What is GRIT?

GRIT, in psychology terms, is a personality trait that can be described as perseverance and passion for long term goals. A “Gritty” person is very motivated to achieving these long term goals and often visualises an end-state that, coupled with powerful positive emotions, is engrained within their psyche. The perseverance of effort promotes the overcoming of obstacles and challenges that lie within a gritty individual’s path to accomplishment, and serves as a driving force in achievement realisation. [1]

GRIT is conceptualised as a stable trait that does not require immediate positive feedback (i.e. validation from external sources) and is often associated with intelligent people – but this is not always the case – Gritty people don’t have to be intelligent and an intelligent person may well be able to visualise the goal but not able to apply the powerful positive emotions to engrain the concept and strive to reach it. They can be impacted by basic fears that hinder their achievement.

What is Fear?

Fear is a vital response to physical or emotional danger that has evolved over the development of the human race as a survival instinct [2]– if we didn’t feel it we couldn’t protect ourselves from legitimate threats. But, often, we fear situations that are far from life-or-death, and thus hang back for no good reason. The psychology of irrational fear states that a person has an inability to process the kind of odds of an event actually happening – many of us would quite happily state that we would rather get in our cars and drive on the motorway than get on board an aircraft despite the statistics clearly showing more people dying in car accidents than plane crashes each year. This irrationality is typified by Hypochondriacs, who will contextualise a fear to such an extreme point that they will be paralysed by the emotion surrounding the fear.

Human response to fear is often described as the fight or flight response – a person will either face the issue with hostility or run and hide from the confrontation altogether.

Why does Fear Impact GRIT?

The overwhelming negative emotions that come from fear include:

– Paralysis of thinking (freezing)

– Erosion of self-belief

– Risk aversion

– Conflict avoidance

– Increased need for validation from external sources

– Aggression


All of these emotions and responses reduce the belief in one’s goal or the ability to reach it. The unshakable belief is eroded where a person believes the opinion of others and focuses on all the reasons why it can’t happen rather all the reasons why it can. The flight response is actually the most dangerous, in my opinion, as it often manifests itself as avoidance of feeling altogether – substance abuse is common approach to numb the feelings of pain, anguish and anxiety. Suppression and altering one’s mind to avoid the feelings, leads to the inability to assess and challenge the feelings rationally.

Therefore, it’s fair to say that fear will counter and overwhelm the foundations of GRIT and despite a person’s intelligence; emotion can override rationality and drive human response. What can be done to reduce fear and thus increase GRIT?

By challenging the fear, assessing the possible outcomes objectively and challenging the emotions associated, you have the opportunity to reverse the decline and use many of the positive psychological advantages that can re-enforce your “Grittiness”.

Five approaches to reducing fear and building resilience

Take time out – feeling overwhelmed, anxious or outright fearful, step away and take some positive action – make a cup of tea, meditate, walk barefoot on grass and ground yourself.

Visualise what’s the worst that can happen – the speech to the public bombs, they laugh, you’re embarrassed for a while but in a few days they forget and move on – does the world stop spinning? No, it carries on as if nothing has happened.

Expose yourself to the fear – afraid of heights – get yourself to an observation deck and repeat viewings until you train your brain that you will not fall – it is perfectly safe. Don’t expect perfection – failure is essential to success – Angry Birds had 50+ predecessor apps from creators Rovio before it became the worldwide success it is today.

Visualisation – close your eyes and imagine you successfully achieving the goal and then feel what it’s like, the pride, the passion, the overwhelming sense of achievement – driving them into your conscious mind will override anything your subconscious can throw at you. [3]

Sometimes through the darkest skies the brightest stars reveal themselves and shine. [2]

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grit_(personailty_trait) July 2015

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/recovery-road/201405/what-is-fear July 2015

[3] http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/Pages/overcoming-fears.aspx July 2015


About the author: Simon is a programme and project professional who has a passion for positive psychology and the impact it can have on many people’s lives. Simon’s daily professional life involves motivating and leading people and he is striving to help anyone perform to their highest ability in all walks of life.

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