Over the past few months, I have gotten myself immersed in the research on grit and how it relates to my own Mindfulness journey. I love stories on each. I count myself as a gritty person. When I had an anxiety phase some years back, I immersed myself in an active practice to get out. I ran a marathon a few months after a surgery and I have never let any circumstance in my life to get in the way of what I want to achieve. I have made bad choices and I have flown out of them. Wounded and vulnerable, but happier.
Grit is a story everyone loves. Watch a movie and have you found yourself rooting for that underdog to win. She is resilient, she is gritty and she is the one who deserves it. It connects to the human spirit at very deep levels.
It’s the triumph of us as a race, it’s the subliminal message that we can achieve whatever we want to, if we have it in us. Selena Gomez underwent a kidney transplant and shared her story of victory over lupus and we all watched it with tears in our eyes. Lance Armstrong won seven grueling victories at the Tour de France, overcoming a cancer diagnosis and treatment that could have ended his career and his dreams. Andre Agassi suffers from a degenerative disorder called spondylolisthesis and yet played tennis and won multi-tournaments to emerge stronger. Erik Weihenmayer, an American athlete, author and motivator not only became the first blind person to climb Mt. Everest but also the first blind person to raft in the Colorado river.
There are millions of stories of human grit and each reminding you in the power of the human mind.
But what is Grit:
Grit is not talent
Grit is defined as having perseverance and passion for long-term goals. It is challenging yourself despite your fears. It’s being resilient. It’s having the willingness to fail, fail again, and to fail better until you finally succeed.
Duckworth and her colleagues in their book talked about the role of talent in grit. While she noted the need for further research in this area, preliminary interviews indicated that the quality that distinguished star performers in their respective fields was not necessarily talent, but exceptional commitment to ambitions and goals. In fact, she concluded, that “to the extent that challenge is higher for individuals of modest ability, grit may matter more, not less.”
We all know the story of John Rockefeller. Before becoming possibly, the richest man in history, John Rockefeller was the son of a con artist and high-school student in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. Although he had some education, by the time he was sixteen, Rockefeller decided it was time to shirk school and begin a career—with the goal of earning $100,000 in his lifetime. And needless to say, he did it.
In all, we can conclude that:
Grit is awesome
But has grit gone wild?
In our focus on grit and its immediate relationship to success, have we forgotten that grit comes in all forms and packages and that we define success from a very narrow lens of what is the "norm".
It forgets that a "whole child" doesn't fit the mold of gritty achievement but is a process of happiness and of finding peace with who they are.
It removes the focus from the parents, from the past, from mental health issues, from trauma, from peer pressure, from school environment, from angsty teachers and brings the pressure onto the individual. "You are just not gritty enough". In all, it grinds the individual into a "one size fits all" mold and truly forgetting the human within. It brings shame to being vulnerable, it brings shame to not being gritty enough, it brings shame to non-achievement.
But more than that, it removes the focus from the ones who love the arts or like to explore the outdoors on a wild summer day, the ones who prefer dancing to coding, the ones who finish a book in a day, the ones who love to cook and the ones who want to take life just life as is.
It removes focus from vulnerability - that one person who shared that he once tried to take his life, that one who showed up at the drug addiction center or the one who showed up to his school despite a gun fight on the walk to his school?
Grit and success as Angela Duckworth describes fits the mold of an overachiever, who is obsessed with wealth and status. But what about happiness, what about connection or what about relationships?
What about empathy and compassion? What about kindness? What about the one who served food in the soup kitchen every Sunday. Is he not gritty? What about the one who relentlessly rescued every single pup and kitten? And the one who smiled at every single person he met?
Isn't it all grit? Isn't it all resilience - not defined in terms of success, wealth and status but purely in terms of the one thing that matters - "the human spirit".
While grit celebrates the human spirit, the way it’s being rallied does a disservice to our definition of both grit and the human spirit.
What we need to cultivate are the environment, the pedagogy and the relationships that promote happiness, the love of the moment and compassion. We need to focus on what I call as "The Whole Grit".
And that’s where Mindfulness comes in
Mindfulness simply is paying attention to the here and now. It’s about being present as much for the journey as for the destination. When Jon Kabat-Zinn writes about the benefits of mindfulness meditation, he describes it as, “the only intentional, systematic human activity which at bottom is about not trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, but simply to realize where you already are. Perhaps its value lies precisely in this. Maybe we all need to do one thing in our lives simply for its own sake.”
Mindfulness and Grit may seem opposite but to me Mindfulness is the stepping stone to being on the journey of "whole grit". While Mindfulness may not sit well with anyone preoccupied with the concept of the macro achievements using grit, it is a powerful concept for achieving happiness and "whole grit". After all, what even is the goal of this human life.
Mindfulness helps embrace the challenge: With kids, especially with low self-confidence or ones with trauma, "Hell No", is often the first reaction. A mindfulness practice can help them with the awareness to recognize this initial reaction and challenge their instinctive reaction.
It helps enjoy the process: Rather than obsessing over classes to go to, grades to achieve, time schedules and beating oneself up for non-achievement, it teaches to simply enjoy the fact that we are learning. It builds an element of curiosity and non-judgement and of being in the process rather than the product.
It helps both the student and the educator to let go of the result as defined by the standards:While this is a tough one for both educators and students who are in a place where there is massive obsession with grades and results, it helps build a pride in the fact that we are giving our best shot. When we are not, it helps us being aware of the fact that we are not there yet.
It teaches that it’s so much easier not to try, than to try and fail: As you get into a steady practice of mindfulness, each day teaches you that its better to curl up in bed or read or engage in some other activity than to try and fail at meditation. But not exploring your mind is such a massive opportunity to let go.
It teaches that its okay to be vulnerable: Grit and its suck it up culture does disservice to vulnerability and the beauty in it. Mindfulness lets kids know that sadness, frustrations are just emotions which are a part of the human existence. It’s what makes life. And that its okay to be vulnerable, its okay to cry and there is no shame in it. Vulnerability is a lever of the "whole grit" for it takes courage to accept the feelings within.
It teaches kindness and compassion: Grit has moved the focus from the importance of kindness and compassion to more individualistic parameters of success. Our world can do more with a collective consciousness movement rather than a singly focused idea of success.
As we introduce Mindfulness and the concept of "whole grit, the focus moves from the outside benchmarks of achievement to the inside benchmarks of achievement. The focus shifts from being a product to the process of learning and happiness. The focus shifts from the tangible grades to the intangible happiness and being in the present moment.
“There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hand. I love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes in a summer morning… I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a reverie amidst the pines and hickories and sumaches, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flitted noiselessly through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveler’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time. I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life but so much over and above my usual allowance.” - Walden