Mindfulness: An Ingredient to get to Grit?

I began my "Grit Studies" a few years ago as I continually looked at the people around me (colleagues, learners, friends, family) and wondered why they had (or lacked) the drive to continuously better themselves. Whether bettering themselves personally, professionally, or academically, I constantly was asking people 'why?' 

My studies began with interviewing my parents, both of whom overcame a multitude of adversities throughout their lives, and with hard work achieved many successful feats. In my opinion, my parents have grit.

Still, so many questions evaded my ability to understand or empathize with the reasons behind their grit.

  • Were their overwhelmingly humble beginnings an ingredient of their grit? If so, how vital was it? What taste of grit did it bring out?
  • Were they born with these inherent abilities of resilience and perseverance? What measurement was nature and what measurement was nurture?
  • More importantly, what made them resourceful enough to get to the grocery store to pick up these key ingredients to build the hearty meal called grit?


In Angela Duckworth's book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, she said, "In sum, no matter the domain, the highly successful had a kind of ferocious determination that played out in two ways. First, these exemplars were unusually resilient and hardworking. Second, they knew in a very, very deep way what it was they wanted. They not only had determination, they had direction" (Duckworth, 2016, p. 8).

Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval said "Grit is about sweat, not swagger. Character, not charisma. Grit has been equated more with methodical stick-to-itiveness and survival than any secret ingredient to success" (Thaler & Koval, 2015, p. 13). They go on to use words like 'struggle', 'determination', 'passion', and 'perseverance' throughout their book, Grit to Great: How Perseverance, Passion, and Pluck Take You From Ordinary to Extraordinary. 

The prologue of Grit: How To Keep Going When You Want to Give Up by Martin Meadows outlines how those with grit "never give up on their big goals" (Meadows, 2015, p. 5). Meadows goes on to help his readers understand what grit is and the relies on research to prove that "the ability to keep going despite setbacks is more important than your IQ, character or other external factors like your upbringing or surroundings" (Meadows, 2015, p. 5).

In juxtaposition to Meadows' (2015) view on character, Steve Williams' book, Grit, Discipline, Perseverance: The Emotional Habits That Drive Success, says, "Grit is defined as courage; it is the strength of one's character. Grit is accepting the circumstances that you are in, and accepting them without crying or whining about it" (Williams, 2016, p. 1). 

Across all of these understandings of what grit is, and regardless of the slight differences between their components, the consistent end goal of achievement holds true among them all. Therefore, I argue that there is a missing practice to approaching grit, and that is mindfulness


I will use the context of the educational setting for mindfulness, as it is relevant to the field I am in, and due to “recent conceptualizations of human service occupations, like teaching, suggest that one reason such jobs are stressful is that they require high levels of emotional work (Chang, 2009; Hargreaves, 2000; Roeser, Skinner, Beers, & Jennings, 2012; Schutz & Zembylas, 2009; Sutton & Wheatley, 2003; Zapf et al. 2001)” (Skinner & Beers, 2016, p. 99). The emotional and mental exhaustion that goes into teaching, as well as other areas of human service work, can turn the good stress into bad stress quickly. This then forces systems to confront the fact that "prolonged exposure to stressful experiences appears to increase bottom-up psychobiological stress reactivity and, at the same time, to disrupt functions in the brain regions that underlie top-down self-regulation (Compas, 2006)” (Skinner & Beers, 2016, p. 103). Once this disruption of stress begins to overflow and become unmanageable, the bad stress takes over, causing a lack of motivation and perceived fulfillment in ones job. The "resource" of mindfulness practices used to cope, manage stress, and gain self-efficacy are necessary for teachers to learn how to interact with their thoughts and emotions. Much like not allowing the stress to overflow, “if coping is an adaptive process, then its categories reflect a conceptualization of how particular responses to stress improve the fit between an organism and its environment when the demands on the organism exceed (or are expected to exceed) its resources” (Skinner & Beers, 2016, p. 104). 

The Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education (CARE) program is a mindfulness intervention program specifically created for teachers. CARE promotes teacher social and emotional competence and the management of all situations in the classroom. There are three instructional components to the CARE program:

Emotion Skills Instruction

"To promote resilience and the ability to reappraise emotionally challenging situations..." (Jennings, 2016, p. 9).

Mindfulness and Stress Reduction Practices

"...teachers learn to bring mindful awareness to their classroom management and their relationships with students, parents, and colleagues" (Jennings, 2016, p. 9).

Listening and Compassion Exercises

"...increases in daily experiences of positive emotions and decreased illness and depressive symptoms (Fredrickson, Coffey, Per, Cohn, & Finkel, 2008)" (Jennings, 2016, p. 9).


The ability to manage stress and gain self-efficacy through intentional mindfulness practices is a key ingredient to achieving the quality of grit. Though grit is comprised of elements such as perseverance, passion, and dedication, how to travel to the grocery store, buy the right ingredients, and approach the kitchen to make such a gritty meal takes mindfulness. In order to even begin to overcome adversities to attain grit status, you need to know how to cope when you face such adversities.

Success is a psychological journey to those who are hungry, and I am not sure we ever truly reach our destination. How our character is built along the way through what we learn about ourselves and how we keep steady is more important. 


Duckworth, A. (2016). Grit: The power of passion and perseverance.

K.A. Schonert-Reichl, R.W. Roeser (eds.), Handbook of Mindfulness in Education, Mindfulness in Behavioral Health, DOI 10.1007/978-1-4939-3506-2_9 

Meadows, M. (2015). Grit: How to keep going when you want to give up.

Skinner, E., & Beers, J. (2016). Mindfulness and teachers' coping in the classroom: A developmental model of teacher stress, coping, and everyday resilience. In K. A. Schonert-Reichl, R. W. Roeser, K. A. Schonert-Reichl, R. W. Roeser (Eds.) , Handbook of mindfulness in education: Integrating theory and research into practice (pp. 99-118). New York, NY, US: Springer-Verlag Publishing. doi:10.1007/978-1-4939-3506-2_7

Thaler, L. K. & Koval, R. (2015). Grit to great: How perseverance, passion, and pluck take you from ordinary to extraordinary.

Williams, S. (2016). Grit, discipline, perseverance: The emotional habits that drive success.