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Grit. It’s a powerful word, isn’t it? Say it aloud. Grit. Kinda makes you think of an old Western. It just sounds… gritty.

True Grit. Source: Prayitno, Flickr.com

True Grit. Source: Prayitno, Flickr.com

Despite how fun it is to say, it’s a word we don’t hear too often anymore. The word seems to be fading from our vocabulary, and the concept is dwindling from our society. In fact, some schoolteachers and psychologists attribute changes in kids’ character these days to a lack of grit.

What does that even mean? And why aren’t we teaching our kids to be gritty?

A popular theory is that lack of grit is a result of “helicopter parenting” — a well-meaning yet often sorely ineffective parenting style characterized by parents (and teachers, child care providers, coaches, etc.) hovering over their kids, protecting them from defeat or failure or disappointment, giving “participation trophies”, and thanking kids for simply existing, rather than being taught to work hard and earn praise and rewards.

If this theory holds true, it is likely that the increase in depression and anxiety seen in record numbers of young adults leaving for college may, in part, be due to due to helicopter parenting. These late teens leave home terrified of failure and not knowing how to cope with life’s disappointments.

In short, they don’t have grit.

This CNN article agrees, and offers 5 easy ways to teach your kids grit.

So what is grit?

In her TED Talk, Angela Lee Duckworth defines grit as “passion and perseverance for long-term goals.” Merriam-Webster defines it as “firmness of character; indomitable spirit.”

You can watch Duckworth’s TED Talk here:

Additionally, if you’re interested in teaching your kids to have grit, you can start by teaching them to have a “growth mindset.” (Duckworth mentions this in her TED Talk. Read more about the growth mindset here.)

According to this fascinating Forbes article, there are five characteristics of grit:

  1. Courage
  2. Conscientiousness: in this context, it means careful, painstaking, meticulous; being achievement-oriented
  3. Follow-Through: having long-term goals and endurance to achieve them; a strong work ethic
  4. Resilience: optimism, confidence, and creativity in the face of inevitable challenges and failures
  5. Excellence vs. Perfection: having an attitude of attaining excellence rather than perfection, which is inflexible

While we could certainly have a riveting discussion about each of these characteristics, in this particular article we are going to focus on the first one: Courage.

According to Forbes:

Your ability to manage fear of failure is imperative and a predicator of success. The supremely gritty are not afraid to tank, but rather embrace it as part of a process. They understand that there are valuable lessons in defeat and that the vulnerability of perseverance is requisite for high achievement.

Most of us have a fear of failure to some degree. For some, this fear is completely paralyzing. It prevents people from trying new things, or from taking stock of their life and making changes they need to make.

What’s holding you back? Is it the fear of delving into the unknown? Failing? Resurrecting old ghosts? Facing your demons? Whatever your reasons, it’s time to have courage.

How to Have Courage in the Midst of Fear

Developing Courage is Easier than You Think

Well, kind of. It’s hard at first, but the more you do it, the easier it gets.

Courage is like a muscle; it has to be exercised daily. If you do, it will grow; if it’s ignored, it will atrophy. (source)

Identify your fears. What scares you, and why? Where do you think this fear originated from?

Be rational. Most fears are irrational. Try to think through those irrational thoughts objectively and make them rational arguments in favor of trying.

Practice makes perfect. Eleanor Roosevelt said “every day, do something that scares you.” And regardless of the outcome, celebrate the fact that you were courageous!

Techniques such as Scripting and Framing can help overcome fears and make you feel more courageous.

Remember, courage doesn’t mean you’re not scared. As Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Put failure in its place. Failure is a crucial part of the learning and growing experience. You didn’t make it this far in life without some bumps and bruises along the way, did you? Those challenges/mistakes/etc. have made you who you are. Failure only reflects the person you are in the sense that it shows you had the courage to try!

With each failure, you learn to do better. Take a look at Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, Oprah, J.K. Rowling, Walt Disney and countless others, and you’ll see that it took them a LOT of failure and perseverance to get to where they ended up. They weren’t necessarily exceptional people — but they had grit.

Let’s end with these powerful words by Theodore Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strived valiantly; who errs, who comes again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.