Grit. Got it. I mean really got it.

By Brian Rubenstein

Context: I was asked recently to write a piece for a publication on the subject of ‘Grit’. Here is what I came up with…

Grit. So here’s the problem: many, if not most of us, have been conditioned to think that grit is a quality that we need to acquire, achieve or instil. But what if that simply is not accurate? What were to happen if we understood grit to be something that we always have. All of us. All of the time. No matter what.

“Wait!” I hear you shouting (at least that’s what I imagine you to be saying in order to maximise the effect of this short article), “How can that be true? Surely some people have grit, and some don’t? Surely we can get more grit? Better grit. Greater grit (you get the picture)?”

Well, that all depends on your starting point. If you assume grit is something that exists outside of you, then of course you will need to go and get it. And assuming you are motivated to do so, you will likely engage in a whole lot of activities to ‘get grit’. This activities list might include: signing up to courses (Get More Grit Now!); listening to podcasts (‘Join us for a great grit conversation with world-famous gritter …’); following the social media posts of Grit leaders; and reading Grit books (does anyone actually do that anymore?). Or perhaps you’ll choose to participate in a week-long Grit meditation retreat, during which you are not allowed to speak to another human being, drink caffeine or eat anything not grown organically on the self-sustaining farm hosting the event). These are not necessarily bad options – I’ve actually tried most of them myself in the past, except for the silent retreat thing (there’s no way I could go a week without caffeine!).

But what would happen if we took an alternative approach, a radically different way of understanding grit? Let’s start by asking some crucial questions about grit – or resilience or wellbeing – to use two other well-known terms. Here’s a brief list:

What if resilience is not conditional on the events and circumstances of life?

What if grit is not something we need to acquire, achieve or instil?

What if wellbeing is built in, innate in every human being?

What if it can be covered up, but never lost, damaged or broken?

What if we already have everything we need for life, we just don’t know it?

Asking – and answering these questions – leads to a very different narrative. How do I know that?

Well, in my role as CEO of iheart, the mental health education charity, we teach children and young people (and their parents and teachers for good measure!) about uncovering their innate wellbeing and resilience. A different way of saying that: we teach them that they got grit – whether they know it or not. And we don’t pontificate about this in order to be inspirational or motivational (not that we have anything against inspiration and motivation, but that’s not really our gig). We tell them about this because its true – a psychological fact. Just as almost all people are both with a nose, mouth, and two eyes and two ears, so too are all people born with innate wellbeing.

Why is this so important to know? To answer that, let’s go back to the beginning. As infants, we all need the love, care and physical attention of our parents or carers to survive and thrive. That’s just how nature works. But then our minds seem to grab hold of this information and innocently, but not logically, apply it to areas where it’s not necessary. As Terry Rubenstein, founder of iheart and

author of some great books about wellbeing and resilience (though in my opinion, her greatest accomplishment lies in choosing the author of this article as her marriage partner some 27 years ago), says: “It’s like taking 1 + 1 one and arriving at 3. A false equation.” What Terry means by this is that our minds mistakenly assume that in order to feel psychologically secure, safe, and whole, we require a whole lot of ‘stuff’. Stuff like validation, appreciation, financial security, good looks, material items, people treating us well … and so the list goes on and on.

While all of these things are really nice to have, they actually have nothing to do with our wellbeing, which is an unconditional capacity to feel content, resilient, secure and at peace. In other words, to experience our built-in grit. Knowing this has implications for how we think, feel and behave. It leads us down pathways of trying to acquire our wellbeing. It leads us down avenues of insecure thoughts and feelings as we constantly think of ways to protect that wellbeing. And so, we predictably land up controlling, avoiding and overthinking as we outsource our most precious superpower, not realising that this superpower itself is innate – built into each and every one of us. It is something we are born with, our natural state of wellbeing, which includes feelings of resilience, optimism, peace of mind, gratitude and love. To wit: grit (sorry, I just couldn’t resist that one!).

What am I sharing with you is what we have shared at iheart with almost 20,000 young people around the world – in schools, football academies, and youth projects.* After hearing this message and learning how their minds work, so many of these children and teenagers tell us they feel more empowered and better equipped to overcome their setbacks, handle adversity and realise their potential. They feel – really feel – that they’ve now got grit. Which is of course 100% true. And all we did was show them that they always had it in the first place!

So the next time you feel the need to get some more grit in your life, ask yourself this question: Is grit something I really need to go out and find? Or have I got all the grit I need inside myself already? And I mean got it. Really got it.

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