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Bouncing Back: The Value of Grit and Gumption

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Most definitions of resiliency stress the ability to bounce back from adversity. Grit and gumption are two of the characteristics often associated with resiliency. Individually and organizationally, this translates to the ability to reach goals despite obstacles. Grit is often measured using a scale developed by Angela Duckworth in 2007.

How Can You Build Grit?

To have grit you need to have:

  • A purpose. A study of over 7500 people on 6 continents showed that having a long-term goal and sticking to it has a moderate to strong relationship to both well-being and strength of personality. You do not need to dedicate all your time or attention to the goal, but you do have to make the effort.
  • Confidence in your ability to affect outcomes. In fact, confidence may have more to do with accomplishment than actual ability. For example, if you believe you are poor in math, then you will abandon a math problem more quickly than someone who believes they excel in math. The same relationship exists for professional, personal, and social problems: if you believe, for example, that you are an inadequate leader, you will surrender control of a team sooner than those who believe they are more than adequate.
  • Willingness to see negative experiences as an opportunity to grow. Fear of failure keeps more people from succeeding than actual failure. If you reframe an experience as one in a series of experiments or as a challenge or game where you can constantly improve your “score,” you not only increase your chances of succeeding but your ability to bounce back from failure and try again—you build your grit.
  • Acceptance that perfection cannot be reached. A perfectionist attitude leaves you constantly stressed about the next thing that could go wrong. It also makes it difficult to accept help or to delegate, as you believe that no one can be trusted to complete a goal as perfectly as you can. In fact, perfectionism interferes with grit because the fear of failure skyrockets and confidence plummets because perfectionist goals are unattainable.

Grit increases with repeated practice, a close association with other people who have grit, and a reachable goal.

How Can You Build Gumption?

Gumption is the willingness to take the initiative and the courage to take action. Gumption allows you to move past fear, be a leader for yourself and others, and use your common sense as well as intelligence to move ahead despite obstacles.

Courage has many definitions, but the consensus is that it is not the absence of fear but the ability to act despite fear. If you are frightened and insecure, people are unlikely to follow your lead; if you at least act brave and confident, people will follow. 

To increase gumption, you need to: 

  • Be willing to take those first steps toward a goal; you have to start somewhere.
  • Congratulate yourself on small advances; there is no need to go straight from a fear of heights to bungee jumping.
  • Be self-aware enough to recognize what triggers your fear.
  • Know when it is time to stop until you are in control again.

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