True Grit – The importance of getting your story straight

Failure hurts. When you fail, make mistakes, relationships become strained or you disappointingly lose, it can shatter your equilibrium. Inevitably it always involves having to pick yourself up and dust ourselves off. It can take plenty of resolve and resilience to start again.

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Photo by: Aaron Burden

You need real guts to push ahead and through all the negative and convoluted stories you first tell yourself. Especially when you are emotionally flooded and it feels like everything and sometimes, even everyone, is conspiring against you.

This is universal – it takes time to assimilate the impact of a failure, deep disappointment or loss. Processing the complex emotions involved is hard. Compassion, determination and grit are always needed to rise again. It needs effort to work through the complexity, noise and heat of the moment to find meaning and coherence in what has happened. No easy task. It takes intention, resilience and real grit to make it through and the to get your story straight.

All about grit, passion and perseverance

American Management Consultant and Psychologist, Angela Lee Duckworth is the author of the book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. She says the thing that makes the biggest difference to children from deprived areas, and to people who make it through army training, isn’t their intelligence or IQ. It’s actually their Grit.

Duckworth defines grit as ‘perseverance and passion for long-term goals.’ In her words:

“Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress”.

She found that character and mindset were what really mattered in determining who made it through adversity and who fell by the wayside.

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Building on the work of fellow Psychologist Carol Dweck, Angela Lee Duckworth suggests that there are two fundamental mindsets: a rigid, fixed one that limits you, and a positive growth-led one.

As she says:

“In our research … we have shown that what students believe about their brains — whether they see their intelligence as something that’s fixed or something that can grow and change — has profound effects on their motivation, learning, and … achievement.”

What do you believe about yourself? Do you have a fixed or growth mindset? Your mindset will either support or undermine your resiliency and ability to get your story back on track. It is foundational to accessing your own true grit.

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You can see Angela talking about her work in her TED Talk below:

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No wonder the video went viral. It’s exceptional. As she put says about perseverance:

“Grit is living life like it’s a marathon not a sprint.”

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You can also establish your own grit level here – test yourself on Angela’s Grit Scale and see how you perform.

What is true for individuals is also true for communities

A friend of ours, Ian Davis, recently retired from his role as Professor of Disaster Studies at Cranfield University. He worked hard to establish how to help people respond better to natural disasters, things like earthquakes, tsunamis and famines. As a result, he completely shifted his mindset throughout his working life, moving from focusing on being responsive and mobilising external resources to recognising indigenous populations’ resourcefulness and helping them access their own inner resiliency. In his experience ‘intervenors’ like NGOs, well-meaning humanitarian workers and the media consistently underestimate the innate resilience of people and the communities that survive. His book makes for a fascinating read.

Rising strong – Brené Brown says never give up

The American researcher and internet phenomenon Brené Brown is also helpful here. In her book Daring Greatly, she wrote about the importance of not giving up, building on ideas she got from a speech given by Teddy Roosevelt, Citizenship in a Republic, which was delivered at the Sorbonne in Paris way back in 1910:

“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 them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;
who strives valiantly;
who errs, who comes short 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…”

Recently Brené has built on this idea in her book Rising Strong, a practical road map to help us get back up when we fall. The Rising Strong Process has three core phases:

  1. The Reckoning: walking into your story
  2. The Rumble: owning your story
  3. The Revolution: writing a new ending and changing the way you engage with the world

The goal of the Rising Strong process is overcoming your mistakes, facing the hurt it brings and rising from your falls. And it all starts when you become aware that you are in an emotional soup and your reactions are out of proportion to the circumstances.

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The reckoning – Walking into your story

The first phase is always tricky but is the foundation for real change. Brené calls it, ‘The Reckoning: Walking into your Story.’ At this point, you begin to become curious about your feelings and begin to recognise how your emotions connect with the way you think and behave. In this open, exploring state, you often find you have constructed a story to justify what has happened, a tale that confirms your habitual world view. Brené eloquently calls this our Shitty First Draft, our SFD.

The rumbling – owning your story

Stopping, being curious, and observing yourself moves you into the second phase of the process, ‘The Rumbling: Owning your Story’. Here you grapple with our SFD, get real about it, be honest about the tall tales you might be making up about your struggle… and start to challenge them as confabulations. Perhaps, at very least, the narratives might not be completely fiction but they are emotionally fuelled and therefore somewhat out of balance.

The process involves recognising you’ve been making assumptions to self-protect. The term ‘rumbling’ implies there are tussles, rightly so since it’s difficult to give up long-held, cherished beliefs about how the world should be. This awareness allows you to search for new narratives, ones that point you towards what needs to change if you want to embrace a wholehearted life.

The revolution – Writing a new ending to your story

The third phase is ‘The Revolution. Writing a new ending to your story’. Here you find that the old, habitual stories you’ve told yourself over and over again are not necessarily true. You realise that if you junk all or some of your assumptions you might just find new possibilities emerging, different learnings and insights. These new stories don’t tend to maintain your unhelpful victim status, they offer the possibility of a more agentive perspective. They generate a braver story that shifts how you then go out and engage with the world and relate to others.

This ultimately transforms the way you live, work, love, parent, and lead. As Brené says:

“Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending—to rise strong, recognize our story, and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think, Yes. This is what happened. This is my truth. And I will choose how the story ends.”

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How come Brené Brown’s studies are so popular?

Brené Brown’s studies examining potent themes like shame, vulnerability, and courage are incredibly popular. Other people have spoken and written about these things too, but she has really captured our imaginations. She’s has given voice to topics that are important and timely. Brené has openly raised these themes so that it becomes easier to express what we’ve been feeling or to share experiences with one another – honestly and courageously. Over and over, Brené normalises the things we all experience, revealing a truth in the title of her first book: I Thought It Was Just Me. She reassures us that we all dwell on common ground and are human. Brené, has given many people the tools needed to find the grit in themselves, to tackle life as a marathon and live more wholeheartedly.

So, in conclusion, we would like to acknowledge Brené’s wisdom with two of her most powerful quotes:

“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.”

“We are the authors of our lives. We write our own daring endings.”

Brené Brown from her Manifesto for the Brave and Brokenhearted.

Access the power of your story

At the Listening Partnership, we understand and know how to access the power of story. We have years of coaching experience, working with people to help them tap into their resilience and re-author their lives and businesses. If you’re at this crucial point, then get in touch. We’ll be pleased to talk with you.