When I was 22, my whole world was flipped upside down in the blink of an eye. A few weeks before I was due to give birth to my first child, my husband, Peter, suffered a serious cerebral hemorrhage that left him with life-changing impairments to his executive functioning and personality. He was only 27.
For the next few years, I juggled being both mum, dad, and the breadwinner. Peter had severe epilepsy and his seizures were frequent, unpredictable, and scary. He showed little emotion and his brain injury affected many aspects of his physical, cognitive, and executive functions. While he loved our son dearly, he frequently put Jason in danger when he had seizures or through his reckless behavior.
By the time our daughter, Alanna, was born when Jason was almost five, I was hypersensitive to my children’s safety. Peter almost burned down the house by secretly smoking cigarettes in the middle of the night and drove with Jason in the car despite being told he wasn’t fit to drive. When Alanna was five weeks old, I found Peter dragging Alanna’s pram up the stairs with no blankets or anything else to protect her. That was the final straw – I knew something had to give.
That same night, I was lying in bed with my children and the reality of them not being safe hit me harder than ever before. It was then I realized I had a goal – to keep us safe – and that I could make decisions to get us there.
Seizing My Catalyst Moment
After nearly five years of feeling unsafe and trying to manage Peter’s challenging behaviors, I knew I needed to stop procrastinating and solve this huge problem. I had two young children who depended on me, and I could no longer persist with fear.
I knew I needed to make a move in all of our interests, but I was so conflicted. Peter was a good man with an acquired brain injury and he loved the children so much. But deep down, I knew the common good was the protection of all of us.
While I had resisted the solution for so long, it became clear that the problem was more dangerous than the solution I’d been terrified about. I now knew I had to find a way to move away from Peter with the children. It was a long road riddled with sadness and guilt, but I eventually got there.
Getting Unstuck from the Zone of Unconscious Grit
Through my experiences, I identified two distinct types of grit. Unconscious grit will help you survive in a difficult situation, but it can also keep you stuck in managing a problem in a particular way. Conscious grit can get you out of the problem – it’s the grit you need to get unstuck and live your best life.
Both types of grit have similar characteristics:
The major difference between the two is ‘little c’ courage versus ‘big C’ courage.
‘Little c’ courage gets us through hard times with small and consistent efforts, but it isn’t until we move into ‘Big C’ courage with a focus on the future and a commitment to planning that we can shift into the zone of conscious grit and thrive.
When you’re in the zone of unconscious grit, you’re trying hard and displaying a determination to hang in there. You have a day-to-day focus and you make the best of the situation even when you think you can’t deal with it. You haven’t given up; you’re just beavering away to do what’s instinctively right.
You’re courageous to a point – it’s a ‘little c’ courage that helps a bit. But you need more. You need a plan and a future focus.
I didn’t know that I was in the zone of unconscious grit for those five years. At the time, I was determined to do the best I could. I knew it was tough, but I thought I was doing okay. I wasn’t aware that if I added in some more planning and future focus, I would make progress.
While I was in that zone for five years, that might not be true for you. You might be there for less or more time; there is no ‘right’ timeframe. Every situation is different and the fallout will be different.
Moving into the Zone of Conscious Grit
Looking back, I realize that there was a time when I shifted gears. I finally got some traction around the things I needed to do – keep safe, get some money, and develop a career. I started to do things differently.
I know now that I was moving into the zone of conscious grit. In that zone:
- I made tough decisions.
- I had tough conversations.
- I set a course.
- I stayed firm with the resolve of my direction.
- I got qualifications, employment, and confidence to craft the future.
When I moved into the zone of conscious grit, I added a focus on the future and planning, and maintained my determination, resilience, persistence, and tenacity. My ‘little c’ courage became ‘big C’ Courage. I was still tired, but had a plan to achieve our goal of safety. I felt less stuck. I was on the move, and things started to change for the better.
It’s up to you to choose whether you live in the zone of unconscious or conscious grit, but that doesn’t mean making the switch is an easy process. You may need guidance from a coach or other professional who will guide you through the transition and help you achieve your goals.
Learning Through the Journey
I didn’t know it at the time, but what I know now is that while I was in each of the zones and then moving between them, I was learning, developing, and gaining skills that I didn’t have before.
I learned about myself and others, and my confidence and knowledge grew. I was building, scaffolding, and leveraging from everything I tried – whatever the outcome. I was learning what worked and what didn’t work.
While living in the zone of conscious grit might seem like the ultimate goal, remember that life is about the journey and not just the destination. So, keep your sights set firmly on your goals, but don’t forget to take it all in on the road to achieving them.