Face Your Challenges: Do You Have Grit, Resilience, Bounce-Back?
Can You Find Strength in Adversity?
No One Ever Promised That Life Would Be Fair
My mother is a soft soul who imparted some cold, hard truth.
Like many kids, my siblings and I whined about fairness and equal treatment while growing up. Always keeping score, we knew who got more. We each sought to get what we had coming to us.
But before we faced life's uncertain journey, Mom made sure her youngsters understood that the road ahead would not always be easy. That's because sometimes what you have coming to you is unfortunately what you least want or expect.
She warned: "Life is not fair. Whoever told you it would be? Get used to it." No truer words have been spoken.
Potholes in Life's Pathway: Don't Fall In!
When you fall in life's potholes, how do you handle the adversity?
Buttercup, You're Beautiful
Suck It Up, Buttercup: Life Can Be Mean and Unpredictable
Nothing can prepare you for the potholes in life's pathway to "Happily Ever After." Will YOU face the horrors of
- the trauma of accidents
- stillborn babies
- poverty or
- incurable diseases?
I hope not, but more importantly ... if you do, how will you respond?
Some people are swallowed whole by life's potholes. They are ravaged and consumed by the experience of their trauma. (This doesn't make them lesser people, of course.)
In contrast, there are others who respond to life's potholes by clawing, scratching, and climbing their way out with remarkable perseverance. No matter the tragedy or adversity they encounter, somehow they manage to suck it up and keep moving on.
Which are you? Do you know yet?
You Are More Than What Happens to You
A person's character is built not so much in what happens to him but in what he (or she) makes happen. Life's journey can be harrowing at times, and you cannot always control its events. However, you can choose your response.
What can you create from your circumstances? What can you do with a broken body or a wounded spirit? Can you adapt, conquer adversity, and bounce back? Can you become stronger, wiser, and ultimately an even better person from having struggled? Can you help others in their journeys?
Two qualities that help propel people forward in the face of difficulty are resilience and grit. They are qualities worth emulating.
Resilience: Determination in the Face of Difficulty
Resilience is the process of adapting well to tragedy, threats, or extremely stressful life experiences.1 It refers to the thoughts, feelings, and actions involved in "bouncing back" from painful events.
New research has uncovered that resilience is a complex interaction among our
- neurobiology (e.g., levels of stress-related neurotransmitters)
- individual development, and
- patterns of thinking.2
Resilience has been found useful in both the short and long term, as evidenced by the following studies:
- Resilience predicts life satisfaction.3
- Higher levels of resilience in widows is related to lower levels of psychiatric distress.4
- High-resilient people with chronic pain conditions reported more positive emotions and less "pain catastrophizing" (ruminating about pain).5
- Higher levels of resilience among spousal caregivers of Alzheimer's patients predicted lower levels of depression a year later.6
- Among older adults with Fibromyalgia, resilience predicted physical functioning.7
The Ball Is in Your Court
Factors that are related to higher levels of personal resilience include:
- the ability to make and stick to realistic plans
- self-confidence in your abilities and strengths
- a strong social network (caring relationships that provide role models and encouragement throughout healing)
- solid problem solving and communication skills
- impulse control and
- finding positive meaning in your life after trauma.
Dust Yourself Off and Rebound
Positive emotions help build the capacity to cope with negative life events by allowing you to look forward and put personal trauma into a broader perspective. Coping is culturally influenced, and fortunately, adaptive "bounce back" strategies can be learned.
Ultimately, resilience involves making sense of your suffering and even using your misfortune to your advantage. Even for those who have been exposed to extreme situations—such as combat, natural disasters, and acts of criminal violence—resilience makes it is possible to move on.
Stress Can Make You Sick
Both positive and negative life events can produce stress. Experiencing more stressful life events has been found to be related to increased illness.
Take The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale to assess your risk of stress-related illness, then double down on your resilience!
