How can we develop “grit” during this pandemic? Psychologist Angela Duckworth tells us how

In the May 5th episode of the online show, “Harvard Business Review Quarantined” hosts Adi Ignatius (editor) and Joshua Macht (publisher), aimed to address how entrepreneurs can cope with the Covid-19 crisis. They interviewed psychologist Angela Duckworth (University of Pennsylvania) on the topic of “how to find your grit in a crisis” like the 2020 pandemic.

Duckworth is best known for her 2013 TED Talk, “Grit: The power of passion and perseverance.” It received 20 million views and was followed by a bestselling book of the same name (published in 2016). Duckworth also runs the non-profit organization, “Character Lab,” that researches practices that develop human character.

Duckworth commented at the outset of the show that some people fault themselves for having sensory responses to stressful experiences in pandemic times. (For instance, we may find that our heart rates are elevated, our sleep disrupted and that we are hyper-aware of apparent threats surrounding us, etc.).  She contended that these physiological responses are part of how we experience our surroundings or reality, and therefore part of how we respond to adversity. As such, they are part of our resilience and we should not criticize or pathologize ourselves for feeling them.

However, she argued that we should be conscious of our feelings: “If you don’t learn something in this crisis, then you weren’t paying attention.” And we only double our emotional work when we criticize ourselves having adverse feelings. Citing Victor Frankl’s famous holocaust memoir, Man’s Search for Meaning, she said that human responses to adversity become opportunities to develop resilience and character.

Duckworth further contended that “some things look like they’re a failure, but aren’t,” saying that we measure our lives in terms of goals, which are nothing more than “desired future states.” Human goals are not sacrosanct but hierarchical, like a pyramid, so we can (and often need to) disengage from the smaller ones that do not serve a higher level or purpose.

So it’s not a failure of resilience to develop survival strategies to cope in crisis times. For instance, she mentions that she slept in on the day of the interview; and that we shouldn’t flog ourselves mentally for failing to take a morning jog, and the like.

When she was a first year graduate student in psychology, Duckworth developed what she called a “grit-scale.” She found that in order to endure a crisis, we must have a larger experience or activity that helps us get through it–a “through-line” to what interests us. For that reason, since Covid-19 self-isolation, people have slowed down to bake bread, cook meals from scratch, do crafts and puzzles, play board games and learn new skills.

Grit itself, she argues, is not about masochism or self-punishment, but about being committed to an activity we find valuable and enjoyable. Grit must be held in tandem with “self-compassion,” “forgiveness,” and a “balance” between work and leisure. Grit is not only resilience or a love of what we do, she said. Instead, it’s the attitude of “I’ll show you!” that some of us feel, when we meet opposition to work that matters to us. Grit is a fiery, passion-filled response that we motivates us, when we face adversity. And yet, of course, we cannot consciously will grit into being.

Duckworth says that a gritty entrepreneur has a well-aligned (pyramid-like) hierarchy of clearly defined goals,  a clear mission and vision and key performance indicators (KPIs). We have to “keep batting” at the “half-filled helium balloon” that is our motivation, in order to progress up the pyramid. And we need to find constant reminders of what our goals are, in order to keep striving to meet them.

She cautioned listeners about burnout, which arises from expending “too much effort” and receiving “too little return” for it; we must reduce our efforts and increase our satisfaction, if we are to continue sustainably. Duckworth commended the recent response of an American mother on Twitter, who wrote that she refused to spend six hours a day online, teaching her grade one child mathematics. That was a low-level, unsustainable goal, whereas the woman might reach a potentially higher-level goal  by encouraging her child to participate in activities that develop character.

And in crisis times, Duckworth recommends giving ourselves “a break”: Do not reach for a top level goal that cannot reasonably be met, during Covid-19 days. Instead, direct our work to pursuits that interest us and toward reasonable levels of achievement: In time, those gains will lead us to our highest goals. This is what she means by the “hierarchy of goals,” by which true “grit” can come about.

