Do you need more grit?

Developing passion and perseverance for long term goals

Grit in common everyday language refers to the very small pieces of sand or stone found in air, food or water. In that context grit is an irritation. However, in psychology it is much more positive. In that case it relates to firmness of character or a tendency to keep going in spite of setbacks or failure. It is the tenacity to keep going no matter what. How much does grit matter in life? A lot.

The 6 minute TED talk below by Angela Duckworth opens up the question of how grit may well be the factor that distinguishes those who achieve and succeed in life with those who don’t.

We tend to assume that people succeed in life because of their natural giftedness or talent, their social intelligence or qualifications. But it is no way near as straight forward as that. I can think of a number of people who are talented and can do well academically in school, but then when the challenges in life became greater or more varied have struggled enormously. I have to confess that I too am one of those people.

Here is how Angela Duckworth in the video describes 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. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Defining grit is not easy. It is certainly helpful to break it down into passion and perseverance for long term goals. But it also includes a number of inter-related characteristics. Here is one extended definition I came across:

“Grit is a distinct combination of passion, resilience, determination, and focus that allows a person to maintain the discipline and optimism to persevere in their goals even in the face of discomfort, rejection and a lack of visible progress for years, even decades.”

There is a definite overlap with the growth mindset that Carol Dweck refers to (for more on that see here). Simply put a growth mindset means believing that your brain and skills are malleable and change over time. Much more common is a fixed mindset that believes you have what you were born with and that is it – you can’t change or develop. So when facing a problem or difficulty rather than self-judgement and just giving up because you believe you can’t do something, there is excitement and engagement. Simply changing your belief that learning is not fixed and can change with effort can lead to a different response to challenges. That means when attempting something and failing, you are much more likely to persevere because you don’t believe failure is a permanent condition. (See Never or Not Yet? On Having The Right Learning Mindset)

Here is a vivid picture of grit as described by Teddy Roosevelt in 1907:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strived valiantly; who errs, who comes again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

In  a future post we will look at how grit can grow and develop.
For now what questions, thoughts and comments about grit do you have?

You may also be interested in the following related posts:

Do you need courage today?

5 simple steps to finding courage for a tough call.

Podcast #013 How to grow in resilience.

9 ways to look at your failures with the eyes of faith, especially #7

How to fail and lose well Part 1

How to fail and lose well Part 2

What can J. K, Rowling teach us about failure?

A message to a scared future mother

Handling fear of the unknown

The two minute video below was produced for World Down Syndrome Day in March 2014. It is addressed to a mother who has found out that she is going to have a child with Down Syndrome. She says quite simply, “I’m scared.”

The video is the response and reflection from 15 young people with Down Syndrome from all over Europe. It is both poignant and challenging. In the video they answer the question, “What kind of life will my child have?”

The message from the video is that for this mother, it is entirely possible that her son’s life will be happy, just like theirs. They point out that as someone with Down syndrome he has the potential to be able to learn how to write, to travel, to earn a salary and take her out to dinner. And when he is older maybe to live independently. Yes they admit, sometimes it will be very difficult, almost impossible, but then and here is the simple but profound point – isn’t that the case for all mothers? Don’t all parents at some time or another feel at the end of their own resources?

The video also raises the issue of the intrinsic value of people with Down’s syndrome and other learning disabilities. The fact is that such people face enormous disadvantages in modern society, one of which is the basic unspoken belief that their lives are somehow less important than the everybody else’s. In other words there is the unspoken belief that such a life is less valuable, less worthwhile, less fulfilling and less worthy of attention.

Such implicit beliefs about what constitutes a valuable human life have devastating consequences. So in Europe it is estimated that roughly 90% of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted, a trend that has claimed, it is estimated, the lives of more than 55 million children to date. In the United States, the abortion rate for Down’s is given as 30%.

In the UK a new screening technique proposed in February 2015 could lead to an informal eugenics with an estimated 13% decrease in live births in babies with Down’s Syndrome. It has been pointed out that the number of babies with Down Syndrome aborted is set to increase if the UK Government follows the recommendation of the UK National Screening Committee (UKNSC) and adopts a new cfDNA (cell-free DNA) screening technique.

While the screening itself is being heralded as a move to reduce the number of miscarriages associated with invasive amniocentesis, the UKNSC appear to have downplayed the fact that their pilot study predicts cfDNA screening will detect 102 more babies with Down’s syndrome every year, of which it is expected that 92 will be aborted.