Life Is Not Fair: The Cold Hard Facts
More than 1 in 5 American adults is functionally illiterate. They cannot read beyond a fourth-grade level.8 (The preceding two sentences were written at an eighth-grade level.)
In high-income countries like the United States, the rate of stillbirth is one percent of all pregnancies.9 African countries, such as Ghana, face a rate that is ten times higher than developed nations.
According to studies, 1 in 4 of today's 20 year-olds will become disabled before they reach age 67.10
Each year, out of every 1,000 Americans, approximately 25 become the victim of a violent crime.11
One in 6 Americans struggles with hunger. Many of them are children, seniors, and working adults.12
Death of a Spouse
Widows made up 34% of the American population that was 65 and older in 2016, and widowers comprised 12%.13 Death of a spouse is a substantial life stressor and can happen at any age.
Flourish or Flounder? Victim or Victor?
Get Your Life Back: 9 Tips For Bouncing Back
Faced with trauma, the human spirit often responds with the drive to self-heal. If you have faced a physical or emotional pothole on your life's journey, here are nine tips for bouncing back:
- Connect: Lean on your social network for role models and support. Learn how to ask for the help you need. Reach out to others as a survivor or a mentor. For example, if you struggle with an illness, provide support and informational assistance to those who are newly diagnosed.
- Constructive distraction: Stay active, purposeful, and busy. Delve into a hobby, pursue self-development, or further your education.
- Fake it until you make it.
- Develop routines. The autopilot of routines can carry you through dark times.
- Take a walk on the lighter side of life. Pursue with reckless abandon goofy movies, funny cat videos, or whatever makes you laugh. (Even your own hardship can be laughable in the right situation.)
- Practice self-care by following a healthy diet and getting sufficient exercise and sleep.
- Develop perspective. In the grand scheme nothing is perfect, and none of us gets out of this world alive. Enjoy the world while you're here.
- Find something to look forward to every day, no matter how small.
- Watch your self-talk, that inner loop that constantly plays in your head. Label yourself as a victor, not a victim, one who flourishes, rather than flounders.
Dig Down Deep and Make It Happen
Need Inspiration? Quiet Heroes Abound
If you are facing a pothole on life's pathway and need inspiration for resilience, just look around you. Quiet heroes abound. Rather than being rare, resilience is actually common.
Approximately 7-8% of the population experiences Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at some point in their lives. If this is you, seek professional help and know that you are not alone.
This Is How Winners Are Made
Another psychological quality worth honing is grit. "Psychological grit" refers to long-term goal-focused effort. You can take the Grit Scale here.
Gritty individuals are able to maintain high levels of motivation and determination over long periods of time—months to years. Leading grit researcher Angela Duckworth, Ph.D., believes that grit can be learned.
You Got This!
True Grit Required
Call it grit or a crazy level of determination over time. Here are several examples of common folks who must display uncommon levels of stick-to-itiveness to achieve their dreams.
Olympian gymnast Aly Raisman started gymnastics at age 2 in a Mommy and Me class.14 She became serious about the sport at age 8 or 9, training more than 30 hours each week in preparation for the Olympics.
Her family did not go on vacation for almost 6 years because Aly couldn't be away from the gym more than two days. Other Olympians, such as Gabby Douglas, have had to move from their homes and families to attend training facilities.
On average, students take 8.2 years to complete a Ph.D. program (twice as long as a bachelors), and are 33 years old when they finish. Only 57% of students who start Ph.D. programs finish within 10 years, and 40% go into debt to complete their degrees.15
In addition to classes, a doctoral student must pass comprehensive examinations, assist professors with teaching and research, and propose, write, and defend a dissertation. A dissertation is an original, book-length contribution to the academic literature.
Special Forces Training
Special Forces candidates endure training that is mental and physical hell as they prepare for a career as commandos who infiltrate hot spots around the globe.
Training lasts more than a year from basic training to becoming an expert in unconventional warfare, and the soldiers develop expertise in combat survival, parachuting from airplanes, and another country's language, customs, traditions. Only a small percentage pass selection and complete Special Forces Training.