And now it’s your turn: Do you agree with Duckworth’s definition of “grit?” Please share your thoughts on my “contact” page. I’d be delighted to extend this conversation.

All personality types face loneliness in Covid-19 times: Here’s why (with Adam Grant)

In these Covid-19 times, I have heard numerous entrepreneurs comment that “social distancing” is especially hard on extroverts, while introverts are thought to be “lucky” to thrive in reduced social connection with others.

But in an April 16th article in The New York Times, American organizational psychologist Adam Grant argues that such assumptions (about extroversion and introversion) are inaccurate. He writes: “It’s often said that extroverts get their energy from people, while introverts are energized by solitude.” But current research shows “that’s a myth.” Studies show that both extroverts and introverts feel “more energized “when they are “being talkative and outgoing” amongst colleagues, friends or family.

The wish for aloneness pertains to independence, not introversion

So being an introvert has nothing to do with wanting to be alone. Instead, the wish for aloneness comes from the personality trait of “independence.” People who are independent of others find “their behaviour, values and interests” align. These people are “resistant to pressure from others” and want to learn more about their own experiences and feelings. Those who possess autonomy enjoy solitude more than people who seek it out (Jarrett in Grant, 1). 

So, Grant writes: “Introverts crave connection” as much as extroverts do. “We just need more boundaries.”

Introverts need reduced stimulation

Introversion, he says, is about limiting sensory and/or psychological stimulation, especially from other people or settings that feel overwhelming. Introversion is not about whether a person needs others or requires solitude. (All humans are social beings and need both contact with others and time spent alone.) Introverts as well as extroverts can be lonely, but solitude for either personality type is only painful or problematic “when [they] want connection but can’t find it.”

Grant describes a time during his first year of graduate school when he struggled to get his papers published and to feel accepted by new classmates. During a “cold, grey Michigan winter,” he felt “completely isolated” when his roommates left on holidays. I remember a similar feeling of loneliness, myself.

Introverts, Grant asserts, are more sensitive to external, sensory stimulation than extroverts are. If exposure to others goes on for several days (e.g. at a conference or a family reunion), introverts start to feel more pain, “exhaustion and less authenticity.” Sensory overstimulation does not as frequently occur to extroverts. 

Although Grant does not refer to them in his article, there are also “ambiverts” who fall someplace between introverts and extroverts, along a continuum of identity and sensory receptivity.

Social interaction does not require long periods of connectedness

Curiously, Grant’s colleague, psychologist Jane Dutton, has found that quality interactions with other people do not require a lot of time. As little as “forty seconds— a positive, caring interaction—has measurable impacts on both people.” So we don’t need to devote hours in others’ company to overcome loneliness or isolation.

No one is immune to loneliness and psychologists in recent years have published much on the damaging effects it has on us. But Grant emphasizes that no huge effort is needed for people to shift from loneliness to connectedness.

For instance, online meeting platforms like Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, etc., although in some ways exhausting and limited, can still help introverts, ambiverts and extroverts to connect, even during times of a pandemic, when physical distancing is key to our survival.

And now it’s your turn: Do you agree with the insights Grant shares on personality types, loneliness and boundaries? How do they influence your daily life? Please reply on my “contact” page. I’d be delighted to extend this conversation.

“Never let a good crisis go to waste”: Entrepreneurs pivot in the face of the pandemic

Earlier this month, I participated in a “First Things First” Group Huddle—a “Mastermind Call” facilitated by entrepreneurial expert and professional coach, Deanna Litz (of “Powerful Nature”).

The session allowed participants to discuss, in a supportive atmosphere, some of the struggles and accomplishments that come with working as entrepreneurs in a global pandemic. While much of the content was confidential, I secured permission to speak about some of the broader outlines of the group “mastermind” in current times.

Before we can think about entrepreneurial strategy in a pandemic, Deanna suggested that entrepreneurs must remember to acknowledge and “honour who and what we are.” This includes identifying whether we are introverts, extroverts or somewhere in-between (“ambiverts”); and how to cope with the excesses and stresses each of our own personalities feels when we must isolate ourselves—for months. These are factors to consider before we can even begin to think about our marketing strategy as entrepreneurs.

