Resilience, Grit and the Growth Mindset

Not just bouncing back – bouncing forwards

ResilienceResilience is that hard to define quality that enables some people to suffer setbacks and come back stronger.  Rather than becoming consumed by a sense of failure and hopelessness, they find a way to learn and grow through the experience.

Resilience is a term that can be applied to individuals, organisations or, as we have learned this week – to cities and communities.  It is usually associated with having a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions and the ability to see loss or failure as a form of helpful feedback.

But is resilience alone enough?  Angela Duckworth, A Professor of Psychology looks at the interaction between what she calls “grit” and resilience.  She defines grit as “perseverance and passion for long term goals”.  If you haven’t yet seen it, watch her excellent TED Talk here.

So, if resilience is the ability to come back stronger after a setback, then grit is the motivational drive that keeps you focussed on a challenging task over a prolonged period of time.

Assuming that grit and resilience are good qualities to have, can they be learned and developed or are we just born with them?  Another psychologist – Carol Dweck considers the idea of “mindset”.  In her book of the same title, she contrasts the idea of a “fixed mindset”, which is a pass/fail mentality with a “growth mindset”.  People (and organisations with a growth mindset perceive challenges as opportunities to learn rather than obstacles to be overcome; they respond with constructive thoughts and their behaviour shows persistence rather than a sense of being defeated.

The good news is that a growth mindset can be learned and developed – here are some simple ideas you can try for yourself or use if you are coaching or managing someone who is lacking grit and resilience.

Choose your words carefully

Praise effort and perseverance.  Don’t turn behaviours into labels (or identities) e.g. “You are really smart” – failure will feel like they are no longer smart.  Give feedback about what they are doing, rather than what this means about them.  Praise them for sticking at a problem until they reached a conclusion rather than being a great puzzle solver!

Think flexibly

Do you generalise a lot? Do you find yourself often using words like “always”, “never”, “everyone” or “no one”?  Start questioning those thoughts – are they really true?  Find the exception that disproves the rule!

Reframe your experiences

Do you habitually see your glass as half empty, or half full?  Flexible people (those with a growth mindset) don’t see problems, they see opportunities for growth and learning.  When every challenge is met with enthusiasm and creative thinking you will begin to see yourself as capable – this confidence breeds resilience.

Set small goals

Create small, short term goals that align with your bigger purpose.  By doing this you will increase your success rate and the dopamine hit you get every time you achieve a goal will keep you motivated

Take time to reflect

Think back on your day or week in a non-judgmental way – notice what you have accomplished and what has been good about the day.  This type of review will make it easier to identify what actions you need to take tomorrow in order to keep moving forwards.


If you would like to learn more about how to cultivate resilience and grit in yourself or your team enrol on one of our NLP or coaching courses.

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