I used to think grit and resilience were the same thing. I also used to be pretty darn proud of being gritty. After many hard learned lessons, and continuing to deepen my knowledge and understanding of the nervous system, I now know that they are very different and I am very mindful of when I step into being gritty.
Grit is something that has been talked about a lot in the past few years. It is celebrated and encouraged pretty much everywhere-in schools, at work, in sports, in the media, in advertising and on and on. Getting it done no matter what is seen not only as a huge success, but also a character trait to be admired, strived for, and rewarded. What isn’t talked about is that being gritty comes at a cost.
Getting things done no matter what, is pushing through. It inherently involves overriding our physical, mental and emotional needs and treating our body and nervous system like a machine. They are not machines and we are not machines. When we override our needs and capacity, we go into fight/flight to do that, it’s not a regulated state. We go into adrenaline to get it done and this adds up over time when we keep doing it. The cost might not be apparent in the moment, but it will catch up with us over time, it’s simply not sustainable.
Embracing grittiness also has a much greater impact on us when we are already in a dysregulated state and trying to repattern our brain and nervous system into a healthier and more regulated state. What this often means is that we go into fight/flight and adrenaline as we attempt to do more. It may seem like progress, but it’s just reinforcing the same unhealthy pattern of dysregulation and doesn’t lead to healing and long-term resilience.
This is one of the challenges with measuring success solely based on how much we do. "I walked farther, I ate more foods, I went more places, I’m doing more things. I’m getting back to living my life." This is all great, but HOW are you doing those things? Oftentimes those things are being accomplished by going into the sympathetic activation of fight/flight. This is grit, not long-term resilience.
It's completely normal to go into fight/flight when we do something that has caused symptoms in the past. We often need that sympathetic energy to move through some of the fear and resistance to doing it the first few times. However from there, we then want to practice doing this thing without the fight/flight energy. This takes time, patience and pauses in what as seen as success and forward movement. The brain and nervous system often need time to settle into these new things and learn how to do them without the fight/flight activation and adrenaline driving it. Allowing time and space for this sets the stage for long-term resilience instead of short-term grittiness.
This is one of the reasons I often celebrate a client not doing something and working on a pattern a bit longer before jumping to the next challenge. It's not as fun and certainly doesn't create exciting posts for the forum or social media, but it does help to create true regulation and long-term resilience. Sometimes the positive change is not pushing through and not chasing grit.
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