Grit and Resilience

After a week on the road and a visit by my parents (and with Ruth home on break from school), I’m finding it hard to sit down and summarize the research on this week’s virtue - grit and resilience. So I’m going to take a cue from the research. Come on, Drew, you can do this. If Iris Murdoch could write 25 novels and Rick Reilly could do weekly columns for Sports Illustrated for 23 years, then Drew Rick-Miller can squeeze out 2 more readings from the book of nature for the WRPC eNews.

So let’s start with those cues in this week’s discussion of grit and resilience. Three ways to improve motivation and gain control of yourself, including those tough to manage emotions, all part of overcoming obstacles to achieve a task are self-talk, speaking about yourself in the third person, and the Batman effect (or for me, the Iris Murdoch/Rick Reilly effect). You see, grit and resilience are really best understood as a set of related cognitive and character traits working together in combination. For grit, they support one’s passion and perseverance towards long-term goals. For resilience, it is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress. So self-control (the article I link to here covers a lot of good material), purpose and motivation are all key factors as well as a suite of related concepts like executive function, expertise (but note that there is more to mastery than just 10,000 hours), and coping.


Now, of course, I have trivialized grit and resilience in applying it to this column. It tends to encompass goals and stressors of much greater significance – like my desire to see American churches engage science more regularly or the ability of a child to overcome a learning disability. We hear claims from field leaders like Angela Duckworth that grit may be as important for success as talent or intelligence. As a result, these concepts have gained traction in the self-help movement, education, the office, and elsewhere. But as much as grit seems to be a secret ingredient for success, it also needs to be put into perspective. And despite Duckworth’s criticism of the hype around grit, these concepts are too often applied to the challenges and the successes of the privileged – how to move ahead when rejected by Duke and having to settle with Northwestern (yes, that is autobiographical). My concern is that all too often grit and resilience becomes self-help for the privileged rather than knowledge and resources to help improve the plight of the disadvantaged.

Fortunately, this shift is happening. There is increasing effort to look at grit and resilience in light of health outcomes and childhood trauma like the public health vision cast here by Nadine Burke Harris (NY Times interview or TED Talk). The recent spate of natural disasters has led to work on understanding resilience in the wake of their devastation, and some of this work now considers what religion offers (hear Jamie Aten’s story and read his advice back in August staring down the eye of Harvey). Then there is the work trying to cultivate resilience among some of the most disadvantaged people like refugee populations. So as Jesus enters Jerusalem this Palm Sunday staring Good Friday in the eye, my prayer is that grit and resilience become less about my need to finish a newsletter article or to overcome rejection from Duke and more about our collective need to refocus our purpose and motivation and grit towards the least of these – those whose might receive an Easter-like transformation if they are able to leverage the beneficial power of grit and resilience.

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