On January 10th, 2015, a first-stage rocket crashed onto a barge floating on the south Atlantic ocean.

The rocket, used to propel a second-stage craft into orbit around the Earth, was expected to free-fall back to Earth and use a complex system of thrusters to land upright on a futuristic, self-navigating, drone barge.

The rocket slightly miscalculated the landing, crashing hard onto the barge.

At anywhere from $40,000,000 to $846,000,000 a pop, rocket launches are difficult to budget for. The tens of millions of dollars it costs to conduct a low-orbit launch are hard to sell, which partially explains why the United States government-led NASA abandoned their space shuttle program in 2011.

Yet, SpaceX--the spaceflight company created by Telsa founder and PayPal co-founder Elon Musk--had imagined a way to drastically cut the cost of launching anything into space: simply make the rocket re-usable.

They constructed a rocket which could theoretically launch, release a payload, and land vertically minutes after take-off in order to be refueled and launched again at a later time, indefinitely.

Their first attempt to land the rocket at sea failed, but not enough to deter Musk and the SpaceX team. They repaired the rocket and made adjustments based on data they received from the crash, then tried the landing again. And again they failed. They tried again, and failed again.

Each attempt to safely land the first-stage rocket ended in a hard landing, leading to months of costly repairs and improvements. But each failed landing also uncovered information the team could take to improve their systems and the rocket itself.

Finally on April 8th, 2016, for their fifth attempt, SpaceX accomplished the task of launching a payload into space and landing the first-stage rocket safely on a floating barge in the middle of the ocean.

What led the team to keep trying, even after their first failed attempt? Musk himself is quoted as having said of their first flight: "If the vehicle does not become reusable, I will consider us to have failed."

They did fail, and yet they didn't give up. Why?

The answer lies in Musk and co's remarkable amount of grit. Research has shown that grit is even more important than intelligence or talent when it comes to succeeding. Even the most triumphant among us occasionally fail. What they don't do is quit.

How can you become more resilient, is grit something we can control or develop?

Just ask Angela Duckworth, a Harvard graduate and psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Duckworth specializes in the psychology of grit, she's spent the bulk of her career studying it. 

On the question of whether or not grit is something you can develop, Duckworth explains in a podcast for Freakonomics.com:

"What specifically are gritty people like? What do they do when they wake up in the morning? What beliefs do gritty people walk around with in their heads? When you get to that level of specifics, you realize there's no reason why these things couldn't be taught, practiced, or learned."

The Four-Part Formula to Getting More Grit

What are gritty people like? There are four things Duckworth explains that make up the formulate to developing more grit:

1. Practice

Deliberate practice means learning as you go, getting feedback from your experience as well as from others.

The SpaceX team didn't attempt to land on a barge in the ocean from the get-go, they instead practiced with lighter rockets, on land first. Once they mastered that, they attempted the sea landing.

Any time they failed they merely thought of it as having had been another practice attempt.

2. Purpose

Purpose is anything you can develop an interest in over long term. Practice is useless if what you're practicing is something you don't feel purposeful about or can be highly interested in.

Of course, the word purpose gets thrown around a lot. What's important isn't that you find some natural calling, but instead find something you can readily dive deeper into the more you learn.

For SpaceX, that meant not only developing a rocket which could launch and land upright, but also meant exploring secondary and tertiary parts of the project: like a drone barge.

3. Hope

Failure is often inevitable, but if we learn to embrace failure as an opportunity to learn, improve, and then get back up again, we're more likely to succeed in future attempts.

To develop more grit you must start with hope, and learn that it's alright to fail as long as you don't give up or quit.

4. Time

The last part of the grit formula is simply time. Time to devote yourself to practice, purpose, and developing from failure.

Having something you can be highly interested in, something you can deliberately practice and readily get feedback on, something where you hope that you can succeed, are all important The key is, of course, giving yourself time to practice and learn and stay in the game.

Published on: May 16, 2016