The eugenic abortion of people with Downs Syndrome or other disabilities often happens for two reasons:
1. Many parents whose children have been given a diagnosis or prognosis of foetal disability have experienced a presumption within the medical profession that they would opt for abortion.
2. There is a lack of information and support for parents who want to continue carrying a disabled child, or for those who might be considering adoption. (Steve Jobs was one such baby who was given up for adoption rather than aborted).

In other words the end result of this new screening technique is that certain kinds of people with disabilities would be effectively ‘screened out’ of the population before they are even born. (For more on eugenics and end of life issues see Podcast #017: The Last Taboo Subject?)

A similar attitude concerning relative value of one person over another is responsible for the widespread abortion of female babies in India and China. This has had dramatic effects in some areas on the ratios of male to female children. (For more on this see here).

Compare this to the perspective of Tim Harris who is featured in the 3 minute video below. At 14 years old, Tim dreamed of owning his own restaurant. He was born with Down syndrome, so his parents weren’t quite sure what to think. Yet soon after Tim began his first job at a gourmet burger restaurant a pathway began to emerge.

“[Customers] were visibly happy to see him and Tim really developed a following,” says Keith Harris, Tim’s father. “People would come to the restaurant specifically when he was working. As we sat there, we started thinking about how we could harness that for Tim’s benefit.”

So in 2010, thanks to lots of hard work and the support of his family, Tim’s Place opened for business, serving “breakfast, lunch, and hugs,” according to the restaurant’s web site,. The restaurant kept going until December 2015 when Tim decided he wanted to move to Denver to be nearer his girl-friend.  He has plans to open another restaurant there as well.

“I do not let my disability crush the dreams,” says Tim. “People with disabilities, they can get anything they set their minds to. They’re special. We are a gift to the world.”

Now, through his restaurant, Tim is further enabled and empowered to share that gift with those around him. It is true he provides high-quality food, but he also offers customers a deeper level of affection and connection. Tim is contributing to his community, and his contribution has an impact well beyond the burgers and bacon. “The hugs are way more important than the food,” says Tim. “The food is food.” All this is possible because Tim has Down syndrome.

Tim sees beyond his disability, viewing his value and worth in terms of something bigger and broader and richer: how he serves others.

While it is true that very few people with Down syndrome or disabilities will be able to own and run a restaurant, such a story illustrates the importance of human life as well as the blessing and encouragement that life can be to so many others. In their apparent weakness and vulnerability, people with Down syndrome and learning disabilities have something to teach the rest of us: that life can be celebrated in its own right and not in terms of what we get or consume.

How many scared future mothers could think differently about what the future might hold for them?

What thoughts and questions do these two videos raise for you?

How assertive should you be?

Getting the balance right

I am not a naturally assertive person. In fact I can at times really struggle with getting my point across. Should I speak up and risk a confrontation? Or should I remain silent? Is this an issue I should let pass or should I be making an issue here? Such thoughts can often go through my mind But I am sure I am not the only person with this issue.

The dilemma of what is appropriately assertive is vividly described in Solomon’s proverbs collected by Hezekiah (715-686 BC).  In the book of Proverbs (chapter 26:4-5) we find the two following sentences next to each other:
“Do not answer a fool according to his folly or you will be like him yourself.”
“Answer a fool according to his folly or he will be wise in his own eyes.”

The surprising thing is that although they are next to each to other, these two sentences are actually saying opposite things. How can that be? Why the apparent contradiction – when some one says something foolish, its best to keep quiet or you too will be foolish like them. Alternatively, when someone says something foolish you had better be assertive and speak up or that person will think he is being sensible. Depending on our personality we are likely to go for one more than the other. But which one is correct and more likely to get the response we require?

Podcast #017: The last taboo subject?

Making sense of the end of life

Death may well be the last taboo subject in modern Western society. The comedian Woody Allen is humorously quoted as saying, “I’m not afraid of dying. I just don’t want to be there when it happens!” And yet while we try to put the topic out of our minds, a clear understanding of our mortality is so important in bringing clarity to our complex and at times challenging lives. As Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, said two years before he died, “Remembering I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 10.16.34And how true that is! The death rate the last scientists checked was 100%!

In the great Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, one of the characters Yamaraja asks, “What is the most wonder-full thing in the world?” The answer he is given:

“Hundreds and thousands of living entities meet death at every moment, but a foolish living being nonetheless thinks himself deathless and does not prepare for death. This is the most wonder-full thing in this world.”

On today’s podcast we have the privilege of speaking to Professor John Wyatt. John is Professor of Neonatal Paediatrics at University College, London and a Senior Research Fellow at the Faraday Institute, Cambridge University. He is married to Celia and and they have three grown-up sons.


