Understanding Resilience and Grit: Are You an Oak or a Willow?

Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

During a storm, oaks stand solid, rigid, unwilling to surrender, unable to bend. They are often left damaged, uprooted, unable to survive. Willows dance in the rain, flexible enough to sway and glide as the storm swirls around them. Although blustered and blown, they are usually left standing, undamaged, ready to live on.

When life’s hurricanes challenge you, are you an oak or a willow? Truth be told, I’m an oak, through and through. I used to be proud of this fact until I realized I have a thing or two to learn about weathering life’s twisters.

Why do some people weather life’s storms better than others? Part of the answer can be found in two words: grit and resilience. Angela Duckworth, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, is best known for her research on grit. In a recent TED Talk (https://youtu.be/H14bBuluwB8), she describes grit as “…having passion and perseverance for long term goals, having stamina, and living life like a marathon not a sprint.” In an article titled 5 Ways to Develop a Growth Mindset Using Grit and Resilience, author Kori Miller defines resilience as, “…our ability to bounce back after we have struggled, faltered, or failed” (https://positivepsychology.com/5-ways-develop-grit-resilience/),. Although related, the terms differ slightly. “Grit is the engine that moves us toward our goal. Resilience is the oil that keeps the engine moving”, states Miller. Both are important traits to possess when facing life’s struggles.

Are people simply born with grit or can it be cultivated? Duckworth found that having grit is both a nature and a nurture issue, not one or the other. The good news for this mighty oak, and maybe for some of you, is that grit can be developed. Duckworth believes that for people to increase their levels of grit and resilience, they need to foster a “growth mindset”. Miller points to the research of Carol Dweck for more information. Through her research, Dweck identified two mindsets: fixed and growth. A fixed mindset is “…believing your qualities are carved in stone”, while a growth mindset is “…the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.” (Dweck, 2016, pp. 6–7).

Miller gives an example regarding athletic ability. If you have a fixed mindset about athleticism, you believe that people are either born with natural athletic talent or they aren’t. If you have a growth mindset, your perspective is that people can become more athletic with effort and practice.

What does all this talk about mindsets have to do with being resilient and gritty? The article continues by saying, “People who consistently develop and maintain a growth mindset share the following characteristics. They embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, see effort as the path to mastery, and learn from criticism”. It makes sense, then, that a person who possesses more of these attributes is better equipped to handle life’s difficulties in a more productive way. The article then presents ideas about how to develop more grit and resilience, in addition to a list of resources for further reading on the topic.

Miller concludes the article by highlighting Duckworth’s Grit Scale (https://angeladuckworth.com/grit-scale/), an eight question assessment used to measure how much grit you have. It is scored on a scale from zero to five. The higher the score, the grittier you are. Given the fact that I am an oak, I scored higher than I thought I would (3.6). Maybe I do have some willow in me after all! I suggest taking the quiz. You might be surprised at your results too.

Remember, when life’s storms rain down upon you, strength isn’t about power, it’s about flexibility, said the willow to the oak.

Jan Antonin Kolar @ Upsplash

Let us rise from the ashes-hopeful, strong, ready to begin again

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