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Resilience

Sheryl Sandberg's Response to Life's Crushing Blows Is Grit and Resilience -- Here Are 5 Ways to Build Both

Resilience and grit aren't traits you inherit. Instead, they're qualities you can learn,
Image credit: Johnny Louis | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Research Analyst, Nvoicepay

Resilience is not a trait you inherit at birth. Instead, it's something you can learn, and even practice, every day. Resilience is the choice -- in the face of adverse events -- to persevere. However, it is not to be mistaken for innate toughness or even inner strength. It is, simply, the wherewithal to stick with a long-term goal when you are faced with any obstacle, and see that goal through to the end.

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As Adam Grant has suggested, "Resilience is not a fixed personality trait. It's a lifelong project."

Grant co-authored the book Option B with the COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, after the loss of her husband, Dave Goldberg. While the book describes Sandberg's approach to life after grief, it applies to many other large challenges in life, including job loss, a health challenge, divorce and dealing with fractured relationships.

While these circumstances create the opportunity for resilience in our lives, Sandberg suggests, you don't first have to experience something bad before you start to learn it.

"In the wake of the most crushing blows," she writes in her book, "people can find greater strength and meaning. I also believe that it is possible to experience pre-traumatic growth [italics mine], that you don't have to experience tragedy to build your resilience for whatever lies ahead."

Resilience, then, is like a muscle. You can build it through frequent exercise. But what kind of exercise is best?

Related: 11 Signs You Have the Grit Needed to Succeed

1. Grit is an advantage you can learn

Professor Angela Duckworth, at the University of Pennsylvania (author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance), has conducted extensive research on grit (the passionate pursuit of a long-term goal). Her research reveals that resilience is less a test of how tough you are (strength), what resources are at your disposal (privilege) or even how smart you are (IQ). Instead, it has everything to do with what she labels as grit -- a willingness to keep trying after others have given up.

Duckworth measured the success of particularly "gritty" entrants into West Point's elite Beast Barracks, a seven-week training program. This is a grueling test of emotion, physical strength and, most importantly, will.

The researcher surveyed West Point cadets before Beast Barracks began, asking questions like: How strongly do you resonate with these statements: "Setbacks don't discourage me" and "I never give up," recording and rating the strength response from one to five. Their agreement responses to 10 such questions were averaged to produce each cadet's final "grit" score.

The survey worked in terms of its ability to predict the grittiest cadets (i.e. those who succeeded during their subsequent Beast Barracks challenge), and in the eyes of many, substantiated Duckworth's research.

In her own words from a recent TED Talk, Duckworth described the power of this million-dollar trait: "Grit is passion and perseverance for very long term goals. Grit is stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years. And working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it's a marathon, not a sprint."

While resilience is emerging with optimism after disappointment or setbacks, grit is the engine that keeps moving you toward a goal or vision in the future. This trait requires resilience at its core and affects everything about how we pursue it.

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2. A growth mindset indicates a willingness to work hard.

Stanford University professor of psychology Carol Dweck (author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success) coined something known as a "growth mindset" that is crucial to demonstrating grit. A growth mindset entails maintaining the belief that we can grow our strengths and talents through hard work. It attributes growth to the investment of time and energy, not the idea that growth is given to us as an innate gift.

People with a fixed mindset tend to have a negative view of future growth. They believe that whatever talents and strengths they possess are inborn and hard to change; for that reason, they put less energy into learning new strategies that could help them.

Having a growth mindset, in contrast, reflects Thomas Edison-like perseverance in the face of setbacks that seem insurmountable. Edison is famous for having said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Now, that's a growth mindset.

3. Put off perfectionism.

Having resilience and demonstrating a growth mindset means dismissing the notion of perfectionism outright. The best inventors, painters, athletes and authors all know that trying again, failing and making mistakes is the only way to greatness.

It's the getting back up again that's important, in terms of learning how to be resilient; and it is the secret of the greats. Mistakes are merely the stepping stones to improvement. Don't be afraid to make them, and when you do, don't run away. Face them head-on and find out what they have to teach.

4. Focus on process, not always results.

An example of a fixed mindset might be a student hyper-focused on "making the grade" without caring about the importance of what he or she is learning. This is common among high-achievers and is one of the reasons intelligence isn't necessarily a predictor of grit.

Grit is sticking with a problem that seems unsolvable or continuing to keep a positive attitude in the job hunt when you are repeatedly turned away. It's playing the long game when those around you are measuring success by what they can measure now. It's sticking with a task in order to see incremental improvements, which can make a stunning difference in the long run.

5. When at first you don't succeed . . .

Viewing difficulty in a new light is essential to overcoming hardship and becoming truly resilient. As Duckworth has said, "I learned a lesson I'd never forget. The lesson was that, when you have setbacks and failures, you can't overreact to them."

Related: 10 Sheryl Sandberg Quotes to Motivate and Inspire You

In other words, we must learn how to take these experiences in at their fullest measure, and shape them into something valuable with our effort. That is the heart of resilience. It shapes us into better leaders, more innovative entrepreneurs and more creative contributors. Demonstrating the growth mindset in these areas will only increase the likelihood that those long-held goals we aspire to will be actualized in real life.