An accomplished small business coach and an excellent facilitator (at the Praxis School of Entrepreneurship), Deanna reminded us that in so-called “normal” times, entrepreneurs always provide services (or products) for our clients. So even when choppy waters might tempt us to suspend our business planning and work (or, in others’ cases, to jump ship for a “day job”), we must stay connected with our prospect base. We also need to ask where our clients are at and how we can best serve them, in this crisis period. To lose that vital communication is to lose everything.

Citing “Pareto’s Law,” that 20% of one aspect of one’s biz (e.g. customers) are responsible for 80% of our activity (e.g. sales), Deanna reminded us that most of our functioning is determined by our finite capacity to regulate and manage our emotions. When we cannot do that emotional work over long periods of time, we face the brink. This is where we need to seek external, therapeutic help.

The reality is that we need to find strategies to tap into our positive feelings when the entrepreneurial world (and those in it) push our buttons or provide us with daily triggers that can subvert our efforts to succeed and to be well.

Deanna cited psychological studies that find that people’s responses in crisis times often fall into 3 groups (those who fight; those who take flight; and those who freeze). She encouraged us to look at the colossal disruption of Covid-19 as an opportunity to do more than those three things.

She invited us to “pivot” or deliberately move out of the fearful places where we feel tempted to hide. “Pivoting” by definition means to prioritize the most important aspect of a situation and to use that as a point on which our business processes can turn and move. She added that “the energy we bring to our pivoting can greatly influence our outcomes.”

Citing celebrity coach Marie Forleo, Deanna said that “Everything is figure-out-able.” We can meet challenges, even in pandemic times. And I would add that even if it isn’t (as argued by philosophers and theorists like Jacques Derrida), “it” will become grist for the mill of entrepreneurial growth.

As one participant stated, “the obstacle is the way” (citing the book by Ryan Holiday, that I reviewed in an earlier posting). The only way around life’s greatest challenges is to go through them.

An unnamed source (but not Deanna, herself), says that we should “never let a good crisis go to waste!” This observation sounds to me like it came from Oscar Wilde (or, maybe more recently, Bette Middler). And it applied to us: By “masterminding” the challenge of Covid-19, as nuanced and directed by (the talented) Deanna Litz, a small group of world-weary entrepreneurs found our “ground legs” needed to plan and act with courage and hope.

And now it’s your turn: Have you fought, fled or frozen your way through the past weeks of the Covid-19 Pandemic? How do you keep on, keeping on, as a small business or entrepreneur?

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This just in: We interrupt this crisis with some gratitude . . . .

In the past several days of this pandemic crisis, I have been involved, like many of my readers, in numerous online meetings and conference calls. I’ve also been editing projects for clients. While I haven’t had much time to read the newspapers, I have tuned into television or online news—the local supper hour show and CBC’s flagship evening program, “The National.”

The glut of coverage on Covid-19 (filling all and every newscast, daily) has made me wonder (and worry) about all of the other news that has been going on, unreported, for weeks. If a story isn’t about the present crisis, it isn’t worth covering, the media imply. And that reflects the values of the demographic who are watching.

But rather than reflect on crisis communication during this period of upheaval and isolation,  I want to join a still relatively small number of voices in our communities who set complaining aside and thank those who continue to provide “essential services” to most of us. The medical, hospital, pharmaceutical, home care, nursing home and medical support workers, truck drivers, grocery store employees, firefighters, police and paramedics, to name only a few.

Last Saturday, marketing genius Seth Godin said that the “thank yous” that are warranted here may be like the page of “acknowledgments” in a book, which tends to be “rarely read, and it comes out infrequently and it’s not so timely.”

Godin thought to correct that pattern and provided a lengthy list of  “thank yous” that I’ve excerpted here:

I’m filled with gratitude for the healthcare workers who have shown up to do the jobs that they never hoped to have to do, risking so much to help people. From docs … who are beginning their career in the middle of this, to retired nurses who are putting on their scrubs to help out again.