John has written extensively on the subject of medical ethics and his latest book is entitled, “Right To Die? Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide and End of Life Care.”

It is an important book that sensitively explores this difficult subject with both compassion and intellectual rigour.

Do join us for this discussion where we explore:

  • Why dying well is something we all need to think about, even though we instinctively want to avoid the subject.
  • How valuable is a human life, especially a life that cannot reach its full potential?
  • Are some people’s lives so painful and full of suffering that they are not worth living?
  • We naturally assume that doctors, nurses and health professionals are caring and compassionate, and have our best interests at heart when it comes to these complex issues. Why is it not as straight forward as that?
  • What are lessons we learn from history about assisted suicide, assisted dying, eugenics and euthanasia?
  • Those who advocate for euthanasia and assisted dying talk less about pain reduction and more about choice and control. Why is that?
  • Why is it important to talk about these issues not just in a theoretical way, but with tears in our eyes?
  • How the United Kingdom is a world leader in end of life and palliative care.
  • How contrary to popular perception, becoming dependent on others and getting old are not necessarily evil or bad things.
  • Why, as is commonly expressed, dying suddenly in your sleep with no warning may not be the best way to die at all.
  • How does the Bible look at suicide and suffering that reaches the point of despair?
  • How does the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ speak to these issues?
  • In the light of all this what does it mean to die well?


What thoughts, comments and reflections does this important subject raise for you?


7 Life Lessons From A Skiing Holiday

I’ve never previously skied in my life. So starting at the age of 50 may well have seemed like a foolish idea. I have to confess that skiing has never been a life ambition of mine. However, family duty meant that a skiing holiday planned almost a year in advance was on the cards.
The picture below is us with our instructor, Christoph in early April 2016:


In total 21 of us with my wife Sally’s family went away to France. We as the Raheja family had never skied before and so it seemed prudent to get lessons and take things cautiously. After a week of learning with my family I was clearly the slowest learner and most remedial skier of all of us. Sally’s family who are all very experienced have been very good at encouraging and being patient with us, especially me.

One week and thankfully no broken bones later here are some reflections and lessons from that time away. My intention is for this exercise in self-indulgence to encourage you in whatever challenges you may be facing:

Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat

Developing mental toughness

One of the exciting things about watching sport is it can give such a powerful illustration of overcoming adversity. No matter which game or sport it is there is something truly inspiring and exhilarating about watching a player or team turn a situation around that seemed hopeless or beyond rescue.

Recently in the world of T20 cricket in April 2016, West Indies were able to pull off a stunning victory over England in the final when Carlos Brathwaite in the last over was able to hit four successive 6s. What had only a few minutes earlier appeared to be a certain England victory was transformed into an amazing West Indian victory. But that is not the example I want to focus on.

The video below is from the 2001 Wimbledon Tennis Final  between the Croatian Goran Ivanisevic and Australian Patrick Rafter. To put this in context Ivansevic had played in 3 previous Wimbledon finals (1992, 1994 and 1998) and lost each time. Now aged 30 he had slipped to a world ranking of 125 and had only qualified to play at Wimbledon because as a three time runner-up he was entitled to a wild card entry. With the incredible demands on players at this level this would be his last chance at the title.

The video is the last 7 minutes of Ivanisevic playing Patrick Rafter in an epic five-set match at the 2001 Wimbledon Men’s Final. As you watch it get ready to be drawn into the emotional and dramatic final 7 minutes of the match.

This is  arguably one of the most dramatic matches in tennis history with intense displays of passion and emotion. Only twelve points are played, but no more than 7 strokes are exchanged. Ivanisevic serves at over 200km/h both his first and second serve, but becomes the only player in tennis history to miss two match points with double faults. His hunger and desperation to win are so evident as he prays and looks for lucky balls. He starts crying at 40-30, but he needs three more Championship points to finally be able to win the title.

Psychologists agree that what separates the good players from the truly great players at the highest level in any sport is not skill or technical ability, but something described as mental strength. Another way to put it more vividly is the phrase mental toughness.

What are the elements of mental toughness?

Can you find a way to win?

What makes a successful leader stand out from someone who suffers defeat? According to John Maxwell’s 15th Irrefutable Law of Leadership it is simply the unwillingness to accept defeat. To put it more positively, leaders find a way for the team to win. Why? Because the alternative to winning is completely unacceptable to them, they push on through to work out what must be done to achieve victory. When they fall down, they simply get back up again and look for another way to move forward.Sir-Winston-Churchill

The life of Winston Churchill illustrates this. While on the one hand he had an intense long-standing battle with depression and negative thoughts, the experience enabled him to develop a remarkable clarity about the Nazi threat. (See post Did Churchill’s Depression Make Him A Great War-time Leader?) It was in 1932 he was practically a lone voice when he warned:

“Do not delude yourselves….. Do not believe that all Germany is asking for is equal status…. They are looking for weapons and when they have them believe me they will ask for the return of lost territories or colonies.”

