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How to Build Grit – Train Your Entrepreneurial Muscle

Do we all need to take time off to recharge? How do you build grit?

Today I want to share my thoughts on why a lot of the advice you have received from people who “mean well” is BS for a lot of people when it comes to the needs and benefits of “vacations”.  

We are going to dive into what grit means, how to build grit, and finding out what a grit training schedule is. Based on my own experiences, I believe that how we define entrepreneurial grit and how we build it within ourselves are keys to success. 

The analogies I share here helped me finally put a framework around my work schedule and the passion to continue to train and build grit. 

As I write this, I am on a trip (aka vacation) with my kids and wife, who are all dead tired and asleep. Time for me to crush out some work.

I want to point out that we are all obviously different and the type of work we do varies based on personal preferences, talent, goals, and passions. However, understanding your goal in business is critical to what everyone needs to build mental toughness and also recover efficiently. 

The structure I outline below are what I have found works for me, but I understand that my strategy won’t be optimal for everyone based on what your “optimal” is. The same way a training schedule for an Olympic rower is going to be different than an Olympic weightlifter – both have a talent that they need to build but do it in different ways (but more on that analogy later). 

While reading this, be sure to keep in mind what your work and personal goals are and how they fit into my grit strategy. 

What I Am Going To Cover:

  • What is GRIT and why it matters to your success 
  • The BS we often get told and why it isn’t optimal
  • How my mindset around thinking about “time off” has shifted
  • How this now applies to my work schedule both for short and long-term goals
  • Summary and how you can apply this to your life

What is GRIT and Why Does It Matter For Your Success?

Grit can be defined in many ways, especially as an entrepreneur. However, I like to think of it as the level of perseverance someone has along with their combined efforts and passions to reach a goal. Obviously there is no quantitative way to measure the amount of perseverance someone has. Instead, we look at our external efforts and achievements to determine our grit. 

Grit matters. Why? It not only shows others our level of perseverance and resilience, but it defines our work ethic, helps build a growth mindset for our everyday lives, it develops our mental toughness. Most importantly, grit molds our passion and purpose in life. Having a purpose in the work you do will help avoid failure. 

Grit is a growth mindset. People have created their own definitions and strategies on how to achieve grit, however along the way, strategies have become convoluted and confusing, especially when it comes to rest and recovery. Let’s jump into it and go over how my strategies for building your entrepreneurial muscle can help with your short-term and long-term goals. 

What I Used To Be Told About Rest & Recovery

We live in a time where efficiency is one of the most talked about and researched topics in business. However, the general consensus around rest and recovery is not optimal for success. Those of us who put in A LOT of hours on our business have always been told.. 

  • you are going to burnout 
  • it is not good for you to work all the time
  • balance in your life is important

Granted, I used to hear this more when I was working much crazier hours: 12-14 hour day job + 3-4 hours/night on my online business, with absolutely no days off for 2-3 months at a time. 

It was also a lot harder to respond to these points when the income reports where pretty brutal! Have a look at the original income reports! Needless to say, it was very hard to listen to the risks and warnings about burnout, work/life balance, etc when the data didn’t yet support it. 

In many ways, the noise around this topic has gotten more confusing. For instance, discussions and research around mental health has, at times, blurred the lines between a very serious issue plaguing people in today’s society vs. strategies around optimal work/rest balance. 

Of course, the two are related and while there is overlap, there needs to be better discussions differentiating both topics. Many articles/interviews discussing mental health is coming from the standpoint of reducing the risk of mental health, but seem to be biased towards recommending rest over work as the lone solution to reduce this risk. 

While having a proper work/life balance is important, maximizing rest is, of course, not the end-all-be-all solution to mental health issues. This topic is much more complex than this, and obviously, I’m not qualified to comment further on these issues, nor will I. My intent here is to share my strategies for increasing mental toughness and perseverance as it pertains to achieving optimal work performance. I can only speak for my own situation, but we don’t live in a risk-free world.

One important thing to remember is that if you enjoy the work you do, the work isn’t necessarily a sacrifice. Clearly the amount the work drains you mentally will dictate your ability to be able to build your grit and execute the work.

How I Now Think About Building Grit and Recovery:

I always find it helpful to have an analogy to reference on any topic … in this case, I like to think of it as a muscle: the GRIT muscle. 

Many of the same principles of improving your physical fitness apply to your GRIT muscle. Whether it be setting a goal to claim a starva KOM (for the bike geeks) or hitting a new PB (Personal Best) at the gym, the basics for training any of the body’s systems remains basically the same…

  • Work the system (muscle fibers, cardiovascular system, GRIT muscle) to near failure
  • Give it just enough time to recover
  • Work it to near failure again
  • Repeat, with the body adjusting to increase the total amount of work that can be done and shortening the amount of recovery needed

If a sprinter trains their legs to achieve strength and explosive speed, think of training your mental toughness and resilience to be gritty. When I came to grips with this and realized that those periods where my schedule was insane were moulding and building my GRIT muscle, it was easier to continue pushing through and turn work into a passion. 

The analogy works well with other comparisons …

  • In order for athletes to increase or improve a certain skill, they plan structured and regimented workout routines. A hockey player doesn’t go into practise and randomly take shots on an empty net for an hour. Each training session is a deliberate practice meant to develop specific skills. You have to have a plan of attack and purpose when building your business or pursuing a passion. Schedule properly and work efficiently.  
  • Weightlifters don’t stay at the same weight to build strength. They gradually increase weight, exert maximal effort to failure, and tear the muscle so it can rebuild stronger than before. The same goes for our GRIT muscle: constantly moulding and pushing your GRIT muscle to its limits is the only way to grow it. 
  • While some people are naturally gifted at long-distance running, others are better suited for sprinting short distances, with speed being the main focus. Your unique set of skills and interests help define the speed at which you build your GRIT muscle.
  • When someone begins working out for the first time, they’re always told to find something they enjoy in order to make the workouts more enjoyable. This is applicable to finding something you enjoy in order to build your GRIT muscle and entrepreneurial drive … you will be more likely to follow your schedule if it is something you generate some satisfaction from. 

