I’ve attempted to explain the way I view these terms before, while at the same time trying to conceal my frustration at the way they are often used interchangeably. Definitions are important to researchers because you need to know what you are researching and how it relates to similar issues – ‘jargon’ is sometimes necessary.
Last year I heard Tristram Hunt describe ‘grit’ as an American term for ‘resilience’. While they may be related, they are not necessarily the same, in fact ‘grit’ is a term coined by Angela Lee Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania (you can watch her TED talk here).
Of ‘resilience’, Duckworth states:
The word resilience is used differently by different people. And to add to the confusion, the ways people use it often have a lot of overlap. To give you an example, Martin Seligman, my advisor and now my colleague here at Penn, has a program called the “Penn Resiliency Program.” It’s all about one specific definition of resilience, which is optimism—appraising situations without distorting them, thinking about changes that are possible to make in your life. But I’ve heard other people use resilience to mean bouncing back from adversity, cognitive or otherwise. And some people use resilient specifically to refer to kids who come from at-risk environments who thrive nevertheless.
Duckworth is aware of the confusion, and this confusion was my starting point when I began my research at PERC. I overcame the first hurdle by adopting the term ‘academic buoyancy’ (the ability to bounce back from daily setbacks) from psychologists Andrew Martin and Herbert Marsh. On the other hand, I view resilience as a way of overcoming major adversity or “…kids who come from at-risk environments who thrive nevertheless”.
Of ‘grit’, Duckworth states:
Grit is related [to resilience] because part of what it means to be gritty is to be resilient in the face of failure or adversity. But that’s not the only trait you need to be gritty.
So Duckworth states that resilience is a ‘trait’ contained within a wider ‘grit’ construct (although arguments continue as to whether resilience is actually a trait).
In the scale that we developed in research studies to measure grit, only half of the questions are about responding resiliently to situations of failure and adversity or being a hard worker. The other half of the questionnaire is about having consistent interests—focused passions—over a long time. That doesn’t have anything to do with failure and adversity. It means that you choose to do a particular thing in life and choose to give up a lot of other things in order to do it. And you stick with those interests and goals over the long term.
So grit is not just having resilience in the face of failure, but also having deep commitments that you remain loyal to over many years.