Building Grit in This Pandemic

Seven ideas for developing grit and why it is important.

Posted Jul 03, 2020

I think we all could use a bit of grit right now (or yesterday, or last month), no? 

According to the Oxford dictionary, grit means “courage and resolve; strength of character.” (It also means small loose particles of stone or sand, but that’s not what we are talking about today.) Grit is being able to hold on tight and stay committed to something important to you, even when the going gets tough. 

Sasint/Pixabay
Source: Sasint/Pixabay

Grit’s powerful cousin is resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back after going through something difficult. I always think of a rubber band snapping back when I think of resilience. Or, as Nelson Mandela said, “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” That right there is resilience.

One could argue that we need resilience to build grit. It is this ability to pick ourselves back up even after we’ve fallen countless times that permits us to stay with the long and often arduous journey. 

When we think of grit, our minds often go to stories of extreme tenacity and triumph over unlikely odds. It may feel like this concept is out of reach. However, this is something we can develop and access to confront life’s everyday hurdles. And right now there are many, many hurdles we are all contending with. Some extra grit might just help us get through this pandemic. 

In science, both grit and resilience are linked to growth, success, and overcoming challenges. I think one of the most hopeful things to come out of the research on grit is that it is a trait we can develop. 

There is interesting research on grit conducted by Dr. Angela Duckworth, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. (If you haven’t seen it yet, Duckworth gave an excellent TED talk that is worth watching.) Duckworth describes grit as something that is both inherent and developable. This trait is both nature and nurture. That is, while people are born with different degrees of ‘grittiness’ you can develop more grit throughout your life by adopting certain mindsets and taking specific actions. She developed a scale to measure how gritty you currently are to give you an idea of where you fall on the continuum. Angela Duckworth, in her research, identified five core components of grit: courage, conscientiousness, perseverance, resilience, and passion. In other words, it is perseverance in the pursuit of that which we are passionate about that makes up grit. 

However, this post is less about delving into the scientific underpinnings of grit and more about offering some ideas on how we can cultivate more grit. 

“Grit” is a word that can feel vague and elusive when used in conversation. When we don’t define and concretize a concept, unintentionally its accessibility and attainability may get lost. It may feel like grit is a linear trait: either you have it or you don’t. Thankfully, as mentioned above, that is not the case. This is something every one of us can intentionally build. 

So, how can we all, right now, start on a grittier journey? How can we take a step back from what is happening and look inward to show up and keep on at it, not only for ourselves but for all the people around us? 

After all, in the world we are currently in, it sometimes feels like we need grit to get through the day, let alone to achieve grander goals. I believe we could all benefit from a healthy dose of grit to stay this pandemic course with its high levels of uncertainty, fatigue, and stress

Grit, right now, feels so very relevant. 

Here are seven ideas for how you can develop this trait:

1. Pinpoint what you value. What gives you a sense of purpose and puts a bounce in your step? It’s sobering how so many of us are living lives that are not in sync with our deepest and truest path. If we don’t know tangibly what it is we cherish, how can we acquire a sense of passionate purpose? Look at the different domains of your life such as family, friends, career, leisure, and spirituality, and find what gives you a sense of meaning in each category.

2. Take small steps to prevent burnout. I’ll tell you one thing for sure, grit doesn’t develop by biting off more than we can chew and sizzling out as a result. It’s taking small baby steps in pursuit of your goals. Focus on the journey rather than the outcome. Celebrate and learn to redefine small successes. In this vein, even a rejection letter can be viewed as a triumph because it reflects effort and is a conduit in developing resilience. 

3. See failure as a gift. When we fall off the horse, or we’re thrown off track by some other force (I’m talking to you, coronavirus), in shifting our mindset from one of helplessness to one of hopefulness, we can develop grit. How do we do this? Look at failure or a setback as an opportunity to grow. Because it is. We all know the famous quotes (see the one by Nelson Mandela above as an example) and statistics about how some of the most accomplished people showed tremendous resilience and grit by failing over and over again until they found success.

4. Find balance. It’s good to be gritty, but don’t make it all about the grit. Take a breather. Go for a walk. Watch a sunrise or a sunset. Start a brainless book or color. Find how you can ground yourself and relax so that you don’t grind yourself to the ground. We all need leisure and relaxation to provide a counterbalance to toughness and hard work. 

Pixabay
Source: Pixabay

5. Create a community of people who share the value of grit. There is a popular quote by motivational speaker Jim Rohn that says we are the average of the five people we surround ourselves with most. Science corroborates that we are most definitely affected by those around us. We tend to mirror other people’s emotions. If we are with happy people, we feel happier. Sad people, we feel sadder. It’s a logical derivative then, to say, if we surround ourselves with gritty people, we get grittier. Pause here for a moment and think about who you most interact with. Are they gritty? Try to spend time with people who share this value. Their tenacity will rub off on you, inspire you, and help keep you on track. 

6. Remember times when you’ve been gritty and hold on to this when you’re in a slump. Creating a gritty narrative for yourself will take you far. If you remember times when you’ve had to work hard and stay focused to accomplish something important to you, you’ll know you have it in you to meet your current situation. Not only that, but remember how you felt during and after times you were gritty. Tapping into these feelings of empowerment and capability that come with accomplishing difficult tasks become intrinsic motivators. 

7. Lastly, please remember: being gritty is not the same thing as being harsh with yourself. You can do all of the above with an air of self-directed kindness and generosity.