And thank you to the frontline workers and volunteers . . . from the food market to the fire department, from the gas station to the police. They’re showing up and doing it with grace.

Thanks to Zoom for dealing with a 20x increase in traffic and not missing a beat. Just like so many other tech companies that are quietly doing what they said they would do.

Thank you to the non-profit leaders, entrepreneurs and project managers who have figured out how to pivot on a dime, protecting the jobs of their teams and serving their customers in new and powerful ways.

Thanks to every parent who is at home with kids, balancing competing priorities and still being there for the ones who need them. And thanks to resilient and patient therapists, teachers and spiritual leaders who are figuring out how to be there, fully present, even if it’s on a video screen.

I’m grateful for the unseen but not anonymous people who are delivering packages, maintaining webservers, fixing the things that break and showing up every single day.

And I’m glad that so many people are ignoring the charlatans who are trying to profit from panic and untested remedies, preying on the fear that comes with a pandemic. And proud of anyone who stops clicking on a media channel that’s in the business of profiting from the attention that comes with amplifying that same fear.

. . . . .And I’m grateful to you, loyal reader, for taking the long view, for leading, for spreading ideas that matter and showing up and doing work that you’re proud of. . . . We wouldn’t have it any other way.

If you’re leading despite/because of what’s going on around us, thank you.”

Godin says he lists only a “tiny fraction” of those he’d like to. He encourages us all to post our own lists.

I started my list in the third paragraph of this posting and while it, too, will be incomplete, I want to add to it:

  • Thank you to my colleagues in marketing and communications with whom I’m daily rolling up my sleeves on projects; and who show such maturity and decency as we manage tasks and boundaries both online and off. You are well-informed and live the values you present.
  • Thank you to my mentors who currently strive to move “heaven and earth” to save their small businesses, but also find time to collaborate with proteges.
  • Thank you to my family who respect my schedule as a freelancer, in which work flows steadily or faster, when others in “day jobs” find themselves in a “holding pattern.”
  • Thank you to friends who in recent weeks lost loved ones to unrelated disease or aging and who bear the pain of their grief, alone, in social isolation (special acknowledgments to Maureen Doetzel and Tracey Mitchell).
  • Thank you to Rev. Roberto De Sandoli and the worship team at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian, who are working tirelessly to present some of the most significant worship services of the Christian calendar (Good Friday; Easter Sunday) online to anyone who cares to watch them.
  • Thank you to Silvia Martini, Moderator, and founding members of the “Business Support Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce,” who share about pivoting, adapting, evolving and rising, when these are at once the most challenging and important tasks.
  • Thank you to the managers of the building where I live and work, who continue to keep the building as clean as possible and to assist seniors and children who struggle with the pandemic.
  • Thank you to Paul Ducklin and other users of Zoom, who have posted online articles and information on how to secure the service, in the face of hateful attackers.
  • Thank you (although it may sound absurd) to Queen Elizabeth II, who used a rare public address, filmed last week at Windsor Castle, to encourage citizens of the Commonwealth to continue to act with self-discipline and resolve. These are characteristics sometimes in short supply.

This door in British Columbia was decorated by a family member to encourage laughter, gratitude for essential workers and solidarity with self-isolating neighbours in these anxious days of Covid-19.


And this door of my neighbourhood café is one of many that post thanks to the folk acknowledged above.








We interrupt this crisis to acknowledge and thank the above folk who serve on our front lines: they fight a war with an invisible protein molecule that has brought our global population to its knees. But it has not broken our collective decency, empathy, solidarity, generosity, intelligence or resourcefulness—effectively, our humanity.

Last Saturday at 8:30 pm,  I clanged a kitchen pot in front of my home and generally made a ruckus of “thanks” to these folk, and to those whom I’ve unintentionally forgotten.  I heard (and saw) plenty of ruckus back.

Thank you all. Keep on keeping on.