Squirrels Are Some of the Most Determined Creatures
Readers: Share Your Experience
Tell us about your experience with grit and resilience in the Comments Section below.
What personal difficulty have you faced?
What strategies have you used to remain resilient?
Who inspires you in your struggle?
Finishing the Marathon
Rather than focusing on the sprint, gritty people are committed to goal achievement: completing that marathon, finishing their novel, becoming fluent in a new language, or quitting smoking. They push beyond the "good enough," enduring long and often boring periods of practice time spent alone.
On their road to expertise, gritty people develop "stretch goals" for themselves and are not afraid to operate outside of their comfort zone. To bolster their performance, they seek out those who have higher levels of skill competence than they do. They also relentlessly pursue feedback, concentrating on the negative aspects of their performance in order to excel.
Hey, I've Got Grit -- Do You?
My Brief Grit Story
I pride myself on my grit, and according to the test results, I scored in the top 95% of grittiness. It took me more than seven years, but I finished a Ph.D. program that I thought would bury me at some points. It didn't help that during the process, I also had a baby, encountered medical problems, moved twice, and parented my child alone for several months while my husband worked at his new job. (Hey, life happens!)
Grit, however, was one thing that got me through. I found that later in life when I needed a reserve of strength, I relied on my graduate school experience. If I could make it through that, I could complete anything I set out to do.
I hope you're gritty, too.
Look To Famous Examples for Inspiration of Grit and Resilience
Examples of people who have flourished under difficult circumstances abound. If you need inspiration, consider the following famous people. Each of them have either faced adversity as they achieved their goal or coped with personal trauma:
Grit Is Gorgeous
Famous People Who Demonstrated Grit and Resilience
Ludwig van Beethoven (German composer and pianist)
Profound hearing loss; possible Bipolar Disorder
Composed some of his most important works while deaf
Claude Monet (French Impressionist painter)
Suicidal depression; cataract-induced blindness
During his later years, painted almost purely from memory
Michael Jordan (Greatest basketball player of all time)
Cut from his high school basketball team; missed more than 9,000 shots in his career; lost more than 300 games
Led the NBA record in scoring for 10 seasons; tied Wilt Chamberlain's record of 7 consecutive scoring titles
John Cougar Mellencamp (Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter)
Spina Bifada (neural tube defect)
Inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (32nd U.S. President)
Paralysis from the waist down due to either Polio or Guillain-Barre syndrome
Taught himself to walk short distances with a cane and by swiveling his torso; served 4 Presidential terms
Temple Grandin (Activist for animal rights and autism)
Autism; did not talk until she was 3 1/2 years old
Earned a Ph.D. in animal science; wrote best selling books
Helen Keller (American author and political activist)
Deafness and blindness as a result of a "brain fever"
Wrote 12 published books and articles; graduated from college; helped found American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
Gabrielle "Gabby" Giffords (American Congresswoman)
Survived an assassination attempt involving a gunshot to her head
Recovered some of her ability to walk, speak, read and write
Stephen Hawking (British theoretical physicist)
Motor neuron disease similar to ALS (Lou Gerhig's disease); poor grades in school as a child
Author of bestseller; professor at Cambridge University for 30 years
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French Impressionist painter)
Severe Rheumatoid Arthritis
Continued to paint using a brush that was wedged into his contorted hand
Michael J. Fox (Canadian/American tv actor)
Author of bestsellers; compelling testimony before Congress in support of Parkinson's research
John McCain (American Senator)
Prisoner of War for 5 1/2 years during Vietnam; endured torture
Became known as a "maverick" in U.S. politics; Republican nominee for President in 2008
Al Gore (American Vice President)
Lost controversial election dispute for President in 2000
Awarded Nobel Peace Prize for his work in climate change
Gritty Girl's (and Guy's) Anthem: What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger
- Resilience and grit help move people forward in the face of personal difficulty.
- Resilience is the process of "bouncing back" or adapting well to tragedy, threats, or extremely stressful life experiences.