How to Build Grit: My Schedule

Any athlete who is serious about building their skills and physical fitness would never leave their training to chance. This is the same approach we need to take when building our GRIT muscle and entrepreneurial drive. We should have a purpose to our “training” (aka work) schedule. 

So how do I try and find balance of building my GRIT while balancing other things I want to enjoy in life?

I try and break down my work in a somewhat fractal way where my day mirrors my week, which then mirrors my year. During the day/week/year timeline there are peak work periods and lighter rest periods.

Similar to how a well-rounded athlete needs to train both strength and endurance, the all-around entrepreneurial grit muscle needs to be trained for both the short and long-term efforts needed. If you have a highly specialized talent and at the point where you only need to be exceptional at a few things in your business, then your schedule should reflect that.

Short-term Goals (daily and weekly schedule)

Daily: 

The best strategy I have found to both be productive and manage my effort throughout the day is the pomodoro technique. This method was first developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s and has since been used as an excellent work hack to increase efficiency. 

The concept is simple (and VERY effective). You use a timer to break down your work into intervals, usually 25 minutes long, separated by short breaks. The purpose is to reduce external interruptions from everyday life and work, by focusing hard for a short period of time, leading to effective intervals of work. 

I used a couple of mini sand-filled hour glasses I got off Amazon until Kelley broke one! She says she wasn’t throwing it at me but all I saw was exploding glass and sand everywhere! Now I use a simple online timer like e.ggtimer

This strategy of short periods of systematic work allows me to push myself into the mindset of deep work/enter flow, making it easier to call on that max effort whenever it is needed. 

Weekly:

Weekly I try to have a couple days that I push myself as hard as I can to be more gritty. I call these my “work all day” days and they are great for getting lots of work done and pushing myself to my limits, in turn helping grow the GRIT muscle. 

The luxury of being able to sit down before 8am and know I won’t be stopping work until 9pm-11pm allows me to put things on my to-do list that I wouldn’t otherwise get to for months! 

I realize there are many people with 12-14 hour days as their routine, however, this is how I choose to structure my week and it works very well, keeps my efficient, and allows me to balance my work/life schedule. 

Longer Term (annual schedule): 

I wish I had 4 phases to my schedule so it lined up better with quarters, but the reality is I phase my year in 3 blocks: build, stabilize and recover.

Build Phase: September – December 

  • This is usually when I launch new businesses
  • Typically I will have 2 “work all day” days/week and will work every night for a couple of hours in addition to my daytime work. 
    • Example work week:
    • Mon: 8am – 4pm + 8pm – 10pm
    • Tues: 8am – 10pm
    • Wed: 8am – 10pm
    • Thur: 8am – 4pm + 8pm – 10pm
    • Fri: 8am – 4pm + 8pm – 10pm
    • Sat & Sun: 10-20 hrs based on family schedule
  • Hours on my computer will hit 60-80hrs/week 
  • Typically the ski hill opening or holiday activities will wind this phase down
grit training schedule

A slightly larger than normal week with some very long days at the computer

Stabilize & Grow Phase: January – April

  • This is when I typically consolidate and focus on systematizing the projects that will be a focus for the year 
  • Usually I will have 1 “work all day” day/week 
  • I will still work most nights (except weekends) 
  • Hours on my computer will be 40-60
  • Typically summer activities starting or the cottage opening will be the transition

Recovery Phase: May – August 

  • This is when I wind down the most. Typically I will pick a physical goal and train for it (Crank the Shield last year) 
  • It will also be a time where I listen to the most books. Approximately 2 books/week (lots of time on the bike – see above!) 
  • Family time is the priority in this phase 
  • By the end, I will have new ideas and be itching for my “work all day” days. 

Summary: How To Develop True Grit

So what are the key points you should take away from this post?

  • Use it or lose it: we all have a GRIT muscle, which we can build and develop through a proper work ethic in order to achieve our goals and improve skills. 
  • Evaluate your long-term goals vs. short-term goals: everyone has different goals and objectives, so be sure to figure out what those are before you create a plan of attack for yourself. Once you understand your goal, align your days, weeks and year around how you can achieve as efficiently as possible. 
  • Deliberate practice: in order to build and strengthen your grit you have to push yourself past your limits in a strategic and structured way. Do this by scheduling your work day/week around other personal needs, using the pomodoro technique to achieve deep work, and finding something you enjoy working on. 

How Can I Be More Gritty?

Hopefully after reading this, you don’t have a fixed mindset on how to achieve grit. This outline is simply my method, which I hope can help you create your own structure for growth. Remember, we all have different goals, passions, obstacles, and talents, so align your strategy to what works best for you. But make sure your pushing your limits and getting out of your comfort zone. Face adversity head on and don’t be afraid of failure – in the end it will help develop resilience and grit!

About the Author Jon

I am a 33 year old husband, father of 3, engineer and a huge fan of developing systems to build useful and profitable websites. The reason I build online businesses is to provide financial independence for my family and yours AND so I can spend time outside skiing and biking with my family.
Jon Gillham, Online Entrepreneur

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