people. The things we want to be really great at take dedication and practice. Sometimes we need a coach or an expert to guide us. Sometimes we need lessons, we need to fail, we need to learn how to pick ourselves back up and move forward with practice. We also need to connect to the reason why we want to pursue something that is difficult, and the bigger the impact that the reason has, the more likely we will stick to something. 


One topic that Duckworth mentions is the idea of practice. In our culture, the idea of practice has melted away for the most part. We are almost always in performance mode, which is not useful for improving skills. Practice allows someone to go at a slower pace, to make mistakes and correct them, to try new things, and to build confidence. Think about rehearsals for a play. In a rehearsal, the actors work together with the director to memorize their lines, stumble through the blocking, and create the play that shows up onstage when everything is ready. Performance means we have the pressure of doing things perfectly, and mistakes are highly discouraged. The term "performance ready" essentially implies perfect and ready for an audience. 


School is an area that we have asked students to be at performance level disproportionately more than in practice mode. Students are expected to be near perfect and not make mistakes, because those mistakes have a negative impact on your final grades. If there was more room for practice and encouragement to get back up after failure, students would develop more resilience and would develop their skills faster. They would also feel more confident and encouraged to stick with school longer, try harder subjects, and pursue higher education. 


Reading this book was the synthesis of what I had been learning over the last year. The things that we really want don't come easily, and it takes grit to get to our greatest successes. I recently committed myself wholeheartedly with no turning back to my coaching business. It does not always have to look the way that it looks today, in fact I expect it will change, but I will make my coaching business a success no matter what. I am not giving up.


I saw a quote from Oprah today that summed this up nicely. "Direction I have. Speed I do not." I'm going to keep going in this direction, but I don't have to go fast. 


Have you read Grit? What was your takeaway? 


Learn How to Captivate

Captivate is definitely one of the best books I read this year. It is all about hacking human behavior in order to be more successful in our careers and relationships.


I have some friends that are hesitant with this book because it seems like manipulation. Understanding people’s behavior and their preferences could be used for evil, but we live in a world where we have to interact with other people. And if we can do that understands the rules and expectations, then it is just easier.


Vanessa Van Edwards made her career in helping people be less awkward. She calls herself a professional people watcher. She has done so much research about what makes certain TED Talks speakers viral, why certain historical figures made an impact, and how your selfies are sabotaging your dating game.


She breaks the book into three sections to optimize your impressions and impact in your interactions: The First Five Minutes, The First Five Hours, and The First Five Days. In each of the crucial time periods we can show up and act in a way that gives us the best chance at making a positive impression on another person and making the interaction really matter.


Here are my highlights from each section.


The First Five Minutes

The biggest takeaway from this section was how to be the most memorable person in the room, and it all goes back to be interested to be interesting.  


Van Edwards says that one of her biggest missions with her career is to eliminate small talk. If we follow her advice, hopefully there will never be a terrible cocktail party or networking event where the first question is “So what do you do?” Ask questions that spark excitement. Highlight someone’s best features (whether that is giving a thoughtful introduction or if it is paying someone a compliment). Instead of asking what someone does, how about asking what they are excited about? Or what was the highlight of their day? Find something that makes the person perk up


The key to mastering the first five minutes with someone is to play to your strengths and to help them play to theirs. and get them to talk about that, everyone has something if we just take the time to uncover it. Van Edwards argues that inauthenticity can be sensed by others, so if we are in a situation that we dislike we actually can’t “fake it ‘till you make it.” Instead of faking it, find the things that feel easy or make you feel excited. If you hate dinner parties, don’t force yourself to go to them. If you love meeting people at volunteering events, spend more of your time and effort there.


The First Five Hours

In five hours you can speed read someone’s true emotions and understand their personality well enough to play to their strengths. The key to learning someone’s real inner thoughts and hidden feelings is to speed read microexpressions.


Microexpressions are natural reactions in the face that we cannot control. Microexpressions flash our true feelings of happiness, anger, fear, surprise, contempt, disgust. Each has specific muscles in the face that engage in a specific way. You can get all the details here.