- Studies have found that resilience is related to useful short and long-term consequences, from life satisfaction to lower levels of depression.
- Psychological grit refers to long-term goal-focused effort. This "stick-to-it-iveness" quality is unrelated to IQ and is sometimes even negatively related to talent.
- Grit predicts a variety of success outcomes.
- Both resilience and grit are learnable.
1American Psychological Association. "What is Resilience?" Psych Central.com. Last modified 2007. http://psychcentral.com/lib/what-is-resilience/0001145#.Ur0BA_RDuSo.
2Southwick, Steven M. "The Science of Resilience." The Huffington Post. Last modified September 13, 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steven-m-southwick/trauma-resilience_b_1881666.html.
3Cohn, Michael A., Barbara L. Fredrickson, Stephanie L. Brown, Joseph A. Mikels, and Anne M. Conway. "Happiness unpacked: Positive emotions increase life satisfaction by building resilience." Emotion 9, no. 3 (2009): 361-368. Accessed January 2, 2013. http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/emo/9/3/361/.
4O'Rourke, Norm. "Psychological resilience and the well-being of widowed women." Ageing International 29, no. 3 (2004): 267-280. Accessed January 2, 2014. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3485066/.
5Ong, A D., A. J. Zautra, and M. C. Reid. "Psychological resilience predicts decreases in pain catastrophizing through positive emotions." Psychological Aging 25, no. 3 (2010): 516-523. Accessed January 2, 2014. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20853962.
6O'Rourke, N et al. "Psychological resilience predicts depressive symptoms among spouses of persons with Alzheimer disease over time." Aging & Mental Health 14, no. 8 (2010): 984-93. Accessed January 3, 2014. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21069604.
7Torma, Linda M et al. "Growing Old with Fibromyalgia: Resilience Predicts Physical Function." ProHealth.com. Last modified November 12, 2012. http://www.prohealth.com/library/showarticle.cfm?LIBID=17698.
8Washington County Literacy Council. "The Impact of Illiteracy." Accessed January 3, 2014. http://washingtoncountyliteracycouncil.org/.
9Facts about Stillbirth | Stillbirth | NCBDDD | CDC. (2017, March 7). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/stillbirth/facts.html.
10Council for Disability Awareness. "Disability Statistics; Chance of Becoming Disabled - DisabilityCanHappen.org." Prevention, Financial Planning, Resources and Information. Last modified July 3, 2013. http://www.disabilitycanhappen.org/chances_disability/disability_stats.asp.
11Crime in America.Net. "Violent and Property Crime in the US." Last modified 2014. http://www.crimeinamerica.net/crime-rates-united-states/.
12Feeding America. "Hunger Facts." Last modified 2014. http://feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/hunger-facts.aspx.
13Administration on Aging. "Profile of Older Americans." Last modified December 31, 2016. https://www.acl.gov/aging-and-disability-in-america/data-and-research/profile-older-americans.
14Benjamin, Ronna. "Raising U.S. Olympic Gymnast Aly Raisman." The Huffington Post. Last modified August 1, 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ronna-benjamin/aly-raisman_b_1725756.html.
15O'Shaughnessy, Lynn. "12 reasons not to get a PhD." CBS News. Last modified July 10, 2012. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/12-reasons-not-to-get-a-phd/.
Fight On, My Gritty Friend! You Know You Have It in You!
Quotes About Resilience and Grit
"Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved."
– Helen Keller, American author and activist
"Never give in . . . never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force... never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."
– Sir Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister
"Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."
– A. A. Milne, English author of Winnie the Pooh books
"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States
“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
- Carl Jung, Swiss psychotherapist
“Life is a tapestry woven by the decisions we make.”
- Sherrilyn Kenyon, American author
"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places."
– Ernest Hemingway, American author and journalist
“In the book of life, the answers aren’t in the back.”
- Charlie Brown
“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
- Calvin Coolidge, 30th U.S. President
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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