The COVID-19 pandemic delivered a solid one-two punch to the healthcare industry. Between staffing shortages and the prolonged stress of caring for a nation in crisis, healthcare professionals have faced an unprecedented struggle in the last few years.
Unsurprisingly, this has led to high rates of turnover, attrition, and burnout. Navigating the difficult terrain of modern healthcare, with two years of pandemic-induced pressures atop all its inherent challenges, is no easy task.
The secret ingredient? Grit.
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What is grit?
Simply put, grit is the quality of perseverance in pursuit of a specific, long-term goal. Related are the qualities of resilience, hardiness, conscientiousness, and even ambition.
Throughout her decades of research into the science of positive psychology, University of Pennsylvania psychology professor of Dr. Angela Duckworth found that individuals high in grit were able to maintain their determination and motivation over long periods, despite experiences with failure and adversity.
A predictor of success
Gritty students tend to outperform their less gritty peers. High grit scores are associated with higher GPAs, and grit is considered a more accurate predictor of whether an incoming cadet will finish his or her first summer of basic training at West Point. In fact, grit is a better indicator than self-control, academic GPA, Military Performance Score, or West Point’s own Whole Candidate Score.
Grit also predicted those students who would advance into the later rounds of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Additionally, grit is a better predictor of success than intellectual talent, based on an evaluation of educational attainment by adults and GPA among Ivy League undergraduates.
Given the positive correlation between grit and success, there is surprisingly little research on how to increase it. In her studies, however, Duckworth provided a few helpful tips.
Identify what you love
“The first period is interest development — where you fall in love with something,” Duckworth says. “You find that you’re thinking about it more and more.” This is important because, as she notes, it’s hard to stick with something you don’t really care about.
Duckworth points out that this is only the start of the grit-development process. Just sitting and thinking about what may interest you doesn’t propel you any farther down the path toward success. Once you find something that you are excited about, be it caring for patients or seeing clients meet their rehabilitation goals, you have to pursue it.
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Find a mentor
Critical at this point is finding a teacher or mentor to help you along. Adam Grant, an author and professor of organizational psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, identified mentorship as the key to turning passion into skill.
“Often, interest precedes the development of talent. It’s having a coach or teacher who really makes something exciting . . . that [inspires] you to put in the practice necessary to become an expert.”
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Practice, practice, practice
Keep in mind that hard work develops skill, and people are much more likely to stick to things at which they excel. “You develop a capacity for doing hard practice — the kind scientists call ‘deliberate practice,’ Duckworth says. “Over years of working in a very diligent way on your weaknesses, you improve.”
Working on weaknesses is key. Former Navy SEAL James Waters identified this as precisely the quality that makes SEALs so tough. “When you go out on a mission, you always acknowledge your successes, but much more important is that you take a hard look at your failures and are willing to accept criticism. One of the key strengths of the SEAL Teams is the culture of constant self-improvement. No one ever says, ‘That’s good enough.’ On almost every real-world mission I was on — even the most successful ones — we spent 90% of our post-mission debrief focusing on what we did wrong or could have done better.”
Find meaning in your work
There is a noted difference between someone who merely works hard and someone with real grit. The former may put in the effort out of habit; the latter works hard because they find meaning in what they do.
In a study of 16,000 people, Duckworth found that “grittier people are dramatically more motivated than others to seek a meaningful, other-centered life.” Gritty people don’t merely have a “job,” she adds. They have a calling.
Keep hope alive
Hope is equally important to developing a gritty mindset. This isn’t a vague wish for things to turn out well. This hope, Duckworth says, is active. Things will improve because you make the determination to improve them.
Cultivating this kind of active hope requires a growth mindset, i.e. the understanding that your abilities aren’t set in stone. Gritty people believe they have the capacity to grow and improve. They recognize that their success doesn’t rely solely on innate talent.
Optimistic self-talk, likewise, helps support this growth mindset. Simply saying aloud, “I can do it” when things get tough can help bolster resolve and contribute to a habit of perseverance.
“One kind of hope is the expectation that tomorrow will be better than today. It’s the kind of hope that has us yearning for sunnier weather, or a smoother path ahead. It comes without the burden of responsibility. The onus is on the universe to make things better,” Duckworth says. “Grit depends on a different kind of hope. It rests on the expectation that our own efforts can improve our future. [The statement] ‘I have a feeling tomorrow will be better’ is different from ‘I resolve to make tomorrow better.’ The hope that gritty people have has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with getting up again.”
- Stoffel JM, Cain J. Review of Grit and Resilience Literature within Health Professions Education. Am J Pharm Educ. 2018 Mar; 82(2):6150. doi: 10.5688/ajpe6150. PMID: 29606705; PMCID: PMC5869747.
- Felix, K.J., Kerluku, J. (2022). Perseverance and Grit: Tools for a Successful Career in Healthcare. In: Louie, P.K., McCarthy, M.H., Albert, T.J. (eds) The Successful Health Care Professional’s Guide. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-95950-0_2
- Hogan, M.L. (2013). Non-cognitive traits that impact female success in big law. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.
- Scharf, S.A., Liebenberg, R., & Amalfe, C. (February, 2014). Report of the Eighth Annual NAWL National Survey on the Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms.
This article was originally published by Elite Learning on March 11, 2020.