Beyond understanding people’s true emotions, you can also speed read personalities. Personalities can be broken into five categories: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism. Each of us is high, low, or middle in each of these areas, and that affects our preferences, our work, and social interactions. If we can understand someone’s rankings in each of these areas, we can meet them where they are and give them information that they need to hear in the way they need to hear it.


Just as important is understanding someone’s Love Language. By understanding how someone likes to receive love we know how to show them appreciation.


The First Five Days

 Van Edwards stresses leadership skills in this third section. To me, this felt like information I had read in lots of other books, but I love that she combines stories and case studies of people that effectively use her tips. Which makes Van Edwards someone that walks her talk because one of the big tips from this section is to use story telling to increase holding people’s attention. She also talks about the power of revealing key vulnerabilities and the importance of leading by empowering. These ideas were things I had read in books by Brene Brown (a vulnerability expert) and John Maxwell ()a leadership expert), but I appreciate the reinforcement.


Overall, Captivate is a book that I will probably read over and over again because the principles require practice in order to master it. I could spend months and months learning to speed read microexpressions alone. If you work with people and if you want to increase your impact with others, read this book! 

The Miracle Mindset

Quite simply, if you want your mind blown wide open to what is possible, please read this book.


I’ve read the book and listened to the story in countless interviews and I still cry every time. It is amazing what we can achieve if we simply focus on what we truly want and never give up trying to get that.


Long story short, JJ Virgin’s son Grant was hit by a driver and left for dead in the street. (The driver was never found.) At the hospital, he was given less than 1% chance of survival. Her younger son replied “So you’re saying there’s a chance?” and it was game on for the family. They airlifted him to a hospital that would perform the surgeries that he needed to survive. They did research about how to heal the body and mind, and made sure Grant had everything he needed. No one was able to speak any doom and gloom in the room, only hope.


After a long, long process Grant started making small improvements. After many years of therapy and work, he is about 80% back to normal. This is amazing for someone that had almost no chance of surviving, let alone ever walking or talking or leading a normal life ever again.


The book tells the story of Grant’s recovery and how JJ Virgin dealt with it. The accident happened at the same time she was trying to launch her first book and revolutionize her career. While people were telling her to stop and take a break so she could be with her family she thought to herself that if she stopped she would never be able to take care of her family. She knew that her business was going to be what paid for the absolute best care for her son and she did not want money to be the reason he didn’t get treatment.


There were so many lessons in this book. Here are a few of my favorites.


•   Forgiveness.

I think my favorite chapter was one of the very last chapters in the book, and it was how she dealt with forgiveness. Even years after the accident and all the progress Grant makes throughout the book, Virgin still felt weighed down by the whole process, like she was stuck. 


When Virgin realized she was still carrying around so much toxic energy from being angry with the driver she knew she needed to deal with it. She decided to put the driver on trial. She wanted a judge that would be fair and impartial, so she imagined Aslan from books. She got to be the prosecuting lawyer and imagined arguing every accusation at this woman. She blamed her and said everything she was thinking. When she had it all out, she switched places. Mentally, she stepped into the shoes of the driver. What would this woman have had to be thinking to do what she did? She defended the driver's position.


And this gave Virgin the clarity she needed to forgive.


It worked so beautifully that she repeated this process for everyone including Grant and herself. I loved this idea so much that I tried it too. It is a beautiful process that brings great relief if you are struggling to forgive someone. It is particularly powerful if you are trying to forgive yourself.


Health first.

JJ Virgin is a health expert. She was teaching people how to eliminate harmful foods and keep their bodies in tip top shape. And thank goodness she practiced what she preached. When Grant was in the hospital, Virgin knew her health was more important than ever. If she had so much as a cold, she wouldn’t be allowed in the room with her son.


She packed her meals and she ran the steps up and down the hospital to get intense workouts in. She did research about what nutrition Grant needed to heal his brain and made sure he had plenty of Omega 3s. When he was eating, she brought coolers full of fresh food and made smoothies for him packed with nutrients that he needed.


More than anything this inspired me to keep my health in the forefront of my mind. Just like a car, if you do your regular maintenance it will run for a long, long time. The body needs to be taken care of every day, and those little choices matter much more than when we choose to go on binge diets. Do the small actions consistently, and your body will take care of you.


