"See this period as the opportunity to train yourself in grit, resilience, or mental toughness. It doesn’t matter what you call it but know two things – It is trainable, and positivity plays a big part in all of it." - Stuart White
"See this period as the opportunity to train yourself in grit, resilience, or mental toughness. It doesn’t matter what you call it but know two things – It is trainable, and positivity plays a big part in all of it." - Stuart White|Source: Pixabay
Truth Well Told (TWT)

True Grit

Stuart White looks at what it takes to ensure we train ourselves in grit, resilience, and mental toughness.

By Stuart White

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I am working closely with two MDs who hardly surprisingly both feel emotionally tested by a second lockdown. They feel that they were just getting things back on track and regaining when the wind was sucked from their sails again, as business activity has for the most part ground to a halt. As one of them asked, “How much more can be thrown at me?”, as along with this she simultaneously battles several personal health and financial challenges? Of course, I don’t have an answer because let’s face it, you couldn’t make this year up. I also have no clear answer in terms of what each manager should work on in terms of how they are experiencing it all.

An obvious place to go is to the resilience domain which Psychology Today describes as “that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, they find a way to rise from the ashes.” Basically, it’s the ability to bounce back – being able to put up with disappointment and setbacks and instead of you spiralling into a depression or wallowing in it, you get back up, dust yourselves off and continue with your life.

I have no doubt that the people and businesses which survive this period will be the ones who are resilient. I had a sort of epiphany on this the other day when I was out running. I was reflecting that when I started running a few months ago after a decade-long hiatus, each time I would start the run with a feeling of dread. Fear. I feared the discomfort – the heavy breathing, the hills, the struggle. I have spent a chunk of my life as a runner, so I was familiar with how to run physically but I had forgotten how to run mentally. A few months on and it is different. I look forward to the discomfort and struggles which comes with running, the heavy breathing from exertion, the sight of a big hill up ahead that says to me ‘ok now ,this is going to hurt’. I had forgotten that the struggle is all part of it and now it’s the part which I relish. As you can imagine, the shift in attitude and mental toughness has resulted in a shift in achievement and performance.

Resiliency
ResiliencySource: Pixabay

It’s the same thing that is needed dealing with this period. Mental toughness is having that “personality trait which determines in large part how individuals deal with stress, pressure and challenge irrespective of circumstances” (Strycharczyk, 2015). With my two managers I was asking myself if they should be working with resilience which would allow then to recover from the setback of a second lockdown or should their focus be mental toughness which could help prevented them from experiencing a setback in the first place? As Strycharczyk further puts it, “All mentally tough individuals are resilient, but not all resilient individuals are mentally tough”.

Or maybe it’s about grit which may appear synonymous with mental toughness, but I think it is more than that. Guy Claxton defines it as “the tendency to sustain interest and effort towards long term goals. It is associated with self-control and deferring short term gratification”.

One simple way to think about the differences between resilience and grit is that resilience more often refers to the ability to bounce back from short-term struggles, while grit is the tendency to stick with something long-term, no matter how difficult it is or how many roadblocks you face. In today’s world for us that means dealing with these short-term interruptions like lockdown and settling into the new normal.

Back to my runner’s analogy, when training we work on discomfort - that’s what the long runs and hill work are all about. Eventually you find yourself in that place where you feel physically depleted – often referred to as ‘hitting the wall’ - and then all that you are left with is the mind. Different runners have different strategies, but it seems most have a combination of using associated and detached thinking when the going gets tough, a mix of internal and external thoughts. So, the runner recites internal stuff like a mantra - for example, ‘I am strong, I am tough’. Long-distance runner Kara Goucher, for example, said "I try to think about positive things - how great my form is, how my arms are swinging, my breathing, how loud people are cheering. My sports psychologist taught me there are a million things telling you, you can't keep going, but if you find the things that say you can, you're golden”.

For Ryan Hall who has the second fastest marathon time by an American, he is more outward focused in his thinking. “I think about Jesus on the cross. I think about my wife. I think about my family watching the race at home. Sometimes I really don't think about anything. I find the best way to manage pain is not to have a set formula because different things work at different times. What matters is that the thoughts are positive”.

So here’s the rub. If you, like two of my managers, are struggling currently, it doesn’t matter whether you have internal or external goals and drivers as long as you have a plan. See this period as the opportunity to train yourself in grit, resilience, or mental toughness. It doesn’t matter what you call it but know two things – It is trainable, and positivity plays a big part in all of it. You might be comparing it to the unanswerable riddle of which came first, the gritty chicken issue or the resilient egg problem, but I say it doesn’t matter as long as you don’t stick your head in the sand like an ostrich. Tough times are not going away, and nobody ever won by being chicken but they well might have ended up with egg on their face!

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