Angela Duckworth is a bit of a hero of mine. Her book at TED talk on “grit” has dramatically changed the way I look at myself and whether or not I’m “good” at something.
“Grit” is a funny word to stand in for tenacity, perseverance, determination and belief in oneself. Before I came across her work, when I heard the word “grit”, I would think of sand in my swimsuit when I was a little kid, not a positive character attribute. Now as someone who is trying to become “grittier”, the part of the word that implies an abrasive surface has become lessened.
As I’ve been thinking of grit recently, I’ve started to wonder about other applications for it than simply achievements. What about grit in terms of health and healthcare? What can patients, doctors, and other practitioners do to cultivate grit in the face of health concerns?
It’s easy when we’re told we have a health problem by a doctor or other medical provider to feel discouraged. Why did it happen, we wonder, could it have been prevented, did we do something wrong? It may feel like an affliction and cause us to feel depressed, or become an irritant that we try to ignore. This may be part of the process of coming to terms with a health problem, but how can we as patients and practitioners shorten that time of grief and start building grit?
The way I’ve been thinking about it, “grit” in terms of a health problem is a steadfast determination to not remain limited by whatever condition you’re diagnosed with. A condition like chronic pain can be extremely difficult to live with, and may lead people to depression and, as we’ve seen with the opioid epidemic, drug abuse. We don’t want to have to deal with it, we want it gone. However, this may not be realistic for everyone. The road to minimizing pain in daily life may be long and arduous. To deal with this optimally, multiple changes in how the pain is thought of may have to occur. It may no longer be realistic to think of being entirely pain free. Instead, days of minimal pain need to be appreciated for the relief that they are. Multiple modalities of therapy may need to be consulted–physical therapists and yoga to build up strength, massage and acupuncture for relaxing areas of tension and pain, and possibly even nutritionalists to make sure the body is being nourished in the way it needs.
Most of all, the spirit needs to be fed. This may sound hokey, or possibly even new age-y, but it’s something essential in cultivating the belief that we as people in our bodies are worth working for. In whatever spiritual context that fits most with an individual’s world view and paradigm, we need to tell ourselves that we can do it, that we have what it takes to make the most out of our lives whatever obstacle comes our way. If we don’t have something that nourishes our spirit, it’s so easy to flag, to start off strong only to wind up feeling defeated. To combat this, we need to find ways to inspire ourselves and keep our motivation going. It’s a hard prescription, as its so individualized, but a necessary one.