1 Focus and never, ever, ever give up.

The Virgin family fought so hard for Grant. Every step of the way. No was never an answer. They would accept “not right now” but no was never an option.


Small wins were always celebrated like big wins. Progress was focused on every single day. They had the goal to make sure Grant could walk and talk and live his life. He was encouraged to do what made him feel good. As he recovered he cultivated an interest in art that he did not have prior to the accident and it became a hobby for him that provided solace in tough times.


People who suffer severe brain injuries have a high risk of suicide because life is so difficult during recovery. Virgin shared stories of how Grant attempted to swallow pain pills to escape the pain. She got him help and helped him to redirect his focus. It’s not about the pain today. It’s about where you are going. Believe you can get there, and it does not matter how long it takes. It’s about the daily process, and never give up before you get there.


This book is full of miracles and lessons. And maybe the biggest lesson of all is that miracles are simply just a change in perception. Miracles can be as simple as being able to draw or swimming laps in the pool. It can be big goals, like launching a million dollar business no matter what bumps come in the way. But the only way to achieve those miracles in your own life is to believe that you can and to keep going.

The 5 Second Rule


A catchy title, right? I thought so when I watched an interview with Mel Robbins, author of The 5 Second Rule. 


The tag line is that you can change your life in 5 seconds. It's simple, actionable, and it works.


Think about it. We change our lives all the time, one decision at a time. We choose vegetables or ice cream at dinner. We choose to spend time on our resume or LinkedIn or we watch YouTube videos of cats. 


And maybe you think that is baloney. We make lots of decisions that don't have a big impact. We take a new way home from work, or we go to spin class instead of going for a run. On the surface those things don't seem to have that big of an impact.


But here is the thing that I find fascinating, and something that really hit home when I read the book. Even the mundane choices have an impact on your brain. 


What I really loved about The 5 Second Rule was that Robbins includes a lot of information about how the brain works when we are in fear and stress. 


And let me tell you, I really love understanding the brain. It feels like a game to me. How can I understand the rules of the game so that I can work this to my advantage. 


Before I get into what I learned, here is a little bit about Mel Robbins. Mel is an ordinary person that created some extraordinary opportunities for herself. She doesn't really talk about it in the book so much, but she does discuss it in interviews. She worked for CNN and hustled to work on a number of TV shows. It sounds pretty awesome to me, but apparently that life is quite hard. Money isn't just rolling in, it all depends on it getting picked up and being a hit with the network. And she had very little say in what she worked on. 


She is also very open in interviews about the financial difficulties she had with her family. This makes it seems really relatable. She's just like us- she had money problems even though she was trying to make something of herself! She talks about her anxiety and depression and how this simple tool helped her (and her kids who also have anxiety) pull herself out.

Here's how the 5 Second Rule works. When you feel an impulse to take action, you need to take that action before you reason yourself out of doing anything. The naturally habit is to create all kinds of reasons not to do something. Our brain would rather us remain in inaction. It seems like the safer way to remain safe. It's our reptilian brain doing what it needs to do to keep us alive.


But the problem is that most of the time our safety is not in danger. Introducing ourselves to a cute guy or girl, going to the gym, pitching an idea to your boss is not life or death. It just seems like it is in our brain. 

So how do we stop this thinking and get into taking the action that we need to take? Robbins says we simply need to do a countdown and then launch into action. 5- 4- 3- 2- 1 GO. 


Simple, right? And strangely effective. Sure there is some brain science that backs up why it works but the point is that it works.


Test it for yourself. Tomorrow set your alarm for 15-30 minutes earlier. When it goes off, you will probably not want to get out of bed. You won't feel like doing it. But when that alarm goes off, try counting down 5- 4- 3- 2- 1 and LAUNCH yourself out of bed. No thinking, just act. 


I bet if you do the countdown and then act, you will see yourself shifting. It's a small win, and then you can build from there. 


It's a fantastic, simple strategy and a simple book with lots of actionable information. It's a quick read, especially if you are good at skimming. I like good stories scattered into my self-help books but there were just too many examples of Tweets and other people's stories for my taste. But the information is still useful and potentially life changing if you actually take the small actions and use the momentum from those wins to keep going.