There was something about the way he had dealt with his own dark side manifesting as depression that enabled Churchill to see with clarity that no amount of negotiation could appease Hitler. (See Who Would You Choose: Chamberlain or Churchill?)

And when it came to the inevitability of war, Churchill was able to articulate the challenges that lay before the British nation that made clear the huge cost that would be required:

Podcast #016: Harry Potter and the Hindu Priest

No its not the next book!

They say truth is stranger than fiction. In many ways the life story of Rahil Patel illustrates that. To read about it in a novel would sound implausible, even fantastically impossible. And yet here is his life story with such surprising and unexpected twists and turns. But what has this to do with Harry Potter? You will have to keep reading and listening!

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 22.49.20

Rahil is of East African Kenyan Gujarati origin. He was brought up in North West London from the age of 5. At the age of 16 he gave a speech in a Hindu temple in London to 3,000 people that won him great acclaim. So much acclaim in fact that the head of the denomination, the Guru, who was there, encouraged him to become a Hindu priest.

And that is what Rahil became. A Hindu priest in a 200 year old denomination with 8,000 centres around the world and 1 million dedicated loyal followers. For 20 years he travelled first class around the world, clocking up 70,000 miles a year and speaking to crowds of thousands.

But at the same time there was a growing sense of inner restlessness and unease. He found himself struggling with doubts and questions. He searched through literature and devoured the Harry Potter series, unpacking for him a fantasy world of friendships and relationships that he previously never knew existed.

It was in 2016 that Rahil did meet J K Rowling and was able to tell her how her Harry Potter books were part of the journey to his spiritual awakening.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves! On this podcast I have the privilege of interviewing Rahil about his life and search for spiritual fulfilment. Do join us in this fascinating discussion that really shows how truth can be stranger than fiction.

After you have listened to the interview with Rahil you may well be interested in his book ‘Found By Love’ that is available below.

How does Rahil’s life story speak to you?

What is the story you are telling yourself?

Our internal stories and maps

We all love to hear stories. Stories are what give meaning and colour to life. I remember how at a very young age one of our children developed a fantasy world with three characters ‘Hobie, Hatsie and Hammo’. Another child created an inner world of two mothers – calling them a ‘white mum’ and a ‘dark mum’. Both these children loved to live in those fantasy worlds, creating stories of meaning and significance to them, even though they were only 3 or 4 years old.

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 15.52.57But stories are not just something for young children. Actually all the time we are telling stories to ourselves. Right now there is a story going on in your mind about something going on in your life. What do I mean?
In life all sorts of surprises and unexpected events can happen. However, as important as what happens to us is our interpretation of what happens to us. The see-do-get model is a good starting point. It is very simple, but also quite profound.

What this says is that the way we see the world (our paradigm) leads to what we do (our attitudes and behaviours) and what we do leads to the results we get in our lives.

That is not normally how we think or how we see change….

Why understanding Easter brings hope

Hope is a funny word in the English language. When we use it in everyday conversation we tend to speak in terms of a vague possibility that may or may not come to pass. So we say, for example, “I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow.” It may or may not rain tomorrow and I am not entirely sure what the actual outcome will be. So I use the word hope to describe my uncertainty. But hope is a much richer and deeper word than that.


In the dictionary, hope is “an optimistic attitude of mind based on an expectation of positive outcomes related to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large”. As a verb, its definitions include: “expect with confidence” and “to cherish a desire with anticipation”.

The truth is we cannot live without hope. In fact hope is more fundamental than even food and water, as our bodies can survive for a period of time without them. But take away hope and one’s fundamental purpose for living is gone. Without hope even the smallest challenges seem impossible to handle. It can be hard to even get out of bed in the morning if there is no hope. As a psychiatrist in training loss of hope was one of the states of mind we were encouraged to search for in all the patients whom we interviewed. The reason? That loss of hope could be a pointer to a potential risk of suicide.

But when you are filled with hope in the future you can face anything in the present.

In  the early 1930s the Communists in China were in disarray and pessimistic about their future role and influence. On 5th January 1930 Mao Tse-Tung wrote a famous letter called, “A Single Spark Can Start A Prairie Fire,” challenging their doubts and fears about ever taking power. Building on the idea that revolution would come ‘soon,’ (it would be still be another 19 years):