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How to build ‘grit’ to achieve your goals.

Published 7 October, 2022
Tasbih Amin
Written by Tasbih Amin

Our latest podcast guest likes to think of himself as “a systems and processes guy”, and he takes that approach to build his philosophy on ‘grit’.


Colonel David Fivecoat is a retired US Army who spent 24 years as an infantry officer, leading men and women during contingency operations. After his service, he launched the Fivecoat Consulting Group, which helps organizations have better leaders through the six pieces of the Grit Puzzle. He is also a speaker, executive coach, and the author of Grow Your Grit: Overcome Obstacles, Thrive, and Accomplish Your Goals.


In this episode, David expands on what he believes is the true definition of grit and the six-pillar process of building grit and achieving one’s goals. 



Grit from a systems and processes approach.

Angela Duckworth, a renowned American author and academic, brought the term ‘grit’ into the self-improvement lingo through her famous TedTalk and bestselling book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. While David agrees with most of Duckworth’s philosophy, he felt that her book fell short in laying out a clear system or process for individuals to build grit. More importantly, David contests Duckworth’s definition of grit as being the power of perseverance and passion, specifically the latter. 


“I did some research, and surveys and tested it out with various clients. But I came to the conclusion that grit doesn't particularly need to have passion. And so my definition is the willingness to persevere to achieve long-term goals with no passion.”


David uses the analogy of walking your dog. It’s an activity that you do every day, but you wouldn’t necessarily call it a passion. You don’t for instance (and we assume) follow dog-walking blogs or train to become the ultimate dog walker. Instead, what you have is perseverance and commitment to do that one thing every day. You’ve incorporated this task into your daily routine so that it’s effectively ingrained into your overall system and processes. While passion might make growing your determination easier, it’s not an essential pillar in David’s philosophy of grit. 


The six pillars of building grit.

You might be asking: so if it's not passion, what keeps us going? What drives us to keep pushing?


Over the years, David had worked with clients and executives to help them build their grit and accomplish their goals. In the process, he was able to come up with “six different pieces of the grit puzzle” that lays out a process for people to develop and grow their grit.

The six pillars of grit are:


  1. Personal purpose.
  2. Goal-setting.
  3. Perseverance.
  4. Resilience.
  5. Courage. 
  6. Motivation.

Personal purpose.

The first step to building grit is identifying your purpose. What are your reasons to start your business? What are you trying to accomplish and why is it important to you?


Establishing your personal statement is the foundation of your commitment. Recognizing and understanding your purpose will help you with the rest of the grit-building process, especially when it comes to goal setting. 


Take out a pen and paper, dig deep and write down your ‘why’. 


Why are you here?

What are you trying to accomplish?

Why do you exist?



“About half of Americans set New Year's resolutions, but only about 9% actually achieve their resolutions. Most folks give up by Valentine's Day.”


If this sounds eerily familiar, it’s because we tend to set our goals without attaching a specific timeline or metrics to them. David recommends the tried and true SMART goal-setting method. SMART stands for goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. 


You probably use SMART goals in your business, and if you do, you’re on the right track. However, most of us neglect to apply this same principle in our for our personal life and forget to give ourselves a deadline to achieve a certain personal goal. Saying that you want to lose five pounds, for instance, might be specific, but it’s not time-bound. If you’re committed to a goal, you need to put it down in your daily calendar or to-do list. 


“If you're system-and process-oriented like me, you know that if something doesn't get on the calendar, then it doesn't get on the daily list, and therefore it doesn't happen.”


David recognizes that you, just like any business owner or executive, are limited on time. That’s why he recommends taking a closer look at your calendar and identifying activities you can take out to accommodate your goals. Going back to the weight-loss analogy, if you want to exercise for 15-minutes a day, what’s one thing you can give up to give yourself the space to work out? Doing so makes you aware and active in your decision-making and habit-building as well as prevents burnout.  

Perseverance and resilience. 

If you're setting out on your gritty journey, you're going to have some setbacks and face failure.  The only way to get through is to get yourself mentally prepared to bounce back from those setbacks. This is when perseverance and resilience come to play. 


