The Science of Grit in Mental Health Recovery

Angela Duckworth, Macarthur Award – winner for her research on Grit, was recently challenged by the article, “Much Ado About Grit: A Meta-Analytic Synthesis of The Grit Literature,”  by Marcus Crede and his research team, for the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Here’s the link:

When I first heard Angela Duckworth’s TED Talk on her Grit research, at:


 I immediately thought of two things, and these remain questions which I put forward you, the reader:
1.  How does Grit science relate to Resiliency science as a personality dimension/skill set?
2.  How does Grit apply to persons who struggle with recovery from mental health problems?
It seems to me that Duckworth’s research is somewhat elitist in that her study samples were largely comprised of persons who were 1.  Mentally healthy; and 2.  Persons who were already in situations of high – achievement or where excelling over their peer group was already a committed goal.
I’ll leave the question of wether this is a sampling error (self-selection or skewed sample populations) to Marcus Crede and his team.
I believe that Grit, like Resiliency, is a key factor in mental health recovery.  But mental health is not a competition.  Is there such a thing as “excellence” or “high achiever” in mental health?
Should there be? Can there be?
In one way or another, persons with mental health problems are going to have difficulties with personality functioning.  Maybe coping with symptoms consumes all the individual’s energy and concentration.  Or perhaps as a result of the biological or environmental compromises that caused or resulted in their mental illness. repair1
Perhaps personality is the core of a person’s mental illness, as we see in Borderline Disorder. Which causes me to wonder how Marsha M. Linehan’s Dialectical Behavior Therapy could be used to enhance an individual’s capacity for accessing their Grit, or perhaps, opening inner venues for learning Grit as a cognitive-behavioral skill set in therapy.
For example, DBT talks about “practice, practice, practice..”  Grit talks about the “10,000 hour of practice.”  Basically the same thing, eh?  People who practice get better at the skills they want to achieve.  Mentally ill persons want to achieve wellness skills. Persistence and determination seem to work.
Grit science says that having a passion or burning desire in a certain field or area is necessary for success.  Is this not similar to DBT’s emphasis on “meaningfulness” in one’s life?
Can a mentally ill person have a bona fide passion for and burning desire for wellness?  When the illness itself works against progress?
In short, can a mentally ill person be said to have Grit as defined by Duckworth?  I can’t find Grit research using sample populations of persons with DSM diagnoses.
If Resiliency means, “find a way,”  is Duckworth saying that Grit is, “find a way that outstrips everyone else?”   There is no Carnegie Hall competition or performance for mental health.  No Special Olympics or medallions for recovery.renew1
How can Grit be taught, much like the resiliency skills of DBT (Radical Acceptance, Mindfulness, Emotional Regulation) are taught in therapy?
In a nutshell, can Grit itself be harnessed in a form that speaks the language of the mentally ill?  Or, would that be a set-up for failure, low self-esteem, resistance to therapy, and social isolation?
I am posing these questions to Angela Duckworth and Marcus Crede.  Grit isn’t just for the people who are already successful or already have the basic skills and capacity to get on the achievement road of their choosing.
Mentally ill persons don’t have that same kind of or degree of free will.  Free will is not equal to all.  This is the elitism of Duckworth’s Grit theory that I believe needs a reformed focus.
I encourage you, readers, to think and discuss these issues and access the research and advocate a more just band of knowledge as matters of definition and application.
Heidi D. Hansen, M.A.
— Heidi D. Hansen, M.A. is a Mental Health Advocate in Vancouver, Washington and is dedicated to serving economically challenged persons by offering a sliding fee scale. Donations are also appreciated in this regard.  Call (360) 892-5218, and visit her free and robust mental health website at

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