As a busy business owner or entrepreneur, you’re not going to have the same routine every day. Therefore exercising flexibility in your daily routine to be able to hit your big goals is an element of perseverance so you can bounce back. 


“The key to resilience is leading yourself well, and taking care of yourself. Make sure that you're getting enough sleep, eating well, getting in some physical exercise even if it’s only 10 minutes a day, and that you’re practicing some sort of mindfulness.”


David recalls his time in the military when he was running on 6 hours of sleep and a copious amount of caffeine. He admits that he was unable to lead with positivity because his mood and behaviour were affected by his constant fatigue. The Great Resignation and quiet quitting are clear indicators of the failure of today’s hustle culture that advocates for 16-hour work days and limited time off. David points out that we get out best ideas when we’re in the shower because a) we’re focused on one task (getting clean) and b) we’re physically and mentally relaxed. Therefore, dedicating more time to rest and relax away from work can be as equally if not more productive than staying constantly switched on. 


One last recommendation for building resilience is to be efficient with your time off. For instance, when you go on a run or your daily walk, try to resist the temptation of listening to anything, be that a podcast or audiobook. Think of it as your chance to practice mindfulness and mentally recharge. 



“I did 102 parachute jumps over my career, and every one of them was scary. Fear is one of the big challenges in the military, and confronting it was super helpful for my growth. It wasn’t until I became a small business owner that I realized that the same sort of fear exists in entrepreneurship.


It’s only natural to fear and expect the worst when you’re starting out on your journey as an entrepreneur because many things can go wrong. For David, his fear as a new business owner materialized when he started his venture in March 2020, right when the COVID pandemic hit. He went on for an entire quarter without signing a single client. Most people would’ve given up on their goals, but due to his military training, David was able to confront his fear and strategize his way out. 


“To deal with this, I wrote down what my biggest fears were, and then I wrote the worst thing that would happen because of that fear. Of course, losing money was a big one. After that, I developed a mitigation strategy for each of those fears and ways to handle them.”


Fear is our natural reaction to the unknown, whether it’s a new experience or a parachute jump. The best way to deal with fear is to acknowledge it and plan for the worst. Once you have a contingency plan to fall back on, you’ll feel more in control and develop the courage to carry on. 


“Fight through that fear, get out there and try it.”



Finally, once you’ve identified your personal purpose, set up SMART goals to achieve it, and built your perseverance, resilience and courage, the final piece of the grit puzzle has to come from within you. 


“Science says that the most powerful motivational tool is our intrinsic motivator. If you have the desire to really lose that weight or stay in good shape, that’s the most powerful goal. But I find the gateway to get to that motivation is external or extrinsic motivation, which may require you to have a partner or a friend or a spouse or a coach, that is your accountability tool who’s going to ask you every couple of weeks, how's it going?”


Create a system with reminders to measure your progress and keep yourself accountable. Little victories like losing a pound or gaining traffic to your website will give you the motivation to keep pushing forward.


Another way to build that motivation is by starting small and building up over time. If you’re a busy entrepreneur who barely has time to build your fitness, a 45-minute workout might be discouraging. Add to that the time it takes to drive to and from the gym, shower and sit through traffic, then you’ll definitely abandon your goal altogether. Instead, start with a ten-minute exercise every day at your home, or a 15-minute run around the block. The easier you make it to start, the more excited you become about accomplishing that activity every day. Slowly but surely, you’ll find the courage and time to power through a 45-minute workout down the road. 

To conclude, David believes that everyone is capable of building grit.  


“I’m convinced that every single person can develop grit. You can continue to enhance it, develop it and figure out ways to get better at it. You gotta take that chance and work at it. It doesn’t come easy, and it needs some work. I also think Grit can transfer. You can leverage your grit from one arena into another.” 


Don’t forget to listen to the full episode with David Fivecoat, now live on the following platforms. 


Google Podcasts  

Apple Podcast


In Systems We Trust Podcast

Topics: Podcast